South Africa – West Coast National Park

The West Coast National Park is undoubtedly the jewel in this peninsula’s crown. It curves protectively around the magnificent Langebaan Lagoon, 5,700 watery hectares separated from the Atlantic by a fragile sand-dune barrier fronted by the dangerous but beautiful 16 Mile Beach. Flooded with nutrients with each tidal cycle, the lagoon feeds abundant fish and bird populations (308 bird species have been recorded to date). Eighteenth-century French settlers traded in sealskins, bird’s eggs and guano from the islands at the mouth of the lagoon. The largest, Shaapen, a former World War II prisoner-of-war camp, is now a bird sanctuary; Meeuw is a military base; and Jutten is reportedly haunted by the ghosts of seamen buried there when the Merestein was wrecked in 1702. All are off limits, but boats bob around them on bird- and seal-watching expeditions.