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Game reserves, an elephant sanctuary, beautiful beaches and a long ol' drive

woman and beach

The Garden Route can be found in South Africa and starts East of Cape Town along the coastline. The route technically runs between Mossel Bay and Storms River but many people extend this to Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) or beyond. The majority of game reserves are found in the Addo/Grahamstown region an hour North East from Port Elizabeth. You can catch an internal flight to Port Elizabeth from other South African major airports such as Cape Town or Johannesburg.

garden route map

We flew from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and collected our rental car from here to start the drive back to Cape Town. The drive takes 8.5 hours in total and there are a number of beautiful places and sights to see along the way.

Garden Route Itinerary

Our garden route itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1-2 - Lalibela Game Reserve, Grahamstown

  • Day2-3 - Jeffreys Bay

  • Day 3-5 - Plettenberg Bay

  • Day 5-7 - Franchhoek in the winelands

  • Day 8 - back to Cape Town

Top Destinations

Here are the top destinations travelling from Port Elizabeth East to West along the Garden Route:

Addo/Game reserves

Addo is best known for the Addo elephant national park. Inside the park you will find a number of game reserves where you can stay and join game drives to see the animals in the wild. The game reserves are famous for the 'Big 5' which are the most dangerous game animals in South Africa: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and African buffalo.

We stayed at the Lalibela Game Reserve in Grahamstown. For each night you stay you get two game drives, one at sunrise and one at sunset. All food and drink is included as you stay, sleep and eat on the reserve. This was the highlight of our trip to South Africa and we would recommend staying on a game reserve to anyone.

Jeffreys Bay

In Jeffreys Bay we stayed at JBay Zebra Lodge which is a luxury lodge zebras call their home and roam happily. Zebra Lodge has 4 luxury suites and 2 safari tents. All rooms are on bed & breakfast basis which you can enjoy whilst observing the zebras around the swimming pool. All suites and tents are decorated with an African feel, with beautiful views of the indigenous bush. Zebra lodge is a place for relaxation after a day of enjoying the activities on site and further afield from Jeffreys Bay.

On site there are hiking and mountain bike trails (with mountain bikes available for rent). In the rooms you can find tea/coffee facilities and an honesty mini bar. From Jeffreys Bay you can visit a big 5 safari, head to the nearby golf course, horse ride on the beach or enjoy water sports such as surfing and deep sea fishing.

Staying at Zebra Lodge is a unique experience where you can observe the friendly zebra, enjoy some delicious food at the hotel for dinner and take advantage of the honesty bar and relax by the pool. The charm about this lodge is that it is small enough for you to have an intimate and tailored experience with a slice of luxury.

Tsitsikamma and Natures Valley

The next stop was Plettenberg Bay which is 1 hour 45 minute drive from Jeffreys Bay. On route you can stop at two of the most popular spots along the garden route, Tsitsikamma National Park and Natures Valley.

The entrance to Tsitsikamma national park is 296 rand (£12pp) and is famous for its hiking trails. Some of the most popular are:

  1. Storms River Mouth starting at Sandy Bay and leading to a suspension bridge (around 40 minutes in total);

  2. Big Tree Walk (entrance found on the N2 road East of the entrance to Storms River Village). The Big Tree is so big 8 people could fit around the trunk holding hands!

  3. Waterfall trail - 6 km and around 3 hours to complete, this trail incorporates the well-known Otter trail and starts at Storms River Mouth

Other activities in Tsitsikamma are the dolphin trail, the otter trail and Bloukran's Bridge.

Natures Valley is the second stop on the way to Plettenberg Bay. To enter Natures Valley is 133 rand (£5.50pp) and you can visit Natures Valley beach, Natures Valley viewpoint starting at Salt River and parking at Natures Valley trading post. You can also tackle the Natures Valley hike which is 4km long and is a circular route.

You can canoe to Grootrivier and estuary and rent a canoe from the Nature’s Valley Rest Camp. You can also visit the Natures Way Farm Stall.

Plettenberg Bay

In Plettenberg Bay we stayed at Ilanga Beach House which is next door to and owned by Christiana Lodge . Ilanga Beach House is a 3 bedroom self-catering lodge which sleeps up to 6 guests. The communal spaces have an open-plan lounge, dining area, TV and wi-fi and a 25-metre pool on site. The modern decor is beautiful and the beach house is extremely spacious. This is the perfect place for families or friends to enjoy some time away together. The lounge and dining area are on the second floor meaning if you are travelling as a family the adults could put the children to bed downstairs and enjoy some child-free dinner, drinks and games without disturbances.

Christiana Lodge has luxury 4-star suites and as with Ilanga Beach House is only a short 5-minute walk from Robberg Beach. There are 22 rooms to choose from all with modern decor and a luxury feel. Don't miss out on the exceptional breakfasts offered starting with continental options of fruit, yogurt and granola and moving onto homemade cooked options of french toast and eggs.

Christiana Lodge is situated in a tranquil location where, if you are lucky enough to have a balcony with your room, you will be able to enjoy a sunset drink overlooking Robberg Beach in the distance. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful and will be more than happy to give you recommendations of nearby activities and restaurants.

During our time in Plettenberg Bay we visited the Elephant Sanctuary where you can join their trunk-in-hand walk. During this tour you can walk with the elephants, meet them and learn all about their anatomy and where they stay and also feed them. The tour lasts 1 hour and costs 695 rand (£29pp). The guides will ensure you get the very best photos of your time with the elephants and you even have the opportunity of purchasing a video montage as well as other souvenirs from the gift shop. It is clear the elephants are well looked after and shielded from the sun as much as possible.

We also visited Newstead Wines which is a winery a short 5-minute drive from the elephant sanctuary. Newstead have stunning vineyards where they produce the very best wines South Africa has to offer. You can join a tasting Wednesdays-Sundays between 11am and 4pm and also sample some of the delicious food from the on-site restaurant. We ordered the lamb flatbread which was exceptional and the perfect summery and light accompaniment to have alongside our wines. A slice of luxury and definitely worth a visit for a sophisticated afternoon in Plettenberg Bay.


Knysna is a popular stopping point along the Garden Route where many people spend a night or two. In Kynsna you can enjoy:

  • Knysna Heads viewpoint

  • Noetzie - a charming beach town

  • Walk around Thesen islands

  • Pledge nature reserve

  • Hiking at the Garden of Eden (between Plett and Knysna) - stroll the 800m boardwalk


Wilderness is another popular town next door to Knysna and one of the most picturesque we noticed on our drive. Coming East to West there is are idyllic houses on the right hand side which you can see from the bridge.

In Wilderness you can enter the nature reserve for 190 rand (£7.90pp) and enjoy the following:

  • Hike the half collared Kingfisher hiking trail

  • Visit the Map of Africa Viewpoint

  • Stop at Dolphin Point lookout

Mossel Bay

Although technically the start of the garden route, from researching we didn't find there was a whole lot to do in Mossel Bay. Things to do here are:

  • Hiking the St Blaize trail by the coast

  • Visit Santos Beach

  • Visit the numerous museums including the Maritime and Iron museum


The town that no tourists can pronounce! We were told by the South Africans that it is pronounced out-shoe-en and it is the Ostrich capital of the world. Oudtshoorn is located North of Mossel Bay so takes you off the N2 and climb into the mountains. Here you can:

  1. Visit the cango caves

  2. Drive the Swartberg pass

  3. See the animals at the cango wildlife ranch

  4. And of course join an ostrich safari


Hermanus is the best spot for whale watching. The best time for whale watching is between June and November. Hermanus is located South of Cape Town and Stellenbosch in the winelands. In Hermanus you can also:

  1. Climb the Hermanus cliff path

  2. Visit Grotto beach

  3. Walk in the Fernkloof nature reserve

  4. Search for whales on the Cape Whale Coast

The garden route is a beautifully scenic route and you will enjoy every second. We drove straight from Plettenberg Bay to Franschhoek which took us 6 hours in total (with two stops, one to get petrol and one for lunch). We stopped at Swellendam which was around halfway. There isn't much to see in Swellendam so we had a lunch stop and quickly got back on the road. We had lunch at Tredici which is a lovely shop and cafe selling pastries, sandwiches and hot dishes.

We were advised not to stop on the side of the road on the garden route and only to stop at petrol stations or in the towns. This is for safety and you could be an easy target for opportunists who are passing by. Enjoy your drive, we are sure it will be one of your favourites ever.


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