15 Top Attractions on the West Coast’s Flower Route
The flower phenomenon is an amazing transformation of what appears to be little more than a barren desert that annually converts into an abundance of spring flowers.
When the rains come to the Namaqualand the time of the flowers arrives. One day it’s so dry that leaves crunch underfoot, and then just a couple of weeks later, once the rains have been, it’s ablaze with flowers – a riot of colour.
This phenomenon does not only happen here along the West Coast of the Western Cape but also in places in Australia and Arizona – where plants respond to rain by bursting into flower. This sudden flush of life and colour also attracts the birds, insects and animals that feed on the seeds, leaves and bulbs.
The flowers are very necessary. These plants, because they bloom in the desert, have but a very short time to produce leaves, flowers and seeds, and those with the most brilliant blooms have the best chance of attracting an insect for pollination, which will ensure their survival.
From a human perspective, this free annual flower show is a chance to indulge in the senses. For the few weeks in which flowers bloom in every possible crevice, including the borders of our major roads, we can experience the pure pleasure of these flowers up close. For a brief spell we can step out of the perimeter of time and man-made limitations to experience nature at her best.
Below are a series of top spots to view the flowers and other places to include en route:
WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK:
The closest spot to Cape Town, other than the town of Darling, to view the flowers as they arrive, West Coast National Park is great for those Capetonians who have only the day to take in the flowers. In particular head to Postberg where you can do the Postberg Flower Trail – a wonderful walk through a section of the park open only for a couple of months every year (August and September) during the flower season.
The little town is a feast of flowers at this time of year, as well as providing a couple of watering holes and places to stay. The annual Darling Wild Flower show, on in September, the Renosterveld Reserve at the top of the village on a hill behind the primary school, and the Tienie Versveld Reserve en route to Yzerfontein, all make this a wonderful space in which to catch a glimpse of the Sandveld blooms.
Not strictly on the flower route, we’ve included the seaside village here as it’s so easy to reach and a wonderful spot to visit and overnight – picture white fishermens cottages with sea views, a few really good restaurants and a beach on which you want to spend at least one late afternoon to walk its length. It’s a Capetonian’s weekend getaway, so try to get there during the week.
CEDERBERG WILDERNESS AREA
Roughly 200 km from Cape Town the Cederberg Wilderness stretches for miles and boasts well over 200 indigenous species of wild flowers during the flower season – said to hold the greatest vareity of wild flowers in one district in the world – probably due to the great variety of topographies in the area.
A project initiated by a group of farmers in the area, this conservancy lies on the northern edge of the Cederberg Wilderness, an area that was once degraded farmland, now alive with natural fynbos. It’s beautiful and in the heart of the flower route, accessible via any of the hikes and mountain bike routes of the area.
RAMSKOP NATURE RESERVE:
Just next to the town of Clanwilliam with its fields of rooibos tea and orange groves, there is a wildflower garden that has no fewer than 350 different species of wild flower. It’s one of the best places during the flower season to view a carpet of blooms. Go between 11am and 3pm on a sunny day. Something to remember the reserve is maintained by the local municipality and a series of volunteers for it is without financial support.
CLANWILLIAM WILD FLOWER SHOW:
Great place for wild flower enthusiasts and due to be held this year between 24 – 31 August. The flower show regards itself as the gateway to the floral region, offers an exciting display of blooms and raises awareness of the conservation issues of the area.
OLIFANTS RIVER VALLEY WINE ROUTE:
Whilst out here, enjoy a respite from the flowers for a taste of local wine. The wine route starts at Citrusdal and follows the river to Lutzville, the country’s most westerly vineyards – ideal for growing vines. It is only since WWII that the river canal brings water from the lower Olifants River allowing for the intensive wine farming that happens here. Wines are excellent.
NIEUWOUDTWILLE WILD FLOWER RESERVE:
Just 3 kilometres east of Nieuwoudtville, the wild flower reserve lies on the Bokkeveld Plateau along the R27, home to many rare and endangered species of flowers, especially bulbs or geophytes, and where you’ll find the deep orange bulbinella latifolia var. doleritica, endemic to Nieuwoudtville. It is regarded as one of the the highlights of the flower route.
HANTAM BOTANICAL GARDENS:
Formerly known as Glenlyon, owned by Neil McGregor, what was a sheep farm is today one of the most incredible spaces in which to view flowering plants. Discovered by Sir David Attenborough and the BBC during the 1990s. It now belongs to SANBI, who converted it into a botanical garden. The bus that McGregor used is still there, but only does rides during peak season. You can also walk, if you like.
NIEUWOUDTVILLE BULB NURSERY:
On the far end of Nieuwoudtville, out towards the caravan park, and not all that well signposted, the bulb nursery is famous for its annual flowering bulbs, and the bulbs it sells to the public and ships overseas. It is run by the local community and well worth a visit, particularly if it’s the end of the season and you haven’t managed to view any flowers.
SKILPAD WILD FLOWER RESERVE
Just 17km west of the popular flower town of Kamieskroon, the Skilpad section of Namaqua National Park is worth visiting over a couple of days, so filled is it with flowers, butterflies and birds during the flower season. You’re almost guaranteed of a carpet of flowers as the season is consistently good. Skilpad perches on a ridge of hills that receive the rain blowing from the west coast, and it’s also used as grazing ground by sheep out of spring, clearing any growth that might stem the annual riot of colour. Look out too for the world’s tiniest tortoise – the Namaqua speckled padloper.
GOEGAP NATURE RESERVE:
Its name is derived from the Nama word for ‘waterhole’ and the reserve supports almost 600 indigenous flower species, making it something of a flowering hole for seekers of the annual wild flowers. Within the reserve is the Hester Malan Wild Flower Garden, which boasts an enormous collection of the succulents you’ll find in the area (some of them so rare, they’re found nowhere else on Earth) as well as 580 odd indigenous plants. There are circular walks to drink in the beauty.
RIEMVASMAAK COMMUNITY CONSERVANCY:
Although Riemvasmaak is not necessarily on the flower route, you might want to include it on your visit simply because it is worth a visit in its own right. The community, who returned to their land after the elections of 1994 and have worked hard to restore what was theirs, welcome visitors to their hot sprigs, incredible rock formations and intense isolation.
RICHTERSVELD WORLD HERITAGE SITE:
North east of Port Nolloth, this is about as far north west as you can travel without entering Namibia, and is the southern neighbour of the Richtersveld National Park. It’s a community conservancy that also serves as the last refuge of Nama people, and is one of the best places to see the flowers.
The flower route:
HOW: because the flowers follow the sun, the best way to make sure that you see them is to drive backwards (so reverse the order in which attractions appear above), or with the sun. Drive as far north as you can and make your way back slowly to Cape Town.
WHEN: spring, so usually July/August. By the middle of September, you’ve probably missed the flowers – but this is all so dependent on rain, and it varies from year to year
TO TAKE: a map similar to Map Studio’s Flower Route, which provides over 45 detailed flower identification photos and the entire route from Cape Town to the Namibian border.
IN SHORT: if you can’t make it the whole way to Springbok, then head to Darling and the West Coast National Park for the day or the weekend