Quirky South Africa, Part 3: The Garden Route

by | Mar 28, 2023 | Eastern Cape, Lodging, Parks/Nature Reserves, Roadtripping, Western Cape | 4 comments

Read Quirky South Africa Part 1, about padstals, and Quirky South Africa Part 2, about Bethulie and the Gariep Dam.

I was talking to some South African friends about my visit to the Garden Route recently, and one of them said: “Maybe this is a dumb question. But what is the Garden Route, exactly?” And I realized that even though I’ve been there multiple times I did not exactly know.

Nature's Valley Beach on the Garden Route
The beautiful, sprawling beach at Nature’s Valley, a town along the Garden Route.

I looked it up on Wikipedia (obviously): “The Garden Route is a 300-kilometre (190-mile) stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa [mostly along the N2 Highway] which extends from Witsand in the Western Cape to the border of Tsitsikamma Storms River in the Eastern Cape.” The area is called the Garden Route because of “the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous estuaries and lakes dotted along the coast”.

So, that’s what the Garden Route is. It’s a few hours east of Cape Town and one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa due to its beautiful beaches, mountains (which often slope right down onto the beach), and ancient forests.

I drove along much of the Garden Route during my quirky road trip with Mom; we stayed in the area for three days. I had been to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, two of the Garden Route’s biggest towns, before, but this was my first time driving along a significant stretch of the route.

Storms River and Tsitsikamma National Park, now part of the larger Garden Route National Park, had been on my list for ages — I hadn’t been, except for this one time when I did the highest commercial bungee jump in the world, but I don’t count that because I didn’t really see anything other than the bridge I jumped off of — and I finally got to spend some real time there.

Tsitsikamma tree
Spectacular trees like this one — which look as if they could just uproot and start walking about, like in Lord of the Rings — are a common sight around Tsitsikamma.

We were in the Garden Route for a very short time and the experiences I describe are a tiny snippet of what goes on there. Check out my friend Attiya’s blog, the Scribs & Nibs, for a more comprehensive guide to the area.

Quirky Garden Route, Part 1: Storms River

We started our Garden Route stay in Storms River, the town closest to Tsitsikamma, which is really more of a tourist hamlet than a town. Storms River has a small residential area, a few hotels and B&Bs, and a bunch of cute restaurants surrounded by an indigenous forest. Thanks to an excellent recommendation from Attiya, we stayed in a super-quirky cabin in Storms River that I rented on Airbnb.

Airbnb in Storms River
Our “Boutique Vintage Forest Cabin” in Storms River. This photo doesn’t convey how charming it looks — it’s hard to get a good picture of the outside due to all the trees and vegetation.

This cabin was my top highlight for the entire roadtrip. The owner, Robert, built the entire thing himself and I believe it’s mostly or completely off the grid; the power never went out while we were there, despite Stage 6 loadshedding. The cabin had everything we needed: great character (rustic in an authentic, sophisticated-but-not-overly-trendy way); cozy interior; privacy; beautiful views; and a wonderful outdoor space. We could easily walk to all the restaurants in Storms River and to several hiking trails that connect to the national park.

Inside the Storms River Airbnb
Inside the cabin. I was obsessed with the stairway up to the loft, which is carved from a single log.
Master bedroom at Storms River Airbnb
The master bedroom.
Mom in the Airbnb
Mom enjoying the Airbnb wifi. Although I hadn’t planned to, I wound up sleeping on that futon-like platform next to her — it was super comfortable and I loved having a view of the whole cabin interior plus the garden.
Loft room in Storms River Airbnb
The loft room, which also would have been a great place to sleep.
View if Tsitsikamme from Storms River airbnb
View of the mountains and forest from the sliding window in the loft.
Mom hiking in Storms River
Mom on the Goesa Walk trail, a two-kilometer hiking trail accessible from Storms River, which we walked to before breakfast one morning. She is surrounded by giant tree ferns, which were not as giant as I had imagined but lovely nonetheless.

Robert’s property has a huge, wild garden that we were free to forage from, so we ate homegrown raspberries, lettuce, and lemons.

Granadilla blossom
A perfect granadilla (passion fruit) blossom outside the cabin. The granadillas weren’t ripe yet, sadly, but they were enormous.
Garden flowers at Storms River
Pretty garden flowers.

There was an outdoor shower, surrounded by greenery, and a composting toilet. (Don’t be intimidated by the composting toilet! It gets cleaned every day and I found it totally comparable to a normal toilet, plus I felt smug that I was helping contribute toward a greener planet for 48 hours.)

I really loved this cabin — it gave me the most peaceful, zen-like feelings. I would have been happy to relax there all week, sitting on the deck listening to frogs croaking in the stream, sipping coffee I ground using the hand-cranking coffee grinder, and watching giant bumble bees sip nectar from the granadilla flowers. But we came to this area to visit Tsitsikamma National Park, so off we went.

Quirky Garden Route, Part 2: Tsitsikamma

There are dozens of things to see and do in Tsitsikamma, but we were there for half a day and only hit the highlights.

Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma has lots of lovely little self-catering cabins right next to the ocean. I’d love to stay in one of those someday.

Important note: If you’re a foreigner living in South Africa, bring your passport/long-term visa to the park with you. Admission is one quarter the price (R70, or about $4) for South African residents as it is for international visitors (R280, or about $15).

Mom and I walked across Tsitsikamma’s famous suspension bridges, which cross over the churning Storms River and are spectacular. The river mouth is incredibly beautiful, and I enjoyed watching the kayakers down below while also feeling relieved I was watching them from above and not getting wet. The walk is a bit steep, but it’s short and doable for anyone as long as you take your time.

Suspension bridge in Tsitsikamma
Suspension bridge
Storms River mouth and kayakers
Suspension bridges
There were a lot of tourists on the bridges but walking them was still great.

We had lunch at the park restaurant (which is currently in temporary quarters while a new restaurant gets built), which has a great view of the Indian Ocean and serves decent food. I took one more quick hike to the top of the ridge while Mom read her book on a park bench by the sea (she has a bad knee). Then we headed back to our utopian cabin.

Garden Route coastline in Tsitsikamma
View from the top of the Loerie Trail, which I walked solo. It was a quick walk and very pleasant — I didn’t see another hiker.

Quirky Garden Route, Part 3: The Whale’s Tail at Plettenberg Bay

I wrote a decent post about Plettenberg Bay (a.k.a. Plett) a few years ago so I’ll keep this section short. But we spent one night in Plett, in a flat I borrowed from a friend, and we took a lovely little outing to the famous Whale’s Tail bench. Whale season is June to November, so we didn’t see any whales, but apparently this is a great place to spot them at the right time of year.

Heather at the Whale's Tail
I love the Whale’s Tail and I wish we’d brought sundowners. It’s above Lookout Beach…Just follow your GPS to the “Whale Tail Lookout Point“.

From Plett, Mom and I headed inland over the Outeniqua Pass (which was totally fogged in, sadly, but you can see a picture of it here) and back toward Joburg. I hope you enjoyed our whirlwind tour of Quirky South Africa — I’ll be back to regular Joburg programming later this week.


  1. AutumnAshbough

    Those bridges are both beautiful and terrifying. And the view from the loft–what a stunner!

    • 2summers

      They look more terrifying than they actually are. But yes!


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