Beautiful & Weird Places to Pull Over Along South Africa’s Garden Route
Growing up in a family who took a lot of long road trips, I have great memories of the beautiful and the weird stops we made driving through United States and Canada, from Niagara Falls and the Colorado Rockies (beautiful), to Wall-Drug, the Corn Palace, and Mount Rushmore (all weird...what is it with South Dakota and weird road trip stops?).
I discovered the same mix of the beautiful and the weird on a road trip with friends this past January along South Africa’s famed Garden Route. On our six-day drive from the Eastern to Western Cape, we drove through an amazingly concentrated diversity of landscapes, including rugged coastline, (mostly) unspoiled beaches, piney forests, semi-desert, and even an ostrich farm. Following are some of the highlights:
The Storms River Suspension Bridge
Feel your nerves jangle as you walk across the 77-metre Storms River Suspension Bridge (really a series of bridges) over the Indian Ocean. The hike to the bridge goes through the forest of Tsitsikamma National Park with lots of bird sighting opportunities. Kayaking under the bridge is also an option!
The Knysna Heads are a pair of steep cliffs where the Indian Ocean meets the lagoon of the vacation town of Knysna. Viewpoints on the more accessible Eastern Head, at sea level and on the cliffs, look out onto crashing waves hitting jagged orange-hued rocks. You’ll know you are in the right place if you come across a bronze statue of a man with a fish.
Billing itself “the original South Africa craft beer,” Mitchell’s Brewing is an airy beer garden near the Knysna Estuary that offers six original beers by glass or as a tasting, as well as a substantial menu of bar food. They even have live music—my friends and I were there for a band headed up by an outgoing Irish expat!
Wild Oats Market in Sedgefield
It's worth planning your Garden Route trip around the Wild Oats Community Farmers Market, which takes place in the suburb of Sedgefield on Saturday mornings. With its wooded setting—including seats made of stumps—and abundance of produce, juice stands, and bread, this huge farmers’ market feels a bit like utopia. One booth even sells local oysters for roughly 15 rand (a little over $1) per bivalve, which includes a glass of white South African wine for each eater.
Wilderness Beach is one of many beautiful beaches on the Garden Route, and the one we happened to stop at. At the end of this long stretch of sand on the Indian Ocean is a cliff that is a popular jumping off point for hang gliders. The water is warm enough for swimming in the summer, but there is a strong current. Have a coffee before at Green Shed Coffee Roastery in the charming town of Wilderness, or stop by one of the town’s restaurants, like the recommended The Girl’s Restaurant, after.
A Karoo ostrich farm
The semi-desert inland Klein Karoo region is not technically along the Garden Route’s N2 road, but reached by a detour to the mountainous N12 after the city of George. When the landscape flattens and dries out, you know you are in the Karoo. The region's town of Oudtshoorn is the heart of ostrich country, with many ostrich farms offering short tours. At lunch in the Cango Ostrich Farm dining room, my friends and I had the surreal experience of eating a platter of ostrich kebabs and ostrich Carpaccio surrounded by blown up black-and-white photos of ostriches staring down at us from the walls.
Ronnie’s Sex Shop
When it starts to feel like the middle-of-nowhere, sometime after turning on Route 62 from the N12, Ronnie’s Sex Shop emerges like a mirage. Spoiler alert: Ronnie’s is not a Sex Shop—or at least not literally—but a bar with a great backstory. Stop by for a beer or a banana milkshake spiked with rum; meet the owner, Ronnie; enter warily into the smoky bar room, with walls covered in business cards, newspaper articles, and graffiti with patrons’ sex stories; or sit outside and look out into the desert.
Hermanus Cliff Path
A drive back to the coast on the trusted N2 lands you in Hermanus, one of the best places in the world to watch whales on land, especially between July to November. In addition to lookout points, the 11-kilometer Cliff Path on the ocean is surrounded by diverse vegetation and sightings of a strange rodent called a rock hyrix. (Note: Hermanus is not technically on the Garden Route, though it is a good stopping point if you are trying to take the Garden Route to Cape Town).
Of course part of the fun of a road trip is pulling over spontaneously, so let the road be your inspiration during your Garden Route travels!