East of the Winelands lies a vaguely defined region known as the Overberg (Afrikaans for “over the mountain”). In the seventeenth century, when Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl were remote outposts, everywhere beyond them was, to the Dutch settlers, a fuzzy hinterland drifting off into the arid sands of the Karoo.
Of the two main routes through the Overberg, the N2 strikes out across the interior, a four- to five-hour stretch of sheep, wheat and mountains. North of the N2 is Greyton, a charming, oak-lined village used by Capetonians as a relaxing weekend retreat, and the starting point of the Boesmanskloof Traverse – a terrific two-day trail across the mountains into the Karoo. The historic Moravian mission station of Genadendal, ten minutes down the road from Greyton, has a strange Afro-Germanic ambience that offers a couple of hours’ pleasant strolling. Swellendam, with its well-preserved streetscape with serene Cape Dutch buildings and superb country museum, is favoured for the first night’s stop on a Garden Route tour.
The real draw of the area is the Whale Coast, close enough for an easy outing from Cape Town, yet surprisingly undeveloped. The exception is popular Hermanus, which owes its fame to its status as the whale-watching capital of South Africa. The whole of this southern Cape coast is, in fact, prime territory for land-based whale-watching. Also along this section of coast is Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point on the continent, where rocks peter into the ocean. Nearby, and more exclusive, is Arniston, one of the best-preserved fishing villages in the country, and a little to its east the De Hoop Nature Reserve, an exciting wilderness of bleached dunes, craggy coast and more whales.