South Africa’s Garden Route
|Resort:||South Africa's Garden Route|
Discover South Africa’s most iconic road trip; The Garden Route. Vibrant Cape Town, African penguin colonies, world-renowned wine-tasting and spotting herds of elephants are some highlights along this route of cities, beaches, desert and forest.
Stellenbosch– Taste wines among rolling vineyards in the Cape Winelands
National Parks– Explore and sleep at the coastal Tsitsikamma National Park plus safari and overnight in the wild Addo Elephant National Park
Hermanus– Spot the migrating mammals from land in the whale watching capital of the world (in season).
DAY 1 – Join trip in Cape Town
Arrive in Cape Town, South Africa’s Mother City, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Twelve Apostles mountain range. This vibrant city has a lot to offer but due to its ocean-side location visits to some of the highlights, including Robben Island and Table Mountain, can be weather dependent. If you wish to explore the city in depth before travelling down the Garden Route, we recommend adding a pre-tour stay for some extra time in Cape Town.
For those arriving on time, either your leader or an Explore representative will meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm to welcome the group and offer you local advice including where to eat nearby. On this trip, due to different arrival times throughout the evening the full welcome meeting with your leader often takes place on the morning of day two after breakfast.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Cape Town International airport (airport code CPT), which is 20km, around 40 minutes from our hotel.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you may choose to enjoy some free time with a bite to eat in the relaxed Kloof Street area alongside Capetonians or explore the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in the sunshine.
DAY 2 – Explore Cape Peninsula National Park
Our full day trip to Cape Peninsula will begin with a scenic drive via the white-sand beaches of Fish Hoek, stopping to explore the small but important naval base of Simon’s Town. Later, we arrive at Cape of Good Hope, allegedly named due to the optimism once felt by arriving colonial sailors having successfully navigated the Cape and discovering a sea route to the East. We’ll take an hour-long walk within the national park to Cape Point and the lighthouse, keeping an eye out for resident baboons, tortoises, otters and seabirds along the way. The trail is well marked, slightly rocky in places, and boasts diverse flora with many colourful flowers.
We’ll return to Cape Town via Hout Bay, an attractive fishing port once bordered by dense forest, hence its name, which translates as ‘Wood Bay’. Here, we have the option of taking a short boat trip out to Seal Island – home to 1,000 Cape fur seals and guarded by the impressive, towering Sentinel Mountain. Alternatively, explore on dry land to see Hout Bay’s active tuna, snoek and crayfish industry and find out why the town prides itself on offering some of the best fish and chips in the world.
DAY 3 – Free day in Cape Town; evening in Stellenbosch
Today is free for you to explore under your own steam and there is ample choice on how to spend your day.
If you want to visit Robben Island, this morning is the best time to go. With prior booking, you can visit the infamous Robben Island, the former prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. There are departures at 9am, 11am and 1pm but the city’s changeable weather often means the earlier morning departures are the most reliable. For information on how to book this, please see the optional activities section or visit www.robben-island.org.za.
Alternatively, the morning is also the best time to hike up Table Mountain, with more reliable weather and cooler temperatures making a better experience and breath taking views over the Apostles, the Atlantic and the city below. The walk up to the viewpoint takes between three to four hours and is accompanied by our Explore Leader. There is also the option to take the aerial cable car to the top, which runs frequently to and from the summit, where a network of trails criss-cross the plateau and provide a variety of vantage points.
While a Robben Island visit and cable-car visit to Table Mountain can be completed in the same day, time does not allow you to visit Robben Island and hike up Table Mountain, therefore, you need to choose between Robben Island and the Table Mountain hike, or alternatively book a pre-trip stay to give yourself more time.
Another option is to take a trip to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, which claims to be the most beautiful garden in Africa and is devoted to conservation of the Cape’s indigenous species. Your Explore Leader will be able to give further local advice and recommendations on the optional activities.
Late this afternoon, we’ll leave Cape Town and head to the scenic winelands of Stellenbosch where you can relax with a sundowner on the terrace. Our hotel has a restaurant and there are a small selection of eateries just a short walk away.
DAY 4 – Free day in Stellenbosch to visit a vineyard
Stellenbosch is world famous for its wine and today is a perfect opportunity to visit one or two vineyards for a tasting. Many are set within spectacular gardens and farmland, and offer the opportunity to have lunch and a stroll. A guided tour of Stellenbosch Town is also an option and a great way to learn about the many cultures that have come together to make Stellenbosch what it is today. One of the oldest of the colonial settlements, this charming town is made up of wide, oak lined streets and white washed, Cape Dutch architecture. There are many cafes, bars and delis to choose from for lunch and most pride themselves on using local produce.
Or a more active option is to visit Jonkershoek Nature Reserve for a 2.5 hour walking excursion. Easy, scenic walking trails run through an important conservation area of indigenous forest, home to over 1,100 plant species, as well as a number of reptile and mammal species including the elusive leopard.
DAY 5 – Travel to Hermanus via Stony Point’s African Penguin Colony
This morning will be an earlier start as we make our way to Hermanus. A 90 minute drive takes us to the Betty’s Bay area where we will have an included visit to Stony Point Nature Reserve. This reserve sits on the site of a historic whaling station and has a quiet, undiscovered feel, offering excellent penguin viewing without the crowds. The boardwalks can be followed over the craggy outcrops to see the resident seabirds up close without disturbing them. Although humans are not allowed to wander beyond the boardwalks, it does not always stop the penguins joining the trail and setting a slow walking pace!
After a lunch break at Betty’s Bay, we’ll continue to our apartment-style accommodation in central Hermanus. This afternoon will be free to explore the coastal town. From July to November, Hermanus offers some of the world’s best shore- based whale watching, with good opportunity to spot southern right, Bryde’s and humpback whales. Although there is a good chance of seeing the whales from the water’s edge in town, you may prefer to follow the coastal path to a better vantage point or join a boat trip excursion for a closer view. At other times of year, you may choose to spend the day exploring the galleries and museums in Hermanus, which are easy to discover on foot. Or if you developed a taste for South African wine while in Stellenbosch, then Hemel-en-Aarde wine valley (Heaven and Earth Valley) is just a stone’s throw away, and offers a selection of wineries with views over the town and coast below.
This evening will be at your leisure. There is a variety of traditional South African and seafood restaurants lining the streets.
DAY 6 – Visit Cape Agulhas. Spend the night on the banks of the Breede River
We’ll stand on the southernmost point of the African continent this morning and see where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean in a white crash of waves. Now marked by a stone plaque, the ‘Cape of Storms’ was once a point of grave danger to European navigators and to the site of various evidential shipwrecks. We’ll have some free time to explore here and get some lunch.
We’ll continue towards Swellendam this afternoon, leaving the main road to follow a gravel track to our river camp, where rustic, wooden a-frame huts line the banks of the Breede River. This accommodation offers a real break from reality and a chance to enjoy the surrounding nature. You can chat with the friendly team – many of which come from the nearby town – at the bar or around this evening’s camp fire for an insight into their life on the Western Cape. Or find a relaxing spot along the riverbank to enjoy the peace and quiet. This evening a traditional, bush-style dinner will be served before a campfire under the starry sky (weather-dependent).
DAY 7 – Opportunity for rafting on the Breede River. Drive to Oudtshoorn
This morning, if weather allows, there will be an option to try your hand at rafting along the Breede River in two-person inflatable rafts. The grade changes according to the water levels but generally rafting does not exceed grade two and all abilities are welcome. Alternatively, enjoy a coffee by the water’s edge or a take a walk around the surrounding countryside of the Western Cape.
There’ll be time for lunch in the historic town of Swellendam. This town is small by most standards but is one of the oldest districts in South Africa. Rich in colonial history as an old trading post, the town has well-preserved examples of Cape Dutch architecture. Later this afternoon we’ll make our way to Oudtshoorn, where we will be staying in a family-run property close to the centre of town. Depending on our arrival time you can use the pool and all rooms have outdoor seating to make the most of the afternoon sun. This evening is free to walk into town for dinner or perhaps have a barbeque in one of the outdoor eating areas.
DAY 8 – Visit Cango Caves and take in the views at Knysna Heads
We start today by exploring the huge limestone caverns of the Cango Caves. These caves are an underground network of extraordinary structures, millions of years old. The combination of dripping rainwater and limestone has led to the creation of ancient stalactites, stalagmites and mighty rock columns. Allegedly, a local European farmer first discovered the caves late in the 18th century; however, there is research that proves the caves to have been used by man as far back as the Early Stone Age.
Later this morning, we’ll leave Oudtshoorn and make our way to the coastal town of Knysna. Here, we’ll visit Knysna Heads Viewpoint, where two limestone cliffs emerge from the sea side by side, protecting a peaceful lagoon that runs inland from the sea. The lagoon is popular with tourists and local residents alike and is home to fishermen, water sports enthusiasts and many birds, including herons, kingfishers, African fish eagles and Knysna warblers. We’ll have time to enjoy lunch on the waterfront this afternoon and wander around the quaint, little town before we depart on our final journey of the day to Plettenberg Bay.
Our accommodation for the next two nights is a white-washed, seaside resort, set just a five-minute walk down to the unspoilt Keurbooms Beach.
DAY 9 – Discover Robberg Nature Reserve. Free afternoon in Plettenberg Bay
Today we’ll take a short drive to Robberg Nature Reserve where our Explore Leader will lead a walk along the trails. The hiking here is moderate – it’s uneven under foot in places and can be slippery so good walking shoes are advised, but rewards are abundant: brilliant bird viewing, sweeping coastal views and the possibility to spot dolphins and seals playing in the waters below. From July to December, there’s also the chance to see southern right whales that come into the calmer and warmer waters to calve and nurse their young.
After working up an appetite, we’ll stop for a well-deserved lunch in Plettenberg Bay. After lunch, the afternoon is free with the option to relax on the beach, shop for souvenirs or join a whale-watching or kayaking excursion. We’ll return to our accommodation in the late afternoon, when there’ll be some free to time to relax before dinner – eat in the hotel restaurant, or choose a water-front eatery in Plettenberg Bay, and enjoy local wine alongside fresh seafood.
DAY 10 – Walk, kayak or discover the tree canopy at Tsitsikamma National Park
This morning we leave on a short journey to Tsitsikamma National Park about 45 minutes away. Another hotspot for seasonal whale watching, the national park covers both land and sea, protecting important forest and marine areas and offering stunning coastal views. We’ll be staying in the Storms River region where there are numerous well-marked walking trails for varying abilities, as well as the opportunity to explore suspended canopy walkways and zipwires, or to try river kayaking.
Tonight we’ll be staying in simple chalets set amongst the trees just minutes from the sea front. Try fresh seafood in the restaurant or cook up a traditional braai for dinner at one of the communal barbeque areas by the water.
DAY 11 – Experience a game drive at Addo Elephant National Park
We leave the Tsitsikamma area this morning for another of South Africa’s national parks, stopping for breakfast on the way. Home to more than 600 elephants as well as lion, hyena and Cape buffalo, Addo Elephant National Park is our home for the last night of the trip. On arrival we’ll swap into one of the park’s safari trucks – perfect for the terrain and for capturing great wildlife shots – for a two-hour game drive with a park guide. Warthog are abundant here, along with various species of antelope, zebra and of course elephant.
After our game drive there may be time to have a dip in the pool (open November – February) or enjoy the views from your room. Tonight’s your leader will cook up a group meal to be enjoyed together, and after you may want to take this opportunity to visit the viewing platform that overlooks the night-lit waterhole. The platform is a highlight of staying in Addo and provides the opportunity for close-up viewing of the animals.
DAY 12 – Search for wildlife as the sunrises. Trip ends at Addo Elephant Park.
Early risers have the opportunity to book a sunrise game drive with a park guide this morning. Heading out into the bush as the sun slowly peeks over the horizon is a thrilling experience that justifies the early start. The bush is cooler at this time of day, and bathed in majestic lighting – there’s increased chance of seeing hyena and cats on the hunt for breakfast, and fewer cars.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Addo National Park.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Addo Elephant National Park at any time. Check out from the national park accommodation is at 10am. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Port Elizabeth International Airport (PLZ), which is one hour from Addo Elephant National Park.