Friends of ours arrive breathless about the flowers’ beauty at our house on Saturday. They have just driven Baden Powell en route from Somerset West and are inspired. Very little persuasion is necessary to get us out on the road, which we do the very next morning. The flowers are a feast for sore eyes. I haven’t seen the roadside quite this pretty before. There are carpets of white daisies, interspersed with pelargonium flowers, oxalis, yellow daisies, the brightest pink vygies I think I’ve ever seen, star flowers and a myriad other that include what looked like a black orchid, but which can’t be, can it (my knowledge of flowers borders on illiterate)?
I think Baden Powell Drive, in Cape Town, gets rather a raw deal. When you ask locals about scenic drives, they ooh and aah about Chapman’s Peak and Clarens Drive, but very few people mention Baden Powell Drive – the R310 that links Muizenberg with the N2 and runs along the coastline – a feast of sea, beach, mountain and, at this time of year if you’re lucky, wild flowers. Most people regard it as little more than an alternative route to Stellenbosch …
With spring type music blaring from our radio, we join hundreds of cars on the drive, many of which are fortunately doing a similar speed to us, probably due to the flowers. Stopping on the side of the road on Baden Powell is something you do with great care. Not only do you risk losing your car in the sand (make sure you park with at least two of your tyres remaining on the tar) but other drivers don’t expect to find you lying askance on the sand dunes with your lens trained at cerise vygies, even if they are the most incredible things you’ve seen all week, and you risk being the cause of an accident.
‘Mom’, my son yelled from the back seat where he was still safely ensconsed, ‘are there any bugs?’ I knew this was enough to get him out of the car to come and walk in amongst the flowers because there is no other way to see them. I was not surprised that friends of ours who had also done similar, were not terribly impressed by the floral display. The secret is to get out of your car and move in amongst them. Then they take on a life of their own and you start to really see them. Particularly as they face the sun, which on Sunday was away from the road at the time of our drive.
Bugs there were. The incredible display of arum lilies held any number of beetles, intent on rubbing the pollen in these flowers onto their legs. My son would not re-enter the car until he had scoured each and every lily in the vicinity to ogle the bugs. We’re probably not supposed, despite my careful ramblings, to tramp around the flowers the way we did. If this were anywhere else we would not have been allowed to, or I would possibly have received one whack of a fine for doing so. But I’m really glad that I was able to photograph these beauties. West Coast they may not be, but for right on my doorstep they are awe inspiring.
By now the spirit of adventure had taken us and we put on our travellers’ hats to find what else a visitor to Cape Town can do along Baden Powell. Perched right on the crest of Rocklands Lookout Hill at Mitchell’s Plain is a momument to honour Aids victims – on the corner of Eisleben Road and Baden Powell Drive. It looms up at you out of nowhere on the left of the road, an obvious reminder of Aids and the devastation it has wreaked in South Africa.
The momorial is fenced behind what is an urban renewal area (complete with huge sign I don’t expect to last very long considering that many similar signs along Baden Powell sooner, rather than later, find their way into Khayelitsha for someone’s wall or roof). The area, pretty with flowers, is devoid of human activity. At the top of the hill, next to the pyramid-style monument, I look out over False Bay, on the one hand, and on the other the higgledy piggledy sprawl that is Mitchell’s Plain. Just then a muezzin calls his people to mosque and a bus filled to capacity rocks past on its way to the beach, children waving in an excited frenzy.
A little further along Baden Powell and you reach Wolfgat Nature Reserve. There have been incidents here and you can’t visit over weekends. It is obvious that you’re in a reserve because suddenly there is protected vegetation on both sides of you. We take the next right turn off down to the beach in the reserve. There are quite a few cars so we take the risk. And are we glad that we do. The beach is incredible. As my son hastens to jump on the huge tyres in the sand, laid there for this very purpose I am sure, I take in the rocky cliffs, the incredible blue, green of the bay and, no, really, yes – the whale just offshore.
I have never got used to seeing whales. With every appearance I end up doing a complete song and dance, pointing it out to everyone in the vicinity. This one is obviously with her young and the two do a lot of playful rolling, their underbellies and fins exposed every now and again. A little further along the cliff I hear ecstatic singing. A black man stands dancing and wailing, stick in hand, high on a cliff overlooking the sea. I am envious of his freedom of expression because secretly I long to do the same – the effect of a white woman on the edge of a cliff singing her heart out just wouldn’t cut it, however, so I contain myself and instead drink in the views.
We remember, after a while, that there is an artist usually at the edge of Khayelitsha, just before Baden Powell meets the N2, almost opposite the sewerage works. We have been meaning to stop there for years and this seems like an opportune moment; to find that extra something for the drive. But he’s gone, no trace of him but for a baboon that is obviously one of his carvings on someone’s shack close to where we expect to find him.
Baden Powell Drive is one of those areas ‘highly vulnerable’ to a rise in sea level with the advent of climate change. Even now it is regularly blocked by blowing sand and the city may well decide in the near future that it can no longer afford to maintain the road, and to reinstate a dune system here. So drive it whilst you can.