Exploring The Garden Route: A Guide To The Best Road Trip In South Africa


June 3, 2024
Team Pineapple

The global pandemic that was COVID-19 had even the biggest homebodies amongst us itching to escape the confines of their four walls. No sooner were restrictions lifted that South Africans emerged with a newfound appreciation for their country.

Hundreds were keen on celebrating their freedom through brunch dates with the besties, braais with the brahs, or cross-country travels spanning from Joburg to Cape Town and maybe even further.

Pineapple previously detailed the joys of cross-country travel in our blog article “From Johannesburg To Cape Town: A Classic South African Road Trip.” Now, we’re back with yet another exciting piece, this time exploring the gem of The Garden Route.

Strap in; we’re going on a literary journey! 

The Garden Route Road Trip.

Often described as ‘The Ultimate Road Trip”, the Garden Route is a journey of the country’s south-eastern coast, stretching 300 kilometres from the Western Cape’s Witsand to the Eastern Cape’s Tsitsikamma Storms River border.

The name ‘Garden Route’ stems from its lush vegetation and ecologically diverse landscape scattered throughout numerous estuaries and lakes dotted along the coast.

The unofficial-official starting point of the Route is the coastal town of Mossel Bay, situated 380 km east of Cape Town. 

It then takes you through some of the region’s most exquisite sites and picturesque coastlines.

The Garden Route is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions for locals and international visitors alike.

And understandably so.

The road trip promises visual appeal, with vibrantly coloured wildflowers, majestic mountains, pristine beaches and bays.

And as for outdoor activities? They have those aplenty. 

The best part is that there’s something for everyone.

If the slow and steady pace is not quite your ‘thing’, you can get your pulse racing with various activities such as hiking, surfing, canoeing, whale watching, bungee jumping, and more.

Grown-ups can indulge in the famed Western Cape wine farms, while the kiddos can enjoy family fun activities like visiting animal sanctuaries, markets and stalls.

And that’s just a small taste of what the Garden Route has to offer.

For those seeking a culturally rich experience, there’s absolutely no shortage of attractions.

The Garden Route has several villages and towns rich in cultural heritage, with museums, galleries, and historical sites offering insights into the region's history and traditions.

And the best part is its accessibility.

The route allows visitors easy access from Cape Town and other major cities, such as George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, just to name a few.

To learn more about the best towns, beaches, viewpoints, and activities along the Garden Route, with tips on where to eat, stay, and explore, we suggest you grab some popcorn and read on.

Planning Your Road Trip.

Best time of year to travel? 

The best time of year for a trip would be in the spring and summer months (September through February); however, the Route is a great spot to visit all year round.

Although South African weather can be capricious at times due to our country’s diverse landscape and geographical location, you’re guaranteed a good climate during the warmer months.

The days are long, and there’s nothing but sunny skies as far as the eye can see. 

The daytime temperature is warm, the fynbos flowers are in bloom,  many animals have their young during this time, and the birdlife is prolific.

Although there’s a chance of rain in spring, you don’t have to worry about heavy downpour – it’s usually light spattering of drizzle.

All-in-all, visiting in the warmer seasons makes for a wonderful outdoor experience.

The catch, however, is that summer in the southern hemisphere means festive holidays, so everyone and their grandmother will be out to play.

Areas are flooded with domestic and international tourists, meaning insane foot and road traffic.

Plus, prices are inflated exponentially.

If that’s a non-negotiable, and you simply cannot tolerate these two downsides, here’s a quick rundown of each season and what you can expect when visiting the Garden Route.

A table showing a quick rundown of each season and what you can expect when visiting the Garden Route.

Recommended length of the trip?

Most tour guides will tell you that the average time needed to explore the Garden Route is anywhere between 2 days to 2 weeks. 

A visit of this duration will truly enable you to enjoy the region's wonders.

For a longer trip, a week or two more promises enticing attractions and rare sights that you might’ve missed on a shorter journey.

Ultimately, the duration of your trip depends on what activities you plan on participating in and which sites and sights you want to experience.

Regardless of the length of your stay, you’re sure to walk away with many fulfilling encounters.

Choosing a rental car and tips for driving in South Africa.

Opting to go rogue by hiring a rental car and taking to the South African streets all on your own, sans a tour guide, is also an option.

South Africa is a country of endless beauty; the best and most practical way of exploring it is by car.

Travelling by vehicle allows you to travel at your own pace and offers flexibility.

Here are a few tips for choosing a car-for-hire.

  1. Size matters: Choose a car with sufficient passenger storage capacity and space. South Africa has decent road infrastructure, so a smaller car can do just fine, especially if you’re flying solo or travelling as a pair. Consider a bigger vehicle if you’re travelling in a group or with many suitcases and luggage. 

  1. Transmission Trap: Next, choose a car with a transmission that you’re both familiar and comfortable with. Most rental cars are manual transmissions, so be sure to let your preferences be known.

  1. Ensure you’re insured:  The last thing you want to do is get insurance for your rental car. Adequate insurance coverage will protect you from collision and non-collision-related accidents and theft. It's also good to be in-the-know about the rental company's policies regarding damage, loss, and theft.

And as for the fun part, actually taking your four wheels out onto the open road., we have tips for that too.

  1. When driving, always keep left. Every South African knows whether they own a vehicle or not. 

  1. Keep an eye out for any wildlife or other animals roaming around that may make their way onto the road and find themselves in your path. 

  1. Plan your route well ahead of time; that way, you’re aware of where you are and where you might find assistance in case of an emergency.

  1. You might be on holiday, but the rules of the road never take a break. Therefore, save yourself the trouble of getting into trouble by abiding by the speed limit.

  1. Sadly, hijacking is common in South Africa, so keep this in mind as you make your way through the region. Avoid unsavoury places, be aware of your surroundings and never leave valuables in the car.

Car insurance tips and recommendations for driving the Garden Route.

Along with sunscreen, fully charged batteries on all your devices, and swimwear, your holiday checklist is not complete without insurance.

Before renting a car, ensure you have coverage by checking with your existing insurance policy (assuming you’ve already made the wise decision of taking up insurance) to see what it provides in the way of rental vehicles.

If the policy doesn’t have an option for covering a rent-for-hire car, it’s a good idea to purchase additional coverage from the rental car company.

It’ll save you time and trouble in the long run.

And like with any insurance policy, don’t jump for the first offer that comes your way. Instead, consider your options by comparing different policies to ensure you get the best deal available.

Lastly, whatever policy you pick, make sure to read the fine print and understand all the T’s and C’s.

Route Itinerary

The first few days of your journey to touring the Garden Route will see you travelling from Cape Town to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth).  

The first stretch will be memorable, with impressive stops of beautiful landmarks and highlights along the way.

A guide on the navigation and top attractions such as the Knysna Heads, Wilderness National Park, and Tsitsikamma National Park will be provided, ensuring you don’t miss any sights. 

Stops include towns like Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and Jeffrey's Bay.

Top attractions:

The Knysna Heads.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve left South Africa and instead have somehow been transported to an imaginary world straight out of a Hollywood movie.

The Knysna Heads are a pair of towering sandstone cliffs flanking the Knysna Lagoon entrance,  a large estuary on South Africa’s south coast.

They are famed for their dramatic appearance and equally dramatic history of shipwrecks. 

The lagoon’s deceptively narrow entrance between the two cliffs is especially treacherous during stormy weather, and safe passage for ships was not always guaranteed.

This is how it earned its “graveyard of ships” nickname.

These days, The Knysna Heads are a tourist hotspot where visitors can enjoy stunning views from various vantage points.

The area is also famous for its natural beauty, which you can witness while hiking.

However, water sports like swimming, kayaking and canoeing are generally not safe unless these are done in designated areas.

Wilderness National Park.

Situated in the heart of the Garden Route, the Wilderness National Park (also called the Wilderness Section) is nestled between the busy towns of George and Knysna, located around the seaside town of Wilderness. 

The park is a must-see for any lover of the outdoors.

The Wilderness National Park boasts an array of nature’s best; rivers, lakes, beaches and estuaries are all located within the park, making for an eye-catching display.

And the backdrop of lush greenery from majestic mountains and fantastic forests only adds to the park's beauty.

But what really makes the Wilderness National Park special is that it protects three major zones of indigenous forest, several lakes and winding waterways, and four types of fynbos (wild shrubs).

And as for activities, there’s no shortage of things to do.

Visitors can journey to Dolphin Point to enjoy dolphin and whale sightings and try a bit of abseiling, boating, fishing and hiking.

And if you’re in the mood to explore your surroundings, you can hire a bicycle or canoe and take in the scenes at your own pace.

Tsitsikamma National Park.

Another national park that should be on your Garden Route bucket list is the Tsitsikamma National Park, a coastal reserve famous for its indigenous forest and dramatic coastline.

Tsitsikamma is a protected area of the Garden Route.

As of March 2006, it was united with the Wilderness National Park and various other areas to form the Garden Route National Park.

The park boasts an impressive amount of vegetation, with almost 30% of it covered in fynbos, and also has a stunning display of beautiful flora such as the Protea and Heath flowers.

In addition to that, fauna in the form of seabirds are found in the area too.

Tsitsikamma National Park is a hiking and water sports paradise, so those looking for physical stimulation will be satisfied.

Other activities include diving, snorkelling, swimming, climbing, abseiling, mountain biking, sailing, and bungee jumping.

You can also admire the beauty of the park’s rivers, the reef and the deep-sea fish found in these habitats.

Recommended overnight stops.

As the excitement of the day’s activities wears off, you will need a place to rest your head for the night.

A few wonderful places for a pitstop are in towns like Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and Jeffrey's Bay.

These towns are located in some of South Africa’s most picturesque areas; an overnight stay will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the natural environment and witness the region’s charm.

Each town also has an assortment of activities available for you to enjoy.

Knysna is known for its lagoon, while Plettenberg Bay has the Robberg National Park, and Jeffrey’s Bay has world-class surfing spots. 

Spending the night at any of these locations allows you to slow down and take in all the trip offers, starting with interacting with the locals, experiencing their culture and immersing yourself in the atmosphere.

You can explore without feeling like you’re pressed for time.

And you need not fret over your budget; these areas have a range of dining and accommodation options to suit whatever budget.

You can choose how much you want to spend and where, with places like boutique hotels, B&Bs and beachfront resorts at your fingertips.

Having an overnight stop at any or all of these places enables you to fully appreciate the Garden Route and enhances the entire trip overall.

Activities and Excursions

  1. Hiking (Low adrenaline rating).

The Garden Route has an abundance of breathtaking hiking trails, so it’s only natural that one of the best and most popular activities is going on a hike.

The trails allow you to traverse through diverse landscapes, experience captivating coastal cliffs, and scout the mountainous terrain. For families, it's a fantastic way to bond in nature, create lasting memories, and get some exercise, all for the cost of a good pair of hiking shoes!

  1. Surfing (Medium adrenaline rating).

The beaches found throughout the Garden Route are some of the most pristine in all of South Africa, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by tourists.

Water sports like swimming, kayaking and kiteboarding.

Jeffery’s Bay is especially known for its excellent surfing conditions.

  1. Bungee jumping (High adrenaline rating).

Standing at 216 metres, the Bloukrans Bridge, located near Tsitsikamma, is one of the world’s highest commercial bungee jumping sites.

Thrillseekers and adrenaline junkies alike can enjoy a daring leap off of the bridge and live to tell the tale of such a courageous encounter.

Wine tasting and culinary experiences.

After a day of jam-packed activities, you’re sure to work up a ravenous appetite, and there’s no better place for you to be hungry than on the Garden Route.

It’s almost profane to be anywhere near the Western Cape region and not partake in any wining and dining.

While the Garden Route may not be as famed as the Cape Winelands, it still offers wonderful wine-tasting and decadent dining experiences.

The culinary scene is enough to turn anyone into a bonafide foodie, and the wineries are sure to refine your palate in previously inconceivable ways.

Just one glass of a crisp and flavourful sauvignon blanc, rich and elegant chardonnay, fruity and light rosé or a bold and ripe cabernet sauvignon is enough to tantalise your taste buds and leave you lusting for more.

And the food doesn’t disappoint either.

The Garden Route has it all: seafood delights like fresh oysters served with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of sauce grilled fish, lobster and prawns.

Local markets and stalls also produce farm-to-table feasts like fresh creations, artisanal cheese, homemade preservatives and baked goods.

However, if you’re looking for an elevated meal, you’ll be glad to know that the Garden Route also caters to your preferences.

Restaurants in the region serve locally sourced dishes that really showcase the Route’s flavours, such as ostrich, venison and Karoo lamb prepared with regional herbs and spices.

Best of all, there are eateries in the region that really transform eating into an adventure.

Some establishments have guided tours that teach you about your food’s flavours, techniques, and the history of the regional culinary specialities. 

And if you’re more of a take-matters-into-your-own-hands type of person, cooking classes are also available. These allow you to learn to prepare traditional South African cuisine or explore fusion dishes under the guidance of experienced certified chefs.

Simply put, the culinary scene is enough to turn anyone into a foodie, and the wineries are sure to refine your palate. 

But don't feel pressured to dine out for every meal. 

Pack a few snacks and plan picnic lunches to enjoy at scenic spots, or explore local restaurants offering budget-friendly options.

Pineapple Pro Tip: Planning a road trip is fun and all, but for a truly unforgettable experience, don't drink and drive. It’s dangerous and illegal! Besides, you want to create memories, not accidents. If you’ve tasted one too many wine options, enlist the help of ehailing services like Uber or Bolt to transport you back to your residence safely.

Wildlife experiences and guided tours.

  1. Boat-based whale-watching experience in Hermanus.

  1. Shark cage diving and viewing in Mossel Bay.

  1. Touw River boat cruise in the Wilderness National Park.

  1. Swimming with seals in Plettenberg Bay.

  1. Highgate Ostrich Farm Tour Ticket in Oudtshoorn.

  1. 2-hour game drive in the Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve.

  1. 5-day safari of the Garden Route and Addo Elephant National Park.

  1. Knysna Scootours.
  1. Swartberg pass tour including a traditional Karoo lunch.
  1.  Knysna oyster tour.

Car Insurance Tips If You’re Already Covered

The best place to start is by reviewing your already existing car insurance policy.

Doing so allows you to know for certain what your policy entails, what you’re covered for and which exclusions to look out for.

If there’s any shadow of a doubt in your mind about anything pertaining to your policy, contact your insurance provider immediately to ask for clarity.

While you have your insurer on the line, find out if your existing policy includes rental cars, or whether you need additional coverage.

If your existing coverage falls short, explore standalone travel insurance options that provide comprehensive coverage for your trip, including car rental coverage. 

Budgeting for Your Trip

There’s so much to see, and even more to spend on, which is exactly why you need a budget before embarking on your road trip. 

Your spending habits are uniquely your own, so there isn’t a definite answer as to how much you’re likely to *spend.

However, you can bet on the fact that these are the things you’re definitely going to spend on.

  1. Transport: Fuel will depend on the distance you plan to travel and the petrol price at the time of your trip. Rental cars typically cost R300 to R1 300 per day, depending on the type of vehicle and rental duration.

  1. Accommodation: Depending on the establishment type and the length of your stay, some of the cheapest accommodations, like dorms, go for R180 per night. The pricier places will set you back anywhere upwards of R700 a night.

  1. Activities: Some attractions and national parks have an entrance fee of as little as R50 per person, and activities also start at the same price.


  1. Meals: This will be another factor determined by your habits. A modest restaurant meal can cost R150, while the self-catering option can be anywhere between R550 to R700, with top-ups needed every so often.

*Inflation can also play a part in price differences.

Tips for saving.

The best way to save money on the Garden Route is by going on your road trip during off-peak season.

The best time to take a trip to the Garden Route, in terms of affordability, is usually mid-January. The New Year hype has died down, and people have returned to their usual routines.

Alternative accommodation like B&Bs, self-catering dorms and guesthouses, compared to 5-star hotels, is also a great way to avoid overspending during your holiday.

Another way to save is foregoing dining out for every meal.

You’ll save a lot by preparing your own food, so if you have access to a kitchen, take full advantage of it by bringing out your inner Siba Mtongana. 

Lastly, research any free or low-cost tourist attractions.

Why not take the family to a nearby beach and enjoy some fun in the sun and splash around in the sea?

As a side note, have you ever noticed how humans seem drawn to the ocean? If there’s a beach, we will congregate on it (it might be because we’re made up of 70% water? I'm just guessing). But that’s exactly what it's made for.

The best thing about nature, beyond its beauty, is that it is free to enjoy. Take advantage of this cheap thrill and spend quality time with your loved ones.

You don’t always have to go for the most expensive activities to have a meaningful experience and a wonderful time.

Lastly, if you come across any discounts or combo deals, like those that combine multiple activities at a reduced price, use them to your benefit.

Car Insurance Tips If You’re Already Covered.

The best place to start is by reviewing your already existing car insurance policy.

Doing so allows you to know for certain what your policy entails, what you’re covered for and which exclusions to look out for.

If there’s any shadow of a doubt in your mind about anything pertaining to your policy, contact your insurance provider immediately to ask for clarity.

While you have your insurer on the line, find out if your existing policy includes rental cars, or whether you need additional coverage.

If your existing coverage falls short, explore standalone travel insurance options that provide comprehensive coverage for your trip, including car rental coverage.


7 days is all it takes to experience the wonders of the Garden Route. 

But with so much to see, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to spend 7 more.

The trip from Cape Town to Gqeberha, with places like Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Tsitsikamma and the Addo Elephant National Park in between, is a feast for the senses.

You’ll see, smell, feel, touch and taste some of the best that South Africa has to offer.

Embarking on the ultimate road trip, a.k.a the Garden Route, is an adventure promising breathtaking scenery and thrilling activities, where you’re sure to make unforgettable memories.

The itinerary listed in this blog is merely a suggestion, you can plan your trip in whichever way suits you. 

However, if there’s one item that you shouldn’t overlook over all else, it’s having vehicle insurance.

We can emphasise enough how much this will add to the pleasure of your trip.

Being well-informed and prepared gives you peace of mind, allowing you to navigate the open roads freely, without any concern about your car’s safety weighing you down. 

So, make the leap, and plan your own enthralling South African escapade.

Embrace the spirit of exploration by planning your Garden Route road trip, and get ready to create the memories of a lifetime.

Oh, and don’t forget to take your car insurance along for the ride! Get a quote here!

Team Pineapple

Team Pineapple comprises our company’s top talents, who are dedicated to creating clear, high-quality content on essential vehicle insurance topics. This diverse group, including actuaries, accountants, data scientists, and insurance professionals across South Africa, collaborates to produce enlightening and empowering articles.

Each piece is thoroughly researched, factually accurate, and rigorously reviewed to ensure quality.

*We say they’re the finest because we want them to keep writing for us!

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Please Note: The information provided above is for informational purposes only; you should not construe any such information as legal or financial advice.

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