We finally dragged ourselves out of Cape Town after a week, swapping our tranquil bohemian city hideaway for a trusty hire wagon – for we were off on a road trip along the Garden Route. This is where Capetonians go to escape the city heat and unwind; a lush stretch of coast packed with miles and miles of deserted beaches and secret hangouts, starting 100km out of Cape Town in a town called Mossel Bay, finishing 200km further east along at the Storms River.
We were going as far as Plettenberg Beach, spending five days driving, hopping in and out of the car to see the sights. So, rather than bore you with my endless day-to-day ramblings from the passenger seat, I thought it would be more helpful if I picked out a selection of off-beat hidden gems we discovered, to inspire your future Garden Route road trip itinerary:
1. Dinner at a Romantic Beachside Barbecue Hangout
We’d heard so much about the South African ‘braai’ experience – ‘braai’ meaning barbecue – but so far, hadn’t had one whiff of a chargrilled ostrich steak, until we reached our first stop in the seaside town of Mossel Bay. You want to head down to the dockyards – it’s easy to think you’ve gone wrong, but go with it – where you’ll find a Kaai 4, a cool harbourside barbecue hangout, with tables facing the water’s edge surround a huge crackling fire pit. It’s a no-messing establishment: choose your food from the list on the chalk board, pay upfront at the counter.
There’s one type of lager on draft and wine’s served in a tin mug.
When you’re done, find a waterside seat under the string lights, sip wine as you listen to the sound of the waves lapping the shore and the fire cracking and wait for your food to cook.
The place is even better in the daylight…
Find Kaai 4 at Quay 4, Mossel Bay Harbour, Mossel Bay, 6500, South Africa.
2 A Curio-filled Coffee Shop Inside a giant Shed…
Another Mossel Bay gem, the Blue Shed Coffee Roasters is pure heaven for the coffee fan and lover of kitsch Americana, set on a hill for views over the harbour to Kaai 4. Inside, the big cosy lounge is filled with all kids of curios while outside, there’s a big garden littered with fascinating relics.
Find Blue Shed Coffee Roasters at 33 Bland Street, Mossel Bay, 6500, South Africa.
3 A Night in a Treehouse Hideaway
Oh, just the morning view from a ‘treehouse’ cottage on the edge of Wilderness National Park, where we spent two glorious nights mid-road trip. You can see why we swapped our usual night at a local restaurant for a dinner and bottle of red at home overlooking the hills, to the sound of tweeting birds, the breeze swishing through the long grass before a spot of nighttime stargazing.
We booked our cosy treehouse hideaway through Air BnB, for about £60 a night.
4 A Journey Upriver to a Hidden Waterfall
This is my view from the front of our canoe as we padded up the Touws River. From our Wilderness treehouse, we walked part of the Kingfisher Trail through the tall grass to a campground where you can pick up a canoe. Spend a lovely hour gently meandering upriver until you reach a sandbank (clue: it’s where everyone parks their canoes). Take the steps up for about 10 minutes and you’ll come to a hidden waterfall.
5 The Abandoned Train Station That’s Now A Cafe
All aboard the Beejuice Cafe express for a lunch! We struggled to find a good place to eat in Wilderness until we found this gem of a place serving all the usual stuff and lots of South African dishes. We had the place all to ourselves when we were there.
Find the BeeJuice Cafe at Old Station Building, Sands Road, Wilderness, 6560, South Africa
6 The Most Deserted Beach In The World
This is how I like my beaches – all to myself and completely deserted. Plettenburg wasn’t floating our boat, so after a hot tip off from a local, we made our way over to an idyllic sounding place called Nature’s Valley. Stop off to admire the giant trees in the winding forest pass before you hit the sight of wide-open white-sand beaches and a cute little farm shop selling delicious homemade treats. It was worth the 50km drive.
I hope you enjoyed my guide to the hidden treasures of South Africa’s Garden Route.