Starting at Mossel Bay, an old-fashioned seaside town, the stretch of coastline that is the Garden Route covers some 300 kilometres in total, and you have the choice of either covering distances quickly via the main N2 Highway, or, as we would prefer and recommend, through its back roads that traverse indigenous forests and mountainous areas.
Your first stop beyond Mossel Bay is likely to be Wilderness National Park, which contains some 520 bird species in its lagoons, wetlands and mountain ‘fynbos’ – the name given to the shrubland that is commonly associated with the cape region and recognised as one of the six botanical kingdoms of the world. Tsitsikamma National Park also forms part of the specatular coastal parklands of the Garden Route and is a protected zone of temperate high forest and age old rivers carving their way to the sea and with countless trails such as the Otter Trail where you can go in search of the Cape Clawless Otter.
Next along the route you will reach Knysna, which is set in the centre of the region and is a picturesque lagoonside town, only separated from the sea by two huge sandstone cliffs, known as The Heads. As the source of the cultivated oysters for which Knysna is famed, it is also surrounded by indigenous forest, home to colourful birds such as the Knysna loerie and Narina trogon.
Continuing east, Plettenberg Bay is one of the more fashionable spots on the route and with a fascinating setting perched atop a cliff overlooking its sweeping bay, but perhaps most importantly are the infamous surfing dolphins and whales. The stunning Robberg Peninsula is a nature reserve on the western edge of the bay and is a perfect spot for spotting the whales, dolphins and seals from dry land, but you can also enjoy closer encounters of these marine mammals on a boat safari. Optimum months for this are between mid May and February with the southern right whales specifically from June to November, the migratory humpback whales arriving with their calves in November and staying until February and reappearing in May and June.
The route finishes in Port Elizabeth, the country’s fifth largest city and an easy access point to the eastern cape game reserves, which are malaria-free and popular options for families, and which contain thousands of hectares all returned to natural bushveld habitats that support predators.