One of the most picturesque drives through South Africa with kids is known as the Garden Route. From Cape Town, over Sir Lowry Pass, the Houw Hoek Pass and surrounded by the Outeniqua and Tasitsikamma mountains are white beaches, seaside townships and inspiring scenery making the area the perfect beach family holiday destination. If you’re traveling with the kids to South Africa and need a little bit of sea and sand, this is it.
The Garden Route is all about holidaying as the locals do – beachside chillaxing and enjoying the quiet life. The drive from Cape Town to the area as well as between the townships is a highlight of any tour of South Africa in itself. Think sheer cliff top views, native flora as far as the eye can see and the occasional baboon sitting roadside. The pristine beaches and quaint townships are just an added bonus.
Or, if the beach is a little boring for you, this is also home to some of the best national parks anywhere perfect for long hikes and nature watching.
Spend a few days to soak up the ocean and sun and explore the numerous communities around the area for a picture perfect beach family vacation.
The tiny town of Wilderness has a magnificent beach. Unfortunately the surf undercurrents here are too strong for safe swimming (although splashing about and shallow boogie boarding is fine). But the multi-stair climb down (and back up again) at the cliff (rather than the town) end is still well worth it. This is the quieter part of the beach and far less crowded. The sand is spotless and flat – ideal for games and running amuck – and in the summer kite surfers, fishermen and paragliders provide visual entertainment for the kids. In the late afternoons look out for the hundreds of tiny sea snails making patterns along the shoreline. [For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the cast of Bondi Rescue here.]
Knysna is the classic seaside resort town – full of maritime-themed shops, seafood restaurants with water views and a lovely lagoon where you can take excursions or simply boat-watch. This is an ideal spot for a day in among the crowds.
There are numerous animal sanctuaries and wildlife reserves in the area, but the most well reputed is Birds of Eden at The Crags near Plettenberg Bay. The two-hectare aviary boasts an impressive 3,500 birds from Bare-Faced Go-Away birds to Pink Flamingos and is all easily walked with a stroller. The sanctuary ranges from high boardwalks and a suspension bridge kids will love through to a large pond area. Next door is Monkeyland which hosts guided hour-long tours through the forest and will get you surprisingly close to up to 10 species of monkey and ape.
If you’re after a scenic ride, hop on to South Africa’s only steam train, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, which has a magnificent track for some fab photos. (If you are a stickler for historic details, do note that in the summer when the risks of fires are high, sometimes they run a diesel locomotive for ecological reasons.)
Head inside the Garden Route National Park (that includes the Knysna, Tsitsikamma and Wilderness parks) for scenery of
a different kind. There are plenty of gorgeous spots to bushwalk or set up a
picnic – look out in particular for the impressive 850-year old Woodville Big
Since the Garden Route is such a popular local holiday destination, there are plenty of different accommodation options to suit all budgets and lifestyles, whether you prefer a self-contained, private guesthouse away from the beach (such as Langvlei Dunes Accommodation) or something more luxurious perched right at the edge of the ocean (such as Livingstone House).
It is extremely easy and safe to self-drive the region. The roads are well maintained, speed limits strictly patrolled and police a distinctive presence (although driving at night is still not recommended in South Africa).
The facilities on The Garden Route are meant to service the locals who come from Cape Town which means supermarkets and shops stock fresh food, safe tap water, most standard infant needs and emergency medical amenities are readily available.
The Garden Route works well as a destination in itself or otherwise is a nice stopover point from Cape Town to Addo Elephant National Park. To read about activities to do in these parts of South Africa with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Cape Town and Addo Elephant National Park.