The spring flowers in the arid west coast are a sight to behold. If you have never seen them, then treat yourself to a trip that will be a highlight for you, and a long lasting memory. If you’ve see them before, then you will need no persuasion to return, time after time to marvel at the sight and to renew your spirit.
DRY ARID BIG SKY COUNTRY
Namaqualand is the arid semi-desert region extending along the west coast covering a total area of 170,000 square miles. During summer months, it is dry, barren, bleak and desolate. But in spring a miracle occurs. As the winter rains soak into the thirsty earth, millions of flowers emerge in a phenomenal explosion of flowers, which carpet the landscape in a cornucopia of colour as far as the eye can see.
THE MIRACLE OF THE NAMAQUALAND
The soil holds an enormous store of seeds that remain inactive for many years waiting for exactly the right conditions in which to germinate – rain in mid-winter lasting through into the spring. In good years masses of seeds are released which renew the reserves for the future – and so the cycle of life is magnificently generated by Mother Nature. Because different seeds germinate under different conditions each year brings a different formula, and therefore a different selection of flowers. Approximately 4000 species of plants bloom in the region, and an estimated quarter of these species are found nowhere else on earth. This variety of wild flowers is largely due to the varied topography - fertile valleys contrast with high mountains, the semi-desert plains of the north contrast with the unique sandveld region near the coast with its wetter vlei areas.
WHEN TO GO
The wild flowers begin flowering first in the north in late July/early August and then advance southwards through Nieuwoudtville and the Cedarberg towards the West Coast as September begins. Thus if you are planning a trip for early September, you will be too late for the flowers in the Namaqualand but fine for the West Coast around Darling and Langebaan. Similarly if you are visiting in early August then the best displays will be further north in the region.
THE MAIN WILD FLOWER AREAS
This area is home to places that are tiny dots on the maps – sometimes if you blink as you drive along the long lonesome roads you may miss them. They have delightful and descriptive Afrikaans names that in themselves tell a story and pay homage to the hardy folk who call this area home and who at one with their beloved, if not harsh, land. Names of places you will pass through include Springbok, Skilpad Reserve, Goegap, Kamieskroon, Nieuwwoudtville, Bokkeveld, Hamtam, Boesmansland, Knersvlakte, Biedouw, and more.
Head north to Springbok and then leisurely meander southwards so that the spring flowers are always facing you. Side roads you may wish to explore are the Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok and Skilpad Wildflower Reserve at Kamieskroon.
Niewoudtville is a must on any flower tour as there many flowers, bulbs and orchid species that are not found anywhere else in South Africa. The great diversity of flowers, and particularly geophytes, that occur on the Bokkeveld is what makes Nieuwoudtville both special and different from the rest of Namaqualand. The diversity of geophytes is spectacular. In the area around Nieuwoudtville there are 309 species of geophyte. There are about 1551 geophytes in the entire Cape flora and this is 4-5 times richer than other Mediterranean regions such as California, Western Australia, and the Mediterranean basin. It is not uncommon to find up to 50 different species within one square metre of Renosterveld! Local farmers open their gates to allow visitors to drive through their farms to view the flowers. The village of Nieuwoudtville lies on the Bokkeveld Plateau, where the Cape Fynbos meets the Hantam Karoo, Boesmanland and the Knersvlakte. Visit the Quiver Tree Forest (Aloe Dichotoma); the local Bulb Nursery; Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve; Hantam National Botanical Garden; Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve and the Nieuwoudtville Waterfall Reserve.
From Nieuwoudtville you travel down the dramatic, if slightly challenging Botterkloof pass and into the Cedarberg. At the foothills of the Cedarberg lies the picturesque town of Clanwilliam and a number of rewarding flower routes such as the splendid Biedouw valley - which can be the highlight of any flower tour in a good year - the Boskloof valley or Nardouwsberg. A visit to the Ramskop Wild Flower Garden is an absolute must which has one of the best displays of wild flowers in the country and looks especially fine during the flower season and beyond. Dont miss the Clanwilliam Flower Show at the end of August where about 400 species from 32 families are exhibited in their typical setting . Higher up in the Cedarberg, the protea flowers and other fynbos species are seen later on in the spring with their spectacular large bulbous flowers. The beautiful, fertile and breathtaking Biedouw Valley is 32 kilometres from Clanwilliam and is surrounded by the Biedouw Mountains to the north and the Tra-Tra Mountains in the south. This is the only area in the world where rooibos tea (from Aspalathus linearis) is grown. The Sandveld and the West Coast From the Cedarberg you can head west to the ocean through an area known as the Sandveld. Then you can continue south along the West Coast via picturesque fishing villages such as Paternoster with its Columbine Nature Reserve to the West Coast National Park. Within the West Coast National Park lies the Postberg Nature Reserve, which boasts the greatest variety of birds, game and Sandveld flowers in the Western Cape. Visit the Darling Flower show held in mid September and nearby Tienie Versveld Reserve. The Duckitt Orchid Show runs concurrently with the flower show on a local orchid farm.
SOME OF OUR FAVOURITE PLANTS
The majestic quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma or common name, Kokkerboom) are extraordinary desert trees with their large succulent leaves and have fascinated man for as long as they have been around. The branches of the trees have been used by Bushman as quivers for their arrows and large trunks of dead trees were hollowed out and used as a natural fridge as the fibrous tissue of the trunk cooled the interior as the air passed through it.
Halfmens (Pachypodium namaquanum) are endemic to the drier, northern reaches of Namaqualand in the Northern Cape and to part of the Namib desert. The charismatic, northward-leaning Halfmens is perhaps the most intriguing of all stem succulents. It is a tree-like plant, devoid of branches, with a spiny trunk and a mop of leaves on top. Growing to a height of about 2m, Halfmens have swollen succulent stems which they use for storing water in the parched desert region. The Afrikaans name of Halfmens, which means human-like, is widely used to describe this succulent. Seen from a distance against the skyline they look like people frozen in motion, their spiny trunks forever inclined northwards, with leaves on top like mops of hair. Khoekhoe legend has it that when their ancestors were driven southwards by warring tribes from the north, some turned back to look with longing across the Orange River. They were turned into trees by a sympathetic god to relieve their suffering, eternally gazing northwards in this hot, waterless land. This strange plant is one of the few tall plants able to survive through the seasons in this desert climate. Growing extremely slowly, Halfmens are rather rare and not easily seen. Under threat from illegal collectors, the Halfmens are internationally protected. It is classified as highly endangered under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. The Halfmens contains poisonous alkaloids and its sap was traditionally used for arrow poison. It is said that when the spines on the Halfmens' stem are stroked, the plant produces a series of clicking sounds that supposedly mimics the clicks of the Nama language (one of South Africa's earliest known people from the Northern Cape region of Namaqualand.
Tagged: cedarberg, flower season, flower show, halfmens, namaqualand, Newsletter August 2012, nieuwoudtville, quiver tree, semi desert flowers, spring flowers, things to do from cape town, west coast flowers, wild flowers