West Coast National Park encompasses almost 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) of wilderness, as well as a 16* 4.5km (10*2 3/4-mile) marine lagoon, on which the coastal town of Langebaan is situated. Pack a picnic and head for one of the picture-perfect coves near Preekstoel and Kraalbaai, where the strikingly azure waters gently lap white sands bordered by brilliant green succulents. Pack a camera and bathing suit. You also have a good chance of spotting whales from July to early November from points overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The Postberg section, which contains zebra, wildebeest, and gemsbok, is open only in August and September from 9am to 5pm, when the flowers are most spectacular. The community at Churchhaven (marked by the Anglican church of St. Peter), which was founded in 1863 by George Lloyd, a deserter from an American merchant vessel, has now closed the road running past it; the only way to gain access is to rent one of its basic self-catering cottages (tel. 022/772-2799). The hamlet enjoys a unique setting on one of the world's greatest wetlands. Overlooking a blindingly white beach and surrounded by salt marshes, the settlement is visited by more than 140 bird species (including the greater flamingo).

There are two entrances to the park: one off the R27, some 100km (62 miles) north of Cape Town, and the other just south of Langebaan. You can see a good deal of it by entering the one and leaving by way of the other, but make sure you visit the Information Center at Geelbek (tel. 022/772-2799), on the southern tip of the lagoon. Meals such as slow-cooked lamb, smoked snoek salad, or ostrich carpaccio are served in the Geelbek Restaurant (make a reservation during the busy holiday season at tel. 022/772-2134). It's housed in a Cape Dutch homestead built in 1744 -- but it's unlikely that you'll see flamingos while eating your meal, as suggested on the website. For that, you need to take one of a number of short trails to the bird hides overlooking the lagoon -- this is particularly rewarding in summer, when the hides can provide views of thousands of migrant waders and flocks of pelican, flamingo, curlew, and sandpipers. Admission to the park is from R32 to R88 per person, depending on the season (locals pay less). The park is open daily from April 1 to August 31 from 7am to 6pm, and from September 1 to March 31 from 7am to 7pm. For more information, contact tel. 022/772-2144.