It’s time for the Cape to show off her colourful wardrobe again. Wild flowers in bloom will transform the landscape into a tapestry of colour, attracting pollinators and humans alike. Namaqua and West Coast’s floral displays are the most well-known and visited. But there are pockets, or rather troves of flowers to be admired elsewhere. In a previous season, I hit the road on different weekends, to scan the varied landscapes in Tankwa and Hantam Karoo, Namaqualand and the West Coast.
The flowers don’t suddenly burst to life on the first day of Spring. In some years and in some locales, the first flowers can be seen as early as July. It all depend on the bounty of winter rain and if there are enough warm days to encourage sprouting. And so it happened on one of my visits to Tankwa Karoo National Park. Usually parched and arid, the park received generous rains a few days earlier, and breathed new life onto the dusty landscape. A carpet of yellow laid over the flatness of the Tankwa Karoo and was one of the rewards after the long and bumpy road north of Ceres. The beauty of Tankwa lied in its wide expanses of nothingness. But in spring its flowers had a special appeal. Abandoned farm houses stood out and begged to be explored.
Further west, on the Bokkeveld Plateau, I visited Nieuwoudtville. Part of the Hantam Karoo, the area is another popular destination for wild flowers. Daisies covered the grounds at the Hantam National Botanical Garden. Close by at Papkuilsfontein, we walked around the farm to fund bulbs of colourful hues. By late afternoon, the flowers begin to close up for the evening, so we headed to a quiver tree forest north of the town. This particular forest is the southernmost habitat for these remarkable trees. The next morning, we were surprised at the height and volume of water gushing down the Nieuwoudtville Waterfall, considering the parched arid surroundings. Closer to Cape Town, and popular with day visitors is the West Coast National Park. Each August and September, the park opens the Postberg section which comes alive with flowers, especially white daisies. The weekend queues can be discouraging, but there is ample space in other areas of the park to relax and enjoy the beauty.
The prize for the best floral display undoubtedly goes to Namaqualand, not only for variety, but for its scale. Ironically, it’s the fields that were most disturbed (through previous farming practices), that offer the largest flower shows. Carpets of orange daisies, decked by a towering (and screeching) windmill set the scene on one of the many hiking trails. Elsewhere, large granite boulders offer a great vantage point to appreciate the scene. We stayed at the Skilpad Rest Camp in the south western corner of the Namaqualand National Park, close to Kamieskroon. After the hordes of day visitors left, it felt as if I had the whole park to myself. Before the last light of the day, I captured beautiful pictures of the flowers, but photographs cannot do justice to the magnificence. Another special highlight is that the mood and scene changes as the day progresses. The next morning, most of the daisies were still shut, but other flowers stood out.
Some areas are almost guaranteed to have flowers, but not knowing when they will bloom, makes planning a vacation around it difficult. But even without the flowers, a visit to these areas can be rewarding. And you don’t to have a botanical degree to simply appreciate the beauty of the spectacle.
When to go
- The best time of day to see flowers is between midday and about 3pm. Flowers prefer sun, so you may be disappointed if it’s cloudy.
- The flower season varies by location, rainfall and other conditions. Check the Cape West Coast website for updates.
- The road to Tankwa is notorious for getting a flat tyre. Make sure you have a spare. A high clearance vehicle is a must to visit Tankwa.
- A sedan vehicle is adequate for West Coast National Park and the Sklipad section of Namaqua National Park. This is the section which boasts most of the flowers. However, if you want to stay elsewhere in the park, a 4×4 is required.
Where I stayed
- Elandsberg Wilderness Camp in Tankwa has remote, well equipped cottages that are off the grid (no cellphone reception).
- Brandkop is on a working farm and is close to Nieuwoudtville and is great for a group of friends or family.
- Skilpad Rest Camp has a few cottages in Namaqua National Park. Book them up to a year in advance for weekends in August and September.