There is a saying in this part of South Africa that “on the great sowing day of the universe, a little bag of the Lord’s best seed leaked over the Western Cape.”
Depending on winter rains, mid-August often sees Namaqualand transformed into a petal patchwork as semi-arid desert bursts into flower. Easily reached on a self-drive or guided tour from Cape Town, this natural spectacle makes a colourful combo with a Cape safari.
Copper-coloured Namaqualand daisies (Dimorphotheca sinuate) dominate the scene, tussled by the breeze into a seething molten mass. But they are just one of some 3,500 plant species found in the region – a third of which occur nowhere else. Head for showcase reserves like Namaqua National Park (67km from Springbok) and you’ll find a tapestry of daisies, bulbs, succulents and grasses spread beneath tumbled granite boulders and groups of quiver trees.
Goegap Nature Reserve is another good spot to view the spring flowering, but this is not just an odyssey for botanists. Butterflies and nectar-sipping sunbirds fuss over the flowers, while klipspringer, aardvark, meerkat and porcupine are well at home in the region’s dry bushveld. Also keep an eye out for the Namaqua speckled padloper – the world’s smallest tortoise – but if you have your sights set on bigger game, combine some free-roaming in Namaqualand with a guided safari in one of the private game reserves of the Eastern Cape. Kwandwe, Samara and Shamwari are just three of the malaria-free reserves found to the north of Port Elizabeth – they offer luxury accommodation, superb guides and a chance to see species such as giraffe, cheetah, rhino, lion and elephant.
When to go: Although influenced by rainfall in preceding winter months, the best flowering season in Namaqualand is typically between August and September. Flowering may start in northern Namaqualand in late July/early August, the spectacle spreading southwards towards the Cedarbergs and West Coast National Park in September.
Other wildlife: Driving north from Cape Town, be sure to stop at Lambert’s Bay where you can walk to the world’s most accessible Cape gannet colony. Southern right whales migrate close inshore along the Cape coast between July and November – you might see them at Lambert’s Bay, but your best chance of spotting them is to head east from Cape Town to Whale Route hotspots like Hermanus, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Humpback whales, orcas and dolphins may also be seen, while great white sharks steal the show at Dyer Island, reached by boat trips from Gansbaii. If you’re totally focused on flowers, don’t miss a visit to Grootbos Nature Reserve, sitting pretty in the Cape Floral Kingdom with its 9,250+ species of fynbos plants, including proteas, ericas and gladiolus.
British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Cape Town in about 11.5 hours. Car rental is available from all major companies, including Budget and Thrifty. Expect to pay around £250 for two weeks’ rental of a 2WD Toyota Corolla; a 2WD vehicle is fine for most gravel roads but you may need a 4WD for some tracks in Namaqualand. Unleaded petrol is roughly ZAR12.50 (70p) per litre. Top-end accommodation in Cape Town includes the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Cape Grace, while Acorn House offers guesthouse rooms at the foot of Table Mountain. In Langebaan, near West Coast NP, Indigo Blue Beach House sleeps up to eight. Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Lodge offers all-inclusive luxury in the Cederbergs. Chiefs Namaqua Flower Camps operate a Beach Camp near Groen River and Skilpad Camp near Kamieskroon between Aug-Sept; both include morning coffee and rusks, breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. The company can also arrange stays at the self-catering Noup divers’ huts.