Seasonal Planning for Garden Route Travel
The Garden Route in South Africa is a spectacular patchwork of land—from mountains and forests to lagoons and beaches—that gets its name from the Garden Route National Park that it covers, where George, its largest city, is considered the capital. Extending over 190 miles (300 km) of South Africa's southeastern coast from Witsand in Western Cape to the mouth of the Storms River in Eastern Cape, the coastal stretch of land receives the country's most rainfall, lending to the verdant year-round greenery.
Each province it touches experiences its own variation in weather. For example, the Western Cape portion of the route is rainier in winter, while the Eastern Cape is drier. Moreover, as the route follows the southern coast of the African continent, it keeps a maritime Mediterranean climate (one of the mildest in the world next to Hawaii): it's rarely too hot or too cold, contributing to its month-to-month appeal. Yet, given its proximity to the coast, you can expect unpredictable weather and a chance of rain at any time. Though it's often overnight, and it's never enough to dissuade exploration.
And while the Garden Route makes for an excellent road trip year-round, every season offers a different experience. What month or season you choose to visit depends entirely on your interests. Beaches and hiking are best from late spring to mid-fall (November-April), whale season begins in the winter and runs to the start of summer (June to December, peaking in August and October), and late winter, early spring is fantastic for wildflowers (August and October). The high season runs from November to April, with the warmest weather during the summer, but avoid December and January if you want to sidestep the crowds.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Spring (Sep-Nov)||Low shoulder season rates and crowds; warm breezy days and clear skies||Late September school holiday draws crowds||Whale watching, wildlife viewing (many animals giving birth); wildflowers (Oct), beaches (Nov), hiking, biking||Witsand, Wilderness, Knysna Lagoon, Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay|
|Summer (Dec-Feb)||Mild to warm and dry weather (February is the hottest month)||Peak crowds and inflated rates over Christmas, New Year, and summer holidays; booked resorts and domestic flights (plan early); rains (Eastern Cape)||Less touristic beaches, hikes||Noetzie Beach in Knysna, Victoria Bay Beach, Herolds Bay, Brenton Beach|
|Fall (Mar-May)||No crowds; increased hotel availability||Cooler overnight temperatures||Beaches (Mar-Apr), hikes (Mar)||Elephant Sanctuary Plettenberg Bay, Monkeyland, Wilderness National Park|
|Winter (Jun-Aug)||Mild to cool weather; low season rates||Heavy rains (Western Cape); July is the coldest month; accommodations book up in August (whale watching season)||Southern right whale watching, wildflowers (Oct)||Eastern Cape province (less rain): Plettenberg Bay|
Spring on the Garden Route (September to November)
Driving the Garden Route in spring is ideal, particularly in late spring, when the weather is drier, the temperatures are comfortable, averaging from lows of 54°F (12°C) to highs of 73°F (23°C) in George. The entire area transforms into a colorful wonderland as wildflowers, including the endemic fynbos, are in bloom. Spring is the shoulder season with fewer crowds than other times of the year. Though in late September, there is an uptick in local tourism due to the short school vacation that coincides with the Hermanus Whale Festival, drawing huge crowds to the coast and along the 560-mile (900-km) stretch of the Cape Whale Route.
Visit Witsand's Saint Sebastian Bay for calving southern right whales, views you can admire from the shore, Wilderness' Dophins' Point and Wilderness Beach, among other vantage points, and Knysna's The Heads, Noetzie, and Brenton-on-Sea to view the whales. Knysna is also a great place for a boat trip for up-close encounters with humpbacks and southern right whales. However, there is much more than aquatic life viewing as intimate Wilderness has secluded beaches, rivers, and lakes. Knysna offers a beautiful lagoon and scenic rivers and forests, perfect for anglers and water sport enthusiasts.
Spring, like most of year-round, offers excellent hiking conditions. Check out the Robberg Nature Reserve for trails and scenery. Besides hiking and whales, birders will delight in seeking out the over 260 species along the Garden Route.
See this 7-day itinerary to capture whales and wildlife along the Garden Route.
Summer on the Garden Route (December to February)
The months of December to February are the most active on the Garden Route. Particularly in late December when school holidays take place and local vacationers pack the beaches and Garden Route, and in January as the long summer school vacation extends through to mid-month. February is the hottest month, with an average low of 61°F (16°C) and a high of 79°F (26°C) in George, and the Indian Ocean is an inviting 70°F-75°F (21°C-24°C). Some of the busiest areas are Hartenbos, Stilbaai, and Mossel Bay. Though crowds dissipate toward the end of January, and by February, the masses have diminished, and it's easier to find accommodation "on the go."
If traveling the Garden Route in the summer, consider the traffic on the popular section of road as well as the long queues for popular attractions, like Tsitsikamma Park and its iconic Suspension Bridge and two-mile (3 km) Waterfall Trail. Get to the park early when the gates open to beat the masses. Then there are the beaches that offer various watersports or a lie-out. Try the less tourist-frequented Noetzie Beach in Knysna, Victoria Bay Beach, and Herolds Bay. And when it is hot, visit Brenton Beach by the Knysna Western Heads—you will find several pools between the rocks to cool off when it is hot.
Check out this Country of Contrasts epic 20-day itinerary that includes plenty of time spent at the beach from Knysna and beyond.
Fall on the Garden Route (March to May)
Fall on the Garden Route continues to be pleasant, where March is the warmest of the season with an average low of 57°F (14°C) and a high of 77°F (25°C) in George. It's also the wettest month with 10 days of rain. Though with that said, five months of the year, you can expect nine days of rain, so this information won't deter travelers from visiting this month or season. The fall is the perfect time for exploration, hiking, and city sightseeing, even when May rolls around as temperatures are a mild average of 50°F (10°C) lows and 73°F (23°C) highs and have two days less of rain.
Except for the Easter holiday toward the end of March, when schools are out and families flock to the coasts for the beaches, parks for camping, and cities for events and attractions, fall is a shoulder season. That means fewer crowds at popular venues and sites, less traffic on the route, reduced hotel rates, and increased accommodation availability. Consider exploring Wilderness National Park for stunning landscapes with incredible birdlife, beaches, forests, and mountains for hiking, camping, fishing, and more. Mingle with roaming birds and monkies at Birds of Eden and Monkeyland, respectively.
Events in Fall
Knysna Literary Festival, Thesen Island. Bookworms can combine a tour along the Garden Route with this annual decade-old festival, where South Africa's top talent offer readings and book signings. It's held in venues around Thesen Island.
Winter on the Garden Route (June to August)
Winter on the Garden Route can be a little unpredictable in the Western Cape province as it sees more rain than elsewhere on the route. Yet in George, you can expect the least amount of rainfall in June (six days) with the coldest temperatures this season, averaging lows of 46°F (8°C) and highs of 68°F (20°C). Similar to other times of the year, expect cooler nights, and best to pack layers and your bathing suit. As winter is considered off-season, prices are at their lowest, and cities are the least crowded in Western Cape.
Meanwhile, farther east, winter is the start of southern right whale watching season, peaking in August; therefore, book accommodation in advance in prime locales like Plettenberg Bay and know the roads can be crowded. As in any season on the Garden Route, winter has much to offer. Want to see elephants? Check out Elephant Sanctuary Plettenberg Bay to interact with the gentle giants. Looking for a thrill? Head to Bloukrans Bridge Bungy in Knysna—one of the world's highest commercial bridge jumps at 709 feet (216 m) over the Bloukrans River. Then there's Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, home to rescued predators.
Read this Garden Route and "Big 5" itinerary for an option that includes stops along the Garden Route, including Mossel Bay, Wilderness, and the Bloukrans Bridge.
Events in Winter
Knysna Oyster Festival, Knysna. Timed to the early July school holidays, this 10-day festival spans sporting events from cycling to running, plus cooking classes and competitions, wine and whiskey tastings, live music, and all the oysters you can eat.