Every year the West Coast and Namaqualand, which are usually more or less monochrome stretches of land, burst into colour, enthralling all who come across the flower display, and indeed drawing visitors from all corners who come to admire the annual spectacle. Anyone who has witnessed the spring flowers in bloom will attest to their magnificence but may well acknowledge too that a little planning goes a long way in ensuring you actually do catch the flowers in all their glory. Here is all you need to know about seeing the flowers.
In short, spring time, which in South Africa is from late July through to mid-September. However, when you see the best array of colour depends on where you want to view the flowers. The Namaqualand area flowers in late July/ early August, with the blossoming plants opening up in a figurative wave towards the south. The spectacular flower displays along the West Coast only happen in mid-September.
As the annual flowering depends on certain climatic conditions, namely a lack of Berg winds and sufficient rains, followed by warm, sunny weather, it is not always possible to foresee when exactly the veld will bloom, and it’s important to bare this in mind when planning to see the flowers.
>The closest area to Cape Town where the flowers can be seen is along the West Coast. Parts of the West Coast National Park outside Langebaan, the Cape Colombine Nature Reserve outside Paternoster and various places around Darling have magnificent displays in the first half of September.
>The Cederberg, especially around Clanwilliam, also boasts beautiful flowers, while slightly to the north, Nieuwoudtville is home to some highly endemic flowering plants which are found nowhere else in the world. This area usually flowers in late August and early September.
>If you are prepared to drive a bit, the northern part of Namaqualand also boasts its own variety of spring flowers, best seen in the region around Springbok and Kamieskroon. This area flowers in late July through early August.
There are a variety of ways in which one can experience the annual flowers, from taking an organised tour with a reputable tour company, to renting a car or taking your own and puttering along the back roads. A self-drive tour is a common choice though, allowing you to explore both the flowers and the little communities and other points of interest along the way.
If you choose the self-drive option, you can either take a day trip from Cape Town to places like Langebaan and Paternoster, have a weekend away in the Cederberg or make a longer road trip of the experience – a great way to experience the flowers as travelling southwards they will open facing north.
Apart from the fact that the flowers are stunning to observe, and completely transform the usually monotone areas in which they bloom, serious flower spotters will be impressed by species which are found nowhere else in the world.
Some of the species you can expect to see include watsonia, white rain daisies, pink nemesias, babianas and orange and yellow ‘stinkkruid’.
A Sample Itinerary
To enjoy the flowers to the fullest, it’s ideal to devote a weekend to the endeavour. That way you can enjoy both the flowers themselves and get a sense for the surrounding areas. This is what we recommend:
Take a leisurely drive up the N7 from Cape Town to Clanwilliam in the Cederberg. Once there, embark on a gentle hike to observe the flowers as well as checking out the ancient rock art in the area. Spend a night on one of the guest farms and then head South again to Langebaan.
Tootle along the 3 hour stretch of road between Clanwilliam and Langebaan, making a beeline for the West Coast National Park. Take the opportunity to take plenty of snaps, and pull over at one of the picnic sites to enjoy lunch in the reserve. In the evening enjoy a meal in the town before settling down for the night.
>Before you plan your outing to see the flowers, inquire about the recent weather conditions and confirm that the flowers are indeed out/expected as usual.
>The flowers are out during the warmest part of the day, so don’t set off too early on your flower-finding mission. Between 11.30 and 15.00 is a safe bet.
>The flowers open facing towards the sun, so the best way to gaze upon them is to stand with your back to the sun.
>However tempting it may be, do NOT pick the flowers. This is illegal.
With a bit of forward planning, you can rest assured that you will have a positive experience viewing the West Coast and Namaqualand’s famous flower displays, and you will see in no time that it is well worth the effort. So here’s to happy flower spotting!