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Garden Route National Park in South Africa is one of its top destinations as it is different from many popular South African national parks that are known for wildlife safari and game viewing. Consisting of sprawling coastlines, dense forests, scenic vistas, land and marine wildlife viewing, and quaint towns, the Garden Route National Park is a glittering gem in its own right.
Besides the spectacular scenes and environs, a Garden Route National Park trip also offers a number of exciting activities. From eco-tours, self-guided treks and hikes, whale-watching tours, to thrills like bungee jumping and rock climbing, the opportunities for lifelong experiences in the national park seem endless. According to the park authorities, all ventures available in the park are reasonable and safe to be done sole, however, if you want to you can also hire a guide for a small fee for any activity. Here is a list of things to do in Garden Route National Park (in no particular order) that we highly recommend on your next South Africa tour. We leave it up to you to decide if you want to conquer them solo or with a guide.
Kick things off by embarking on the most iconic road trip in South Africa, that runs directly through the national park. The road trip covers a 300km stretch of road that leads travelers along coastal roads with stunning ocean views as well as through the ancient Tsitsikamma forest and mountain range. There are plenty of photo opportunities, as well as many charming coastal towns to discover along the way. Discover suggested itineraries for this road trip in our Ultimate Guide to Garden Route.
One of the most well-known things to do in the Garden Route National Park, after the road trip, is the Otter Trail. The five-day four-night trek leads adventurous hikers west from the Storms River Mouth Camp through dense forests, across babbling brooks and rushing rivers, and along spectacular coastline trails. If you do one trek in South Africa, let this be the one. Find out more about conquering this trail in our guide.
Sharing the same starting point as the Otter Trail, the Dolphin Trail is a less intense, more luxurious version of the Otter Trail. This trail leads east instead of west, but the views, wildlife, and scenery are similar to the Otter. The difference is in the level of service provided; fully-catered accommodation and meals, plus baggage transportation between each lodging are all included. This is one royal trail to tick off your bucket list!
Hop into an off-roading vehicle and prepare to get muddy! The starting point is the Garden of Eden between the Knysna Section and Plettenberg Bay. Cruise through the massive forests of Yellowwood and Stinkwood trees, some of which are over hundreds of years old. There’s plenty of opportunity for birdwatching and a chance to spot an African Elephant, too.
This can be a self-drive or a guided tour. The tour lasts about five hours with a guide and you will receive detailed information regarding the Knysna forest and wildlife. If you drive yourself, it can take as short or as long as you like! Options to stay overnight in the area are also available.
After safaris, South Africa is known for the excellent wine they produce. When visiting the Garden Route National Park, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in wine tasting. Don’t miss the small, family-operated Newstead Lund Family Vineyard, just outside Plettenberg Bay. Or head to the Crags Mountains for wine tasting at Bramon Wine Estates. Another excellent choice for a wine tasting is Plettenvale Estate, offering a wide range of samples from sparkling Chardonnay to Syrah.
Starting at the Storms Mouth River Camp, this eco-friendly tour takes visitors up the only access route to the Storms River Gorge. The boat ride offers up close and personal views of the gorge that most people don’t get to see. Disembark from the boat to explore the massive caverns on either side. Make sure to keep quiet, though – these caves are home to a rare South African bat species.
Get wet and wild with an exciting kayak adventure up the Storms River, complete with cave and gorge exploration via lilo (inflatable rings that can take you places even boats can’t go). Finish off the day with some cliff jumping – if you’re up for it! If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, choose a scenic and serene paddle around the Knysna Lagoon. The famous Knysna oysters are a big deal and a must-try. Visit in July and you’ll catch the oyster festival.
Established in 1994, this is South Africa’s first park to care for orphaned elephants. The park’s purpose is to rescue and rehabilitate relocated, orphaned, or mistreated elephants. Visitors here can view these brilliant creatures up close and personal, learn about how the park cares for them or take elephant guided walks through the park. Those with a true passion to help these gentle giants can even opt to volunteer. It is a humbling experience!
While Hermanus is the more popular spot in South Africa for whale watching, it can get a bit too crowded during peak seasons. So, if you are in the Garden Route National Park, relish the opportunity to witness whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, without having to share it with a hundred, other people. Plettenberg Bay, Knysna Lagoon, Mossel Bay, and Harold’s Bay all over offer whale-watching tours and are known to offer very good chances to spot these majestic marine mammals.
The Birds of Eden is a free flight bird sanctuary that sits on two hectares of land in the middle of indigenous forest and is home to over 3,000 birds and 220 different species. It is the world's largest free-flight bird sanctuary. The walking tour leads visitors through the sanctuary, behind a waterfall and across a suspension bridge, all while allowing for constant opportunities for bird watching.
For those who don’t fancy the thought of multiple days of hiking through the forest, there are dozens of short hikes throughout the park. Some of the most popular hikes such as Mouth Trail, Viewpoint Trail, Waterfall Trail, Loerie Trail, and Blue Duiker Trail start from the Storms River Rest Camp.
There are nearly a dozen mountain biking trails near the Knysna region in the national park. Test your skills on the Harkerville Routes, Farleigh Routes, or Homtini Routes, all of which have trails with varying degrees of difficulty. You’ll get more than just a shot of adrenaline when mountain biking through these trails. You’ll also get a tour of the indigenous forests and spectacular coastline vistas.
Test your courage on the highest commercial bungee jump in the world! Bloukrans Bridge, roughly 40km outside Plettenberg Bay, has a drop of 216 meters above the Bloukrans River. The bonus to a massive hit of adrenaline? Gorgeous panoramic views – if you dare to keep your eyes open!
With all these exciting, entertaining, and interesting activities going on around you, don’t forget about the many fabulous beaches! Wilderness Beach is a gorgeous strip of pristine sand where you can also try tandem paragliding! If you’re in strict relaxation mode, check out Plettenberg Bay.
Infinite adventures and things to do in Garden Route National Park make it simply glorious. If you visit this area, we suggest taking as much time as possible to experience everything it has to offer. The only drawback of having so many options is having to choose between them!
For a seasonal overview, see our article on the best time to visit South Africa.