Winter is my favourite time to road trip, especially in South Africa. The mornings are crisp, the roads are quieter on weekends, the sunrises and sunsets seem to be more colourful and I have more of an excuse to stop frequently for a warm cup of coffee.
Last weekend Kim and I decided that we need to get out the flat and find a change of scenery. It’s something we try to do as often as we can, although we’re limited by a few realities – long working hours, a very tight budget, and a french bulldog with special healthcare needs (which means either planning a dog-friendly route, or arranging a pet sitter if the route is unknown). In the past this is where we’d normally put the idea of going away out of our minds, waiting for a “better time” when we’ll have more free time and more money. But this year we’re adapting… if you can only get away for one day, take it and make that day a memorable adventure!
We spent our day off on a mini road trip, exploring the Garden Route by driving from Mossel Bay to Knysna via the back roads and completely avoiding the N2 freeway. So if you’re wondering what to do in the Garden Route this weekend, this is how you can have this adventure too…
The Night Before
Spontaneity requires a bit of preparation, right?! You don’t need to know exactly where you’re going yet, but you do need to sort out those things that take a few hours to get ready… Charge your phone and camera, clear your SD cards, get your favourite tunes loaded and ready to go. Just before you fall asleep, remember to set your alarm for before sunrise (trust me on this).
Wake Up Before The Sun
We all (I think?) hate the sound of our alarm clock when we’re sleeping deeply, but this is one of the few times when I feel like it’s worth it. Wake up early so you can watch the sun rise!
I’m a “jump out of bed and do some light yoga” kinda guy, and Kim’s a “give me coffee and time to wake up” kinda gal, but regardless, we both feel like waking up with the sun puts us in a positive, productive frame of mind. It’s quiet in those hours; nobody expects anything from you, you can take time to think, and you have no idea what the day has in store for you so you feel like anything is possible!
Once you’ve said “hi” to the fiery ball in the sky, it’s time to get ready to go. Remember to pack your camera gear, drinking water, sunscreen, a notebook and pen, and take some cash with just in case. It’s unlikely that the little shops on the back routes will have card machines.
At this point I recommend heading to your favourite coffee shop to grab a quick take-away cuppa joe, and then spend a few minutes with your map. I use both Google Maps and a physical paper map that I can draw on; either will work for this. Map out your route (I’ve shared mine with you below), keeping in mind the distances between towns and which roads are dirt roads, based on the car you’ll be using, and also track the time it should take you between your checkpoints.
Once you have your route, share it with a friend or message them to let them know where you’ll be heading and what time you expect to be home. Be free, but also be responsible. 😉
Now it’s time to put on your tunes and hit the road!
Stop At The Quirky Little Shops
The thing about waking up early is that you get hungry early too. We stopped at the strawberry farm in George for a quick breakfast and stocked up on snacks for the road (and a possible picnic).
From there we started on the Montagu Pass – in my opinion one of the most beautiful of the Garden Route’s many passes. The views are breathtaking (especially in the morning or evening light), and although the road is narrow, there are places where you can safely pull over for a photo or three.
Towards the end of the Pass, just before Herold village, we spotted a sign that said “Herold Wines” on the right, and decided to take a detour and check it out. I’m so glad we did!
After a short-ish journey down a dirt road, past some little cottages and farm sheds, we arrived at a picturesque little family-owned wine farm, complete with the kind of lavender bushes, big trees and cute dog that you can’t help but post on Instagram. And the pancakes… do yourself a favour and order the “Nutella and Crunchie” version. I’ll drive all that way again just for those pancakes! I’m not even kidding.
Maureen and Ingrid made us feel right at home, and when they saw that that I was interested in their wines they even took me on a quick tour. If you have time, this is somewhere that I recommend you stop at before moving on to Route 62.
After this quick stop, you can check out Herold village next, or continue on with the Pass…
On To Route 62
When you get to the junction at the end of the Montagu Pass, swing a right and head east on the famous Route 62.
Most of us know the west section of this road that runs through the Little Karoo, but the east section is just as picturesque. There are parts that look just like we’ve stepped into a Wild West movie (we actually stopped to take photos it was so impressive).
Keep going on Route 62 for about 50km until you see a dirt road on your right heading towards De Vlugt (if you’re not keen to take this one, you could also carry on a bit further with Route 62 and then take the R339 instead). We love this road because it’s quiet and has some amaaaazing views.
Prince Alfred Pass
At the end of the cool dirt road you’ll swing a right onto the Prince Alfred Pass. Just after this intersection, keep an eye out for a little antique store and the famous “Angie’s G Spot” where you can stop for refreshments and a killer view. Across the road is a little shop that sells antiques and baked goods. They also have a long-drop toilet if you’re keen to experience that.
Just a little way on along the pass we found some unexpected magic… Fires had ripped through this area not long ago, leaving destruction and charred remains behind. When we drove past this time the weather had turned moody and grey to match the scene, and the new plants that had emerged from the ashes glowed with a bright neon green in contrast. It was the most awe-inspiring view!
You’ll notice the weather changes drastically in the photos from our trip. That’s one of the things we love about where we live… on one side of the mountain you’ll find a bright, sunshiny Karoo; as you cross over the mountain you’ll find the cooler, cloudy weather of the Garden Route.
And then the road will fork. And in the middle of the fork you will see this ^ interesting piece of art next to the road… “Calling the Herd” is a collection of trumpet-like structures grouped together in the shape of the tree. The artwork, created by Strijdom van der Merwe in honour of the elephants that used to travel these routes, is not just visually pleasing – it’s interactive too. Next time you pass by, blow into each of these “trumpets” and hear what happens…
The last part of the pass on will take you directly to Knysna (or you can turn off sooner to Rheenendal if you’d prefer). This section of the road is incredibly beautiful – ground road surrounded by dense forest – but when we passed through after recent rains we had a tough time with the potholes. Our little Stepway was a trooper, but we had to take it slooow. Veeerrry sloooowww.
To break up the bumpy journey into manageable sections, plan your afternoon picnic for the “Valley of Ferns” picnic spot in Diepwalle or the Big Tree hiking trail a little further on. The lush, green forest contrasts nicely with the fynbos and Karoo landscapes you passed through earlier; take a moment to enjoy it.
Just as the afternoon light turns to dusk, you should be heading into Knysna. Head to Thesen Island for some famous Knynsa oysters, or if you have a Designated Driver with you, definitely try some craft beer tasting and gin tasting. After dinner ended the day with a romantic view over the Knysna Lagoon…
And that’s how turn your journey from Mossel Bay to Knysna into an epic one-day road trip, skipping the highways and freeways and choosing the back roads and breathtaking views instead!
Check out the video I made of our trip – the timelapse shows just how drastically the vegetation and weather changes in a relatively short distance. I’ve also included a map below of our route if you’re keen to drive the exact roads we took.