The Western Cape, Africa's southwestern-most tip, is the most popular tourist destination in South Africa, and with good reason. Besides the sybaritic pleasures of Cape Town and its winelands, numerous treasures lie just an hour or two's drive from the Mother City. Along what is known as the West Coast, you'll find salty lagoons and laid-back beach restaurants, quaint villages surrounded by vineyards or rolling wheat fields, and the bewitching Cederberg Mountains, its craggy weathered walls adorned in ancient rock art. And after the first rains fall, usually in August, the annual miracle of spring sees the seemingly barren plains abloom with spectacular flower displays.
Then there's the vast Southern Right whale nursery that stretches along the Cape's southern coast. Some of the best land-based whale-watching sites in the world are in the Overberg, with whales migrating to its shallow coastal basin to mate and calve from mid-July to November. The Whale Coast, of which the coastal town of Hermanus is the unofficial capital, is an easy and beautiful 90-minute coast-hugging drive from Cape Town, but there's plenty to do and lovely places to stay, should you choose to spend a few days here or use this as a springboard to the hinterland.
East of the Overberg are the coastal lakes and forests of the Garden Route, fringed by the majestic mountains that separate it from the ostrich farms and vineyards of the Klein Karoo, and the distinctive architecture of the small settlements dotted in the vast arid plains of the Great Karoo. It's a great place to do nothing but unwind -- but this scenic coastal belt, which encompasses South Africa's Lakes District, also takes pride of place on the itinerary for adrenaline junkies, with a rush of activities ranging from the highest bungee jump in the world to riding elephants and cage-diving with great white sharks. The region also boasts an increasing number of private game reserves, but none compares in terms of size with the vast reserves in the bordering Eastern Cape province. However you devise your itinerary (and this chapter is here to help you do just that), the best way to explore this part of the world is by car. You can drive the entire Garden Route from Cape Town in 5 to 6 hours, reaching Port Elizabeth in 7, but you should spend at least 3 nights en route -- preferably 5 -- to discover the beauty off the beaten track (the N2).