South Africa is a country blessed with some truly extraordinary landscapes. Perhaps none more so than those found along the Garden Route. This stretch of windy coastal highway a few hours drive from Cape Town has just about everything nature enthusiasts and adventure travelers could want for. Those seeking peace in the outdoors will find pristine forests and safari parks. For those seeking thrills, kilometers of challenging bike trails, a ride on an ostrich’s rump or a jump off the world’s highest commercial bridge await. And that’s just to name a few. If you’re like us, you’ll have a hard time deciding how best to spend your time.
And there is truly no better way to explore the arterial N2 highway of Western Cape province, and its inland counterpart Route 62, than on a self-drive motorcycle tour of South Africa. With interesting attractions at every turn off, a Klein Karoo and Garden Route self-drive is very rewarding and easier than you might expect. If this sounds like your speed, read on for our suggested Garden Route and Klein Karoo self-drive itinerary.
Planning Your Self-Drive Garden Route Tour from Cape Town
With all that there is to see and do in the Western Cape, having a general idea of where you want to go is helpful so you don’t miss out on activities that most appeal to you.
Here’s our suggested Klein Karoo and Garden Route itinerary departing from and returning to Cape Town. This is based on our own 5-day self-drive motorcycle tour last year. We like this route because it allowed us to explore both the Little Karoo as well as the Overberg on our way to and from the Garden Route. However next time we would easily add 2-3 more nights (if not more) so that we could spend less of our time driving each day and more of our time enjoying the beautiful locations we were visiting.
Day 1: Cape Town to Oudtshoorn
Drive Distance: 440-kilometers
Drive Time: 5 hours
Day 2: Oudtshoorn to Knysna
Drive Distance: 120-kilometers
Drive Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Day 3: Knysna to Plettenberg Bay
Drive Distance: 35-kilometers
Drive Time: 30 minutes
Day 4: Around Plettenberg Bay
Drive Distance: 40-kilometers to Bloukrans Bridge (Tsitsikamma)
Drive Time: 30 minutes to Bloukrans Bridge (Tsitsikamma)
Day 5: Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town or Hermanus
Drive Distance: 520-kilometers to Cape Town via the N2, 445-kilometers to Hermanus
Drive Time: 5 hours 40 minutes to Cape Town via the N2, 4 hours 45 minutes to Hermanus
Day 6 (Optional): Hermanus to Cape Town
Drive Distance: 120-kilometers to Cape Town via the N2
Drive Time: 1 hour 30 minutes to Cape Town via the N2
Pitstops: (1) Whale watching (2) Great white shark cage diving
Part One: Cape Town to the Klein Karoo on Route 62
You have two options for reaching the Garden Route from Cape Town – the N2 or Route 62 (by way of the N1 through Worcester). Though the inland Route 62 may be virtually unknown outside of the Western Cape, it is regarded by locals as one of the most interesting and scenic drives in South Africa. The semi-arid mountainous terrain takes you through beautiful landscapes with diverse flora and fauna and over towering cliff passes and crystal clear streams. It is also the faster, more direct route to Oudtshoorn and George (officially the start of the Garden Route). An added bonus – if you have the time to linger a bit longer, and a designated sober driver, you can enjoy a few pitstops along South Africa’s longest wine route.
Recommended Time: 1 Day
The drive from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn can be completed in a long day but be sure to get an early start from Cape Town to allow for plenty of stops along the way to arrive by sun-down (we did not even come close due to a late start and too much lallygagging!). We were happy with the one day we budgeted to explore Route 62. However, if you have more time and are craving some wine sampling and a dip in the hot springs, an added night stopover on the way to Oudtshoorn in Montagu or Barrydale might be for you.
Things to Do on Route 62
Ronnie’s Sex Shop: This place is an institution in South Africa and almost impossible to miss coming from Barrydale (approximately 20-kilometers east) on Route 62 as there is nothing else around. The shop is in fact not an adult sex shop as its name would suggest but a long-standing drinking hole. It received its name after some friends of the owner, Ronnie, played a prank on him painted sex shop over his food stall sign. Ever since the name has stuck and today Ronnie run’s a highly popular watering hole for weary travelers who sometimes get rowdy enough to leave their panties and bras at the bar.
Klein Karoo Wine Route: Barrydale, Montagu and Calitzdorp offer the authentic character of the Klein Karoo, along with some excellent South African wines set amongst spectacular mountains and unique architecture. Pop by one of the many wineries for a rest and taste. Just be careful not to get carried away if you plan to make it to Oudtshoorn by nightfall.
Other Attractions in Klein Karoo
Part Two: Caves and Ostriches in Oudtshoorn
You are now in the arid, sun-baked land of the Little Karoo. Sparsely populated, old-fashioned and rugged, the Little Karoo has maintained a way of life that feels very far from that which is being lived in Cape Town today. Oudtshoorn is its largest town and a bit of a whacky place known for its ostrich features and Victorian buildings.
Recommended Time: 1 Day
Spend a full day in Oudtshoorn exploring some of its uniquer attractions before turning south for Knysna via the Outeniqua Pass to George.
Things to Do in Oudtshoorn
Cango Caves Adventure Tour: There’s more to South Africa’s most stunning show caves than meets the eye. Embark on this 90-minute Cango Caves Adventure Tour and test your tolerance for tight, confining spaces as you crawl, slide, scoot and squeeze deeper into the longest cave in the country.
Safari Ostrich Show Farm: If you’ve made your way to Oudtshoorn and don’t visit an ostrich farm you have missed something. You know ostrich has to be big business in Oudtshoorn to receive the title ostrich feather capital of the world. And while the city for us wasn’t much to write home about, it is absolutely worth a short visit to an ostrich show farm to see what has put this tiny town on the map for more than a century.
Other Attractions in Oudtshoorn
Part Three: Idyllic Coastal Towns and Beaches on the Garden Route
Continue your journey over the Outeniqua Pass to Knysna via George and Wilderness, taking time along the way to stop a viewpoints and pop in cafes. The picturesque town of Knysna is located on a lagoon nestled between lush forest and peaceful estuaries. Knysna is a great place to base your Garden Route adventure as there are plenty of activities in and around the town to keep you distracted, from feeding and walking with the residents of Knysna Elephant Park to exploring the beautiful private and public nature parks in the area.
Recommended Time: 1-2 Days
Plan to spend at least one day in and around Knysna.
Things to Do in Knsyna
Victoria Bay Bridge Viewpoint: Once you come over the Outeniqua Pass to George you’ll be treated to your first views of the coast. It’s not however until you reach Wilderness that the view turns from beautiful to spectacular. Stop at the lookout point over the Victoria Bay Bridge for photographs. If you have the time and interest there are trailheads leading down to the beach beneath the bridge.
Knsyna Elephant Park: The Garden Route is a great place to be based for a few days of African safari. Though we were already scheduled for a self-drive safari through Etohsa National Park in Namibia, we were itching to see some ellies up close so headed over to Knysna Elephant Park for an early morning walk with these gentle giants. Unfortunately we left feeling lukewarm about our experience. While we loved spending time in the presence of such intelligent creatures, the whole interaction felt forced and very routine for the elephants, guides and consequently the guests. Next time we’d opt instead to go to Addo Elephant Park north of Port Elizabeth further down the Garden Route.
Knysna Heads: This one is a requirement for first time visitors to Knysna. The Knysna Heads showcase an incredible natural phenomenon where two dramatic sandstone cliffs guard the entrance to the lagoon, known as the Heads, protecting it from the wrath of the ocean. The Eastern Head has a lookout (free, open to the public) with views of the Lagoon whereas the Western Head (aka Featherbed Nature Reserve) is privately owned and only reached by ferry on four-hour excursions departing from the waterfront.
Sundowners on Thesen Island: After a long day of exploring, Thesen Island is the perfect place to kick the legs up and enjoy a cocktail. Located in the middle of Knysna’s peaceful lagoon, the sunsets here are very relaxing. Try the Knysna oysters, which are reportedly some of the best in the world.
Other Attractions in Knysna
- Garden of Eden Hiking Trail
- Circles in the Forest Hiking Trail
- Whale Watching
- Knysna Brewery Tours
- Knysna Kayak Hire
Part Four: Nature’s Paradise on the Garden Route
You’re in for a treat along this next stretch of arterial highway from Knysna to Nature Valley. This is where the Garden Route will really start to take your breath away with its show of natural wonders and animal sanctuaries. Plettenberg Bay (in the middle of the two) is often regarded as the most glamorous of the holiday resorts on the Garden Route. But don’t let that title fool you. This area is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
Recommended Time: 2-3 Days
Though we preferred Knysna as a town over Plettenberg Bay, the activities around Plettenberg, The Crags, Nature Valley and Tsitsikamma were among our favorites on our trip. We’d suggest planning two or three days here.
Things to Do in Plettenberg Bay (Plett) & The Crags
Bloukrans Bridge Bungee: There’s no turning back once you step foot on the platform of the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee. Standing at 216 meters, this adrenaline filled adventure is an easy pitstop along the N2. Even if you can’t muster up the nerves to take the plunge yourself, the Cliffhanger Restaurant screens live feeds from the jump platform.
Robberg Nature Reserve: For us this is a hike not-to-miss while visiting the Garden Route. We were blown away by the spectacular and constantly changing scenery at Robberg Nature Reserve. If you are really keen, you can even book a bunk to stay overnight in the park’s Fountain Shack. We can’t wait to spend more time here on our next visit.
Other Attractions in Plett, the Crags & Nature Valley
To say we underestimated the amount of awesome activities to be found around Plett is an understatement. We could have easily spent five days here (and all our money) without getting bored. If you’re making your activity list, here are a few other places to start:
- Jukani Cat Sanctuary
- Birds of Eden
- Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary
- Fishing Safaris
- Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve
- Sea Kayaking & Whale Watching
- Canyoning the Crags
- Blackwater Tubing Tsitsikamma
Part Five: Sharks, Wine & Adventure in the Overberg
At this point, heavy sigh, it is time to start making your way back to Cape Town. Leave Plettenberg Bay early to reach George or Mossel Bay for brunch. From here continue along the N2 back to Cape Town. Be sure to take the coastal highway along winding you through Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay next to Kogelberg If you want to break up a long-day of driving, plan an overnight in Hermanus.
Recommended Time: 1 Day
With our flight to Namibia booked, we had to race back to Cape Town, thus only spending one long day driving back from Plettenberg. However, we would highly suggest planning an additional night in Hermanus to complete your Route 62 and Garden Route Self-drive before making your way back to Cape Town. Hermanus is a great town stay in for an early morning cage dive in neighboring Gaansbai with the great white sharks.
Things to Do in Mossel Bay, Hermanus & Gansbaai
Surfing, Windsurfing & Kitesurfing in Mossel Bay: On our coastal drive back towards the Overberg, we enjoyed watching the surfers out on the break. Though we didn’t surf, we’d recommend grabbing lunch at one of the beach front restaurants and take a break from driving for a few hours to enjoy the view.
Great White Shark Cage Diving: Go face to face with the deep blue’s fiercest and perhaps most misunderstood predator. South Africa’s Garden Route is one of a few places in the world where you can cage dive with great white sharks. The town of Gansbaai is the main base for shark cage diving companies. Instead plan to stay in the more charming neighboring town of Hermanus for the night and travel to Gaansbai for cage diving.
Or if you don’t have time while on your garden route tour look into cage diving in Simons Town. We went with the team at Shark Explorers and though we didn’t see any sharks that morning (le sigh) they are a well-run organization.
Adventure in Mossel Bay:
If You Go: Driving the Garden Route Logistics
What: A self-drive along the Garden Route and Route 62 is a liberating and rewarding way to explore some of South Africa’s most beautiful country. Plan five days at a minimum to take advantage of all that is on offer here.
Where: The stretch of road known as the Garden Route officially runs from George to Port Elizabeth on the N2. Route 62 lies inland from Montagu to Oudtshoorn and beyond.
When: There is no bad time to visit the Garden Route, although depending on the season and Western Cape’s unpredictable weather spells, be prepared for rain and shine. High season for South African travelers is around the Easter holiday and in December so book accommodations and activities well in advance if you plan to visit during these times.
How: To make the most of the Garden Route’s scenery, and to allow yourself enough time to get lost on it’s enchanting side-rode diversions, self-drive is the best option. We hired a motorcycle (the sexy BMW F800GS) complete with panniers and topbox from Cape Bike Travel and set out on the open road. We only wish we had rented our sweet ride for longer!