Driving the Garden Route

After our week in Cape Town, we were ready to head away from the city and see what the rest of South Africa had to offer. After loads of research back in the UK, we’d decided that we wanted to drive along the southern coast of SA, more commonly known as the Garden Route. Most people start in Cape Town and drive part of it depending on how long they have before returning to Cape Town. We booked a flight to Johannesburg from a town called East London, and planned for 10 days to get us there, which gave us plenty of time to explore alone the way.

Our first stop was the beautiful town of Stellenbosch, which is about an hour from Cape Town and known as the ‘wine region’ of S.A. It is a gorgeous area full of really nice vineyards, all of which are open for tastings. We were able to book a last minute air b&b for the night, and after driving there, we grabbed an Uber and headed to Spier Wines for the afternoon. We started with an amazing wine tasting of their finest whites and reds, before wandering around the grounds for a couple hours. During our walk, we found Spiers smoke house, and obviously had to stop to sample some local beer and cider along with some smoked meats. It was probably one of my favourite meals of our entire trip thus far, and the entire afternoon had such a laid back, relaxed feel to it which was great. Our original plan had been to go to 2 or 3 different wineries and do tastings at them all, but once we were there we decided to stick with just the 1 rather then feel rushed trying to get from place to place. If you are in Cape Town it’s defiently worth a visit to Stellenbosch. We drove and spent the night so that we could both indulge, but we had friends who took an Uber to and from the city and just spent the day, so there are lots of options to suit everyone.

Something we found throughout all of S.A. is that prices of everything are very low, especially in comparison to the pound. Our wine tasting included 6 different high end wines, which equalled about 2 1/2 glasses of wine, for 90 rand (roughly about £5). At first we thought it might have just been the area that made it so cheap, as there are so many different vineyards and they get a ton of tourists; however, as we made our way along the coast and stopped at various other vineyards and breweries, we realised that everywhere was similar prices. Even wine from the shops, although slightly more expensive, was still not a lot. Needless to say, a lot of local wine was consumed over the 10 days we were travelling, and I do not regret a thing!

After Stellenbosch, we had a longer drive to get to Swellendam. It worked out really well because it was a Sunday and the drive had lots to see outside along the coast, so we didn’t miss out on anything as most places are closed on Sundays. Our drive took us along the coast to a place called L’Agulhas which, and as I mentioned in my Cape Town post, is the most southern point of Africa, and where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. A lot of people assume that the Cape of Good Hope is where this happens, so when we got to L’Agulhas it was pretty deserted but had some really good views. If you’re on your way East anyway, it’s defienetly worth the slight detour to take in the sights, as the shorter route bypasses it and takes you inland.

On the way there is a great little place called Birkenhead Brewery where we stopped for lunch and, you guessed it, a beer taster. Birkenhead was about halfway between Stellenbosch and L’Agulhas, which made it the perfect spot for a picnic whilst we sipped some local craft beer. There is also a winery and restaurant, so if you’re in the area it’s got something for everyone.

We had a lot of luck with Air B&B is South Africa, often booking places the night or morning before we got there. Swellendam was a great last minute one, and we ended up spending the evening with our hosts, and having dinner and drinks with them. Heyns Cottage was a lovely little annex surrounded by gardens with a bed, bathroom, and little kitchen area. Rensia and Etienne were more then happy to share their wine and food, and tell us stories about growing up in South Africa, as well as give us many suggestions of places to stay. Despite our best efforts, our wine glasses kept getting filled up, and it was a struggle getting up the next morning for our 8am start. We were both feeling a bit rough, but at their suggestion we stopped in Barrydale at Diesel and Creme for the best milkshakes in Africa. Coupled with eggs on toast, it was just what we needed to perk us up for the next part of our drive.

Milkshake list and the retro decor

The drive from Barrydale to Mossel Bay was so varied – through mountains and hills, desert, and next to the coast – and we really enjoyed it. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we didn’t notice our fuel level, which got dangerously low and left us chugging into a random petrol station just in time. Note to self – When in a rental car that you aren’t used to, make sure you keep the fuel tank full to prevent the stress of thinking you will break down in the middle of nowhere when you haven’t seen another car in over an hour! Luckily, we did make it and made our way to Villa Palmera in Mossel Bay, which was another gorgeous Air B&B.

Our hosts for the night, Jacques and Este, also own their own sailboat and they offer tours around Mossel Bay to their guests. We jumped at the chance of a sunset cruise around the bay, and with time to kill, we headed down to the beach for a lazy afternoon. After some swimming and relaxing in the sun, we grabbed some wine as cheese (as you do) and headed to the harbour for our sunset cruise. It was really lovely, and Rich even got to have a go at steering, which he found very cool. We unfortunately didn’t see any dolphins, but we did see a ton of seals and got an incredible sunset.

Following that, we went for some local seafood from the Kingfisher restaurant and had some of the best mussels, calamari, and seafood chowder that I’ve ever had. We went to bed feeling so full but so satisfied and it was so worth it. The next morning we went to a recommended local cafe for coffee and eggs, before making our way towards Oudtshoorn. We then had a jammed packed day full of excitement as we went cage diving with crocodiles and got a massage from some ostriches, but more on that in Part Two of the Garden Route…

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