Words & pics Marion Whitehead
It’s the greatest wildflower show on Earth and whether you’re a happy-snapper-type tourist or a more serious flower lover with botanical leanings, the 3 500 species that burst into bloom in the veld north of Cape Town in spring are an instant boost for jaded spirits.
With a little planning, you can base yourself in the heart of flower hot spots and enjoy a new vista each day. Flower season starts in the north, where the weather warms up around Springbok as early as late July, and heads south incrementally as the blossoms begin poking their heads out of normally arid landscapes. By August and September, an assortment of vivid flowers splash the veld with pockets of kaleidoscopic colour around the Cederberg and the West Coast National Park.
One of my top tips is to try finding accommodation with friendly hosts who make a point of keeping track of where the blooms are best, and where you can network with the other guests in the evening and over breakfast, swopping news of the day’s finds. No need to get up too early: most daisies only open for business from around 10 am, when the temperature reaches around 17°C.
Also, be adventurous: the best flower-spotting happens on day trips, sedately meandering along quiet back roads – and the non-existent traffic means it doesn’t matter if you pull over and leap out with your camera to capture a few pretty landscapes.
This laidback country village is right next door to Namaqua National Park’s Skilpad section, a prime spot to see the carpets of wild daisies turning the arid landscape into the kind of springtime wonderland flower tourists have come to associate with Namaqualand. The blossoms grow on former farm fields and you can stroll pretty paths among the blooms, or opt for a six-kilometre circular drive. If you’re lucky, you will spot the world’s smallest tortoise, the Namaqua speckled padloper.
Springbok is also an easy drive from Kamieskroon for outings to Goegap Nature Reserve, also a must-see flower destination, offering shady picnic sites dotted around the central valley. Spiky quiver trees amid the granite outcrops add to the already striking scenery. The Hester Malan Wildflower Garden at the interpretation centre is filled with interesting succulents and samples of labelled flowers are provided so that you can identify what you’ve seen blooming in the veld.
Take a drive from Kamieskroon to Springbok via the scenic back road past a farm named No-Heep to see a rich mixture of flowers growing in crevices and crannies between the distinctive whaleback granite hills.
En route Garies Toeristestal in the tiny village of Garies specialises in traditional boerekos, such as venison pies and curry mince vetkoek. 027 652 1220
Stay Kamieskroon Hotel is famous for throwing photographic workshops and hosts Helmut and Maryna Kohrs know all the best flower spots in the area.
027 672 1614, www.kamieskroonhotel.com
It’s a good idea to time your visit to coincide with the Clanwilliam Wild Flower Show, when lush displays of the region’s best blooms cram the historic Dutch Reformed Church. At Ramskop Nature Reserve above the Clanwilliam Dam, you can wander several garden paths to see everything from multi-hued Ursinia daisies to bright spears of yellow Chasmanthes. I like to head for the hills, over the Pakhuis Pass and deep into the Cederberg to the Biedouw Valley, where the flowers bloom early thanks to the warming influence of the Tankwa Karoo. The charming little mission village of Wupperthal is a bit further south and, if you have a good 4×4 vehicle, the road to Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve is a back-route adventure through the rugged Cederberg wilderness, where the flowers bloom between the rooibos bushes, and mountain peaks are sometimes capped with snow in winter.
The area is a hiker’s paradise and the weathered rock formations fire up the imagination. The five-kilometre Sevilla Rock Art Trail is an easy walk to nine rocky overhangs looking out on the Brandewyn River, where you can view a remarkable range of images in these open-air galleries – the Cederberg area boasts one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world. Get permits from the Travellers’ Rest Farm Stall.
En route stop in at Hebron Highway Hospitality on Piekenierskloof Pass for really good food, West Coast wine and rooibos-tea tasting, teamed up with melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles. 022 921 2595
Stay Enjo Nature Farm in the Biedouw Valley offers hiking, riverside camping and simple country cottages with extra beds in lofts for agile youngsters. 027 482 2869, www.soulcountry.info
West Coast National Park
Surrounding the aquamarine jewel of Langebaan Lagoon, just over an hour’s drive out of Cape Town, this park is always good to visit, but in spring you can see eland grazing amid the daisies. The best carpets of mixed flowers are in the adjoining privately owned Postberg Nature Reserve, which is open only during August and September. Take a short walk around the view sites to see small Lachenalia flower gems growing among the rocky outcrops. In the main park, book one of the longer hikes, or ride your mountain bike along one of a number of routes liberally dotted with spring flowers.
Next, stop in at the Geelbek Visitors’ Centre to see a replica of Eve’s fossilised footprint, an archaeological treasure discovered in the dunes above Kraal Bay. Birding from the Geelbek bird hides at the marshy southern end of the lagoon is exceptional and twitchers can see pink flamingoes, as well as migrant species such as bar-tailed godwits and sanderling. The Seeberg lookout offers one a stunning view over the length of the lagoon, and also happens to be home to dassies that delight in nibbling the spring flowers.
En route Vyge Valley Farm Stall on the R27, which is around 7 km before the Yzerfontein turn-off, is a great place to stock up with farm bread, preserves and local wines. 022 492 2586
Stay Duinepos self-catering cottages are clustered around a central boma and swimming pool in a sheltered spot in the dunes near Geelbek and are great for cosy family getaways. 022 707 9900, www.duinepos.co.za
Visitors’ Guide: Flower Route by Marion Whitehead is packed with information about the best locations to view spring wildflowers in the Western and Northern Cape, as well as things to do, see, and eat, and places to stay along the way.
Detailed maps to make travelling a real breeze. MapStudio is giving away four copies to lucky AA traveller readers. To enter, SMS the keyword ‘flowers’ and your full name to 45546.
Good to know
From Cape Town, head up the N7 north and sample some delicious farm-stall fare on the way. Return on the R27 coastal route for more flower spotting.
Goegap Nature Reserve
027 718 9906
Namaqua National Park
027 672 1948, www.sanparks.org
Cederberg Wilderness Area
021 483 0190, www.capenature.co.za
West Coast National Park
022 772 2144, www.sanparks.org
Clanwilliam Info and Flower Show
26 August – 3 September 027 482 2024
Darling Wildflower Show
16–18 September 084 916 1111
072 938 8186 or 072 760 6019
Source: AA Traveller