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Where to stay: Arniston Spa Hotel
The floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies in this elegant hotel's ocean-facing rooms offer tranquil views and the chance to fall asleep to the sound of the sea. Two restaurants with outdoor seating mean you needn't spend a minute without ocean breezes (£175; arnistonhotel.com).

Little Karoo: Best for mountain drives
Standing at the top of the 1,585 metre peak next to the Swartberg Pass in the Western Cape province, Kobus Lategan surveys the land on either side: a patchwork quilt of farm plots, the greenery of Little Karoo and the aridity of Great Karoo. This imposing bear of a man - jack of all trades and a former farmer of pigs, tobacco, sheep and ostriches - is clearly happy to be here, and strikes up a conversation with the only other people admiring the view: two bikers from Johannesburg. 'The drive from Great Karoo to the coast is less than two hours,' he says. 'Where else can you drive from the desert to the tropics in that time?'

Kobus points out a lone black eagle soaring overhead and the elaborate fynbos plants growing at our feet, but is most impressed by the road itself. Switchbacks descend in both directions, the result of five years' hard labour by prisoners wielding pickaxes, shovels and dynamite. Opened in 1888, the route shortened the trip between Oudtshoorn and the town of Prince Albert to the north by 25 miles.

Sitting at a roadside café, Kobus trades warm greetings with passers-by and staff. Community is important in a place prone to extremes - Karoo is a San tribe word meaning 'where there is no water', and only the hardiest plants survive the heat. Ostriches, Kobus explains, also do well. 'Despite their fierce reputation, the birds are actually very fragile, but can adapt to extreme weather conditions,' he says. 'People have to do the same up here.'

The drive down to Great Karoo takes us around curve upon tight curve carved into the valley wall. The rock formations look like slices of a layer cake that's been tipped on its side and the power of the tectonic forces that created this geologically unique land millions of years ago suddenly becomes clear. In places, the canyon is just wide enough for a scattering of pine trees, the river and the roadway, its dark orange walls the colour of a fire's dying embers.

Further information

  • Research the drive at route62.co.za
  • Find out about Prince Albert at patourism.co.za

Side trip
In the late 1860s, when no self-respecting society lady could go without an ostrich plume in her hat, the feather barons of Oudtshoorn made their fortunes. Many of their gracious homes are maintained in this pretty and prosperous town (oudtshoorn.co.za).

Where to stay: Swartberg Country Manor
With plush, stylish rooms that look out onto an ostrich farm, a fig orchard and a big sweep of mountain, this hotel at the foot of the pass is a tranquil place to bed down. Head to the wooden deck of the excellent in-house restaurant for dinner under the stars (£120; swartbergmanor.co.za).

Tsitsikamma National Park: Best for walking
Churning river currents meet turquoiseblue seas in a frothy mix at the mouth of Storms River, in Tsitsikamma National Park. Stop midway along one of the two suspension bridges crossing the river and the park's diversity presents itself in every direction: millennia-old sandstone and quartz rock formations line the gorge and rocky shoreline, and the fins of massive southern right whales are visible out in the ocean. Walking paths hug the coastal cliffs as they pass through dense thickets of witch-hazel shrub, stinkwood, yellow-wood and milkwood trees, some hundreds of years old.

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