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The best reason to be in George itself is to board the Choo-Tjoe steam train (tel. 044/801-8288). It used to run between George and Knysna, but after extensive flood damage to this line in 2006, only the George-to-Mossel Bay line remains up and running. If you don't wish to do the return journey, you can board in George (it runs Mon-Sat, leaving at 10am), then do the return journey by road with Kontours (tel. 082/569-8997; www.kontours.co.za). Note: Train spotters and vintage-car lovers could probably spend the better part of the day examining the locomotives and cars in the Outeniqua Transport Museum (tel. 044/801-8202), adjacent to the platform where the Choo-Tjoe and Outeniqua Power Vans depart and arrive.

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to the number of excellent drives leading out of George (or nearby Wilderness). To do a circular route to Oudtshoorn, take the Outeniqua Pass (or R29) to Oudtshoorn, and then return via the Montagu Pass, a gravel road dating back to 1843. If you're heading to Wilderness or Knysna, consider taking the Seven Passes Road. This, the original road linking George and Knysna, lacks the great sea views of the N2, but it takes you through dense indigenous forests, crosses streams via a number of quaint Edwardian bridges, and finally traverses the Homtini Pass, another engineering feat by the famous Thomas Baines. Alternatively, head down the N2 for the most direct route to the pretty town of Wilderness -- 15km (9 1/4 miles) away via the lush Kaaimans River Pass.

Wilderness is anything but, with a residential development creeping up the forested hills that overlook the Touw River estuary, and a string of ugly mansions lining the beach; yet it is effectively an island within the national park, and still the smallest and by far most tranquil of the coastal towns along the Garden Route -- hence the proliferation of B&Bs over the years. Set around the mouth of the Touw River, it marks the western end of a chain of lakes that stretches some 40km (25 miles) east, most of which are under the control of Wilderness National Park. Although the beaches along this stretch are magnificent, strong currents regularly claim unsuspecting and inexperienced swimmers. You're better off floating in the waters of the Serpentine, the waterway that links Island Lake, Langvlei, and Rondevlei to the Wilderness lagoon. Don't be put off by the tea-colored water or frothy bubbles; these are caused by plant oxides and oxygenation, and the water is perfectly clean.

You can explore the area on foot on a number of trails that take from 1 to 4 hours to walk, or cover some 15km (9 1/4 miles) of inland waterways in a canoe. Wilderness National Park (tel. 044/877-1197) issues trail maps (for guided canoe trips). To reach the park, follow signs off the N2, 2km (1 1/4 miles) east of Wilderness; should you wish to overnight in the park, see review below. For details, contact the helpful Wilderness Tourism Information Bureau (tel. 044/877-0045; www.wildernessinfo.co.za; Mon-Fri 8am-5 or 6pm, Sat 9am-1pm).

Guided Tours

By Bus -- Eco Afrika (tel. 082/558-9104; www.eco-afrika-tours.co.za) offers a large variety of tours, from township visits and golf tours to photographic safaris and adventure tours.

By Train -- You can travel between Mossel Bay and George on the Choo-Tjoe steam train; for details, see below. Another fun option is to trundle to the top of the scenic Montagu Pass in an Outeniqua Power Van (tel. 044/801-8239) -- a little motorized trolley used for rail inspections; the trip takes 3 hours (with a 45-min. stop on the mountain for a BYO picnic).

By Air -- On Air Helicopter Tours (tel. 072/842-5241 or 044/874-5432; www.onairtours.co.za) offers helicopter charters covering a range of attractions, from the ostrich farms and Cango Caves of Oudtshoorn, to flights over the coast to Knysna, Noetzie, and Plettenberg Bay.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.