Drive The Garden Route
Map of the Garden Route
We left Port Elizabeth early on a misty drizzly morning. Once out of the urban sprawl of Port Elizabeth we took the R102 heading for Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve which is 35 kl west of PE. It has a lovely scenic 11kl walk if you have the time. It was raining so we did not stop and continued onto the old Van Stadens Bridge where we could look up at the concrete arch of the new Van Stadens Bridge. We chose this route to enjoy this dramatic moment. My companion told me the sad story of too many lives claimed by suicide off this bridge. We said a quiet prayer and drove on in silence for a while through hills and coastal scrubland.
Both the Old and the New van Stadens Bridges outside of Port Elizabeth
We drove into Jeffreys Bay which is surfers paradise with Supertubes boasting the longest and fastest waves in the world. In the mid 60’s the word got out and surfers from across the globe came to pit their skills against nature and each other. The beaches here are long and breathtaking and this little village has some interesting and friendly people. Some people come for a visit - but it seems many just stay and make this seaside town their home.
Surfing Supertubes at Jeffreys Bay
Then onto the N2 with Cape Fynbos edging the road and that herby sweet smell of the coastal heath vegetation. Fynbos is indigenous and unique to South African Cape and includes the King Protea which is our national flower. Wild flowers, pink heather and bright blue plumbago filling the senses with joy.
Indigenous Fynbos of the Eastern Cape
Past Humansdorp, St Francis Bay and through the towering ancient yellow wood trees and clinging vines of the Tsitsikamma Forest. At the Storms River Mouth you can swim in the Marine Nature Reserve or take a boat ride up the clear waters of the river and look down on exquisite colourful fish life. For adrenaline junkies book a bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge said to be the world’s highest bridge bungee jump.
Marine Nature Reserve at Storms River Mouth
We passed the turn off to Keerboomstrand and stopped at Thyme and Again for breakfast. It is on the right of the N2 and offers some interesting food options. We had Quinoa Cakes with Poached Eggs, Avocado, rocket and Basil drizzled with yogurt. Delicious with a warm latte. It was still raining and our waitress walked us to the car with an umbrella!
Plettenberg Bay is the next great stop. Beaches, walks and great food. A place to visit out of season when the locals come out and the weather seems to improve. This is still my “best place in the world”.
Lookout Beach at Plettenberg Bay with the Tsitsikamma Mountain Range in the distance
The N2 just keeps going west all the way to Cape Town. We continued through the sweeping curve of wild crashing waves of the Wilderness, over the black bracken waters of the Swart River. Cruised on past the village of Groot Brak River, spread out over the dunes parallel to the sea to the Klein Brak River, joining these two communities. Past Mossel Bay with ugly high-rise buildings and huge oil storage tanks right on the river banks. I guess these will come in useful with the new offshore oil and gas find at Mossel Bay. There is a lovely beach to the west of the town and this is a great place to take a holiday once you pass this industrial ugliness. They do have great oysters here!!
Sweep of the Wilderness Beach From the Lookout Point as you Exit The Wilderness
A little further down the N2 and you will find the turn off to Vlees Baai. This is a small treasure of a place. You can let houses on the dunes with direct access to the beach. Rock pools and great swimming make this a family favourite. Another lovely holiday destination is the charming seaside village of Stillbaai situated where the Goukou River meets the India Ocean and forms a calm and beautiful lagoon. Surfing the waves or wind surfing are just some of the great activities at Stillbaai.
The Colourful Fishing Village of Stillbaai
The four hour drive from Stillbaai to Cape Town takes you inland through some of the most picturesque farming country in South Africa. Flash past the tiny farming towns of Riverdale and Heidelberg, over hills and down dales with green fields of lucerne with giant reticulation irrigation, and gentle hills of rich red soil recently harvested. Livestock grazing on both sides of the N2 gleaning the remains of the harvested fields of canola, wheat and barley. Past fields of neat rows of apple and citrus trees. I was so excited to spot groups of Blue Cranes which are South Africa’s National bird and are on the endangered species list. Very heartening to spot them in the wild.
South Africas National Bird the Blue Crane: On the Endangered List
We drove into the historic town of Swellendam and stopped for lunch in Church Square at the Old Goal. We stumbled on this little gem of a place as we drove around the village in the still-persisting drizzle. We enjoyed a hearty, slightly curried butternut soup with roster brood. Delicious and just what we needed. They had a saying up on the walls that just seemed so appropriate: “Here we know that today’s grace is enough because tomorrow will bring its own”. Probably not original but worth keeping in mind.
Farm Lands Around Swellendam
Back on the N2 and over the Breede River. Good canoeing trips can be enjoyed here. This is one of South Africa’s big food producing areas, with brown recently ploughed fields that swept to the horizon and sheep, cattle and birds feeding on the remnants of the harvested summer crops. Scenes of neat rows of silver olive trees and sweeping rows of grape vines stretching into the distance backed by dramatic mountain ranges. Then down into the Caledon Valley where the towering mountain ranges are close and magnificent. I was excited to see many wind farms generating much needed electricity in a clean and sustainable way on this journey. The road starts to climb and at Botrivier you can turn left and make your way down to Hermanus and the sea. We were heading for Cape Town so we continued up Howe Hoek Pass then down into another valley past grape vines in winter brown. Then up the spectacular Sir Lawreys Pass and over the Hottentots Holland mountain range. As you crest the mountain you have an unbounded view out over the Steenbras Dam to the left and Summerset West and Gordons Bay to the right with Cape Town in the distance.
Sir Lowreys Pass over the Hottentots Holland Mountains
From here it is a half hour drive down the N2, in good traffic, into the Cape Town City Bowl. From Port Elizabeth to Cape Town will take 8h30 with no stops. Our journey was a relaxed 10 hours with two stops for food and to stretch our legs. This Garden Route journey is beautiful, dramatic and thrilling, with sweeping beach scenes and resplendent mountain passes, abundant fields of fruit trees and grain and many places to stop and stay over to explore and enjoy the bounty of South Africa.
Cape Town Victoria and Albert Waterfront with Table Mountain as Backdrop.
I would advise that you take a few days and stop off to explore the many great places en-route.