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South Africa: Four ways to do the Garden Route

The Garden Route showcases South Africa's most magnificent stretch of coastline, encompassing towering cliffs, jungle-clad mountains and mammoth stretches of soft beaches.

One way to really experience this region is on a road trip, stopping at some of the best hotels and lodges. The huge number of national parks which give the Garden Route its name will certainly be on the agenda, but there are still many ways to tailor a trip to the Garden Route to suit your individual interests. See marine life such as seal, shark, dolphin and whale from the Whale Coast east of Cape Town. Visit the local frontier towns and find all the scenic hotspots, explore the many world-class golf estates and take part in forest adventures like horse-riding and ziplining.


The Whale Coast

While you can cut north from Cape Town to see Du Toits Peak, the highest in Western Cape, or spend your time at the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, you shouldn’t miss out on the Whale Coast east of Cape Town. On your way to Mossel Bay, the coastline is one of the best places to see southern rights and the orcas, as well as shark and dolphin. Not only that, but you have a choice of some incredible beaches which stretch for miles. And to see South Africa’s much-loved penguins head to Boulders Beach, where these usually nervous creatures have a reputation for being friendly in the colonies in the area which you can visit. The Plettenberg is an Abercrombie & Kent Favourite hotel, perfectly situated for a stay on your way to Mossel Bay, where the Garden Route really begins. 


Tour the golf estates

When you pass Mossel Bay, you’re close to the malaria-free Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, where you can see four of Africa’s Big Five among many other wildlife. Another highlight of the region is its many golf estates. There’s Ouaai Golf Estate, further out towards the town of George there’s Fancourt and you can find Le Grande Estate near Herold’s Bay. But a favourite with many is Mossel Bay Estate, situated close to the town centre, with supreme ocean views. You may even sight some wildlife as you play, as grazers sometimes bound across the field. When you’re finished for the day, it’s also a great place for fishing – you can take a boat out to catch anything from tuna to shark. 


7 Passes Scenic Drive

Knysna is set around a huge lagoon which, shielded by cliffs and surrounding hills, remains completely tranquil. It’s an exciting place to explore by ferry cruises, or even on inflatable boats and kayaks. You can stay within the lagoon on Thesen Island, where you’ll find the A&K hotel, The Turbine Boutique Hotel and Spa, a five-star residence converted from an historic mill. But to get the most out of this region you should get up in the hills. The 7 Passes Scenic Drive is the old trading road from Knysna to George which snakes through the mountains. It’s heaven for anyone with a passion for driving. You’ll see some of South Africa’s most dramatic landscapes from the many viewing points. It’s also a great place to see some of the country’s many rare birds. Tick off the pied kingfisher and Knysna lourie – as well as some reminders of home, like the grey heron and little egret, which migrate here.  


Hike the Otter Trail

Towards its eastern side, the Garden Route is teeming with nature reserves. There are also whale sightings here and Cape fur seal colonies. Close by is Nelson Bay Cave, where you can trace human activity since the Stone Age – any traveller could spend a lifetime exploring here. Of the many experiences, one of the most exhilarating things you can do in this rich environment is follow the Otter Trail. Located entirely within Tsitsikamma National Park, the full walk is a five-day hike between the hillside huts. The Cape clawless otter are spectacular to see in their natural habitat, and a journey by foot is the perfect addition to any self-drive holiday. Watching the sun rise above the morning mist and drinking South African teas around a dusk campfire are unmissable experiences. And there’s no better way to end a the journey than with a stay at an all-out luxury, A&K Favourite hotel like Hog Hollow Country Lodge, which overlooks the forest.   

Find out more about South Africa holidays and the best time to visit South Africa.