Do you want to drive the Garden Route in South Africa but are unsure how to plan the trip? This post will help you to plan your Garden Route self-drive adventure in South Africa.
It starts with all the essential South Africa travel tips you will need to know, followed by a day-to-day 2-week South Africa travel itinerary outlining where to go and what to do in Cape Town and along the Garden Route.
It’s the only travel guide you’ll need for planning the perfect Garden Route self-drive itinerary through South Africa.
My Garden Route Self-Drive Itinerary
My South Africa self-drive Garden Route itinerary reflects a 14-day return trip starting and finishing in Cape Town.
A direct flight from London Heathrow to Cape Town will take 11 hours and 45 minutes.
My 2-week trip to South Africa gave me plenty of time to experience the highlights of Cape Town and the Garden Route (including going on a non-malarial safari) without feeling rushed for time.
I took my trip in April at the beginning of South Africa’s autumn season, and I experienced warm weather with only one day of rain.
My Two-Week South Africa Road Trip Itinerary
- Explore Cape Town and Cape Peninsula: Days 1 – 4
- Drive to Knysna to Knysna Elephant Sanctuary: Days 4 – 6
- Tsitsikamma to see Storms River: Days 6 – 7
- Amakhala Game Reserve for three days of safari: Days 7 – 10
- Plettenberg Bay: Days 10 – 12
- Gansbaai to include shark cage diving: Days 12 – 15
- Flight home from Cape Town
South Africa Garden Route Map
Helpful Information for Planning a Trip along the Garden Route
What and Where is the Garden Route in South Africa?
The Garden Route is a 300-kilometre (190 miles) stretch of road running through the southeastern coast of South Africa and gets its name from the abundance of flora growing along the route.
While the Garden Route officially starts in Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and finishes at Storms River Mouth in the Eastern Cape, the starting point is usually in Cape Town for most tourists planning to drive the Garden Route. It finishes on a safari near Port Elizabeth (or vice versa).
Why Choose The Garden Route in South Africa?
The Garden Route speaks for itself (as seen in my itinerary). It is unique because it is malaria-free, unlike other parts of South Africa and other safari destinations such as Kruger National Park.
You won’t need to worry about malaria as you explore the Garden Route, which is a plus, especially if you have children and aren’t happy to give them anti-malarial drugs.
Best Time to Drive the Garden Route
The Garden Route is gorgeous all year round but at its best between November and April.
These months are South Africa’s autumn (fall) season when temperatures start to cool off to a manageable heat. If going on safari, you can expect to see babies in the wild at this time, which is a magical event to witness.
How to stay safe driving the Garden Route
The Garden Route is driven by tourists and locals during the day and is considered relatively safe; however, driving at night is not advised.
Don’t turn off into the bush or a township and leave the car – dangers from wildlife and humans may be present! Use common sense and only stop at well-known tourist towns during the day.
World Nomads have some excellent tips for staying safe on South Africa’s roads and offers comprehensive travel insurance for your trip.
What are the driving times from Cape Town to Amakhala Safari Reserve?
My Garden Route self-drive itinerary starts from Cape Town in the west. It runs to Amakala Safari Reserve in the east, where I turn around and return on the same route.
Individual driving times between Garden Route locations are highlighted throughout this article.
The distance one-way on the N2 motorway is around 800 kilometres (500 miles). Driving in South Africa is on the left-hand side of the road, so perfect if coming from the UK!
What is the accommodation like in South Africa?
Accommodation in South Africa varies in style and budget, and you can stay in some stunning properties.
My accommodation ranged from 3-star to 5-star properties, and all offered a comfortable and enjoyable stay. I have listed my Garden Route hotels in each section of this Garden Route travel guide.
There are many hotels to choose from in each locale, so please look below at alternative accommodations along the Garden Route that will suit all budgets.
South Africa Time Differences (GMT)
Understanding time differences between countries is vital when planning a trip to South Africa. You don’t want to land late at night and have to find your hire car and accommodation in the dark.
South Africa is:
2 hours ahead of London, England
7 hours ahead of Washington DC, USA
9 hours behind Canberra, Australia
11 hours behind Wellington, New Zealand
3.5 hours behind New Delhi, India
South Africa 14-Day Travel Guide
Days 1 – 4 / Cape Town
I picked up my hire car once I landed at Cape Town airport; however, if you prefer to take a taxi into Cape Town and organise your hire car from there, I would recommend Welcome Airport Pickups for reliable service.
Where to Stay in Cape Town
Lawhill Luxury Waterfront Apartments – 4 nights / 5-star rating
The Lawhill Luxury Waterfront apartments are the perfect place to stay if you want to explore the best Cape Town tourist attractions.
The luxurious self-catering apartments are well-designed and equipped with everything you need to enjoy a comfortable stay in Cape Town.
The apartments are a short walk from the Victoria and Albert Waterfront and have stunning views of Table Mountain.
Best things to do in Cape Town
Day One – Victoria and Albert Waterfront
Cape Town’s famous waterfront is where you will find restaurants, bars, boat trips to Robben’s Island and many other great activities.
You can read more here about 12 of the top attractions to visit in Cape Town.
Day Two – Table Mountain
One of the most iconic natural landmarks in South Africa is Table Mountain, and no visit to Cape Town is complete without a trip up this magnificent mountain.
Either hike to the top and take the cable car back down or take the cable car both ways. Whatever you choose, the impressive views from the top will blow your mind!
You can read more here about How to climb to the top of Table Mountain
Day Three – The Cape Peninsula
Encircling Cape Town central is the Cape Peninsula, home to one of the most popular tourist sights in South Africa, the penguins of Boulders Beach. Aside from penguins, the Cape Peninsula has beautiful sandy beaches, great surfing spots and colourful neighbourhoods.
The Cape of Good Hope nature reserve is a place to spot mountain zebras, baboons, and many birdlife varieties. At the same time, Constantia vineyards offer visitors the chance to sample delicious South African wines.
You can read more about the 10 Best Places to Visit Around the Cape Peninsula.
If you want to visit Cape Winelands, the drive is a 60-minute from Cape Town Central. I hadn’t factored in a visit to the wineries within my garden route road trip as I had children with me.
Still, on a return visit (now they are adults), you can be sure I will include the vineyards in my next South Africa itinerary!
You can read here about Visiting South African Wineries in the Cape Winelands.
Day Four – Driving Times – Cape Town to Knysna 6 Hours along N2 motorway
Angie’s Top Tip
After around 2.5 hours of leaving Cape Town on the N2, stop at Tredici in Swellendam for delicious Italian pastries and coffee.
Days 4 – 6 / Knysna
Where to Stay in Knysna
The Lofts Boutique Hotel – 1 night / 4-star rating
The Lofts Boutique Hotel is unique in its styling and location. Perched on the edge of Knysna Lagoon on Thesen Island, this beautiful hotel offers a contemporary stay in stunning surroundings.
Breakfast vouchers are valid at four local eateries, and guests can book evening meals at the local Knysna waterfront restaurants.
Angie’s Dinner Recommendation
For great fish dishes in an enviable waterside setting head to The Dry Dock Food Company
Best things to do in Knysna
Knysna is a beautiful town with activities based around the Knysna Lagoon. Take a boat tour and combine it with tasting the famous Knysna oysters. Or why not enjoy a sundowner aboard a sunset cruise?
Adrenaline lovers will find hiking and biking around the Knysna forest a fun activity. Those seeking animal-centred experiences can swim with seals or interact with elephants at Knysna Elephant Park.
Organised activities in Knysna
Day Five Morning – Knysna Heads
Knysna Heads is the most popular place to visit in Knysna and is a famous landmark on the Garden Route. Enormous sandstone cliffs separate the Knysna Lagoon from the Indian Ocean.
Visitors come to the ‘The Heads’, as they are commonly referred to, so they can enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding town and ocean. A walk along the rocks takes you to the entrance of Knysna Heads, which is worth doing.
Angie’s lunch recommendation:
Find a seat with a view at East Head Cafe and enjoy lunch and drinks in this beautiful spot
Day Five Afternoon and Day Six Morning/Lunch – Knysna Elephant Park
Knysna Elephant Park – 1 night
The Knysna Elephant Park offers guests the opportunity to have a sleepover with elephants and join them on a sunrise walk to their watering hole. This activity is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave long-lasting memories.
You can read more here about Walking and sleeping with elephants in Knysna.
Day Six – Driving Times – Knysna to Storms River 60 minutes
Days 6-7 / Storms River
Where to Stay in Storms River
Tsitsikamma Village Inn – 1 night / 3-star rating
Tsitsikamma Village Inn is a unique place to stay close to the official end of the garden route at Storms River. It is a collection of colonial and heritage buildings scattered around a central garden, all different in styling and offering basic but comfortable accommodations.
I chose this property for its quirkiness and proximity to Tsitsikamma National Park and Storms River. The hotel has three on-site eateries, De Oude Martha restaurant, a pub and a cafe. An outdoor swimming pool is also available for guests.
Best things to do in Tsitsikamma
The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park is a must-visit destination if you love the great outdoors.
Hike through its numerous trails or head to the mouth of Storms River, where it meets with the Indian Ocean. The mouth of the river is where you will find the Storms River suspension bridge.
Other adrenaline sports include zip-lining through the forest canopy or bungee jumping from one of the world’s highest bungee jumps (216 metres) at Bloukrans Bridge.
Arborists will be interested in visiting Tsitsikamma’s famous 800-year-old ‘Big Tree’, standing 37 meters high and with a nine-metre circumference!
Day Six Morning – Storms River
Storms River Mouth Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park leads through coastal forest and along boardwalks, stairs and suspension bridges that cling to the cliff edge. It is one of the most popular things to do in Tsitsikamma.
You can read more here about the Storms River suspension bridge in Tsitsikamma.
Organised activities in Tsitsikamma National Park
Day Seven – Driving Times – Storms River to Amakhala Game Reserve 3 Hours
Days 7-10 / Amakhala Game Reserve
Where to Stay in Amakhala Game Reserve
Quatermain’s 1920s Safari Camp – 3 nights / 3-star rating
A once-in-a-lifetime experience is to go on safari, and there is no better place than Amakhala Game Reserve.
There are several different types of accommodation to book, but for me, the real sense of being on safari is sleeping in a tent – luckily, the rest of my family agreed!
You can read more here about my review of Quatermain’s Safari Camp
Safari on Amakhala Game Reserve
Going on a safari is a magical experience that will stay with you forever.
To see wild animals in their natural environment will undoubtedly bring tears to your eyes; it did with me. Watch the animals interact with one another, feed, bathe, fight and sleep all right in front of you.
You can read here about My incredible lion encounter in South Africa
After being on safari, we turned around and headed back along the Garden Route to Cape Town.
We stopped in Plettenberg Bay and Gansbaai on the route to participate in more exciting animal encounters.
Day 10 – Driving Times – Amakhala Game Reserve to Plettenberg Bay 3 Hours 15 mins along N2 motorway
Days 10 – 12 / Plettenberg Bay
Where to Stay in Plettenberg Bay
Milkwood Manor on Sea – 2 nights / 4-star rating
Milwood Manor has direct access to the beach with fabulous views of the Keurbooms River lagoon and the Indian Ocean.
The hotel has a restaurant and a bar with two communal lounge areas. The hotel has a 4-star rating and offers an upmarket stay in Plettenberg Bay.
Angie’s Top Tip:
Head to Old Nick Village in Plettenberg Bay and discover artisan shops, galleries and eateries in heritage buildings scattered amongst lush gardens.
Best things to do in Plettenberg Bay
Plettenberg Bay, or ‘Plett’ as the locals call it, is a premier seaside destination along the Garden Route. It is popular because of its sweeping golden beaches, indigenous forests and wine estates.
The world-heritage Robberg Peninsula nature reserve offers visitors the chance to hike some of South Africa’s most iconic trails.
Day Ten – Our visit to the Plettenberg animal sanctuaries
Plettenberg Bay is also the home to The Crags, where visitors will find plenty of Garden Route wildlife encounters. We visited Birds of Eden, Monkeyland and Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and would recommend all of them.
You can read here about ten ethical animal encounters along the Garden Route.
Organised activities in Plettenberg Bay
Day 11 – Relaxing by the sea
Today was the first time we had seen rain, so the day was a complete washout, but staying inside is no hardship when you are at a beachfront hotel. In some ways, the weather did us a favour, giving us a chance to rest. We watched films, read books and went for an evening stroll once the rain stopped.
Day 12 – Driving Times – Plettenberg Bay to Gansbaai 5 Hours along N2 motorway
Days 12-15 / Gansbaai
Where to Stay in Gansbaai
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve – 3 nights / 5-star rating
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is one of the most exclusive hotel resorts along the Garden Route. It offers guests sumptuous rooms overlooking the fynbos (indigenous plants) and the coastline. There is no reason to leave the reserve as it has a gourmet restaurant, bar, gym, and spa; however, you will be spoilt for choice with plenty of things to do in Gansbaai.
During your stay, there are plenty of activities to try out. These range from horse-riding, forest, beach and fynbos walks, shark cage diving, one of South Africa’s top tourist activities, and the chance to visit ancient caves.
You can read here about my review of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Best things to do in Gansbaai
Gansbaai is the heart of marine life and outdoor activities in South Africa. Cage dive with sharks and observe whales migrating across South Africa’s oceans. Visit African penguins at the seabird sanctuary or horse ride along the beach; there’s something for everybody in Gansbaai.
All the activities I experienced in Gansbaai were part of the package for guests staying at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.
Day 13 – Horseback Riding and Ancient Caves
Day 14 – Shark Cage Diving
You can read about How to Cage Dive with Great White Sharks in Gansbaai.
Day 15 Morning – Forest and Fynbos Safari
Organised activities in Gansbaai
Day 15 – Driving Times – Gansbaai to Cape Town 2 Hours
Day 15 Evening – Cape Town Airport
With heavy hearts, we left Gansbaai and returned to Cape Town airport for our evening flight back to Heathrow.
Our 14-night Garden Route road trip had been exceptional in every sense of the word. We had experienced once-in-a-lifetime activities that would stay with us forever.
Are You Ready to Plan a Two-Week South African Road Trip?
Has my post inspired you to plan a self-drive road trip along the Garden Route? If it has, I would love to know – receiving feedback is how I can help my readers even more.
And if I can answer any questions you may have about my 2-week Garden Route itinerary, please leave me a message below. I will get back to you as quickly as possible.
Alternatively, if you prefer someone to drive you around South Africa, why not join a week-long Garden Route tour?
Are you looking for further South African travel inspiration? Please check out the following in-depth blog posts on South Africa to give you the ultimate information on each location I visited.
Need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.
Please PIN for future holidays in South Africa.