Cut through the jargon and the hype and take note of these easy to follow suggestions for the best blooming Namaqua experience you’ve had yet!
1. WHAT IT IS
The Namaqua flower route is the greatest flower show on earth – considered a natural phenomenon and one of the world’s botanical wonders. During spring what is otherwise an arid, and to all appearances barren, landscape bursts into song as thousands of flowers appear almost everywhere – along the sides of roads, along the edges of the coast, and in many nature reserves.
2. HOW MANY FLOWERS?
It features around 3000 plant species, at least 50% of which are unique to the area. Some reserves follow a deliberately ‘gentle’ approach to their land, protecting the area until the spring so that the Namaqua flowers can appear unhindered by the trampling of feet or the tracks of tyres.
3. BEST TIME TO GO
Late July to early September. You may strike it lucky and still find flowers even in October, but it’s unlikely. Stick to August and early September and you’re almost guaranteed to see the display (you need some sunlight for the flowers to unfold, and July is too early for most years).
4. THAT SAID
Everything depends on elements beyond our control, like the timing of the winter rains and the winds that have a pivotal role to play in if, and when, the Namaqua flowers appear. The equation: lots of rain = great flowers. And the later the rains, the later the season. If the rains start only in July, the flower season may press on into October.
5. NAMAQUALAND, WHERE IT IS
It lies in the heart of the Northern Cape, the country’s largest but least populated province. The Namaqualand includes the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, parts of the Orange River, and a series of little, colourful towns.
6. IT’S SOMETIMES SPELLED ‘NAMAKWA’
Because a local municipality, one of five districts in the Northern Cape, is known as Namakwa. It (Namakwa) is also known as Little Namaqualand.
7. THE PIVOTAL ANGLE
Sunlight! Without sunshine, whether or not the flowers are out is not going to matter. They won’t unfold their petals unless the sun coaxes them to unfurl. Heavily overcast days are perfect for other attractions in the area. Make a list, just in case.
8. WHERE TO SEE THE FLOWERS
Whilst the official Namaqualand Flower Route starts a good five hours drive north of Cape Town, you can actually see flowers as close to the Mother City as the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park (open only in August and September), and Darling Renosterveld Reserve and !Khwa ttu close to the little West Coast town of Darling (best in early September). Not satisfied with these beauties, you can head north on the N7 to the Namaqualand proper. Centre your trip around the towns of Springbok, Garies, Kamieskroon, and Port Nolloth for the Namaqua flower experience.
9. HOW TO TIME IT
Here’s the thing, just in case you miss it whilst scrolling. Go north, dear friend, go north! The flowers follow the sun and if you want to see them at their best, you should travel with the sun behind you in a southerly direction. Top tip: flowers are at their best between 11am and 3pm, and the temperature must be at least 18 degrees.
10. HOW IT UNFOLDS
The spring flowers first start coming in north of Springbok. Their peak season lasts three to four weeks (usually early August to mid September) and then the flowering tends to move south, over the next month.
11. BOOK EARLY
Even if you’re doing a self-drive and not an organised tour, book your accommodation in Namaqualand way in advance! The season is SHORT and the towns are SMALL. Accommodation is not limitless. (P.S. We recommend amongst other Namaqua Flower Beach Camp and Namaqua Flower Skilpad Camp).
12. CHECK BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Even with the best of plans in place, nature can decide otherwise. It is not unheard of that even in August the flowers have yet to emerge. Phone ahead, check with your accommodation and with local reserves to find out if they’re indeed out.
Or use the West Coast Flower Hotline: +27 (0)72 938-8186 (only available from the end of July).
13. THINGS CAN STILL GO WRONG
Even with the phone call and reassurance, an icy wind can blow in off the Atlantic and bam, there go your nascent blooms in the Goegap National Park – just like that.
14. DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT A MAP
Map Studio produce a wonderful Flower Route Map that costs less than R100, but you can bundle it with an ePdf version for R130 (perfect for your tablet or smart phone).
15. PICK UP A FLOWER GUIDE
Most tourism offices in the area will supply you with a flower guide.
16. THE BEST RESERVES TO VISIT
Goegap Nature Reserve (Springbok), Namaqualand National Park especially Soebatsfontein, Kookfontein and Wildeperdehoek, as well as the Caracal Ecoroute; Skilpad Nature Reserve (Kamieskroon), the Biedouw Valley (beyond the Cederberg), Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve (Nieuwoudtville), Akkerendam Nature Reserve (Calvinia), Ramskop Nature Reserve (Clanwilliam), Columbine Nature Reserve (Paternoster).
17. BUT DON’T STICK TO THE RESERVE
There is plenty to see in the towns themselves, and even on the verges of the N7. Head for gravel roads unexplored.
18. THE SECRET SOUTHERN TOWNS
Niewoudtville is known as the ‘bulb capital’ of the Namaqua for its unusual flowers, bulbs and orchids. Yet it often, inexplicably, falls off visitors’ lists. Clanwilliam, Citrusdal and the Cederberg also boast incredible flower displays, particularly the Biedouw Valley (where, because it’s warmer, the flowers arrive as early as July).
19. BEST WAY TO SEE THEM
Get out of the car! Whilst they’re breathlessly beautiful from the inside of your vehicle, by far the best way to see them is to get out and in amongst them. Better yet, lie down and photograph them. You’ll gain a whole new perspective.
20. THINGS TO DO OTHER THAN THE FLOWERS
- Canoe the Orange River
- Take a donkey ride in Eksteenfontein
- Visit unknown towns like Pella (the cathedral is incredible)
- Take in the night skies in Sutherland
- Sample crayfish at Port Nolloth
- Attend the Hantam Meat Festival
- Visit the Succulent Karoo Knowledge Centre (Kamieskroon),
- Visit the recently-made-available-to-the-public-former-mining-coastal towns of Kleinzee and Koingnaas
- Attend the Williston Winter Festival (2-4 September)
- Visit Kagalagadi Transfrontier Park (best time of year to do so)
- Eat seafood galore at one of the open air seafood restaurants of Yzerfontein, Langebaan and Lambertsbaai