Words Nadia Krige, pic credits below
Spring time is just around the corner in South Africa, which means there’s really only one place your travels should be taking you right now: Namaqualand with its kaleidoscopic display of wildflowers.
Along with the West Coast National Park’s Postberg section and the Cederberg Mountains, this semi-arid region of the Northern Cape is South Africa’s quintessential spring destination, as more than 4 000 different species of flora raise their pretty little faces from the dust to salute the sun for a few short weeks between August and October every year.
However, being rather remote, getting to Namaqualand or the Cederberg could pose something of a challenge for the time- or cash-strapped traveller, and the crowds descending upon the West Coast at this time of year make last-minute accommodation bookings practically impossible.
This doesn’t mean your chances of seeing flowers are entirely blown. Check out these places across South Africa where you can experience blooms of various kind in all their early spring till late summer glory:
Hessequa region – Canola
If you head along the N2 from Cape Town toward the Garden Route anytime during late winter or early spring (July – September), it’s easy to believe that a little slice of sunshine fell from the sky and shattered across the farmlands rolling by on either side of your car. Breathtakingly bright, these yellow canola fields start featuring somewhere in the vicinity of Caledon, with a particularly large conglomeration surrounding Swellendam.
It is, however, the Hessequa region – stretching between Heidelberg and Albertinia, including the coastal towns of Witsand and Stilbaai – that boasts the highest concentration of canola in the Western Cape. Be sure to pull over somewhere along the road to snap a shot and see if you can get Sleeping Beauty mountain into the picture too!
Best time to go: July - September
Pretoria – Jacarandas
Come October every year South Africa’s administrative capital takes on a sweet-smelling purple haze as the myriad Jacaranda trees lining the city’s streets burst into bloom. Lasting about eight weeks during late spring, the stunning display is a highlight on Pretoria’s calendar and even has a bit of student lore attached, as it is believed if a blossom falls on your head you are sure to pass your year-end exams.
Originating from South America, these trees are not indigenous to South Africa and no new Jacaranda trees are allowed to be planted. However, with a good 40 000 dotted throughout the CBD and its surrounding suburbs, they are sure to remain a feature for some time to come. Herbert Baker Street in Groenkloof is also home to 100 or so of the rare white Jacaranda.
Best time to go: October - November
Overberg coastline – wildflowers
While they may not grow as abundantly as their West Coast counterparts, sweet wild flowers ranging from daisies to arum lilies to tiny bell-like Ericas can be found just beyond the rocky shorelines of Rooi Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay, Kleinmond, Hermanus and Gansbaai. All of these little towns have trails – varying from rough and rugged footpaths to the well-maintained Cliff Walk in Hermanus - hugging the coastline that will allow you to experience the exuberant beauty up close.
Remember to cast your eyes toward the sea ever so often, as spring time also brings with it a surge in whale activity.
Best time to go: August - December
Golden Gate Highlands National Park – Grasslands wildflowers
The amazing thing about the Eastern Free State in general and the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in particular, is the fact that you can visit any time of year and it will be absolutely picturesque. Summers are lush and green, autumn brings rich reds and oranges to the trees, winter sees the grasslands turn yellow-gold, and spring brings an abundance of delicate wildflowers in an array of colours.
Apart from the flowers, the huge variety of grass species alone see to an amazing display of their own already, as they turn fluorescent green in early spring, mellowing out toward summer. The park is home to a variety of hiking trails and drives, many of which peak in elevated vantage points, allowing you to take in the spectacle all at once.
Best time to go: September – November offer the best springtime scenes.
Hogsback – Garden tours
In our awe at Mother Nature so generously serving up a feast of wildflowers every spring, we may find ourselves overlooking the beauty of our own backyards… or for those of us who really aren’t gardeners, the backyards of other people, at least.
Every year the magical little village of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape celebrates the green fingers of its residents with a bit more than a month of garden tours. Apart from showing off the communal areas maintained by locals such as the Arboretum and Village Green, the tour also takes you into the hearts of 14 private gardens. You can choose whether you’d prefer to be guided or go at your own pace. Guided tours cost R60 per person (kids enter free), while the self-guided tours cost R50. You can check out the Hogsback Gardens website for more details.
The mountains, valleys and waterfalls surrounding Hogsback are also a treasure-trove of wildflowers between December and March, where you can expect to see the likes of Agapanthus, Red Hot Poker and Watsonia growing free in their natural habitat.
Best time to go: This year the Garden tours will run from 24 September to 31 October.
Elgin – Open Gardens
Similar to Hogsback’s Garden Tours, the Overberg hamlets of Elgin, Bot River and Vyeboom open up their gardens to visitors over two weekends during late spring. This year Open Gardens will include 21 sites – ranging from well-established country gardens (some have been around for up to 50 years) to recently planted plots and patches in informal settlements and on smallholdings.
Now in its 14th year, Elgin has the recipe down pat, giving visitors the option of four different routes to follow. Entry fees vary from garden to garden and each offers additional activities such as wine tasting and art exhibitions, as well as refreshments ranging from wine tasting to sushi to tea and cake. Visit the Elgin Open Gardens website for more details.
Best time to go: Open Gardens will take place on Saturday 31 October & Sunday 1 November, as well as Saturday 7 November & Sunday 8 November this year.
To diarise: The Highveld - Cosmos
While we may associate March with the onset of mild autumn days, following the often extreme heat of February, and the turning of the leaves from green to yellow and brown and orange and red, it also heralds the start of cosmos season in the Highveld.
These dainty pink and white blooms prove themselves to be a lot hardier than they may look, brightening up the grasslands of even the most industrial areas in South Africa’s coal-mining heartland. Towns where you will find them growing especially abundantly include Secunda, Witbank, Balfour, Hendrina and Kinross, to name just a few.
Best time to go: Early to mid-March
Canola fields - Guillaume Marais from Hessequa Tourism
Pretoria jacarandas - South African Tourism on Flickr
Golden Gate Highlands National Park - Pavel Tcholakov on Flickr
Elgin Garden from Elgin Open Gardens
Overberg coastal flowers - Nadia Krige
Cosmos - Nadia Krige