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Self Drive Garden Route
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Self - drive the coastal road from George to the the town of Port Elizabeth [airport to airport], and you’ll be flanked by massive mountain ranges, dazzling lakes and an ever-changing ocean. One moment you’ll be climbing a mountain pass overlooking beaches with schools of dolphins, and the next moment you’re inside an ancient and mysterious forest. Let your heart beat with the thrill of big game safari viewing. Roll down your window and let the fresh air in - the Garden Route & Safari is a drive you will remember for the rest of your life.



9 nts

1 & 2/

Knysna Lagoon

3 & 4/

Plettenberg Bay

5 & 6/

Tsitsikamma Forest & Storms River

7 - 9/

Shamwari Game Reserve



I live on the Garden Route so my idea of what a self-drive trip should entail is based on my own experiences living here and having visited the region for over 25 years. I don't believe you should spend hours on the road, while they are beautiful and wonderful to drive, the attraction of this area is about all that you can do while exploring the natural beauty. You can make your trip as action-packed and adventurous as you like or or keep it laid back. You can also spend a night or two extra and drive from Cape Town [read my ultimate South Africa Road Trip] but the true Garden Route begins in George and ends somewhere beyond the Tsitsikamma Forest, and that is the focus of my recommended trip. The safari portion of the trip rounds off an incredible week with big game viewing at a renowned Big 5 game reserve.

Jamie Thom

Conservation Safari Company


The best time to drive the Garden Route in South Africa is during the spring or summer. From September to March (and even into early-April), you’ll have long days and warm weather.

If you want to catch the Fynbos in bloom, spring is the best time to see the flowers and the season only has moderate chances of rain. July to September [our winter] has very changeable weather and can be fantastic for a few days and rainy for a couple of days. July to October is an excellent time to see pods of migrating whales with their calves off the coast!

Price per person sharing (for 2 people)

from R63 600.00

[$4540.00 @ ZAR14 = 1USD]


Includes car hire in an automatic, four door sedan (or similar) for 10 days with supercover and unlimited miles, accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis except on the safari where it is full board and includes all safari activities.


Excludes activities on the Garden Route - which are all optional and should be planned once the weather is assessed each day, park entry fees, conservation levies, fuel, lunches and dinners on the Garden Route.


Before we can provide a detailed itinerary, we require a 10% booking fee, after which we book accommodation and propose your itinerary. If we can't provide a satisfactory itinerary we will refund the booking fee, but once you are happy we then collect a top up deposit on confirmation and full payment is required 90 days prior to travel.


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Day 1, George to Knysna



Upon arrival in George Airport, head towards the car hire kiosks and collect the keys to your vehicle. A short drive gets you to the Kaaiman's River Valley, the first of many scenic twists and turns on this amazing road trip reaching the lookout point over the Wilderness' endless beach. Don't be surprised to see para-gliders soaring along the cliff edges or dune ridges along the road, keep your eyes on the road though as you pass the lagoon and river system.

Continue your drive past the picturesque towns of Wilderness and then Sedgefield, passing rolling forests, rich farmlands winding rivers and numerous lakes before reaching the Knysna Lagoon, your destination for the night.

  • There is no better way to end off the day - enjoying wine and oysters on a relaxing boat cruise and taking in the magnificence of Knysna as the African sun starts to set over the lagoon. Indulge your inner romantic and climb aboard the "Oyster Boat" before heading off slowly towards the impressive Knysna Heads, and take in the splendour of the tranquil lagoon as the sun sets. Relax while you enjoy a glass of wine with a few fresh local oysters. The cruise is slow and leisurely, ultimately relaxing and one can't help but just sit back, and take it all in! The sunset cruise is a fully guided cruise and is inclusive of complimentary white wine, soft drinks or water and oysters for tasting.

Your luxury hotel on the historic Thesen Island faces over the lagoon on the water's edge, barely a stroll from the most famous bakery and restaurant in Knysna.

Garden Route day by day

Day 2, Knysna



If you came all the way here and just drove through with no time to actually dip your toes in, what a pity that would be! So what we suggest you do is explore the lagoons, ocean and or forest today!  Check the weather and head out >

  • Hire a kayak or a SUP (Stand Up Paddle board) and explore the Knysna Lagoon from a unique perspective.'Take your time, stop at the beach, and catch some sunshine along the way!' Explore our pristine lagoon on your own schedule. Knysna Kayaking is great fun for the whole family, provided you can swim!

  • Knysna has a history of established artists, you can explore the town and wander through galleries and boutiques while finding some fine coffee shops and restaurants to delight the palette.

  • Scootour of the Knysna Forest. This is a unique and true forest experience. Enjoy an exhilarating downhill on the Monster Mountain Scooter, descent through indigenous forest, sweepy bends and single track. A scenic minibus ride takes you into the heart of the forest to the best hills to start your descent in the Garden Route National Park. All of this while on the lookout for the our local wild life, the majestic Knysna loerie, the shy bushbuck and wild boar.

  • Ocean Sailing Charters and Boat Trips is a family owned and operated business, with a team of passionate people who love to travel and have fun sailing while enjoying good food! From the vantage point aboard one of their luxury catamaran cruises, you’ll be able to experience the natural beauty of the magnificent Garden Route, Knysna lagoon, and Knysna Heads. You may even be joined by a pod of dolphins or see humpback and Southern right whales and their calves as they migrate and mate down the coast from June – Dec. Enjoy an exhilarating day cruise or Knysna sunset cruise aboard one of their  luxury 55ft yachts with ample time for lazing in the sun, swimming, snorkelling and a delicious lunch with South African Bubbly, wines and beer. There is nothing that makes you feel more alive than breathing in the fresh ocean air while gazing out over the blue horizon with the sun on your skin.

  • Rent Electric Bikes from Bicycle South: The owners are wonderful, and the bikes are fantastic. They only have a few bikes so call ahead to reserve. If you need more than two bikes, there’s another rental shop at the roundabout. Ride the Bikes from Thesen to Leisure Island. A roundtrip cycle should only take about 1.5-2 hours (stopping along the way).

  • Stop on Leisure Island for a Coffee at Nadine’s Corner

  • Eat Lunch at East Head Cafe: They have delicious coffee, seafood, salads, and beautiful views.

All activities can be planned from your hotel reception, the booking office for all water activities is just a short walk from your hotel.

Recommended restaurants; Il de Pain for breakfast and lunch, dinners at Sirocco or Tapas & Oysters on Thesen Island. Dinner at VegTable: Only open Thursday through Saturday night, they take pride in true farm to table meals with organic fruits and veggies. Eat Lunch at East Head Cafe: They have delicious coffee, seafood, salads, and beautiful views.

Day 3, Knysna to Plettenberg Bay

The drive from the quaint lagoon town of Knysna to the beautiful beach town of Plettenberg Bay  is just thirty minutes. 'Plett' is South Africa's most famous holiday town with magnificent homes and sublime natural beauty. The town is South Africa’s favourite outdoor playground along the Garden Route. It’s lazy days on sunny world-class beaches and for others it’s boutique shopping, wine tasting, dining under the stars, incredible wildlife experiences and outdoor adventure. Whatever blows back your hair, it’s here in Plett and it’s all for you!

You will for sure wish you could stay longer, although I might biased because this is my very own home town, but if you love time on the beach, this is the place to add some more days - just let us know. Over two days there is so much to do, from whale boat viewing trips, ocean kayak excursions, surfing and lessons, coastal hikes, outdoor markets, diving with seals, picnics up the river, forest hikes, fabulous restaurants and so much more...

We suggest you head straight for the Robberg Peninsula Nature Reserve for one of the amazing coastal hikes.

  • The hike is a circular trail along the Robberg Peninsula, consisting of three different routes of increasing distance and difficulty. The longest and most difficult is 11 km long and will take between 4 to 5 hours. Each of the trails has the same starting point and track along the Northern side of the peninsula. These are the three trail options:

    • The Gap: This one is about 2 km long and will take you to “the gap” and back to the car park.

    • Witsand sand dune: Around 5.5 km long, you can walk to the Witsand sand dune and down to “The Island” and back.

    • The point: The longest trail is the round trip which will take you to “The point” and back (Not recommended for young children).

  • Around lunch time, drive to one of the famous wine farms. Plettenberg Bay is South Africa’s smallest wine growing region with 58 hectares of the 100 000 hectares planted countrywide. Their vineyards are the country’s most easterly and stretch 57 km along the thin coastal strip from Packwood in Harkerville until Lodestone on the Redford Road in the Crags. It is small, young, exciting and thriving. Newstead, Lodestone and Kay & Monty all offer a fine spread of lunch options.

Your guest house is on the beach and alongside Keurbooms Lagoon, from where you can end the day with a swim.

Recommended restaurants; Nineteen89 [drive into town], Zinzi's is fine dining 15 mins out of town, Fat Fish, Barringtons micro brewery and Restaurant, Casual and outdoor Lookout Restaurant, The Grand is also reachable on foot. Lemon Grass.

DAY 4, Plettenberg Bay



Connect with the ocean. Another day in paradise, you just need to decide what to do!!!


  • If you are looking for some quiet time, just walk out your guesthouse and flop onto the sand. Plett's beaches are considered by many as the best beaches in South Africa, and testimony to this is the fact that Plett has been nominated 5 years in a row for the award for Africa’s top beach destination. Lounging in the soft, warm sand is only the beginning. Surfing, skimboarding and bodyboarding are popular among locals and visitors. With up to 12-foot waves, the beaches along Plett’s coastline are home to some of the best waves in South Africa.

  • Hog Hollow Horse Trails. Explore the beautiful natural surrounds at the foot of the Tsitsikamma Mountains on horseback – riding through fynbos, vineyards, indigenous forest and farmland to surrounding attractions including wine farms, animal sanctuaries and a picnic at the magnificent Kurland Estate. Situated 19km East of Plettenberg Bay, easily accessible from the N2, Hog Hollow Horse Trails caters for all level of riders and weights of up to 120kg on a herd of 33 rescue horses.

  • Africanyon - Kloofing in South Africa is known elsewhere as Canyoning or Canyoneering - “the sport of travelling down a river situated in a canyon by a variety of means including scrambling, floating, swimming and abseiling” ( Join their team on this Kloofing river adventure! You will be swimming through mountain pools, abseiling in and around waterfalls, rock-hopping and if opting for the 4hr Canyon Adventure, enjoying the thrill of the rock-pool zipline. For the outdoor enthusiast this trip offers hours of outdoor fun in beautiful indigenous surrounds.

  • Whale and Dolphin cruises - Well controlled boat-based whale & dolphin excursions, operating from Central Beach where you learn about teh various species that inhabit this ocean as well as pelagic bird life, conducted in the magnificent Garden Route town of Plettenberg Bay.

  • Swim with Seals. Join the experienced team from Offshore Adventures for an experience of a lifetime. This one and a half hour adventure starts with an adrenaline pumping beach launch into the sea, followed by an amazing boat ride along the scenic coastline to the Cape fur seal colony. There you will get to snorkel and interact with the oceans most loved character and see them playfully swimming in their natural environment.”

  • Old Nick Village in Plettenberg Bay is a landmark shopping destination on the Garden Route, featuring an eclectic collection of shops owned by creative manufacturers, designers and curators, Old Nick Village is so much more than a shopping centre it’s a truly sensory experience for the whole family as well as the discerning buyer. Originally built way back in 1880, Old Nick Village has a long and rich trading history, find out more here. Every Wednesday we host the Mid Week Market where you can find homegrown fruit and vegetables, ethically farmed meat and dairy as well as other local, natural and homemade products. Essential shopping can be done at the amazing Mungo Mill, their finest, locally made, linen products are world famous and made right here!

One of the best restaurants in the region is at Keurbooms Beach, 15 minutes drive away, Enrico's is perched on a peninsula overlooking the beach - the perfect spot to try local seafood, a pizza and watch the sun go down. If you plan to enjoy a few drinks, a taxi is easily arranged!

Day 5 Plettenberg Bay to Storms River

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Another amazing drive today. We recommend taking in nature's Valley as you exit from Plettenberg Bay turn down towards 'Nature's on a beautiful winding road through the forest until you get to the lagoon and ascend the forest up again towards the main road.

A little further on is the Bloukrans Bridge, one of many epic bridges crossing the deep chasms carved out by rivers over thousands of years - on the national road of our famous Garden Route! Here you can launch yourself off the bridge with a stretchy rope strapped around your legs [crazy people] and shout 'bungee'...but even if you don't, the view point of the famous bridge has a great restaurant for a coffee stop!

Continue onward and head towards the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours. Located in the magnificent Tsitsikamma indigenous rainforest, where  secure platforms are built high up in the canopy around giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees that are up to 700 years old! From the moment you launch off the first platform, a new world unfolds as you slide on a steel cable across to the next viewpoint. Once you arrive at each platform you are encouragde  to stop for a while and enjoy the view while your guide points out interesting features or facts about the surrounding ecology.  If you are fortunate enough, you will spot a pair of Knysna Loeries or the brilliant red plumage of the elusive Narina Trogon. Whatever happens, we’re quite sure you’ll be back again!

If you still have time and or are looking for an alternative to sliding between tall trees, why not stay on the ground and take to a segway - which is fun in itself, but you can tour the village and forest as well - and even the famous Tsitsikamma Big Tree. Included in their 1 hour  Segway Tour is a 15-20 minute training session and then you journey through the quaint Stormsriver Village and follow one of a selection of routes among cool pine forest, indigenous forest, or even explore the historical Witteklip bridge or the local township. If you are up for more, join the 2 hour tour  which enters the ancient indigenous Tsitsikamma Forests to the famous and majestic 800 year old Tsitsikamma Big Tree and back to the village.

You could also just drive to The Big Tree, close to the  village of Storms River. Here standing guard over the treetop canopy in the heart of the forest is an eight hundred - year-old Yellowwood. This majestic tree towers over the rest of the canopy; standing 36+m tall and with a trunk circumference of 9m – this is a giant among giants.

Once you have had your fill of the forests, head to your luxury accommodation for the evening, which has enchanting views of the rugged coastline, river gorge, and surrounding plantations. Cap off a wonderful day with a drink while watching the sunset over the ocean or a relaxing spa treatment...


Day 6, Storms River



Your last day to connect with the ocean and what a fantastic day it can be, spend it down at the Storms River mouth, where booming breakers of the Indian Ocean relentlessly pound rocky shores, where temperate high forest and fynbos roll down to the sea in an unspoilt verdant carpet, where ancient rivers carve their paths to the ocean down rocky ravines.

  • There are some fantastic trails;

    • Waterfall Trail: (6km). This 6 km walk is the start of the Otter trail, and takes one along the rocky shoreline for 3 km to where the Tweeriviere River falls 50m into a large pool before cascading into the sea. You return along the same path. Suitable footwear is vital as there are sections over rocks. Allow at least 3 hours. Great picnic site and swimming is possible n the large pool of the waterfall. 

    • Stormsriver Mouth Hike (2km). Cross the small beach and then follow a boardwalk as it meanders up and down through coastal forest, allowing views of the sea, coast and river mouth. The highlight is the 77m long suspension bridge crossing the Storms River Mouth, taking you to a pebble beach, before ascending steeply to a viewpoint over the coast – well worth the effort! One does not have to go to the viewpoint, but can return immediately via a circular route that takes one over 2 smaller suspension bridges before rejoining the boardwalk.

Head back to your lodge after an action-packed day for a final night in view of the ocean...

Day 7- 9, Shamwari Game Reserve



This will be the longest of the drives you take on the garden Route Self Drive, and it is only two hours or so and on good quality highways most of the way! Leave the mountains and forests behind, passing the city of Port Elizabeth, and on to Shamwari Game Reserve. There is one thing we won't compromise on and that is quality game viewing at verified and quality destinations. There are plenty of cheaper and smaller reserves claiming a lot of things but rest assured the additional money spent on a good reserve is well worth it. This may well be the highlight of your trip, spending time watching Africa's iconic wildlife, while being pampered in 5 star accommodation and looked after by their warm hospitality team.

  • Shamwari Private Game Reserve is a premier safari and holiday destination in South Africa’s ecologically and culturally significant Eastern Cape Province.

  • Shamwari, meaning “my friend” in Shona, is the pinnacle of private game reserves and home to the coveted Big 5. It’s a place where guests can exist in harmony with nature, however fleeting the moment, where wildlife roam the landscape under the relentless African sun.

  • Shamwari has 7 lodges and 1 explorer camp; each providing distinct experiences. From exclusive tranquillity, effortless family enjoyment or the back-to-nature appeal of a luxury tented camp.

  • For a luxurious, malaria-free experience, we love their tented camp,  offering guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in utter tranquillity, surrounded by the rich vegetation of this unique location that provides privacy and a feeling of seclusion with spectacular views of the African bush.

  • Game drives typically take place in the early mornings and afternoons. Surveying the variety of habitats, witnessing birds of prey or spotting the Big 5 from the comfort and safety of an open game viewing vehicles. Their rangers and guides are passionate about wildlife and knowledgeable in their respective fields of expertise. Expect to take away new insights, an appreciation for Africa, and an unforgettable experience.


Day 10, Departure

Airplane Above the Clouds


After your final activity and breakfast, head back to the airport an hour away, to check in for your departing flight.

The end of an amazing Garden Route self drive trip!

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Notes about driving in South Africa

  • South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road. If it’s your first time driving on the opposite side, start slow and don’t feel pressured to drive fast.

  • There are also lots of roundabouts, so make sure you brush up on how to safely use a roundabout!

  • As a general rule, on single-lane highways, if you are driving slow or have a car trailing behind you that wants to pass, you should drive slightly (and safely) onto the left shoulder make way and let vehicles pass.

  • Alternatively, you can pass someone in front of you if it is safe and there are no “no passing signs.” The car in front of you will likely pull into the left shoulder to give you more room to pass. Once you’ve completed the pass, turn your hazards on for 2-3 flashes as a “thank you” (you’ll see other people do the same if they pass you and you give them space by pulling slightly onto the shoulder).

  • The main signs you need to know are the speed limit signs with cameras (the speed limit is enforced with cameras & fines), no passing signs, and no stopping signs. Brown-colored signs are for tourism and will usually list turnoffs for rest stops, national parks, wine farms, and major tourist attractions.

I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the road safety signs of South Africa. You can also download the image and keep it handy on your phone.


What to bring

Before you touch down in South Africa, check the weather predictions for your travel dates and use that as a guideline to pack for your trip. The Garden Route is in a coastal region, so you should pack for cooler temperatures, even in the summer.


There are countless hikes, rivers, and lakes, so if you’re adventurous, you’ll want to pack accordingly. You don’t need a super crazy hiking boot, but something that will keep you safe and comfortable on long hikes is recommended.

Here are some essentials that I recommend bringing along, so you’re prepared for anything!

  • Hiking boots, a casual shoe (for horseback or cycling), and flips flops

  • Rain jacket or poncho

  • Binoculars (whales, dolphins, birds and of course wildlife)

  • Zoom lenses (if you’re a photographer, don’t forget your biggest zoom lenses for this trip!)

  • Refillable water bottles (tap water in South Africa is drinkable)

  • Sunscreen and insect repellent (malaria-free but mosquitos still bite!)

  • Dry Bag (you may do a lot of water activities so maybe also a dry bag for your phone and camera)

  • Layers (pack enough layers for warm to cold weather)

  • Swimsuit and sun/rash vest (lots of water activity options!)

  • Travel Insurance (covers car rental + medical)

  • ID (You don’t need your passport, but you’ll need an ID for checking into hotels and activities)

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