The Unconventional Garden Route (Part I)

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From Addo to Knysna

The Garden Route in South Africa is probably the most famous road trip destination in the country. The route along the N2 is easy to self-drive and reveals an incredible diversity of rugged coastline, rich vegetation, and indigenous fauna of beautiful national parks. The official Garden Route begins in Mossel Bay and ends at Storms River. We decided to alter the itinerary and drove in 7 days from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. Let us take you along the road with us.

Self-drive safari in Addo Elephant National Park

After visiting Swaziland and Kruger National Park, we flew from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and rented a car for the next part of our South African adventure. The first stop on our Garden Route itinerary was Addo National Park.

Elephants and zebras at waterhole in Addo National Park

The park is located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) away from Port Elisabeth in Eastern Cape. The southern gate, Mathyolweni, is the closet to the Port Elizabeth airport. We toured from park’s south to Addo Main Gate in the north in about 5 hours. At the entrance, visitors must pay a fee and register with their names, passport, and license plate numbers.

Goshawk in Addo

Inside the park, roads, loops, water holes, and lookouts are very well marked. We didn’t encounter any restaurant before the Main Camp in the north, so pack a lunch snack. There are designated fenced picnic spots. For more information regarding entrance fees, closures, and accommodation, check the park’s official website

Self-drive safari in Addo. Watching elephants from the car.

A self-drive safari in Addo was a wonderful experience. The national park is home to more than 600 elephants. Because matriarchal elephant communities move in bigger herds, it’s not hard to spot them with an inexperienced eye. Some even come to the edge of the road, so you can watch them from very close proximity.

Feeding elephant at the side of a road in Addo National Park

Lions, hyenas, and black rhinos also reside inside the park. However, the thick vegetation requires a set of skilled eyes to spot them. This time, we weren’t lucky.

Hartebeest at Addo National Park

For the night, we settled in the town of Addo, outside the park in a lovely Rosedale Organic Farm & B&B. For dinner, the owners of the B&B recommended River Front Restaurant, which served delicious local dishes made from the ingredients grown in their own garden.

Day on the road

From Addo, we headed straight to Knysna, about 300 (186 miles) kilometers away. With the South African road network, it wasn’t a problem. 

Driving on N2 along the Garden Route

For a midday beach walk, we stopped in the famous surfer town Jeffreys Bay or J-bay. It is supposedly one of the best five surfing destinations in the world. Even non-surfers will appreciate a beach walk, from where they can watch surfers conquering the notoriously dangerous Supertubes.

Surfing Supertubes

We were lucky enough to spot dolphins directly from the beach as they nonchalantly slid on the waves alongside their human companions.

Dolphins surfing supertubes in J-Bay

Back on the N2, we passed green canyons formed by river deltas. Along the road, some petrol stations function as viewpoints. For example, the Tsitsikamma Petroport adjacent to Storms River Bridge provides beautiful views over the Storms River Canyon.  

Storms River View form Tsitsikamma Petroport

We reached Knysna, an 18th-century colonial town built ashore of a large estuary, our destination for the day, just in time for the golden hour. 

Exploring Knysna

Knysna is a place where adventurers and laid-back travelers meet. The Knysna Lakes Section of the Garden Route National Park offers excellent opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. In contrast, the town itself is an oasis for relaxing. 

Knysna Lagoon

Morning at Knysna Heads 

We started our day with a fabulous view over the Indian Ocean and the lagoon from the eastern head lookout. 

Knysna Lagoon from Heads

The “heads” are two massive sandstone cliff formations, which separate the wild high sea from the calm lagoon. The strength of ocean currents beneath the water surface is mirrored in mighty waves splashing against the steep rocks. No wonder, the British Royal Navy (allegedly) proclaimed the Heads to be the most dangerous harbor entrance in the world. 

Knysna Heads

Good to know: The eastern head lookout is easily accessible by car. There’s a guarded parking area. 

Observing the sea from a high cliff only amplified our desire to get closer to the water. Thus, we drove down to “sea level” to the Eastern Heads Beacon, where we could dip our feet in the bay. 

Midday hike in the Diepwalle Forest

The forest, located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Knysna, is a reminder of how indigenous landscape looked like before deforestation and imported fast-growing trees took over.

Good to know: The starting point for a visit to Diepwalle Forest is the Diepwalle Forest Station. From Knysna, you’ll be driving on a well-maintained dust road.

 Diepwalle Forest Station

The forest belongs to the Knysna Lakes Section of the Garden Route National Park. It is home to ancient Outeniqua Yellowwoods. Some of them, like the park’s famous Big Tree or King Edward VII Tree, are almost 1000 years old. A hike through the forest is a nice break from the sun-drenched coast. The paths are well marked and suited for different fitness levels. 

Outeniqua Yellowwoods

Because it was a hot day, we chose the easy, about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) long loop, Black Elephant Trail. We started in Diepwalle Forest station, passed through tiny streams deep inside the forest, where sun, bushes, and Yellowwoods created a magical atmosphere. During the time of our visit (a weekday in November), besides guineafowl families, we were the only ones enjoying the walk. 

Black Elephant Trail.

The names of the trails suggest visitors might stumble upon an elephant along the way. This used to be the case 100 years ago. Back then, big herds of bush elephants, Knysna elephants, roamed the Diepwalle Forest. Since then, they have been hunted to extinction. By 2019, research showed that there was only a sole female elephant left. The Forest Legends Museum close to the Forest Station houses a skeleton of another elephant and explains the history of the area. 

Good to know: There is no place where visitors can buy food/drinks inside the forest. Carry enough water! At least a gallon per person per day is recommended. 

Evening at Knysna Waterfront Quays

Knysna Waterfront is a charming mosaic of boutiques, arts and crafts shops, bars, and restaurants. 

Knysna Waterfront

One of our favorite activities at the quays was tasting the delicacies Knysna’s eateries had to offer. Foodies, especially seafood lovers, must have heard of the famous Knysna Oysters.

Knysna Lagoon

The name is misleading, though. While Knysna used to be home to the first commercial oyster farm in South Africa, most of the oysters consumed there come from other parts of the South African coast. With its annual oyster festival, the town still remains the oyster capital of the country.

Be that as it may, restaurants around the quay still serve the freshest South African oysters. We especially liked the cozy atmosphere, and of course the food in the 34 south waterfront restaurant

Our Garden Route road trip facts:
Total distance: 400 km (248 miles) without loops in Addo
Driving time: 6-7 hours without a self-drive safari in Addo
Total time: 3 days
Road conditions: Mostly very good paved roads
Roads in Addo National Park: Well-maintained dust roads
Route: Port Elizabeth International Airport – Mathyolweni Gate Addo National Park – Entrée Addo National Park – Addo – Uitenhage – Jeffreys Bay – Total Petroport Tsitsikamma, Storms River Bridge – Knysna ( via Google Maps)

One Reply to “The Unconventional Garden Route (Part I)”

  1. Wow, everything souns – and looks incredible! The hike must have been incredibly beautiful! I have never been to Africa in general, but I am very curious about the Southern part of it, and hope I’ll get the chance to visit one day! In the meantime, reading about your adventures is amazing! 😍

    Liked by 1 person

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