The Ultimate Garden Route Road Trip

When planning our South African Garden Route road trip I took a look at some suggested itineraries online. It seems like everyone follows the basic route, starting in Cape Town and ending in Storms River with a few people continuing on to Addo Elephant Park. We were doing the opposite route since we were flying into Johannesburg. 

We didn’t want to drive all the way from Johannesburg because we only had two weeks, so after spending one night at a hotel in JoBerg we flew to Port Elizabeth, aka Gqeberha. That’s where we picked up our rental car, a small sedan. Yes, you can safari in a sedan. Grant also had to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road, steering wheel too!

We spent one night in Port Elizabeth because we didn’t want to be in a rush driving. (Remember, we’re traveling with a toddler!) I found this cute bed and breakfast. It was very proper English. Perhaps even too much so… the owner loved blonde hair, blue eyed Marin, but the reviews online seemed like her guest preferences were biased at best. The place itself was nice but the town of Port Elizabeth left much to be desired. Definitely a stop-over only city in my opinion.

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Addo Elephant Park

I knew we wanted to see animals right away. It was our first stop in Africa after all. I considered going to Kruger outside of JoBerg before starting the road trip, but we knew we would get our full blown safari fix in Etosha when we visited Namibia later in the trip, so I decided Addo would be the perfect destination to start. 

Where to Stay in Addo Elephant Park 

You can stay in the actual park itself, but I love to glamp and I found this cool tent on Airbnb with an amazing view. It was an interesting experience. It was comfortable enough but unfortunately, the weather was unseasonably cold and windy, causing it to be very difficult to sleep!

We didn’t get the best stargazing either due to clouds, but it was nice being in nature. Maybe a little too much in nature…we went on a walk around the property and found an animal carcass licked clean! Our wandering minds went straight to lions! 

The owner, Olaf, was an interesting guy. He gave us a little farm tour and drove us up the hill everyday (for a fee) because our non 4×4 wouldn’t make it. He also had giraffes on the property which were super cool! 

What to Do in Addo Elephant Park

Safari, of course! I had always imagined official safari jeeps with everyone dressed in khaki, but it turns out you can self-drive your safari in most places. We simply drove our car to the park gates and drove on in.

We drove around for hours looking for animals and we were so excited to see warthogs, tortoises, water buffalo, zebras, and huge elephants! The animals weren’t as dense as I was hoping, you definitely had to get lucky, but it was awesome! 

Addo is a national park and it does have a fence, naturally to keep the animals from hurting people, but it did almost feel more Disney Animal Kingdom and less raw Africa.

 Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Jeffrey’s Bay 

After 2 nights in Addo we were headed to Knysna. We stopped at Jeffrey’s Bay for lunch at Die Walskipper which was lovely. The white wine and sunshine was just what we needed after roughing it glamping. The beach at Jeffrey’s Bay was gorgeous and apparently the surf is great, albeit cold for our Costa Rica toes, but the town was a little weird to us. We were expecting a SoCal beach town vibe but it was a little less trendy with a lot more brick. We couldn’t get over how many old brick buildings there were oceanfront, so weird! 

We were also weirded out by the extreme contrasts in wealth. Die Walskipper is right outside of Jeffrey’s Bay and on the quick 2 mile drive we saw intense poverty in the township reminding us of a Brazil-like favela. Then we crossed a bridge into white-people land and it was like it never existed. We continued to see this throughout our South Africa trip but this is when it really hit us that apartheid was part of a much too recent past.

After fueling up on seafood and sunshine we headed to Tsitsikamma National Park. I loved this stop! It was so beautiful and we did a great hike over suspension bridges. After hiking we continued our trip and arrived in Knysna right as the sun was setting.

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Knysna

Knysna is nice! We stayed on Thesen Island and it was such a quaint town. You can walk everywhere and the houses are on waterfront canals. It is truly Pleasantville. There is also a nice children’s playground right downtown and Marin loves a good slide!

Where to Stay in Knysna 

We absolutely loved the townhouse we stayed in. The location was perfect and it was gorgeous! I loved the decor. We spent four nights here and made it the hub of our day trip adventures. 

Where to Eat in Knysna

We tried quite a few restaurants, but our standout picks are Ile de Pain for delicious breakfast, and Fresh Line Fisheries for a nautical vibe with great fish and chips. Honorable mention for the Turbine Hotel. The food wasn’t memorable but the decor is rad!

What to Do in Knysna 

The surrounding beaches are beautiful. We drove around Leisure Island and visited The Heads to have an ice cream by the water.

But our favorite spot was Noetzie Beach by far. We brought a sundowner and a soccer ball and had the best time. It is gorgeous!!

We also went to the museum where you can see the Knysna seahorse. Marin liked it… we think! 

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Plettenberg Bay

We did a day trip from Knysna to explore Plettenberg Bay. I absolutely loved Plett! This may have been my favorite stop on the Garden Route Road Trip. We hiked at the Robberg Nature Reserve and had the best weather.

This is the prettiest hike I have ever done and it reminded me of all of the things I love about California. The cliffs alongside the teal water are insanely beautiful!! We rested on the beach, splashed in the water a bit, and even saw a sea lion. It was a magical day.

Hungry after our hike we headed for lunch at The Lookout and enjoyed a drink on the sunny patio while Marin napped.

Afterwards, we went shopping at Market Old Nick, we were there on Wednesday which is when they also have the farmer’s market, but we just missed it. We wanted to check out some wineries in the area, (apparently one even has a view of elephants!), but we also didn’t have time before they closed. Nonetheless Plettenberg Bay is an amazing stop on the Garden Route.

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Wilderness

After Knysna, we headed toward Hermanus with stops in Wilderness, Victoria Bay, and Mossel Bay. This was a long driving day. 

I had high expectations for Wilderness after reading about it online. I love getting into nature and smelling the woods. We had kind of a rainy morning but we started with coffee at Timberlake Village. They also had a playground and it would be a perfect spot if you have nice weather. There were a lot of awesome looking hikes in Wilderness but many involved canoeing and with our toddler in tow we decided to keep it simple with the Woodville Big Tree walk. It was great! It took about 45 minutes and we saw the big tree! (I mean it’s no El Tule, but still awesome.) 

After the short hike it was time for coffee number two. I think I saw Hallo Coffee on Google Maps so we decided to stop. I am so glad we did! This adorable little food truck is parked on the side of a mountain and the sun came out right in time for us to enjoy the beautiful views. This is a must visit when in Wilderness. 

We also pulled on the side of the road for a quick look at the Map of Africa viewpoint. It was kind of cool. It’s basically just a patch of land that is sorta shaped like Africa. Overall Wilderness had a really nice PNW-esque vibe

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Victoria Bay

I originally had wanted to do lunch in Victoria Bay, but it was pretty crowded with high school kids and the only open restaurant was a food truck selling French fries (thus the high schoolers). Apparently the surfing is good here as well, but it was messy conditions and no one was there when we visited. We hopped out for a quick photo, Marin was napping, and headed toward Mossel Bay. 

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Mossel Bay

Mossel Bay was an okay stop. We drove by the lighthouse and tried to catch a glimpse at Seal Island. We were hoping to see some great whites with our binoculars. (No luck!) But we had some delicious seafood at a kind of weird restaurant/ bar called La Peron. 

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Hermanus 

After our lunch spot in Mossel Bay we had our longest stretch of the drive all the way to Hermanus. 

Where to Stay in Hermanus 

I booked Penguino Guest House with little expectations and it turned out to be an amazing Bed and Breakfast! The hosts were so kind, they had a baby around Marin’s age who looked eerily similar! And the included breakfast was fantastic (the host is a chef!). I definitely recommend this spot when staying in Hermanus.

What to Do in Hermanus 

Go Whale Watching 

I had originally wanted to do a whale watching boat in Hermanus but the conditions weren’t great and they were all booked up. Good news for us is that you can spot them right from the shore in Hermanus! We love a good whale sighting and are fortunate to have had many encounters on our beloved Gypsy Sol. Head to Gearing’s Point for the best vantage point. We also really enjoyed grabbing a coffee and going on the nearby Cliff-Path walk.

Have a Picnic at Voelklip Beach 

We stopped here on our way out of town and it was such a nice spot to have lunch and soak up some sun!

Go to the Farmer’s Market

The Hermanus Country Market was probably our favorite part of Hermanus! There was live music, shopping, a playground for Marin, and acceptable beer drinking before noon! If you have a little one there is a former midwife who sells adorable homemade coats. If you’re in Hermanus on a Saturday you don’t want to miss this! 

We also stopped by the Hermanuspietersfontein Market (that’s a mouthfull!) which is more like a food hall. It seemed to have potential but we got there as they were closing and only had time for a quick drink. 

Stroll around downtown

Downtown Hermanus is really cute and we enjoyed walking around. Grab a coffee or tuck in Hemingway’s Bookshop to pick up a new read.

Grab a drink at Fick’s 

This spot is beautiful! It reminded me of Laguna Beach. The food was just okay but it’s definitely a great spot for a glass of wine. It was pretty chilly on the day we visited but there’s a beautiful natural pool you can swim in.

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Franschhoek and Stellenbosch 

Next stop: wine country! We packed up in Hermanus and headed straight for Franschhoek. As former California residents we adore wine and couldn’t wait to try South Africa’s best. The drive was beautiful!! I couldn’t get enough of the mountain vistas. 

Where to Stay in Franschhoek

This may have been our coolest accommodation yet! Grant was less than thrilled when I told him we’d be sleeping in a working barn with animals. But it turned out to be amazing. I found this spot on Airbnb and after one look I knew we had to stay here. It’s a farm but it’s completely vegan so there’s just a bunch of happy animals and delicious wine everywhere. And the star of the show is vegan activist and artist himself, Pigcasso! I’m not kidding, this is a famous pig who paints with his snout! 

We got to help feed all of the animals which Marin loved (Pigcasso took down an entire avocado and then spit back out the pit!) and walk around and pet them which Marin didn’t love (a donkey bit his finger!). But the best part of our stay was the accommodation itself. We slept in the loft and there was a cozy fireplace and huge window with a gorgeous view of the mountains. 

Funny story: There are planned power outages in South Africa called load shedding. Our host told us the power would be off for a certain amount of time, but it was pretty wild given we were inside the barn with all of the animals. Grant had to give Marin a bath in the dark with the sounds of animals nearby! The creepiest animal of all was the peacock with its shrill shriek! It was a memorable adventure to say the least.

Where to Go Wine Tasting in Franschhoek


Even if you don’t spend the night, you must do a day trip to check it out!


This was the first stop on our self-guided winery tour of Franschhoek. It has a very traditional feel with beautiful gardens. We sat outside under a tree with chandeliers and enjoyed a tasting and cheese board. I believe they provide planned picnics here too but we simply dropped in without a reservation.

Leopard’s Leap

Next, we went to Leopard’s Leap. Completely the opposite of Boschendal, this one had a much more modern feel but I felt the wine was lacking. Bonus: It’s super kid friendly and they had a slide for Marin.

Non-Wine Stops in Franschhoek

If you’re more of a beer lover, check out Tuk Tuk microbrewery. It was a fun, casual spot for dinner.

Another non-wine stop worth mentioning is coffee and breakfast at Terbodore Cafe. It was delicious and we got to pet its namesake dog.

We only spent one night in Franschhoek and on our way out of town we stopped by Stellenbosch for a tasting at Tokara. This place was my favorite. With floor to ceiling glass windows showcasing the vineyard, it is stunning! Marin took a snooze while we enjoyed a cheese board. It was divine. 

After a short stop in Stellenbosch, we headed to the final destination on our Garden Route Road Trip, Cape Town. 

Where to Stop on the Garden Route Road Trip: Cape Town 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Cape Town. Grant went years ago in high school and liked it but I had only heard how crime-ridden it was. I was pleased to find out that it was absolutely amazing and totally resembled a place I would live.

There’s so much to say about this amazing city. Check out our complete guide to Cape Town here.

A Garden Route road trip is a must do on your South Africa itinerary. It reminded me of all the things I love and miss about living in California (mountains, wine, whales!) but it also has safari!!

Road Trippin’


Note: We visited South Africa in October 2021.

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