It’s that time of the year again when Mother Nature showers us with her abundance of natural beauty… such as the annual spring wildflower spectacle.
This is when the West Coast, Namaqualand and just about all of the western regions of the Western Cape and Northern Cape all the way up to the mountain desert of the Richtersveld burst into life with a colourful extravaganza of wildflowers in full bloom.
There cannot be many natural experiences more enthralling on our planet than this annual spectacle when the arid, dusty brown plains and rugged mountain ridges of South Africa’s westernmost region that hugs the Atlantic Ocean almost overnight transform into an endless feast of bright, colourful wildflowers – a kaleidoscopic extravaganza as far as the eye can see.
There are various tour operators who take visitors on bus tours to see the flowers. But for those who wish to undertake a self-drive tour, we have selected 8 of the best regions – from south to north – to see this fantastic spectacle of wildflowers. But a word of caution, before visiting any of these areas, check with local tourism offices or municipalities whether the flowers in any specific area are in bloom as each area may differ due to factors such as last rainfall, sunshine and time of the season.
Blaauwberg to Darling and surrounds
We start our tour of this flower region at Bloubergstrand on the northern edge of the Cape Town metropole at the beginning of the West Coast. But you can even venture around Cape Town into the Table Mountain National Park, especially the Silvermine area and Cape Point, or go south towards the Overberg and Hermanus, and also find a wide variety of flora in bloom.
Driving along the R27, also known as the West Coast Road, from Bloubergstrand past Melkbosstrand and Atlantis towards Darling, you will find carpets of flowers covering the sand dunes along the local beaches, as well as in many parts of the veld alongside the road. The many varieties include vygies, daisies, pincushion proteas and watsonias. The Blaauwberg Nature Reserve offers spectacular views across the bay of Robben Island and Table Mountain. Just north of Melkbosstrand lies the Koeberg Nature Reserve which offers lovely hiking routes with views of the ocean and distant Table Mountain.
Turn off from the R27 via Atlantis or further north onto the R315 to reach Darling where one of the oldest and internationally acclaimed flower festivals, the Darling Flower Show is held each September. On the edge of the town lies the Darling Renosterveld Reserve which is under the care of the Darling Wildflower Society, hosts of the annual flower show. It too offers a wonderful spectacle of flowers in spring. Also in the area, is the Tienie Versfeld Wildflower Reserve, with close by the Groenekloof Reserve and Waylands Wildflower Reserve, which offer a fine variety of flowers.
Contact Darling Tourism at +27 (0)22 492 3361 or email@example.com.
West Coast National Park area
One of the most visited flower hot spots between August and September is the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park, only about an hour’s drive north of Cape Town along the R27. Located in a spectacular setting on a peninsula between the wild Atlantic Ocean and the tranquil, turquoise Langebaan Lagoon, the area becomes a sea of colour in the flower season. The Postberg section is only open to the public during the flower season.
Apart from the flowers, in the larger park area you will find eland, red hartebeest, Cape grysbok, caracal, rock hyrax, tortoises, wild ostriches and snakes, while on the oceanside whales and dolphins are often spotted. The towns of Langebaan and Saldanha, both situated on the edge of the lagoon, offer a wide variety of attractions and things to do, while the nearby Greek island-style Club Mykonos has a popular casino. The lagoon is also popular for fishing and for wind and kite surfing.
Contact the West Coast National Park on Tel +27 22 772-2144/5.
Cederberg Wilderness Area
Our next stop for exploring the Cape floral beauty in spring, is the magnificent Cederberg area, about 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town along the N7. Right in the heart of the mountains lies the Biedouw Valley with its many varieties of bulbous flowers. High up in the mountains are a number of camping sites and self-catering lodges. Up here are some spectacular hiking routes, mountain walks and water pools, and of course flowers. On the way to the Cederberg, you’ll pass Malmesbury, Moorreesburg, Koringberg, Piketberg and Citrusdal, all areas that have their own floral offerings. Turn off and explore the surrounding country roads.
The town of Citrusdal and surrounding area is a popular place for family holidays offering camping, rock climbing, swimming in deep water pools, hiking, zip-lining and flower watching, that includes maartblom, bloedblom, daises and fynbos. Citrusdal is also famous for The Baths Hot Springs resort.
Contact CapeNature (Cederberg Wilderness Area) at Tel 087 087 8250, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.capenature.co.za/reserves/cederberg-wilderness-area; or Citrusdal Tourism email@example.com or Tel +27 22 921 3210.
Cape Columbine, Paternoster and surrounds
The Cape Columbine peninsula with its nature reserve of the same name offers not only a delightful flower-watching experience, but also a spectacular coastal setting, the last manned lighthouse in South Africa and the quaint nearby West Coast fishing village of Paternoster. Stay overnight in Paternoster with its thatch-roofed fisherman’s cottages, famous local hotel and colourful fishing boats lining the beach. Just 5 minutes’ drive away is the Cape Columbine Nature reserve, home to a stunning display of flora and fauna. Here, on Castle Rock, you will also find the last manned lighthouse, built in 1936.
Nearby is the village of Hopefield which each August hosts the popular Hopefield Fynbos Show showcasing the flora of the region. Also nearby is the Berg River and at its mouth the fishing and resort towns of Laaiplek and Velddrif. Another nearby attraction is St Helena Bay. All of the surrounding areas have flowers in spring.
Contact Paternoster Tourism Info Centre at Tel +27 (0)22 715 1142 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clanwilliam and surrounds
Driving north from Citrusdal and the Cederberg Wilderness Area along the N7, one passes the popular Clanwilliam Dam before entering the town of the same name. Clanwilliam is located on the West Coast Way Wild Route and its People Rocking Nature Track. Each year the town hosts the Clanwilliam Wildflower Show in the Blomkerk (Flower Church) built in 1864 in the late winter towards early spring – this year from 27 August to 5 September. The flower show is created by community volunteers and displays a wide variety of flora from giant Aloe to the tiny Cyanella alba (handjie) and boasts some 350 to 400 species for individual viewing.
Right next to Clanwilliam lies the Ramskop Nature Reserve with its Wildflower Garden, home to no fewer than 350 different species of wildflowers. You are almost guaranteed to see a carpet of flowers here on any given day, and not only the local species. About one-tenth of its 66 hectares is planted with wildflowers from the entire Namaqualand, including the Knersvlakte, Richtersveld and Boesmanland. Ramskop Nature Reserve also forms part of Clanwilliam’s annual Wildflower Show, which, if pressed for time, will save you the longer drive up into Namaqualand.
A drive up the Pakhuis Pass offers some spectacular views of the surrounding area, as well as a display of flowers. Here too you will find the grave of Afrikaans poet C Louis Leipoldt. Clanwilliam is also a stone’s throw from the Cederberg Wilderness Area as well as the coastal area around Lamberts Bay, the Lamberts Bay Strandveld, Leipoldtville Sand Fynbos, and Graafwater Sandstone Fynbos areas. To the east of Clanwilliam lies the Tankwa Karoo National Park, another delightful nature experience with its own annual display of wildflowers.
Contact Clanwilliam Tourism at Tel +27 27 482 2024 or email email@example.com
Hantam Bokkeveld region
Now we are entering the Northern Cape’s world of flowers straddling the border with the Western Cape and including towns such as Vanrhynsdorp, Nieuwoudtville, Vredendal, Lutzville, Calvinia and Loeriesfontein, and the beginning of Namaqualand. If you come at the right time, be prepared for a magnificent flower spectacle wherever you go in these parts. Just outside Nieuwoudtville on the N7 you’ll find the 2,500-hectare Hantam National Botanical Garden, one of the most popular stops on the Cape Flower Route and declared a world biodiversity treasure by the well-known TV conservationist David Attenborough.
What makes the Nieuwoudtville area so unique is the fact that it is an International Biodiversity Hotspot situated on the Bokkeveld Plateau, where the Cape fynbos meets the Hantam Karoo, Bushmanland and the Knersvlakte. The Bokkeveld area’s great diversity of flowers, and particularly geophytes, sets it apart from the rest of Namaqualandand. Most often in good rainfall years many interesting flowers can still be found long after the beginning of spring.
Contact Hantam Municipality at Tel 027-3418500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Namaqua National Park region
Finally, we are entering the capital of wildflower country in the Northern Cape’s Namaqualand, namely the town of Springbok and the nearby Skilpad and Namaqua National Park. To get here, follow the N7 from Van Rhynsdorp in the south, passing the towns of Garies and Kamieskroon. Or take the R355 from Calvinia to Loeriesfontein, Kliprand, Vaalput, Gamoep and then on to Springbok.
At the heart of the Namaqua National Park is the lovely Skilpad Wildflower Reserve, home to some of the richest bulb flora in the world. In the daytime you can get lost in sea of colourful flowers interspersed by fascinating rock formations and quiver trees. At night you can marvel at a flower display of a different kind – the billions of twinkling stars in the wide and wonderful clear skies. This is any flower lover’s heaven.
The national park is situated in the heart of the Succulent Karoo region and stretches from the Skilpad section near Kamieskroon and the N7 in the east, to the Atlantic coast in the west with places like Koingnaas, Hondeklipbaai, and the Spoeg River mouth and caves. A coastal section recently added to the park and known as the GroenSpoeg Coastal Section, is the only significant remaining untouched part of the Namaqualand coast.
There are many other nature reserves across this region that offer superb flower viewing, such as the Gannabos Protected Area, Oorlogskloof, Nieuwoudville Wild Flower Reserve further south, Lutzville Conservation Area, Moedverloren Nature Reserve and the Goegap Nature Reserve at Springbok.
Contact Namaqua National Park / SANParks at Tel +27 (0)12 428 9111 or email email@example.com.
Port Nolloth & the Richtersveld
Perhaps less known to many people, but certainly no less spectacular in any way, are the spring wildflower displays one finds further north near Port Nolloth and up in the mountain desert region of the Richtersveld. Follow the N7 from Springbok to the Richtersveld World Heritage Site and the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park or reach the Richtersveld along the R382 via Port Nolloth.
Port Nolloth is a bustling little harbour town boasting many attractions. All along the way and in the national park you will find extraordinary displays of flowers, depending on rainfall, sunshine and the right timing. Plants in the Richtersveld have developed the most unique adaptation strategies to the harsh climate. The Richtersveld is also home to the world’s richest desert flora, mostly tiny succulents that cling to the rock faces and suck the moisture out of the air when mist rolls in from the Atlantic coast. Here you will also find the legendary ‘halfmens boom’ (half-person tree) as well as quiver trees and aloes.
Such is the richness and individuality of flora found here that on a single square kilometre surface area more than 360 plant species of flowering plants can be found despite an average rainfall of only 68mm per year. You will also find lichen fields here, with the area being home to 2,700 species, some 600 of which exist nowhere else.