10 MUST-DO STOPS ALONG SOUTH AFRICA’S GARDEN ROUTE
I’m all about that road less traveled mentality, but I’ve found a 187-mile exception that I’d like to share. Don’t let the number 187 scare you though, because the only crime here is if you haven’t yet experienced this part of the world.
South Africa’s famous Garden Route is a breathtaking stretch of open road that takes you away from the lure of Table Mountain (and its rank as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature), passed some of the best wine growing lands, and leads you a little bit more into the wild.
There’s plenty to do and see with plenty of route options to choose from, and I honestly don’t think you can wrong no matter how you decide to map out your Garden Route adventure.
But for those looking for a little planning inspiration, I thought I’d share some of my personal favorite stops, shops, and wild experiences from my road trip through South Africa’s southern wonderland.
Here are Mar Gone Wild’s 10 Must-Do Stops Along South Africa’s Garden Route (in order of appearance from Cape Town)…
My partner and I had pulled over in Swellendam – a place neither of us had on our radar – to simply fill up at a gas station. But let me tell you my friends, during that pitstop I fell in love.
Passing through Swellendam was what I’d imagine it’d be like to pass through The Shire… Perhaps this is where J.R.R. Tolkien – who was born in South Africa – got some of his inspo from?
I was so darn googly-eyed that we decided to stay for a bite to eat, which led to an impromptu accommodation search and an overnight stay in this ever so quaint town.
In addition to its postcard-perfect cafes, restaurants, and lodging options, this Dutch-inspired town has plenty of cultural offerings too. As South Africa’s third oldest town, I definitely recommend taking in some of the historical sights and stories if your schedule permits. Specifically, check out the Drostdy Museum which houses some pretty unique artifacts from the town’s rich history.
If you want to see what I’m talking about for yourself, simply take the N2 highway towards Mossel Bay and just keep driving until you see the signs for Swellendam — you can’t miss it.
Heading east on the N1 will get you to the Route 324. From there it’s just a short climb over the mountain pass to find this Must-Do stop.
As the road descends and begins to straighten out again, there is a lone tree alongside the road on the right. If you see it, pull over, lock up, and safely cross the road to make your way down to the river. From there, follow the clearing to a pool of black river water.
I suggest losing your “skivvies” but keeping some foot protection on if you decide to take a dip. Oh, and I should probably mention that there is a resident snake that calls these black waters home. So be mindful to tread gently and respect that this is Mr./Mrs. Snake’s territory.
Lastly, don’t be fooled by the dark color of the river (which is just stained from vegetation decays), the water here is very clean. But it is brisk, so you may not last more than a few minutes. I suggest taking some snacks and a beer or two to pass the time while you dry under the sun and get ready to hit the road again.
Oh, Barrydale… where do I begin?
This little “dorp” (which means town in Afrikaans ) is one stop along the Garden Route you’ve got to pencil in – even if it’s just for a quick stroll. Its main street is filled with adorable shops, local art, and plenty of patio-equipped restaurants, with every side street exuding its own timeless countryside charm.
For anyone who missed out on some of the infamous Cape wine tours, Barrydale may be just the cure to quench whatever thirst – sweet or dry – you may have worked up driving the Garden Route.
You can easily find this roadside town right off the Route 62 (just a few hundred meters east of the Route 324 junction).
From Barrydale head northeast on Route 62 if you’d like to visit Ronnie’s Sex Shop. And don’t worry parents – it’s not that kinda place. This iconic pitstop is actually a bar and restaurant.
As the story goes… Ronnie’s Sex Shop use to be just Ronnie’s Shop- a middle of nowhere and somewhere kind of bar. But thanks to some clever slight-of-hand and a little bit of extra red paint the “Sex” was added (it started off as a joke but drew so much attention that the owner decided to keep it), and now Ronnie’s Sex Shop is one of the Garden Route’s most infamous stops.
From Route 62 we took the N12 highway towards George, and along the way my partner and I found ourselves driving through the most beautiful mountain pass along the Witfontein Nature Reserve.
After seeing the brutal impact the lack of rains had had on the landscape, wildlife, and people of the Western Cape we were gifted a moment of rain as we drove through this pass towards George, and lucky for us the rain gave way to some mist. Now I’m not sure if we were just lucky or if this mountain pass is always “a walk above the clouds”, but this was hands down the most magical Garden Route scenery up to this point of the drive.
Whether you catch the mountains covered in mist or not, there’s no doubt that this scenic route is worth pulling over for. With plenty of turnout and lookout points along this winding road and I suggest coming prepared with a packed lunch and having yourself a roadside picnic in the mountains.
If I had to pick, I’d say my favorite stop along South Africa’s Garden Route was Monkeyland in Plattenbhurg Bay. It’s the world’s largest free-roaming multi-species primate sanctuary and is without a doubt one of the most well-done wildlife sanctuaries and educational centers I’ve experienced in all my years of wildlife-inspired travel. ⠀
It’s home to 700+ primates, including 11 different species, most of which aren’t even indigenous to the country (like the adorable lemur mama and her baby pictured below). ⠀
Today, it serves as a refuge to hundreds of animals who have been rescued from the wildlife trade, human-wildlife conflict, and other man-made threats. It also works to educate passing tourists about the dark side of many wildlife tourism attractions- something that’s so important in a wild-rich country like South Africa.
With that said, I highly recommend a visit – especially if you’re a primate lover like me 🙂 To give you a sense of the experience, here’s a short video postcard I made from my time at Monkeyland:
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Press ▶️ & 🔊 for a video postcard from Monkeyland in South Africa. _ About the sanctuary~ Monkeyland is home to more than 700 primates, including ten different monkey species and one ape species (and plenty of other wildlife, too). _ It’s the world’s largest free roaming multi-species sanctuary for primates rescued from the illegal wildlife trade and other man-made threats. _ Here, visitors get to experience primates up close in a responsible and conservation-friendly way, all while learning about Monkeyland’s cheeky residents and how to keep their friends in the wild, wild. _ If you find yourself in Plettenberg Bay along South Africa’s famous Garden Route be sure to pay a visit, it’s one of the best stops in the country 🌍🐒 _ For more info checkout @saasa_monkeyland & www.Monkeyland.co.za _ 🎥 by @zseyez & me Created for @project.conservation _ #MarGoneWild #southafrica #monkeyland #gardenroute #primate #wildlifeconservation #wildlifesanctuary #primates #ecotourism #wildlifetourism #martakesafrica #videopostcard
If you do add this stop to your Garden Route itinerary definitely check out Monkeyland’s sister sanctuaries: Birds of Eden and The Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary. Together, these three places are part of The South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) and are winners of the Lilizela Service Excellence Awards – Best Visitor Experience ‘Wildlife Encounters’; Skål International Sustainable Tourism Award – Best Major Attraction; winner of the ‘Best Animal Welfare Initiative’ and overall winner of the World Responsible Tourism Awards.
The sanctuaries are conveniently located right off the N2 highway east of Plettenberg Bay. For us, this just meant continuing on the N12 towards the coast until we hit the N2 junction.
This one is pretty straightforward:
One: Muster up the courage to face the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee at 216 meters (709 ft) above the Bloukrans River.
Two: Don’t look down
Three: Safely jump or…
Four: Be nudged off the bridge by one of the bungee professionals.
Five: Have yourself a victory drink.
For any non-adrenaline junkies who’d still like to see this bridge (and watch the people willing to jump off of it), there is a bar and restaurant called The Cliffhanger where you can enjoy a nice break from the road.
This Must-Do stop is conveniently located on the N2, just a short drive going east of Monkeyland. For more information about booking this experience click HERE.
Famous for its stormy ocean, turbulent river mouth, and so much more, exploring and staying at Storms River Rest Camp in Tsitsikamma National Park is a definite MUST-DO.
You can fill your stopover with kayaking and beautiful nature walks that lead you to suspension bridges over The River herself. But to really do this stop right, book at least one night in one of the ocean-facing forest cabins offered through SANParks (less than $80/night).
There is everything you need here, from an oceanfront restaurant to a beautifully decorated gift shop. Here plenty of little creatures come out to greet you — I met my fair share of dassies and duikers during our weekend stay. And if you’re super lucky, you may even get to witness whales breach out on the horizon… I think you get the picture.
To get to Storms River Rest Camp you’ll need to take the N2 towards Tsitsikamma National Park, where you’ll need to pay park entry fees and enter the park in order to get to the camp.
Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure Park is located just a 30-minute drive east of Storms River – right off the N2- so it’s the perfect add-on to your Tsitsikamma experience. Here, you can zip-line across the Kruis River to the rushing sound of the park’s 3 waterfalls playing in the background.
The park offers eight different zip-line cables, some as high as 160+ feet above the water– with the longest being 700 feet in length! And for those who aren’t keen on the idea of strapping themselves into a harness and soaring at such heights, don’t worry you can still enjoy the forest.
There are plenty of suspension bridges strung throughout the park that allow you to take in the beauty of the forest’s indigenous plants and animals– including giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees that are hundreds of years old — without all the zipping and zagging.
Dear Elephant Lovers,
This place is paradise.
With over 600 elephants roaming inside this (smaller) park, there is no better place in South Africa – in my opinion – to see/photograph/film the world’s largest land mammal. Spotting these gorgeous giants is almost guaranteed, thanks to the park’s strategically places watering holes and its high population density of elephants. But don’t be fooled by the park’s name, there’s plenty of other wildlife to be seen here than just elephants.
In fact, the park’s recent expansion to include a massive 120,000-hector marine reserve have made it the only national park in the world where you can spot the ‘Big 7’. In addition to Africa’s traditional Big 5 species – elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard – guests can venture offshore and try to spot two other ‘big game’ species: southern right whales and great white sharks.
For those looking to make this more than just a day stop, there are plenty of lodges in and around Addo Elephant Park to choose from (browse some HERE). Also, consider booking a traditional open jeep safari (not self-driving has its perks too – i.e. sundowners) and an ocean safari adventure (like the ones offered by THIS company and THIS company) to make the most of your wildlife experience in around Addo.
To get the park from Tsitsikamma simply continue east on the N2 highway towards Port Elizebeth.
So that’s it for Mar Gone Wild’s 10 Must-Do Stops Along South Africa’s Garden Route. I hope this list comes in handy for anyone planning or thinking of planning an epic road trip in one of the country’s most picturesque regions.
Know of any must-do stops that I may have missed? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below!