Having your own wheels (whether you prefer cars or motorbikes) is pretty much essential; whilst most hotels can arrange transfers and ferry you around, you'll get far more by being independent, and car hire is cheap. The route is simple: take the N2 out of Cape Town and follow it all the way. If you're making a detour to the winelands around Stellenbosch, take the R45. Driving is easy here (especially if you're British; they drive on the left) but watch out for speed cameras; the law is very strict and the fines will follow you home.
Cape Town International airport (www.airports.co.za) is well served by international carriers; Virgin, BA and South African Airways fly direct, with flights taking 11-12 hours from London. Globespan has great-value flights from Manchester in high season (November-April). If you're staying at the eastern end of the Route, you could also take the 50-minute domestic flight to George, or Port Elizabeth, a two-hour drive from Plettenberg Bay (aka 'Plett').
There are limited public train services; you're better off sticking to the road (see below). There is a vintage steam train that runs along the coast from George to Mossel Bay, the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe (+27 (0)44 801 8288), but it's not exactly a commuter service.
Country code for South Africa: +27. Cape Town area: (0)21. Garden Route: (0)44.
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer; Nelson Mandela's autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom; JM Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K or Disgrace.
Do go / Don't Go
There's no bad time to go, as the climate is Mediterranean and you'll get about 300 days of sunshine a year. However, areas such as Plettenberg Bay can get crowded in peak season, particularly at Christmas and Easter. Winter days from March to November will still be warm but temperatures dip sharply at night. July to November is the best time for whale-watching.
With miles of coast and open spaces, serious seafood and red meat are the mainstays of South African cuisine, with more unusual options including ostrich and kudu. Afrikaners like their meat roasted, typically on a braai (a type of barbecue), and their portions large (no doubt to help them hike over, swim round, ride across or climb up one of the region's many large topographical features. The main discernible influences on modern cuisine are European, particularly Portuguese, but there is a growing trend in restaurants to get back to basics and revisit South African staples, such as corn, millet, sweet potatoes and pap, a maize porridge.
Out in the Garden Route towns, taxis are expensive and difficult to flag down. Find one in a taxi bay or ring ahead and book.
Service is generally very friendly and deserving of a 10-15 per cent tip. If you accept an offer from someone who approaches you wanting to watch your car or pack your shopping, give them a few rand.
South African rand (ZAR). The exchange rate is roughly R14 to £1; R7 to $1.
Don't bother with ballgowns: with the exception of a few Cape Town hotspots, South Africa is very laid-back. You will see a few people dressed to the nines, but walking boots or trainers, golf clubs and your favourite beach kit are a much better use of your suitcase. The wind can be quite cold, so bring something warmer for winter evenings on the coast.
Despite having been inhabited since pre-historic times, the Garden Route is far richer in plant and animal life than in cultural relics. There are a handful of museums and thousands of Stone Age artefacts from caves such as the Majies River Cave at Keurboomstrand, but natural splendour's the thing to admire here. The inspiring landscape around Knysna and Plett has drawn many craftsmen and artists in to settle, and there are whole hamlets of artisan workshops and outlets (see 'shopping', below) displaying the fruits of their looms, pottery wheels and palettes.
There are some great golf clubs in these parts, from the Stellenbosch Golf Club (www.stellenboschgolfclub.com) near Cape Town to the dramatic coastal course at Pezula.
If you're a shopaholic, you've come to the wrong place. Knysna's shops are too touristy, and Wilderness is too sleepy. There are some browsable boutiques in Plett, but everything's fairly pricey. Look out for interesting pottery and fabrics instead: Global Village on Piesang Valley Road (+27 (0)44 533 5150) exhibits and sells interesting arts and crafts, and there's a little wholefood café selling smoothies; Old Nick Village has several little shops selling pottery and furniture; the hand-woven fabrics are lovely (+27 (0)44 533 1395; www.oldnickvillage.co.za). Pick up crisp Western Cape chardonnays or full-bodied cabernets in one of the wineries at Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Paarl; try Thelema Mountain Vineyards (www.thelema.co.za) or Grande Provence (www.grandeprovence.co.za). Bramon Wine Estate in the Crags is a pioneering vineyard in the Plettenberg Bay area, and has a good restaurant too (+27 (0)82 897 3753; www.bramonwines.co.za).
If you're driving through the winelands round Stellenbosch, the R45 takes you over the Franschhoek Pass and provides spectacular vineyard and mountain views. Travelling along the N2, particularly after Mossel Bay, also gives you one stunning vista after another: the Four Vlies (lakes) in Wilderness, the Heads at Knysna and the mountain peaks behind Plett (as locals refer to Plettenberg Bay) are all beautiful.
Go down to Keurboomstrand one evening and pick fresh oysters off the rocks under the moonlight. This will be of course be far more enjoyable if you bring along an oyster shucker, some lemons, something to sit on and a few bits of basic picnic paraphernalia. From July until the end of the year, you can spot whales and dolphins from the beaches around Plett, including Robberg and Hobie, as well as at Hermanus to the west.
December-April Plettenberg Bay's polo season, with the most intense games coinciding with Christmas and Easter. Held on the beautiful private polo estate of Kurland in the Crags, the Kurland International Polo Test is the highlight of the season. July Knysna Oyster Festival in the first half of the month celebrates the unctuous bivalve with a variety of seemingly unrelated running, cycling and driving events, as well as tastings and live music (www.oysterfestival.co.za). July-December Whale-watching season all along the coast. Hermanus and Robberg Bay are among the best places to see them.