Garden Route Road Trip

Garden Route Map

If you’re into road trips, South Africa’s Garden Route should be at the top of your to-do list. One of our favorite aspects of road-tripping is the flexibility of your schedule! You don’t have to catch flights, and you can adjust your schedule to spend as much or as little time as you want in any given destination or place along the way. We have outlined a week-long trip along the Garden Route here, but we would strongly encourage you not to over-schedule and over-book your journey! Decide on a general outline of a few towns you may want to stop in and pick one or two highlights or “must-dos” for your trip, but deliberately leave empty space in your schedule to explore what you find along the way.

But before you hit the road, regardless of what plans you make, there’s a few things you should do to prepare:

Know Before You Go

Flights: We booked a round-trip flight out of Cape Town, so that meant we needed to do a round-trip on the Garden Route as well. But if we could do it over again, we would have booked a round-trip out of Johannesburg and then separate flights from Joburg to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth back to Joburg. Basically, your garden route trip would start in Cape Town and end in Port Elizabeth.

Rental Car: Most cars in Cape Town are manual transmission (stick-shift), so be sure to select automatic when booking a rental car online if you aren’t comfortable with that. Even if you know how to drive manual, it might make sense to stick with automatic so you can focus all your additional attention on driving on the opposite side of the road. You’ll have to pay extra for this, but for us it was literally the difference in $1 per day – worth it. If you plan to start in Cape Town and end in Port Elizabeth, be sure to select a one-way journey (pick up in Cape Town, drop off in Port Elizabeth). The extra charge for the one-way car rental is next to nothing, especially compared to the additional gas money you would use going all the way back to Cape Town!

Google Maps is not good in South Africa. We had actually read this before arriving, but figured they had gotten better because all the navigation looked fine. We were wrong. So just trust us on this one and download the app called “Here We Go.” There are several key advantages of this app:

  • You can set the app to avoid dirt roads. DO THIS!!! Google Maps does not avoid dirt roads, and tries to take you down a lot of them (and we obliged on the first one). There were lots of other tourists stopped on the side of the road changing flat tires that they had gotten from hitting potholes and whatever else – fortunately we avoided that nightmare. But we still had a very dirty car coming out the other end that the locals were quick to comment on… “You took the dirt road didn’t you!”
  • You can download the entire country’s navigation for use offline. This is key as well, because you won’t always have good service along your route. And if aren’t going to have a cell plan at all, then this is essential!
  • The app tracks your speed and will alert you when you exceed the speed limit by an amount set by you. We set ours to notify us at 2 km/hr over the limit, because we wanted to be extra cautious due to the camera system they have in place, which is notorious for catching you speeding. Your rental company will get a ticket in the mail which they will swiftly pass along to you, so don’t speed! It’s also worthwhile to note that the speed limit on the app was almost always the same as the posted limit, barring a few differences in construction areas. But it can be easy to miss a posted speed limit sign along your drive and having an app quickly notify you that the speed limit has changed is super convenient.

Visualize yourself driving on the opposite side of the road (if you’re from a country that drives on the right-hand side of the road). I know this sounds a little strange, but it seriously helps! If this is your first time driving on the left-hand side of the road (like it was for us), it’ll take a little bit to get used to. Just remember – take things SLOW. A helpful trick someone told us is to always remember that the passenger side of the car should be closest to the pedestrian side of the street (a.k.a. the people walking on the sidewalk should be to the left of your car, and the oncoming lane of traffic should be to the right of your car). Before you get behind the wheel yourself, pay close attention when you’re in taxis and Ubers. Think about being in the driver’s seat. When you’re turning right, which lane are you turning into? What about turning left? Right-on-red isn’t a thing anymore, but left-on-red might be!

Find yourself some wifi before your trip and create and download a Spotify playlist, download that podcast series you’ve been waiting to listen to, or buy a few audiobooks on Audible to keep you entertained on those longer stretches of driving. I’d recommend doing all three so you can mix it up when you need a break from your audiobook with a few TSwift throwbacks. Just make sure to pack an auxiliary cord and a USB so you have multiple connectivity options depending on the type of car you rented.

Last but not least, buy some snacks to munch on! Is it really a road trip if you don’t have beef jerky? Go to any gas station or mini mart in Cape Town and pick yourself up some biltong, droewors, and snapstix (all super popular in South Africa), along with a few bottles of water to keep you hydrated. If you’re really looking to enjoy a local treat get yourself a Steri Stumpie chocolate milk – or any of the other flavors they have! The spicy flavor Shirwood Snapstix were our favorite, and much more readily available in Cape Town than along the Garden Route, so stock up!

Day One: Cape Town to Gansbaai

Book in Advance:

  • Flights to Cape Town
  • Accommodation in Cape Town
  • Rental Car Pick Up in Cape Town
  • Accommodation in Gansbaai

Once you’ve crossed off everything on your pre-road trip to-do list, you’re ready to get behind the wheel! Pick up your rental car in Cape Town and punch in the Cape of Good Hope into your Here We Go app.

After about 1.5 hours you will reach the Cape of Good Hope, the most Southwestern point in Africa. Try to get here as early in the day as possible – we got there around 9:15 AM and we were the ONLY ones there – besides the dozens of baboons running up and down the cliffs all around us!

Take the short walk up to the top of the cliffs and snap a few pictures before heading back down to continue your drive to Gansbaai. Don’t forget to take a picture with the iconic Cape of Good Hope sign as well! The next part of the drive is a longer section – about 3 hours to Gansbaai. However, the drive is absolutely gorgeous! You’ll pass mountains, coastal areas, and large spans of bush filled with ostriches and baboons. You may want to add “Betty’s Bay” as a destination along the way to Gansbaai – this will instruct your navigation app to take you along the coastal, scenic route rather than further inland. It’s only about 20 minutes longer on the drive, but well worth it for the views!

Once you get to Gansbaai and settle into your hotel or Airbnb, try to grab dinner at one of the seafood restaurants. We went to a great place called Blue Goose and had a wonderful (and very affordable) meal. After dinner make sure to get a good night’s sleep because in the morning you are doing a SHARK CAGE DIVE!

Day Two: Gansbaai to Cape Agulhas

Book in Advance:

  • Shark Cage Dive in Gansbaai
  • Accommodation in Cape Agulhas (L’Agulhas)

That’s right – the town of Gansbaai is famous for their shark cage dives where you can get up close and personal with some great whites. You do have to book this experience in advance, so if Gansbaai is on your Garden Route list be sure to book a shark dive online before you start your road trip. (You can also skip Gansbaai altogether and do a shark dive in Mossel Bay, or not at all).

After your dive, hop back in the car and start making your way to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. You can literally put “Southernmost Tip of Africa” into your GPS and it will take you to the Cape Agulhas main attraction where you can see the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. The lighthouse is right down the road and it’s another cool sight to see. You have to pay a few bucks to go up to the top, but the views are definitely worth it. I will say, if I was at all claustrophobic or scared of heights I probably wouldn’t be too comfortable climbing up the to the top, so fair warning.

The highlight of our stay in Cape Agulhas was our meal at L’Algulhas Seafoods, where we had the best fish and chips we’ve ever tasted. Order a combo with fried hake, chips, and calamari ($4.87) – such a good deal for so much food!

Day Three: Cape Agulhas to Wilderness

Book in Advance:

  • Cango Caves Adventure Tour
  • Accommodation in Wilderness

Try to get up on the earlier side today, as this will be your longest driving day (about 5 hours total). The part of the drive is from Cape Agulhas to Oudtshoorn (about 3 hours and 45 minutes), where you can visit the Safari Ostrich Farm and feed the emus and ostriches.

Next, head to the Cango Caves and do the Adventure Tour where you actually get to climb through some of the deep tunnels and chambers of the caves.

After the caves, drive the remaining hour to Wilderness, where you’ll spend the rest of your day and night. There are restaurants, shops, a national park, and obviously a white sandy beach at this coastal town.

Emu Safari

Day Four: Wilderness to Jeffreys Bay

Book in Advance:

  • Face Adrenaline Bungy Jump
  • Accommodation in Jeffreys Bay

Wake up on the early side and make the 30 minute drive to Knysna to check out the famous Knysna Heads – two beautiful cliffs at the end of the Knysna bay that frame the Indian Ocean. A perfect way to see the Heads is to grab a bite at East Head Cafe for brunch and coffee. The restaurant is located right at the foot of the Knysna heads with breathtaking views.

After your meal, get back on the road and head towards Tsitsikamma, about an hour drive. Here you’ll find the Bloukrans Bridge: home to the world’s tallest bridge bungy jump. Obviously this is a must-do if you’re driving the Garden Route! The company is called Face Adrenaline (very fitting) and you can put that right into your GPS to get to the bungy jump.

Once you’ve had your adrenaline fix for the day, hop back in the car and drive another hour and 15 minutes to Jeffreys Bay. Jeffreys Bay is another great little beach town on the Garden Route. There are restaurants, shops, beaches and parks – but if you’re like us you’ll probably be exhausted from the bungy jumping and driving, and will want a chill afternoon and an early night’s sleep.

Day Five: Jeffreys Bay to Schotia

Book in Advance:

  • Schotia Safaris Tooth and Claw Package

Grab some brekky and coffee at Tasty Table in Jeffreys Bay before hitting the road once again. It’s about a two hour drive from here to Schotia Safaris Private Game Reserve where you will have booked an overnight safari prior to starting your road trip.

See our blog post, “The Ultimate Budget Safari Guide” for all the details on Schotia.

Your safari will have a start time, so make sure you plan your breakfast and driving time accordingly so you arrive on time at Schotia. Enjoy the afternoon safari drive, dinner, and night drive before heading to bed in one of Schotia’s awesome lodges – talk about glamping!

Day Six: Schotia to Addo

Book in Advance:

  • Lodging for two nights at Addo Elephant National Park

You’ll be up bright and early for your final safari drive, and breakfast at the main Lapa before your Schotia adventure comes to a close. But the safari doesn’t end here! Drive another 40 minutes to Addo Elephant National Park where you’ll spend the next two nights – again, make these reservations before starting your Garden Route trip.

Check out our blog post “The Ultimate Budget Safari Guide” for all the details on Addo.

After checking in, book a few safari excursions at the Addo activities office, do some self drive safaris around the national park in your rental car, go horseback riding, and hang out at elephant hides where you can watch the animals around the main watering hole. We highly recommend booking the sunrise drive for the following day, as this is something only guests staying overnight at Addo can experience. Also, you’ll get the chance to see animals that are up at the crack of dawn, such as lions, hyena, warthogs, and of course elephants!

Day Seven: Addo

If you booked the sunrise safari, you’ll be up around 4:30 AM to make it to the front gate for your ride. After your safari, head back to the rondavel for a nap or hop back in your rental car for another self drive safari! There is so much to do and see at Addo, which is why it is the only destination on our Garden Route itinerary that gets its own full day stay.

Day Eight: Addo to Port Elizabeth

Book in Advance:

  • Accommodation in Port Elizabeth
  • Rental Car Return in Port Elizabeth
  • Flights out of Port Elizabeth

Sadly, your Garden Route road trip has come to an end. Depending on how you planned your flights, you can either spend some additional time in Port Elizabeth before flying to your next destination, or you can begin the drive back to Cape Town if you booked a round trip. Again, we definitely recommend starting in Cape Town and flying out of Port Elizabeth if possible!

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