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9 Cool Things To Do on the Garden Route, South Africa

Whale watching, diving with seals, and incredible safari experiences: check out 9 fun things to do on the Garden Route that need to be on your itinerary!

This is a guest post by Anna, writer at Expert World Travel. Follow her adventure on Twitter and Pinterest and read more about her in the author bio.

When it comes to exotic travel destinations, many things come to mind, from going on an incredible hike in Asia to having a beach getaway in Jamaica. But when it comes to adventures for every kind of traveler, the Garden Route is a top choice.

The Garden Route in South Africa stretches from Cape Town to Stroms River. It’s become a haven of activities and adventures in recent years for locals and foreigners. Part of its attraction is being a memorable destination for any kind of traveler – honeymooners, backpackers, adrenaline junkies, and even families. The experiences on the Garden Route are so diverse that you can travel to it over and over and you will find something new to discover every time.

As is characteristic of South Africa, the Garden Route fills itineraries with beautiful landscapes that present unique experiences. From dense forests with rushing rivers to amazing beaches with thriving marine life, here are some of the best things to do on the Garden Route.

Whale-watching up-close or from the shore

There are many tours that take visitors out into the sea for close encounters with whales. The most common trips take three hours and head out to Seal Island near Mossel Bay. The star of the show is the Southern Right Whales, which use South Africa’s coastline as their mating and calving grounds.

This phenomenon is so popular that locals celebrate the Hermanus Whale Festival as these marine mammals migrate through South Africa in the summer. In fact, during this time, these whales can be seen from the Cliff Path in Hermanus or from viewing terraces at the Old Harbor. It’s also common to spot other whales passing by like Humpback Whales, Bryde’s Whales, and Killer Whales.

Be a ranger at Gondwana Game Reserve

Gondwana Game Reserve used to be a commercial farmland that was transformed to a game reserve in 2003. It’s located north of Mossel Bay and covers 11,000 hectares of game park. The main goal of the park is to restore and rehabilitate the natural flora and fauna that used to occur naturally in the area, and it’s one of those Garden Route attractions you absolutely can’t miss.

Part of the reserve’s efforts is accepting visitors at the Tented Eco Camp. Guests are placed in a program to experience hands-on conservation tasks such as field management, wildlife husbandry, elephant dung sampling, and a lot more wherein data gathered is fed into the research of the Gondwana Game Reserve. The program is a three- and five-night camp, housed in a tented camp in the heart of the Garden Route game reserve. On top of the conservation efforts, guests are given the unique experience of encountering the park’s wildlife in their natural habitat.

Surf at Jeffreys Bay

South Africa’s premiere surfing destination is undoubtedly Jeffreys Bay. Known for its “supertubes”, Jeffreys Bay boasts of a long list of celebrities and athletes that ride these legendary waves. For those who are not as experienced and confident in tackling the supertubes, a more placid beach further down the tubes. This gives non-professionals a chance to try out calmer waves in South Africa’s hottest destination. 

There are several lessons offered at the beach for both groups or private individuals. The conditions vary, however, and sometimes the waves are not fit for beginners. However, some surf schools such as Learn2Surf accepts students as young as six years old. For the more advanced surfers, they also offer surf spot tours around the area.

Dive at the reefs or with the seals

Diving at Plettenberg Bay is a crazy adventure to remember. The variety of marine life is overwhelming and even live very close to shore. One unique dive trip is the seal dive with the seal colony on the Robberg Peninsula. It’s a shallow dive with 4-6 meters of depth, but it’s available all year round.

The Cape Fur Seals in the colony are naturally friendly and inquisitive and will not shy away from getting close to the divers. Much caution should be observed, of course, as wild animal behavior is always unpredictable. That said, it’s a treat to see these animals swim swiftly and gracefully underwater, even blowing bubbles as they move in for a closer look.

Other than the seal dive, there are many shallow house reefs that can be accessed by a short swim from the shore. Several dive sites are also scattered around the bay with depth ranging from 4-40 meters. Dolphins and whales also frequent the bay and are a common sighting on any shore or boat dive.

Experience the Tsitsikamma Treetop Canopy Tour

Image by jason Shallcross via Flickr

The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, despite its daunting setup high among tree branches, is a relaxed tour through the Tsitsikamma forest. It’s based just outside the village at Storms River and led by friendly locals who know everything there is to know about the area. The steel cables are securely strapped between trees 30 meters above the forest floor. There are 10 platforms to go through and can take anywhere between two to three hours.

Among the canopies, guests make their way across steel cables surrounded by lush forests. The guides will also explain the ecology of the forest, especially with its abundant birdlife. Lucky guests also have the chance to spot the Knysna Lorie and the elusive Narnia Trogan. Kids are allowed on the tour, but for those who might be too scared to go on their own, they can do the tour in tandem with the guide. For both kids and adults it’ll be one of the best Garden Route stops!

Canoeing at Ebb and Flow

The SANParks Ebb and Flow Campsite is another destination that’s great for every member of the family. The south rest camp has several cottages and cabins while the north rest camp has rondavels for accommodations. Both are situated on the banks of the Touw River and have great access to hiking and canoeing activities. 

There are five trails located in the Garden Route National Park with varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. If you want to keep your stay simple and relaxed, there are various activities available at the campsite like volleyball and basketball and fishing in the Wilderness Section. You can also go on a 3-kilometer canoe ride down the river, which ends at the Giant Kingfisher trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall and swimming pool.

Skydive over Mossel Bay

If you’re up for a more thrilling experience, you can jump off a plane over 3,000 meters up in the sky. Skydiving over Mossel Bay involves 30 to 40 seconds of free fall before gliding over mountains, oceans, and beaches. 

The tandem skydive in Mossel Bay is considered the highest tandem skydive in Africa and one of the best Garden Route activities. The flight is very scenic with two landing zones, one at the airfield and another at Diaz beach. However, landing at Diaz beach is dependent on the weather and other natural conditions.

Explore the Cango Caves

Little Karoo is home to some of the world’s largest limestone caverns called the Cango Caves. The expanse of the caves are so vast that it’s only partially explored, and not all of these parts are accessible to tourists. Since the caves are made of limestone, a natural material that is sensitive and can easily change with a simple touch, tours to the Cango Caves are covered by very strict restrictions and done in limited numbers. However, you should really plan a visit here as it’s one of the Garden Route highlights!

There are two tours offered, a standard 60-minute tour and a 90-minute adventure tour. Tours begin at 9:00AM, but adventure tours start at 9:30AM. The adventure tour covers all the main highlights of the standard tour but adds further exploration of more remote parts of the cave. The tour is open to children six years old and above, but given the physical exertion of navigating through the caves, some physical ability is required. The limestone formations are beautiful and glistening, and visitors get to go through narrow passages and crouch through low tunnels.

Stroll down the Jubilee Creek Walk

Not everything on the Garden Route needs a heavy dose of courage or adrenaline. It’s also home to many pleasant trails and beautiful walks for a more slow-paced trip.

The Jubilee Creek Walk is an easy forest walk suitable for any age. It goes through the Goudveld natural forest, found behind Knysna. At the opening of the trail is a picnic site where you can set up for a relaxed day. The trail itself is 1.8 kilometers long, going through a section of the Outeniqua Hiking Trail following a quiet stream. Along the trail is also a shallow pool and a waterfall where hikers can cool off before heading back to the campsite.

Finding the perfect adventure on the Garden Route

Spanning 300 kilometers of the south-western coast of South Africa, no list will ever be complete in building a Garden Route itinerary that lists what to do in Garden Route. While there are still a lot more things to do and many other places and sections to explore, going on a Garden Route drive will always be an adventure waiting to happen. Whether you’re looking for the most exciting activities or a place to disconnect and unwind, the Garden Route trip is a must-do for anyone trying to see the best of the world.

  • Anna Timbrook

    Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on her travel blog with her husband.