Mossel Bay was the site of the first European landing on the South African coast, when Bartholomieu Dias, having battled a fearsome storm, tacked in for water and safety in 1488. The Bartholomieu Dias Museum Complex (tel. 044/691-1067) comprises a collection of historic buildings, of which the Maritime Museum is excellent. It relates the early Portuguese-seafaring history (which is a bit text heavy) and houses a life-size replica of the caravel in which Dias set sail in 1487 -- it's hard to imagine going where no man has gone before in something that looks like a large toy. The ship on display was built in Portugal and sailed from Lisbon to Mossel Bay in 1987 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Dias's arrival on southern Cape soil. The museum, located on Market Street, is open Monday through Friday from 8:15am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 4pm. Admission is R10, or R25 including access to the ship.

Mossel Bay is also one of the best places along the coast to get up close and personal with a great white shark. If you'd prefer your ocean interlude with a little less adrenaline, contact Seven Seas (tel. 044/691-3371) or Romanza (tel. 044/690-3101) for whale-watching cruises or trips to Seal Island; a 60-minute cruise is about R100. For more information, contact the Tourism Bureau (tel. 044/691-2202;; Mon-Fri 8am-6pm, Sat-Sun 9am-4pm), in the historical center, at the corner of Church and Market streets.

The Original Snail Mail -- Outside the Maritime Museum is the Post Office Tree, South Africa's first post office. In 1501, the first of many sailors sent his mail by leaving a letter stuffed in an old boot and tied to what the city fathers claim is this particular milkwood tree. Soon this became an informal postal system, with letters picked up by passing ships and distributed accordingly. Today you can post a letter in a boot-shaped post box and it will be stamped with a special postmark.

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.