South Africa’s Garden Route is almost obscenely good-looking. The meandering drive – stretching more than 120 miles from Mossel Bay in the west, to Storms River in the east – takes in dappled forests, still lakes and surf-pummeled beaches. It’s best explored on four wheels, but be sure to take your time. British Airways flies direct to Cape Town, where you can pick up an Avis hire car, belt up and settle into a truly picturesque ride.
Head to the whale watching capital of South Africa
Humpback whales can often be spotted breaching clear out of the water at Hermanus, just a 90-minute drive from Cape Town. You can even spot whales lolling metres from the shoreline – keep your ears primed for the huff of a humpback whale exhaling right by your feet. The town hosts an annual whale festival each September – when huge southern right whales pass by in large numbers – and there’s even a whale crier, who alerts crowds to the presence of the animals by blowing on a kelp horn. July to October is a great time to see pods of migrating mothers with their calves and, if you’re feeling languid, the Marine Hotel is perfectly situated on a clifftop overlooking the ocean, so you’ll be able to spot barnacle-clad beasts from your balcony.
Dive into the Serengeti of the sea
A 40-minute trundle down the road, you’ll find Gansbaai. Known by locals as the Serengeti of the sea, the waters here are bristling with sea creatures, including the marine big five: whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and sharks. The latter can be seen in their menacing masses in Shark Alley – a sliver of ocean that roils with cape fur seals, the great white’s favourite prey.
Ogle ostriches in Oudtshoorn
It’s a four-hour journey from Gansbaai to Oudtshoorn, but you’ll have plenty of screensaver scenery to gawp at along the way, including the craggy Tradouw mountain pass and the twisty-turny Huisrivier pass, which clings to the side of a mountain where cape leopards still roam. As well as the Cango Caves – an impressive prehistoric limestone system, dripping with troll-like rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites – Oudtshoorn boasts the largest number of ostriches in the world, with many of the farms offering tractor rides or walks out in the fields with the colossal birds.
Bliss out on the water
Head almost due south towards the coast and you’ll soon reach Knysna – a charming holiday town right at the heart of the Garden Route. Here, you’ll find a vast aquamarine lagoon spilling out into the ocean from between two huge sandstone headlands, helpfully known as the Heads. Hike through the lush forest – thought of as the lungs of this beautiful town – or take a trip out on to the water where you can fish, kayak, water ski and swim.
Take a township tour
A half-hour drive east is Plettenberg Bay. Home to the rocky Robberg Nature Reserve – where you can snorkel with rambunctious seals – a satisfyingly sandy central beach and the Nelson Bay caves, which date back to the stone age. This is also a great place to take part in a township tour (run by Ocean Blue Adventures). Meet up with a local from the Qolweni community and join them on a visit to the township’s Siyakhula crèche, the central shebeen and other lively spots, meeting some of the friendly locals and learning about the township’s rich history along the way. Come evening, stay at the remarkable Tsala Treetop Lodge just out of town – a collection of elegant elevated hideaways decked out in Afro-baroque style and hidden among the canopy of the ancient indigenous forest.
Unwind in green surroundings
Locals like to call Tsitsikamma, just north of Storms River – “the garden of the Garden Route”. An old Khoisan word, Tsitsikamma means “place of much water”, and whether it’s the yawning river valleys, the flinty ocean or the dew-daubed forest that clings to the mountains, this place is most certainly lush. Don your hiking boots for a lung-cleansing hike around this beautiful landscape, then make your final drive to Storms River, where – if the mood strikes – you can mark the end of your epic road trip by hurling yourself off the Bloukrans Bridge – the world’s highest bridge to bungee off.
How to book
With direct flights from London to Cape Town, British Airways Holidays can help make your South Africa fly-drive unforgettable. Book with British Airways Holidays and Avis to benefit from a 24-hour holiday helpline, full Atol protection and deposits starting from just £75 per person.