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Seeing South Africa

South African Rainbow

We've seen everything in South Africa, from swanky suburban housing developments swathed in barbed wire to wretched township settlements -- and a lot in between. But the first place I spot an interracial couple is in Knysna, about 73 miles east of Mossel Bay, where pricey new homes hang from the headlands cliffs and mellow attitudes prevail. From Naomi's Islandview Guesthouse, I can look down on a neighborhood that's home to a mixture of races.

For dinner, Naomi lays out an Afro-Malay feast including fried fish, lamb, mashed pumpkin and homemade cheesecake. A rainbow assortment of guests, family and neighbors wanders through the scene.

A digital camera draws a crowd in a Cape Flats township. (R. Paul Herman)

A July 11 Travel article about South Africa incorrectly referred to Cape Town's Victoria & Alfred Waterfront as the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. The article also said that South Africans drive on the right side of the road; they drive on the left.

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Chatting on her balcony, Naomi says she started taking in lodgers because there were no places catering to blacks -- they weren't allowed at hotels. As sunset paints the lagoon gold and the sky softens to a velvet blue, she describes the 30-room hotel she wants to build. I tell her there's no doubt I'll be checking in the next time I'm in town.

Gayle Keck last wrote for Travel about a Maryland B&B.

GETTING THERE: Is ugly. You'll be in transit for more than 24 hours between D.C. and Cape Town. Best bets are Delta/South African Airways, connecting in Atlanta and Johannesburg; British Airways, connecting in London; or Lufthansa, connecting in Frankfurt. The BA flight, for example, goes for about $1,850 round trip.

We worked with Washington discounter Around the World Travel (202-463-6863), paying $1,406 for the Delta/South African Airways option, including an end-of-trip flight from Port Elizabeth that connected with our Cape Town flight home.

GETTING AROUND: We arranged our lodgings, guides and rental car through Dreamcatcher (011-27-21-976-9372, www.dreamcatcher.co.za), a Cape Town travel agency. It helped plan our itinerary and provided detailed driving directions, but tacked a service fee onto most providers' prices; direct prices are quoted below.

Major U.S. rental companies are located at airports. South Africans drive on the right; in general, roads are in excellent condition, except in some townships. South Africans are very conscious of keeping car doors locked in big cities; in Johannesburg, street signs warn of "hijacking hot-spots." We were also cautioned against stopping for hitchhikers or scammers who wave for help on the roadside.

WHEN TO GO: South Africa's seasons are the opposite of ours, with peak time around the end-of-year holidays. To avoid mobs of vacationing South Africans, visit after the first week in January.

WHERE TO STAY: Tilly's Homestay (11 Upington St., Paarl, 011-27-21-862-5151, vzitters@iafrica.com) charges $32.50 per person for the entire second floor of her house, with a massive English-style hot breakfast. Hibiscus House (East Stilbaai, 011-27-28-754-1181, mikesteytler@lantic.net), beautifully situated on the tidal Goukou River, a half-mile stroll from the Indian Ocean beach, has rooms for $32.50 per person.

Gewels Guesthouse (16 George Rd., Mossel Bay, 011-27-44-691-2232,home.mweb.co.za/ge/gewelsbb) has water views and Victorian-meets-1960s decor; about $37 per person, with breakfast. Islandview Guest House (7 Eastford St., Knysna, 011-27-44-385-0200) has clean, colorful backpacker-style rooms for $24 per person, with breakfast.

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