The Garden Route is one of those iconic South African destinations. A place you need to visit at least once in your life. But be warned, once you've been, you'll find yourself drawn back to the mysterious forests, world-class beaches and adventure hotspots time and time again.
In summer, the best beaches of the world cannot contest the sun-soaked shores of the Garden Route. But for adrenaline junkies, sunbathing might get a little boring after the first two days.
Luckily, the Garden Route is a hub of adventure all year round.
Knowing where to go is the trick, as it can be a little overwhelming if you're going in blind.
SEE: 21+ Family-fun things to do on a budget in the Garden Route
Don't sweat, we've got the insider guide to Garden Route Adventures right here:
The Garden Route straddles a stretch of ocean connecting Cape Town with Port Elizabeth. Naturally, the coolest things to get up to happen right here.
Hang out at the Tsitsikamma suspension bridge
The suspension bridge hanging over the red-brown waters of the Storms River Mouth spans 77 metres and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Tsitsikamma region in the Eastern Cape section of the Garden Route.
This little adventure is not only a must-do in SA, it's also perfect for adventure-loving families.
It hangs just seven metres above the churning waters of the river as it enters the foamy Indian Ocean.
The pathway leading to the suspension bridge covers 900 metres of the Tsitsikamma forest. There are plenty of steps to negotiate, but it remains a fairly easy route, particularly if covered slowly.
Go Shark Cage Diving
We're skeptical of companies that portray the sharks in SA's waters as aggressive, blood-thirsty predators that want to kill everything they see... this is not the truth.
Luckily, the shark cage diving operators in SA understand that sharks are the main focus of their industry and that shark conservation is the ultimate goal. It's one thing to see the magnificent Great White sharks of South African on BBC and NatGeo TV, but we recommend you take the plunge and have a look at the real makoya swimming around Seal Island, 2km from the Mossel Bay harbour, yourself...
And even though shark cage diving puts divers behind steel bars to protect them when diving with Great Whites, it's still one of the most heart-racing adventures on the Garden Route.
But be warned: you might never go back to swimming in those awesome Mossel Bay beaches after seeing the sharks' proximity to the shallows...
Hit the white waves
If shark cage diving is a bit too much for you, try gliding ON TOP of the water in a speedboat or jetski! It's hysterical fun!
You can book a ride at the Mossel Bay Harbour at WaveRider one sunny day and then... hold on for dear life!
Ski away Korentepoort dam
If the ocean isn't doing it for you this summer, we've got just the place!
Korentepoort dam is located about 16km outside of Riversdale, perfect for a chilled-out afternoon of swimming, picnicking and watersports.
With the famous Sleeping Beauty mountain in the background, the dam provides a perfectly pretty spot to while away a summer's day.
Getting in will cost your R5 per person and R30 per vehicle.
Take the iconic Malgas pontoon
The Malgas pontoon is a hand-operated pontoon ferry is the last one of its kind in South Africa. It transport you and your vehicle across the Breede River on the eastern border of Hessequa into the Explorer’s Garden Route.
It was once a hub for trade in the area, and today still it remains the only way of crossing the Breede by vehicle on the back roads between the N2 outside Swellendam and Cape Infanta, where the river runs into the sea.
Three or four men would haul the load 120 metres across the water, and once you're on the other side, you can drive onwards!
The ferry operates daily from sunrise to sunset and costs R48 per vehicle.
SUP the Breede River estuary
The Breede has the widest river mouth in South Africa and is uncrowded gem when it comes to all water-sports. And PiliPili River Bar at the Breede River Lodge near Witsand doesn't let this opportunity slip through their fingers.
PiliPili is a world class playground for water sports enthusiasts - from kite surfing to stand-up paddle-boarding to boating. You can either rent equipment from them here, or go on expeditions and classes with them.
The cousin of the Witsand joint, PiliPili Beach Bar in Sedgefield, is also one of our favourite spots for sundowners along the Garden Route. Check out:
Uncover the Secret Beaches
The Garden Route coast is littered with amazing beaches, making it a swim, surf, sun and touch rugby haven in high season.
But when the crowds drawing into places like Hartenbos, Stilbaai and Mossel Bay start making you feel claustrophobic, you need to get away.
Luckily, there are little secret beaches all along the Garden Route. Check them out here: 9 Secret Beaches along the Garden Route
Fly high and stay dry
Go Bungee Jumping
Recognised as the 'highest bungee from a bridge' in the world, Bloukrans Bungy is the ultimate Garden Route thrill. Look, we might not easily trust anyone who is willing to Jump off a bridge for pure fun... but if we can do it, anybody can.
Plus, if there's any place in the WORLD to bungee jump, this should be the spot.
Get the best views...
The Garden Route is one of the most impressive coastlines in the world, and the best vantage point to see it from is the sky. So take to the skies and soar along the magnificent Wilderness coastline with the birds. Cloudbase Paragliding launch from the iconic Map of Africa point, then fly over Dolphin point to do some whale spotting.
It's an experience of a lifetime, and you don't need any previous experience to join the fun.
Go Mountain Biking in Riversdale
The network of gravel roads surrounding Riversdale provides a perfectly picturesque playground for cyclists of all experience levels.
Since there are no marked routes, the dirt tracks and farm roads are sure to delight especially those who enjoy getting off the beaten track and exploring to the beat of their own drum. If, however, you prefer having a little bit of guidance at least, the Explorer's Garden Route website has a few suggestions of circular routes to check out - 20km, 44km and 91km.
Drive The Outeniqua Pass
The Outeniqua Pass connects the coastal town of George with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo.
It was first built in 1951 to provide an alternative to the Montagu Pass and has been widened and modernized several times since then according to Mountain Passes South Africa. This pass has played host to the snowy winter wonders of late and under those conditions this pass can be dangerous, especially due to the volume of commercial traffic that it carries.
Duck-n-dive for paintball
Need to rid the kids (and yourself) of some holiday frustrations? We've got just the solution. Garden Route Paintball is a permanent paintball playground where groups can fire away at one another to their hearts' desire.
The cost to rent and play is R160 with 200 paintballs, and groups and/or families are encouraged.
Fly through the treetops with Canopy Tours
The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is built on platforms in magnificent Tsitsikamma indigenous rainforest.
Many of these platforms are built around giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees that are up to 700 years old. So, harnessed in for safety, standing right within the crowns of these giants you get to look down at the forest floor 30m below and see the world from the Yellowwood giants' perspective. And what a view it is!
If you are fortunate enough, you will spot a pair of Knysna Loeries or the brilliant red plumage of the elusive Narina Trogon!
Spot the elusive elephants of the Knysna Forests
The Knysna Forest is arguably the most magical place in the country. Here, despite dense human populations and agriculture, elusive creatures of the bush still populate the woods.
The five elephants believed to live in the forest today are but an echo of the elephant herds that used to roam the forest.
In 1876, there were an estimated 400 elephants walking the Knysna forest, the Garden Route National Park says.
The GRNP team, along with the Knysna Historical Society and other stakeholders have launched a historical route in one of SA’s largest individual forests.
By using this self-drive route, visitors to the Garden Route can drive to 10 marked historically significant locations in the Knysna forest. The route comes with a map of the 10 areas dubbed "rooted in time".
SEE: Forest Fairy: New historical route launched in the Knysna forest
Go in search of the Kings of the Forests...
Looking at the dense overgrowth in the Knysna forest, it's strange to imagine that there were once so many elephants living here. And if the Knysna forest can hide 400 elephants, what other secrets can those trees tell?
Contrary to many travellers' thinking, there aren't only a single Big Tree in the Garden Route forests. Almost every tree in those magical woods, in fact, has a history dating back further than most of our lives.
What Big Trees are concerned, however, there are four official Big Trees in the Garden Route National Park, including the Dalene Matthee Big Tree. Here's a guide to exploring these Biggest Trees of the Knysna Forests: SA's Big Trees: In Search of the Kings of the Knysna Forest
Go hiking in Grootvadersbosch
Run by Cape Nature, the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve is an outdoor lover's delight - there are hiking and mountain bike trails a-plenty, bird hides hidden among tall trees and a neatly maintained campsite.
The reserve comprises 250ha of Knysna-type forest and is the most noteworthy in the southwestern Cape. Among indigenous trees like red alder, stinkwood, yellowwood and the dominant ironwood, a few exotic species such as camphor, Australian blackwood, eucalyptus, ash, Californian redwood and oak can also be found.
It's one of the best-kept secrets of camping in the Garden Route...
Bontebok National Park, the smallest of our 21 National Parks, is gorgeous. And if you're an adventurer, this is one of the coolest places to explore. It's quiet and peaceful, and great fun for long hikes and fishing in the Breede River which flows through it.
It's a real Garden Route secret, and the walking trails through the aloes and spring flowers is a must for nature-lovers.
Home to 200 Bontebok, the formation of this park saved the species from extinction.
If you're after a biggest selection of game, check out either Botlierskop Private Game Reserve or Gondwana Game Reserve on the Garden Route. If you'd like to involve the family in some fun, the reserve recently launched a 5-night conservation experience for aspiring conservationists who want to get more involved in protecting and managing wildlife.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- 9 Secret Beaches along the Garden Route
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- 8 things to love about the Explorer’s Garden Route