Get ready for an epic 3200km road trip through South Africa that passes along the Garden Route, covering deserts, sand dunes, wildlife, buzzing cities, traditional villages, romantic coves, heavenly beaches, rugged coastline and adrenaline-fuelled thrills. We’ve called on the expertise of travel junkies Bolle and Marco who have done the drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town, so you’ll get plenty of tips you won’t find anywhere else.
Expect plenty of stops along the way to gape at South Africa’s stunning landscapes and experience unforgettable moments in this amazing country.
The first stop on our Garden Route road trip is Johannesburg, and right now, the neighbourhood of Maboneng is trending. Buzzing with loads of cool cafés, galleries and boutiques, the crowd is young and stylish, with a flair for fashion and design. Check out the Curiocity Backpackers Hostel while you’re there.
Braamfontein should also be on your list. The Neighbourgoods Market is held here every Saturday, with a DJ, a rooftop terrace, mouth-watering food from around the world and a cool urban atmosphere.
Tip: Want to learn more about the country’s past? Then it’s worth taking a guided tour of the SOWETO township, stopping off at the Hector Pieterson Museum and the house where Nelson Mandela once lived.
If you want to go hiking and experience nature, don’t miss out on the chance to spend a couple of days in the Drakensberg. The sheer scale of the scenery and the majestic mountains is awe-inspiring. Most hostels also offer tours of the Kingdom of Lesotho, with hikes to the Tugela Falls.
It’s also worth taking a hike through the Royal Natel National Park and staying a night or two at Karma Backpackers. The park boasts amazing viewpoints, waterfalls, natural pools and much, much more. The admission is a steal, at less than €2.50 a person.
Tip: Did you know that Lesotho boasts the highest pub in Africa? Take a 4×4 up through the legendary Sani Pass to be rewarded with a view that’s out of this world.
3. Coffee Bay
As you get closer to the coast, the landscape starts getting more wild and rugged. This part of KwaZulu-Natal isn’t known as the “wild coast” for nothing. Stunning Coffee Bay has rugged rock formations and cliffs, traditional round huts and heavenly coves.
Like many other backpackers, we ended up staying here longer than originally planned because it was just so beautiful. Make friends with other travellers at the Coffee Shack Hostel in front of the cosy bonfire with a cool Savanna Dry.
Don’t miss taking a hike to the “Hole in the Wall”, an extraordinary natural doorway in a rock formation in the ocean. Spend an evening with the locals, enjoying good food, music and dancing.
Tip: If you visit South Africa between June and October you’ll have a good chance of spotting dolphins and whales along the coast.
If it’s endless, wide sandy beaches you’re after, Chintsa is the perfect place to spend a day or two on the way from Johannesburg to Cape Town. This tranquil destination with lush subtropical vegetation and wild banana trees only has a population of 1800 people. We can’t think of a better place to chill out.
Tip: Rent a surfboard and wetsuit at the Buccaneers Backpackers hostel to catch a few waves.
5. Jeffreys Bay
Each year sees thousands of surf-junkies flock to Jeffreys Bay. The pros here especially like to surf the legendary 800 metre-long “super tube” waves. Jeffrey’s Bay also hosts the fantastic JBay Winter Fest, music festival.
Tip: Go sand boarding over epic dunes with Island Vibe Hostel.
6. Addo Elephant National Park
The first stop on our Garden Route itinerary for anyone who wants to see some South Africa’s legendary wildlife. You can see elephants, zebras, wildebeest, and hyenas at Addo Elephant National Park, a diverse wildlife conversation park situated close to Port Elizabeth – all without having to get out of the car.
Tip: Don’t forget to take a pair of binoculars to see the wildlife from a distance. You’ll get the best sightings in the early morning and late in the evening, usually at waterholes.
7. Tsitsikamma National Park
If you haven’t already fallen in love with South Africa by this point, you will be after visiting Tsitsikamma National Park. Fresh sea air, rugged cliffs, green hillsides and turquoise ocean waters are just some of the highlights.
A must-see is the incredible viewpoint that is a short 20-minute walk from the Storm River suspension bridge.
Tip: Don’t skip the Waterfall Trail, which takes 90 minutes each way.
8. Bloukrans Bridge
Consider yourself an adrenaline junkie? Then don’t miss the chance to bungee-jump from the Bloukrans Bridge. Standing 216 metres above the valley floor, it’s the highest bridge in Africa. Standing on the edge of the platform, staring down into the deep ravine, is exhilarating.
9. Nature’s Valley
We headed from Bloukran’s Bridge to Nature’s Valley, where we spent a couple of nights in a safari tent. If you’re just looking to relax for a while, this is the place to do it.
This is where the Garden Route starts to head back inland, and before long you’ll reach “little Karoo”, a semi-desert wilderness that feels like the Australian Outback. Driving over the Robinson Pass with its countless twists and turns, is a real highlight. Also don’t miss out on the chance to visit one of the many ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn itself.
11. Mossel Bay
This town often gets called the “ugly duckling” of the Garden Route, but we beg to differ. Mossel Bay is a cool and laid-back town. Here, you can relax on the beach, stay in a converted train (Santos Express Train), enjoy good food and sip on delicious lattes.
Tip: Visit the Blue Shed Coffee Roastery for its great coffee and instagrammable exterior. Try the chocolate brownies. They’re heavenly.
12. De Hoop Nature Reserve
The sand dunes of the De Hoop Nature Reserve were without a doubt one of our favourite South African sights during our road trip along the Garden Route. They are located between Mossel Bay and Cape Agulhas nature reserve.
Tip: The area is one of the best places to whale watch from the shore. Catch a sighting while hiking on the “Whale Trail”.
13. Cape Agulhas
Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of Africa. Follow the road to a lighthouse and a small trail that leads to the “Foot of Africa” where two oceans meet.
Tip: Venture about 2km further and you’ll find old shipwrecks sitting in the sea, like the Meisho Maru38, which ran aground during a violent storm in November 1982.
Hermanus is an incredibly beautiful little town on the coast. Here you’ll find plenty of accommodation options, bars and restaurants, supermarkets and boutiques. Hermanus is considered the whale-watching capital of the world. Each year from June to December, southern right whales and humpbacks arrive from the Antarctic.
Tip: Take a couple of hours to hike along the Cliff Path Trail. It’s a lovely route that hugs the coastline.
Muizenberg was another one of our favourite places in South Africa. There’s not much there, apart from a supermarket, some surf schools, a couple of small restaurants and cafés, however, Muizenberg exudes charm. It’s key attractions are surfing and kitesurfing. You can rent out a board and a wetsuit for about €15-20 a day at Gary’s Surf School or Surf Emporium.
16. Chapman’s Peak Drive
Heading out from Muizenberg, you end up in Simon’s Town and the Cape of Good Hope. Don’t miss iconic Chapman’s Peak Drive. This scenic road is one of the most beautiful in the world and is a must-visit destination on the Garden Route. Hidden around every corner are views that will leave you breathless.
17. Cape Town
The final stop on the Garden Route from Johannesburg to Cape Town will throw you back into the deep end of civilisation.
We could probably write a whole novel about this unique, buzzing metropolis. Cape Town is as diverse as South Africa itself. We love the cool markets and cafés, international cuisine and colourful nightlife.
Climbing up the Tafelberg from Kistenbosch Botanical Gardens was a favourite, as was the Neighbourgoods market in Woostock. Don’t miss out on a trip to Lion’s Head to see the sunset from Signal Hill.
Tip: There are MyCiTi buses going in any direction at pre-scheduled times. The buses are modern and cheap.
Feeling inspired to go road tripping? Check out our car hire service.
About the authors:
Bolle and Marco have been travelling the world for over a year. Visit their blog Komm’ wir machen das einfach (Come On, We’ll Make it Easy) to find even more entries, routes, pictures and videos about their e-book on South Africa.