16 December 2019
Read Time: 3.3 mins
South Africa may be synonymous with safaris, but the coastline is just as impressive. Hit the Garden Route to see a different side of the cape.
The Garden Route seems somewhat of a misnomer – the Western Cape road trip sandwiched between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean in South Africa is, after all, most famous for its dramatic coastline. But on a nine-day, 750km self-drive trip from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, from behind the wheel I watch the landscape shift from national parks to forests and lakes, as well as stunning golden beaches and wild, blue ocean, showcasing a different side to the safaris and sun-baked terrain South Africa is known for.
Driving east from Cape Town, our first stop is Arniston, a small coastal town that has more in common with an Australian seaside suburb than the big-city vibes of multicultural Cape Town. It’s quiet and peaceful with a fantastic beach and a nearby township where we have dinner in a restaurant that’s run out of a local’s house. Veering slightly further south to Cape Agulhas at the very tip of Africa, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the significance of this awe-inspiring site for South Africans. It’s literally at the end of the continent with nothing between you and endless ocean until Antarctica. We stop and take stock of the enormity at the edge of the world.
From the cape, we drive to Knysna, using the city as a base for day trips to see South Africa’s famed wildlife. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Garden Route’, it’s a natural wonderland of forests, lakes and beaches along the Indian Ocean as well as birdlife and animals. We take trips to the world’s ostrich capital, Oudtshoorn, a town on the wine route where we feed the giant birds at an ostrich farm and have lemurs run over us at the Cango Wildlife Ranch conservation park. We also visit The Elephant Sanctuary at The Crags in Plettenberg Bay to see the magnificent African elephants up close with guided insights into their lives and the experiences that brought them to the sanctuary.
A detour from the route south, we stay in the peaceful fishing village of St Francis Bay with its picturesque marina and canals. With Jeffrey Bay – aka the surfing mecca better know as J-Bay – to the north and featured in the surf film classic, The Endless Summer, St Francis Bay retains its laidback atmosphere, despite its fame. Like Arniston, St Francis is a quiet, beachy suburb full of picture-perfect whitewashed houses with thatched roofs.
Just an hour’s drive away is Port Elizabeth and the end of the Garden Route where we overnight before driving the eight hours back to Cape Town. From the top of Lion’s Head, hiking up from the carpark halfway along the mountain, it’s definitely one of the best vistas in the world, especially at sunset. Looking out to Camps Bay, Table Mountain and sweeping views of the cityscape from the one place, it’s a fitting end to an epic trip.
This is one of Flight Centre's Top 50 Travel Experiences for 2020. Read the whole list here!