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"Please look for penguins beneath your car before driving off," reads the sign outside the restaurant. We found none, but our search served to remind us how very important conservation is here in the parks and gardens of Capetown's backyard.

First stop on our one-day tour of the Cape Peninsula was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in a magnificent setting on Table Mountain's eastern slopes, a mere 15 minute's drive from the city centre. At the gardens' entrance a display tells us that South Africa's Cape area is by far the smallest of the world's six floral kingdoms and home to fynbos, the large family of natural vegetation unique to this balmy but windswept region. Included are hundreds of different proteas and heathers, as well as many iris, lilly and geranium species which have since been transplanted and cultivated by gardeners around the world.