After some 20 dusty, corrugated kilometers (12 miles) on dirt roads, soon after Gansbaai, the shark-cage diving capital, you will reach a minute speck on the map called Baardskeerdersbos, where the most frequented building is probably the Strandveld pub. The real attraction is en route: an unassuming retreat by the name of Farm 215 (tel. 028/388-0920; www.farm215.co.za; suites from R2,400 double, minimum 2 nights, no children under 12). It floats in a sea of fynbos amid empty skies and blissful silence (at night, watch for the occasional flash from a far-off lighthouse at Danger Point). There are three rooms available in or around the main house and a stylish restaurant, bar, and lounge area, but what you really want is one of the three free-standing fynbos suites, powered by solar electricity and warmed by fireplaces. It's the ultimate romantic getaway for independent nature lovers.
Two coastal destinations east of Hermanus well worth visiting are the village of Arniston and, better still, De Hoop Nature Reserve. To reach either, head east to Stanford on R43 (stop at Marianna's for lunch, if you can -- see above), then turn northeast on R326 before turning right and heading south for Bredasdorp. (Tip: Should you find yourself driving through Bredasdorp hungry, consider Julian's, 22 All Saints St. [tel. 028/425-1201], which serves a top chocolate cheesecake.) From Bredasdorp, you can go either immediately south on R316 toward Arniston, or north on R319 for De Hoop. Time allowing, you may want to take a side trip south to Africa's southernmost tip, L'Aghulus, which is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Barring the interesting facts of its location, the place itself is pretty unremarkable, unless you wish to view the wreck of the freighter Meisho Maru 38 or visit the oldest lighthouse on the coast. Built in 1848, the Lighthouse Museum (tel. 028/435-7185) is now a satellite of the Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp and keeps the same hours. (Incidentally, the museum also houses a coffee shop and restaurant, but for superb views of the oceans and their clandestine meeting, book a table at nearby Agulhas Country Lodge tel. 028/435-7650].)
A highly recommended detour, if you do decide to take the R319 south, is the tiny town of Elim, which is clearly signposted off the R319. Established as a Moravian mission station in 1824, the town remains relatively unchanged architecturally and is still inhabited by descendents of the original Moravian church members, who make their living from harvesting fynbos, and now, tourism. (Incidentally, Elim soil produces gorgeous flinty dry sauvignons, so sauvignon blanc lovers would do well to look for wineries such as First Sightings.)
Arniston, a combination of the small fishing village of Kassiesbaai and a collection of weekend getaway homes for Capetonians, is lapped by a startling turquoise sea and surrounded by blindingly white sand dunes. If you see signs for WAENHUISKRANS, don't panic -- Arniston, named after a British ship that wrecked here in 1815, is also officially known by its Afrikaans name, Waenhuiskrans, which refers to the limestone cave that is big enough to house (huis) a wagon (waen). For centuries, the local fishermen have been setting out at first light to cast their lines and returning at night to the quaint lime-washed, thatched cottages clustered on the dunes overlooking the sea. These dwellings, some of which date back 200 years, have collectively been declared a national monument and are picture-postcard pretty, though doubtless less romantic to live in. You can wander through the sandy streets of the Kassiesbaai community on your own or visit with the local community guide (tel. 073/590-2027).
The gorgeous De Hoop Nature Reserve (tel. 028/425-5020; entry R25 per person) has what many consider to be the best whale-watching spot on the entire coast, a huge beach dune appropriately called Koppie Alleen (Head Alone). But most visitors are here to explore one of the most beautiful coastal reserves in the world -- 51km (30 miles) of pristine white beach dunes, limestone cliffs, rock pools, wetlands, coastal fynbos, and no one to disturb the peace but zebras, several species of antelopes, and more than 260 species of birds. Inside the reserve, there are limited routes (you can drive to the beach or accommodations), so the reserve is best explored on foot (there are four trails; make sure you do part of the Coastal Trail, as well as the Coot or Heron Vlei Trail). Do note the reserve hours (7am-6pm); visitors intending to overnight should report to the reserve office no later than 4pm on the day of arrival, or call ahead if you are running late. There is a small penalty if you arrive after the reserve gates close at 6pm.
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.