Many of the planet’s most fabled road trips involve a ribbon of tarmac twisting and turning on the edge of the sea. Highway 1 in California does; so does the Great Ocean Road in Australia. And the Garden Route is certainly part of the club. Despite its name – which suggests hedgerows and orchards – this epic journey through the Western and Eastern Capes is all about the coastline; the Indian Ocean sparkling on one side of the car.
And yet, curiously, for something so celebrated, the Garden Route does not have an exact defi-nition. Some sources state that it runs between the seafront hotspots of Mossel Bay and Storms River – a distance of some 130 miles; others that it begins further west in Witsand, making for an odyssey of 200 miles. In truth, it doesn’t really matter. If you are planning to drive it, you are likely to set off from Cape Town – which sits 175 miles west of Witsand; 240 miles west of Mossel Bay. And the effect is much the same wherever you decide the road trip has begun, with small towns dotting the shoreline, and the vegetation-clad mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges displaying their muscles inland.
In fact, the key Garden Route question is not “where?” but “how long?” You could easily sprint along it in two days; you could spend a week savouring its every curve. There are more than enough stops along the way to keep you enthralled. Mossel Bay is a pretty port with fishing boats moored in its harbour; Knysna is more of the same, but smaller, with the Knysna Lagoon supplying an extra element of water, and the Knysna River pouring its soul into the ocean. George is something of a hotspot, with stunning restaurants, where you might defi-nitely halt for an hour or two; Plettenberg Bay is another estuary town, where the Keurbooms River reaches the end of the line, and Birds of Eden (the world’s biggest “free-flight” aviary) offers bright glimpses of flamingos and parrots.
It also makes sense to continue east to Port Elizabeth – which, although not officially part of the Garden Route, is a logical conclusion to the journey. The largest city in the Eastern Cape waits 100 miles further east of Storms River. Its shore (notably Humewood, Hobie and Kings Beaches) is a great place to relax – either before or after the Lions play their warm-up against a South Africa “Invitational” XV (at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium).