During our month stay in Cape Town, South Africa, we planned a road trip up the Garden Route over 6 days in total along 1,495km. We had so much help and support from friends and family that it really did make the trip so special! We stayed with a couple of host families to save us money on accommodation and Gran lent us her brand new car so that we didn’t have to hire one! If you do want to rent a car Rent-a-Cheapie have some great deals.
Travel Tip: the joy of driving in South Africa is that the insurance accompanies the car, not the driver, so you can share the driving without any extra cost.
Just a warning that this is rather a long post! We really did cram our days full of incredible sights and amazing experiences so I have tried to include all the important details in case you fancied trying out the trip for yourself.
Day 1 – Cape Town to Mossel Bay, Wilderness and Knysna
So, armed with our road maps from the early 1900s (not much has changed it seems!), a series of sing-along playlists, and a boot full of braai meat and junk food, we set off.
Our first stop was the sleepy seaside town of Mossel Bay. The main attraction here has to be the infamous Post Office Tree. I have said it before, and I will say it again – everything in Cape Town has a story and, more often than not, it is a fascinating one that dates back many years, and this seemingly mundane tree is no exception. Quick history lesson: The Post Office Tree stands near the fountains where Portuguese seamen regularly drew water. In 1501 Captain Pero D’Ataide left a message in an old shoe tied to The Post Office Tree warning of the troubles at sea. The post box at the Old Post Office Tree can be used to post postcards and letters and a special frank is used on all outgoing mail to commemorate the fact that South Africa’s first post office was this tree! Aside from the Post Office Tree, Mossel Bay also sports some lovely beaches and some great surf spots, namely the Inner Pool at The Point.
Our second stop for the day wasn’t a planned one. As we drove through Wilderness we passed several stunning lakes shrouded in a low hanging mist from the sea that gave them a surreal and eerie feel. We decided to go off the beaten track and made our way down to a hotel called Lakeside Lodge & Spa which sits right on the edge of Swartvlei lake. The view was stunning and so quiet and peaceful you really could lose yourself in the moment.
When we eventually pulled ourselves away from the serenity of Wilderness, we made our way on to Knysna. I have to say this was probably the most beautiful spot we drove through. The vistas that you can survey from the Knysna Heads is something out of a dream and we could have sat there for hour upon hour just trying to imprint the view in our memories.
We were on such a tight budget that we had initially planned to book ourselves into a caravan park and sleep in the car. But after 6 hours of driving, the thought really was less than appealing, and so instead we stayed in a small log cabin at a caravan park called Woodbourne Resort on the Eastern Head. It cost us R600 (approx. £35) to stay in the cabin, whereas the caravan and tent pitches were R200 (approx. £12)
Day 2 – Knysna to Plettenberg Bay, Tsitsikamma National Park, Jeffrey’s Bay and Port Elizabeth
We woke before 5am on our second day to drive down to Coney Glen Beach and watch the sunrise over the cliffs and all of the fishing boats heading out for the day. It may be difficult to throw the covers off so early (especially as that was 3am UK time) but it really is worth it as South Africa wakes early.
We had decided that our first stop for our second day would be Plettenberg Bay (Plett for short). All I can say is that I am glad we didn’t spend too much time here. While the bay is quite impressive, it didn’t even nearly touch on the views we had in Knysna and we struggled to find much going on in the town either. My advice would be to give Plett a miss unless you have loads of time to spare and don’t mind stopping just for an ice cream on their white sand beaches.
Our second stop was at Tsitsikamma National Park. We gave ourselves half a day to explore the park and forest but could easily have spent 2 whole days here. The National Park is stunning! In amongst the animal spotting and wave watching we hiked across the 77m long suspension bridge across the mouth of the Storms River, and trekked 7km over the rocky beaches to the waterfall. We also managed to get completely lost on the way back from the waterfall and ended up on the Otter Trail as an unexpected bonus!
Our final stop before reaching Port Elizabeth was Jeffrey’s Bay (J-Bay to the locals). Jeffrey’s Bay is famous for only really one thing – surfing. It is one of the five most famous surfing spots in the world and, even as a child, I remember my dad telling me about the treasures this little town held for a weekend of surfing. Being amateur surfers ourselves, Rich and I had to check it out and, naturally, we spent our time here watching the surfers at Dolphin Beach and wishing we had our own boards to hand!
While it can be hard having a family that is spread all over the world, it sure does have its pros. The family reached out to their connections and to save ourselves some money, we rekindled relationships we didn’t even know we had. When we arrived in Port Elizabeth (or P.E.) we were welcomed by our wonderful first host family Val and Rob (my mum’s aunt and uncle).
Day 3 – Port Elizabeth to Addo Elephant Park
Travel Tip: Always invite advice from locals as they can introduce you to some great places you never knew existed and tell you stories you otherwise would never have heard.
Val and Rob suggested that we visited the site of Sacramento and the Samrec Rehab Centre before heading up to the Addo Elephant Park and so we took their advice and went to have a look. The site of Sacramento is where a 2500kg canon, salvaged from the wreckage of the Portuguese galleon Sacramento, has been placed atop a hill pointing in the direction that the ship sank. The beach below the site stretches for miles and is one of the more beautiful beaches we visited on our trip.
From there, we drove up the coast to Samrec. This rehab centre is devoted to rescuing tired, dehydrated and injured penguins that become stranded along the shores of P.E. and surrounding areas. There is a café, you can visit without paying to get in, from which you can watch the penguins playing in their pool just outside. If you would like to make more of a day of it, Samrec is located within a National Park and you can pay to visit the park and take long hikes along the coast.
We headed inland, up North towards the Addo Elephant Park. We had already seen and done so much and the whole point of our trip was only just about to begin!
Day 4 – On Safari at Addo Elephant Park
We had had several early mornings so woke up slow and had breakfast looking out over the game park while some peckish Warthogs and Kudu grazed just metres from our balcony! While you can opt to stay in more expensive chalets in Addo Elephant Park we really didn’t feel it was necessary. We had a great view and wonderful, clean facilities at our disposal for half the price in our Safari Tent and it felt a bit more authentic – I suppose that’s the right word.
We visited the park at a great time of year to see all the young offspring. We saw baby Kudu, Warthogs, Ostrich, Elephants and Buffalo – baby elephants are SO CUTE! The highlight of our main day at the park was when we managed to position ourselves at a waterhole in time to watch over 120 elephants from at least 4 different herds come down to the waterhole and drink, play, fight and sun themselves. We completely lost track of time and managed to sit watching the festivities for about 2 hours! It was an incredible experience to have over 100 elephants walk within 2 metres of you and gather together right in front of your windscreen.
Day 5 – Addo Elephant Park to Oudtshoorn
I will admit that if you aren’t a big fan of elephants then this may not be the best safari for you. As the name suggests, you will see more elephants than anything else. However, if you are prepared to get up early to get into the park by 5:30am when it opens, or stay up a couple extra hours to sit and watch the floodlit watering hole, there are a whole host of other animals to see. We did both, staying up late on day 5 and waking up early on day 6, and saw Buffalo, Hyenas, Jackals, Elands, Bush-buck, Red Hartebeest, Scrub-hares, and more.
After an amazing 2 nights on safari, we headed inland towards Oudtshoorn. The roads inland are just as beautiful as those along the coast. You find yourself driving through incredible mountain passes that really make you feel small and powerless in comparison, through quaint little villages where the only traffic is the herds of goats trying to cross the road, and along the straight desert roads that take you over and beyond the horizon. The journey really was as enjoyable as our multiple destinations.
When we reached Oudtshoorn, we travelled north 30k to explore the Cango Caves. It was such a surreal experience to stand inside the huge chambers beneath stalactites as old as 1.5 million years! You can do either a standard tour or adventure tour of the caves and both are so affordable (R100-R150) I would highly recommend making the trip out of Oudtshoorn to see them.
Our second host family, Renate and Phillippe, actually lived and worked on the Cango Ostrich Farm – one of the biggest attractions in Oudtshoorn – so we were delighted when Renate gave us a private tour of the farm after hours and introduced us to some of her Ostrich friends. It was amazing to watch the sun set over the valley and learn a bit more about the farm and how it looks after and breeds these huge birds. We weren’t able to ride the Ostriches as it was after hours but if you had ever wondered how it feels to sit on and ride and Ostrich, this would be the place to do it!
Day 6 – The home stretch. Oudtshoorn to Cape Town
We spent the majority of our last day in Oudtshoorn, having breakfast on the Ostrich farm and then heading a couple of km down the road to the Cango Wildlife Ranch. I had been looking forward to this visit since day 1. Not only did we get a great tour from the very amusing and enthusiastic “Ed”, seeing all kinds of animals from African Bush Pigs, to Crocodiles and White Tigers, but we also got the chance to go into the enclosure and stroke the Cheetahs!
Cango Wildlife Ranch is an amazing facility which prides itself in its efforts of conservation and education on endangered species. They run their own breeding programmes and so the Cheetah’s that we were able to pet were born within the facility and have been hand reared. This way, they are used to – and enjoy – human contact and so no animals are drugged to be able to be petted by the guests of the ranch. It is also possible to volunteer here and Rich and I were very tempted to return for 3 weeks of volunteering.
We could have spent hours longer at the ranch but it was a long 6 our drive home (made even longer by the efforts of a large fire that had broken out on the mountain pass, Sir Lowry’s Pass).
What would I have done differently?
I would have paid to do a bungee jump (the site of the original largest bungee jump in Cape Town, Goritz River, has now closed down and we had anticipated the rather extreme cost of the alternatives). However, this is an activity you can find all over the world so we will have plenty of opportunity for that later.
I would have skipped Plett and taken twice as long in both Knysna and Tsitsikamma.
I would have booked to do a kayak trip in Tsitsikamma. We really felt like we missed out here as we did not give ourselves enough time to do everything and would have loved to kayak up the Storms River Mouth.
I would have opted for the adventure tour rather than the standard tour at the Cango Caves. The adventure tour takes you three times deeper into the mountain than the standard tour and forces you to crawl, scrape and slide over the rock which, perhaps strangely, really appeals to me!
This one was out of our hands because our surfboards are currently living in England, but… given another chance, I would take a car with roof racks and take some surf boards! Maybe a surf trip up the coast is one for next time.
Let’s wrap this up…
It was an incredible 6 days and I would definitely recommend that if ever you are down in Cape Town you make the time to plan an itinerary and take a trip up the Garden Route.