Despite the upheaval of 2021, the constant changes to school holidays and term times, the threat of COVID-19, lockdowns, curfews and travel bans, I made it my mission that we would return to the Garden Route for a long overdue family holiday in this little slice of heaven on earth!
Our last family holiday in the Garden Route was way back in 2015 when we hung out at Hog Hollow. My kids couldn’t even remember the drive down or visiting Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Considering this most beautiful part of South Africa is one of my favourite family holiday destinations this had to change, and soon! (Before I know it my oldest won’t want to join us on family trips anymore!!)
Fortunately we managed to spend 10 magical days enjoying the boundless beauty of the Garden Route region. Spending a good stretch of time in the area is essential because there is just so much to see and do.
Our aim was to find a good balance between doing things as a family that we would all enjoy. Not an easy feat with a kid, a teen and 2 x adults to please.
We also wanted to allow for some “down” time as we all needed to unwind and relax with a good book in a sunny spot on at least a few of the days so that we would be able to head back for the new term with a rested body and mind.
Family accommodation on the Garden Route
The first thing to get right when planning a family holiday on the Garden Route of South Africa is to choose family-friendly accommodation that suits your budget. It’s a good idea to select accommodation that also ticks the boxes in terms of your families requirements.
- Do you want to stay somewhere secluded where you have time to relax as a family?
- Do you want to stay in accommodation with spaces and activities geared to keeping kids entertained?
- Do you want to stay centrally where the beach or the shops are located within walking distance?
- Do you want self-catering or fully catered?
We stayed in a variety of accommodation options and found something for every budget and requirement.
Here is a breakdown of where we stayed (Full reviews will be linked as they are posted).
Kingfisher Cottage @ Boschrivier Farm, nr Wittedrift, Plettenberg Bay
A small self-catering cottage for 2 (with a sleeper couch in the lounge). Situated on a working farm with horse rides and pig pens this spot is probably best suited to those with kids under 10 visiting in summer.
Firefly Forest Cabin @ Moonshine on Whiskey Creek, nr The Crags, Plettenberg Bay
A self-catering wooden cabin set amidst the indigenous forest with views from the covered balcony across to the peak of Formosa. The largest cabin sleeps 6 in 2 bedrooms and the central fireplace makes this a great spot for a winter getaway.
The Bungalow, Plettenberg Bay
Located a few steps from Hobie Beach in central Plett, this spot is perfect for summertime stays with teens in tow. They will love the easy access to the beach and the party atmosphere. The rooms are small but you’ll spend all your time in the relaxed outdoor lounging area or on the rooftop deck which is also a great spot for a sunrise breakfast.
Sky Villa Boutique Hotel, Plettenberg Bay
An upmarket luxurious boutique hotel with incredible views across the Plett lagoon and bay (especially amazing at sunrise!). There is a large swimming pool and another rooftop heated pool plus a gym. The onsite restaurant (or room service!) is incredibly convenient and serves delicious food. Bedrooms are not interconnected so best suited to families with teens.
The Lofts, Thesen Island, Knysna
Centrally located in the heart of the Thesen Island shopping hub, The Lofts is a member of Cape Country Routes. The location is ideal for travelling with teens who want to be able to explore the area independently. The self-catering family unit has a large en-suite bedroom downstairs and a loft bedroom upstairs with an en-suite shower room, plus there is a single bed in the lounge. Located right above a day spa it’s also pretty perfect for parents who need to escape for a few hours of tranquility!
A 10 day itinerary for the Garden Route
The Garden Route of South Africa is an ideal family holiday destination due to the sheer abundance of activities on offer that will appeal to every member of the family.
Our visit was jam packed with fun things to do for the whole family.
Here is our 10-day family-friendly itinerary for the Garden Route:
Day 1: Keurbooms beach walk & pansy shell hunt
Head down to Keurbooms River Beach for a relaxing beach walk along what is surely one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in South Africa.
I just love this beach and it transports me straight to my happiest headspace. There is so much to enjoy here: walking for endless kilometres chatting to a friend, partner or child (or just in silence), taking in the sweeping vistas of the sand, sea and mountain ranges, enjoying the fresh sea air and lapping waves at your feet (and if you’re brave enough even a swim).
We enjoyed our visit with friends who happened to be in Plett too and our pansy shell hunt proved to be rather successful for our tribe. You’re lucky if you manage to find one during a seaside stroll, what must we be if our haul came to 12, of which four were discovered by our newest treasure hunter. He is a total convert!
After all your exercise be sure to pop in to the Thyme & Again farm stall for a refuel and stock up your self-catering cupboard with a stash of delicious homemade delights such as rusks, dried fruit and pies.
Day 2: Horse-ride at Equitrails @ Boschrivier Farm
Visiting the area with a preteen and teen meant finding activities that we could all enjoy as a family was quite different than when we visited a few years back.
This time our youngest was 11, not 5, and she was able to enjoy a variety of activities that were far more active and independent than before. Her request, despite a horse allergy, was that we went on a horse-ride with Equitrails at Boschrivier Farm & Stables and so this is how we spent our second misty morning.
A horseback trail is surely one of the most beautiful ways to see a land and we enjoyed heading out on an outride across the farm, across cow-covered farm paddocks, fields of fynbos, through a pecan nut tree grove and alongside a beautiful farm dam, up hills and down into rivers.
Day 3: Visit Nature’s Valley and take a hike to Salt River and back
The natural beauty of the Garden Route is unparalleled, and none more so than with a visit to Nature’s Valley.
We love driving the winding road lined with bright yellow fynbos foliage that takes you down into the forested village where the homes, shops and eateries are set amidst the trees.
With a dawning of a brilliant bright blue morning we chose to head outdoors for the day and, after a quick pit stop at our favourite farm stall in the country, Natures Way, we stocked our supplies and met up with friends for a hike to Salt River.
Park at the Natures Valley village and walk on to the beach for a short way until the sign post points you up to the right. Alternatively walk along the front of the cliff face (but this is a bit more challenging, especially for younger kids!)
We loved the walk up through the forest, there are a few essential stops along the way to take in the majestic view over the entire valley and then head up over the hill and down a number of steps towards the Salt River mouth where you can enjoy your pre-packed picnic while listening to the incredible bird life and soaking in the soulful silence.
We walked back to Natures Valley along the seafront path, which was a bit treacherous in parts, but entirely magical – especially when we were treated to a dolphin pod sighting!
Day 4: Hang out at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden
This was the outing my 11-year-old was most looking forward to during our trip and it didn’t disappoint! In fact, we all loved it!
We got the TripTic entry ticket that allows you access to all three of the SASSA animal sanctuaries in the area for R560pp (half price for kids under 12) and it was well worth it.
You can visit all three sanctuaries (including Jukani) on the same day or spread them out and enjoy a different animal outing every day which allows you more time to soak in the experiences individually.
Our first stop was Monkeyland where we went on a guided walk through the trees to meet the monkeys and lemurs who have found sanctuary here.
Highlights of our visit included watching the lemurs of Madagascar (the island and the movie!) enjoy a feast fit for a king (Julian?), their tails telling a tale in the morning light. The swing bridge too is always a highlight for all ages.
Just across the parking area from Monkeyland is the entrance to Birds of Eden and so it made sense that, after a quick refuel in the cafe at Monkeyland, we headed across to enjoy a few feathered friends.
What a treat Birds of Eden is. You will be blown away by the sheer size of the free-flight aviary – the largest in the world!
In every direction there is another beautiful bird who’s plumage will amaze you. From luminous coral pink flamingos to tufted loeries, rainbow coloured macaw parrots and serene swans, this is a paradise!
Spending time with the Birds of Eden is such a memorable experience and every one of us was taken by the incredible diversity of the birds and the opportunity to enjoy these beauties up close.
Day 5: Visit the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary
If you have never had a big cat encounter in the wild then Jukani is the next best option. At Jukani, big cats who have been bred or kept in captivity are given another chance at life and the work they do here is incredible to ensure that these majestic creatures end their days with dignity in a secure setting.
Expect to encounter lions, tigers (both Bengal and White Bengal), jaguars, caracals, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals and even a Honey Badger if you’re lucky!
The animals here may appear to be “caged” but they are far more comfortable than they have ever been before. They are well fed and cared for with plenty of space to exercise, practice their natural behaviours and lounge around in the sunshine just like lazy cats love to do!
After your visit to Jukani spend the afternoon meandering through the Old Nick Village (home of the Mungo Mill) or pop in to Plett for a spot of browsing…
Day 6: Explore the Plettenberg Bay Wine Route
If I’m honest one of the primary reasons I wanted to head down the Garden Route with my family was to take my husband back to the Plett Wine Route which I discovered on a press trip a few years back… and then our visit coincided with the ONE week when there was a booze ban across South Africa. The irony! We went all the way to enjoy the wines of this region and couldn’t taste or buy any!!
Fortunately the Plett Wine Region is incredibly beautiful, even without wine, and so we enjoyed exploring two of the wine farms (the only ones that were open!)
Our first stop was to Bramon where we enjoyed a delicious spread while sitting amidst the vines and enjoying views of the blue hills of the Crags.
By chance I discovered that Kay & Monty was open while scrolling through Instagram and so we headed down the gravel road to this little piece of paradise and found ourselves the only visitors. Don’t expect that in summer! This is a picture-perfect place.
We soaked in the sunshine, the sweeping views and the kids enjoyed an epic freak shake. I’m pretty certain that these spots are even more enjoyable with a glass or two!
Day 7: Go searching for seals with Offshore Adventures
The sea life of the Plettenberg Bay is abundant, and what better way to get acquainted with it than with an ocean adventure…
Bright and early one morning we headed down to the parking area next to the landmark Beacon Isle hotel to embark on our own ocean excursion with Offshore Adventures.
Our guide, Red, and skipper, Nico, kitted us out with life jackets and a quick safety briefing before we hit the waves – and then we did, launching right from the beach into the big blue.
We cruised along the backline of Robberg Beach looking for signs of life (aka sharks!), but only spotted one solitary seal enjoying the waves. Then we went to find his friends. Thousands of them! All sunning themselves on the cliff face or frolicking in the crashing waves below.
We loved this fresh, fun adventure and really enjoyed seeing Plett from a new perspective, observing the splashing seals and riding the waves in for our beach landing!
Day 8: Hike around Robberg
Getting out into nature is what the Garden Route is all about and there are an abundance of hiking trails, mountain biking routes, forest walks and meanders to enjoy. We opted to head out for a hike around Robberg as it’s an area that has special significance for my extended family and I’d never been before!
Fortunately our Wild Card gave us free access but expect to usually pay R50 per adult and R30 per child at the reserve office or through CapeNature Central Reservations.
There are three circular routes on offer that vary in terms of distance and difficulty. Regardless of the route it is advisable to always wear hiking shoes, sunblock and hats and to take water and a warm jacket as the weather can change suddenly.
The three trails range in time from a 30-minute stroll to a four-hour hike. All offer fantastic views, brisk sea air and sightings of the birds of the peninsula.
We opted for the middle distanced option known as the Witsand Circuit that is approx 5.5km and takes around 2 hours to complete. The trail starts at the rondavel parking area and heads out along the northern ridge of the peninsula above the populous seal colony until you reach a large sand dune which is where you turn right and descend down towards the beach on the southern side of the peninsula.
You can then opt to head across the beach to The Island where you can follow the boardwalk circuit for even more incredible sea views before heading back to the parking area along a management route the edge of the sea and beneath the cliffs and caves ancient people called home!
Day 9: Get your adrenaline buzz with Knysna Ziplines
The adventure my teenage son was most excited about was always going to be ziplining with Knysna Ziplines. I had enjoyed this adrenaline pumping activity on a recent press trip and I just knew I had to take my family back for them to enjoy the fun!
These six ziplines, situated in the Kranshoek region of the Knysna Forest, are some of the longest and highest ziplines in South Africa and the course sees you gliding over the treetops and giving you the opportunity to enjoy views of the surrounding forests, waterfalls, coastline and spectacular natural landscapes – at speed!
Extremely long cables crisscross the gorge making for a most memorable experience. Just be sure to have overcome your fear of heights before you arrive (or use this as an opportunity to do just that) as some of the ziplines are over 200m above sea level! We all enjoyed the outing to the extreme and even our 11-year-old lighty was able to tandem with a friendly guide to enjoy the full experience!
Day 10: Discover the hidden gems of Knysna
We spent our final day on the Garden Route exploring Knysna on a rainy day. Our first stop was for coffee and croissants at Ile de Pain which is always recommended on a visit to Thesen Island. We strolled around the village shops and browsed before packing a picnic and heading out for a drive in the drizzle.
Our destination had to be the iconic Knysna Forest and we were recommended a route that found us discovering a few historical hidden gems of the area.
Our first stop was the tiny San Ambroso Chapel near Gouna which was first erected as a Roman Catholic church in 1891 for the Italian silk spinners who immigrated in the late 19th century. The building was restored in 2005 by Rayno Sciocatti, a direct descendant of the original silk spinners and now houses various artefacts, historical photos and documents as a mini museum featuring the history of these people.
The San Ambroso Church was built ten years after the group’s arrival. Its design was intended to remind the reluctant settlers of their lives in the foothills in Italy, and to give them a closer connection to their home and religion.
We took the long way round to head back to Knysna and enjoyed a scenic drive through the deep green forest via the Terblans Nature Walk turn off and on towards the King Edward VII big tree in the Diepwalle section of the forest where once again we were reminded at the majesty of nature when left uninterrupted!
All in all a great day out exploring culture and history, nature and eternity.
Best family restaurant on the Garden Route
Finally, no visit to this part of the world is complete without a meal at Enrico’s Restaurant in Keurbooms Beach. Time your visit so that you don’t miss out on a spectacular sunset from their iconic viewing deck and be sure to order an Italian fave to enjoy together.
Our Garden Route Family Holiday was a total treat and met the mark for each one of us. We had time together playing board games and bonding over long chats in front of the fireplace. We walked and talked. We had incredible adventures. We discovered new places and new things about ourselves!
Time together and money spent enjoying a family holiday is NEVER wasted. Creating such amazing memories will linger long after the final bill is paid.
Time with our kids (and especially our teens) is fleeting. Prioritising these family trips has been something I’ve never regretted and I don’t think I ever will. I’m so grateful for every moment shared and I encourage you to book your next family holiday today. Afterall, during these distressing and uncertain time, we all need something to look forward to!