Incredible coastal panoramas, farm-to-table dining and extraordinary encounters with wildlife are just a few of the things that make the Garden Route worthy of its position among the top family getaways in South Africa.
Stretching 186 miles, from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in neighboring Eastern Cape, this iconic coastal drive is a favorite for locals and international visitors on a self-drive. It is especially appealing for families, being malaria-free, and filled to the brim with accommodations options and activities suitable for all ages and interests.
The traditional starting point is from the city of Cape Town. However, there are no strict rules. The best way to tackle the Garden Route is at the traveler's own pace, planning a few main stops while still leaving time for roadside attractions. As an alternative to the main national road (N2), the Garden Route can be reached via Route 62, a scenic wine route meandering from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn via the town of Robertson.
Families should definitely plan a visit to Oudtshoorn, where they can make friends with some beady-eyed ostriches. Having the opportunity to visit a working ostrich farm is a memorable experience, where travelers will be able to meet and interact with these beautiful giants as well as visit the hatcheries.
Knysna is another great stop, especially for travelers who enjoy fresh oysters. Absolutely not to be missed is the viewpoint at the Heads of Knysna, sandstone cliffs that are a geographic marvel. From there you may be lucky enough to spot a southern right whale; this gigantic creature finds both food and refuge just after the mating season when calves are born. A set of binoculars may help you to spot them. From the northern side of the viewpoint, you will see Featherbed Nature Reserve, Leisure Isle and the expansive Knysna Lagoon.
The pretty port of Mossel Bay (the Bay of Mussels) will enable travelers to learn more about the early European explorers who landed on South Africa's shores. One of the most famous landmarks in Mossel Bay is the Post Office Tree, where ancient seafarers on their way to the East left their letters for home in a shoe or iron pot. Sailors returning to Portugal would collect these letters, and so the first post office in Southern Africa was founded.
With its Khoi-San name meaning "clear water," Tsitsikamma tops the list as one of the greenest stops along the Garden Route, where daily canopy tours operate in the forest canopies of ancient giants, including ancient Outeniqua Yellowwood trees as old as 700 and 800 years.
For families who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, a visit to the dramatic network of limestone chambers that make up South Africa's Cango Caves is recommended. The Cango Caves are Africa's largest show caves and one of the Seven Wonders of Southern Africa. This is South Africa's oldest tourist attraction, with the first tour having been conducted in 1891. It's been a favorite tourist attraction ever since.
As for accommodations, Fancourt Hotel & Estate is the perfect base from where to explore all of these iconic stops. Located in leafy George, the estate has long been a Garden Route landmark, attracting avid golfers and families for 25 years. It also ticks the right boxes for travelers who are unable to see all of the Garden Route in one go. It is only a 10-minute drive from George Airport, serviced daily by flights to and from South Africa's major hubs.
"Fancourt offers an extensive recreation program and a leisure center in the heart of the Garden Route," said Fancourt sales and marketing director Peter Dros.. "The complimentary Kidz Club welcomes little guests between 3 and 10 years old and is run by our trained carers who run a variety of daily arts and crafts-focused program." For teenagers, there is a laid-back Teen Lounge with internet access, where young guests can kick back and make new friends during their vacation.