The Garden Route is a natural playground that's perfect for a family holiday: sandy beaches, hardwood forests, made-for-paddling lagoons, and a wild coastline where dolphins surf warm, foamy waves. In short, imagine your ultimate holiday checklist and this sunny stretch of southern Cape coastline should tick all the boxes (along with a few you hadn’t even thought of).
South Africa's Garden Route officially starts at Mossel Bay, but for me it’s the mountain pass down to the broad white sweep of Wilderness beach. This laid-back little town lies about an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town if you take direct route along the N2. But why stick to the rather uninspiring busy national highway, when you can opt for the far more attractive (if marginally longer) alternative along Route 62.
Route 62: Scenic Roads & Winelands Towns
From Cape Town it's around a 2-hour drive to Worcester and your turnoff onto Route 62. Forget any road trip nightmares of the past, the uninspiring scenery and greasy spoon stops. Instead, look forward to an incredibly scenic country road that winds past twisted rock formations, vineyard-clad valleys and authentic South Africa towns.
When you feel peckish, stop at a farmstall to stock up on biltong (essential South African ‘padkos’ or road trip food), home-made pies and tasty treats. It’s around 310 km (190 miles) from Worcester to Oudtshoorn with loads to see and do along the way. Stop in the Robertson Valley with its wineries spread along the Breede River; and the town of Barrydale which has some quirky lunch spots - try 'Clarke of the Karoo' or the 'Blue Cow' for fresh-out-the-oven apple pie.
The river cruise at Viljoensdrift Wine Estate in Robertson.
Just after Montagu there’s a dramatic change in scenery as you drive onto the semi-desert plains of the Little Karoo. Oudtshoorn, South Africa’s ostrich capital, has several ostrich show farms where you can learn all about these extraordinary birds. My favourite thing to do in Oudtshoorn, however, is visit the Cango Caves with its narrow stone passageways and vast caverns dripping with stalactites.
Fantastic for families:
- At Viljoensdrift, pick from a list of picnic goodies and enjoy lunch on their river cruise.
- Ride quad bikes through the beautiful Tradouw Valley between Montagu and Barrydale.
- Protea Farm (half-hour detour from Montagu) offers tractor rides into the Langeberg Mountains.
- The Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary is worth the short detour for nose rubs and ear scratches.
- Oudtshoorn has working ostrich farms where you can touch, feed or even ride an ostrich.
- The Cango Caves adventure tour takes you deep into the cave system, and includes a few wriggles through some tight spaces such as the ‘Devil’s Post Box’
Great Place to Stay:
- Rosenhof Country House (Oudtshoorn), a firm favourite, offers luxurious bungalow-style rooms, beautiful gardens and traditional country cuisine with a cordon bleu touch.
Garden Route: Beaches, Forests & Outdoor Fun
One of the Garden Route's most popular towns is Knysna, which lazes on the shore of a shallow lagoon. Knysna is famous for its lagoon, thick indigenous forest, and popular Waterfront which buzzes with restaurants and fantastic bakeries.
For a seaside family holiday, Plettenberg Bay - or ‘Plett’ to the locals - has not just one but a choice of broad beaches with warm kid-friendly foamy waves, When you tire of the sand between your toes there are excellent golf courses, hiking trails and numerous nature reserves nearby to head for.
The broad, white beaches of Plettenberg Bay.
A short drive after Plettenberg Bay is the Storms River Village, surrounded by the thick indigenous forest of the Tsitsikamma National Park. This little village is packed with exciting outdoor activities including a short hike down to a swaying suspension bridge, tubing on the river and treetop canopy tours.
Fantastic for families:
- Find your favourite Plett beach and enjoy a bucket-and-spade holiday soaking up the sun.
- A Sedgeway tour is a fun way to see the forest, and includes a few photo and waterfall stops.
- Spend the day tubing on Storms River; you float at a gentle pace with lots of swims in the river
- Have breakfast (or lunch) at Ile de Pain in the Knysna waterfront - their pastries are amazing!
- Get a combo ticket for Birds of Eden and Monkey Land: two large forested animal sanctuaries.
- The forest canopy tour has exhilarating ziplines high in the treetops of giant yellowwoods.
- A marine safari gets you up close to whales and dolphins as they cruise the coastline.
- Take the ferry to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, then the trailer ride up to the clifftops.
- Go for a walk on the wild and beautiful Robberg Peninsula, fringed with footprint-free beaches.
Swing through the treetops or float down the river at Storms River Village.
Great Places to Stay:
- At Kurland (Plett), a 5-star hotel on a vast private estate, the staff go out of their way to arrange activities around your kids' ages and interests.
- Hog Hollow Country Lodge (Plett) has double-story family suites, and the main lodge deck has magnificent views out over hills of indigenous forest.
- Hunter’s Country House (Plettenberg Bay) has 19 luxurious bungalows set in beautiful gardens. Pick one of their 2-bedroom family bungalows.
Kurland is a fantastic option for families and offers activities such as horse riding.