Inspired Travel: Spring Flower Routes in South Africa

by  Blane Bachelor | Sep 13, 2013
Namaqualand, South Africa
Namaqualand, South Africa / Binty/iStock

Throughout Africa, the Big 5 will always have undisputed cache among travelers. But come spring, certain regions of South Africa’s Northern Cape province, including Namaqualand, which is within about six hours' drive of Cape Town, bloom with wildflowers. Among the standout: brilliant orange Namaqualand daisies, indigenous succulents known locally as vygies, and the impressive king protea, the country's national plant.

Starting around August and running through September, the landscapes in this part of the continent transform into a Technicolor explosion of orange, yellow, red, and purple, as millions of wildflowers herald the end of the winter rains. Tourists flock to see the spectacular show, snapping photos, meeting fellow floraphiles, and trading stories of their excursions in restaurants and B&Bs along the way.

Here, tips on how to stop and smell the daisies.

Where to Go: From the N7 highway south to Cape Town, there are several routes to consider depending on which areas are blooming (most accommodations provide flower route maps. Two highly recommended stops: Namaqualand National Park and the quiver tree "forest," located near the town of Niewoudtville.

Reaching the national park requires enduring about 10 miles of not-too-bumpy dirt roads. But the ride is well worth it upon first glance of the view of Namaqualand daisies that blanket the landscape in expansive swaths of orange. Park regulations require visitors to stay on paved roads and footpaths, so resist the temptation to tromp amidst the blooms for a photo (or Sound of Music-style twirl); instead, stick to the main road and clearly-marked footpaths. Watch out for the electric fences, too – I saw one overzealous tourist get zapped when he angled his camera for a closer shot.

The quiver tree "forest" is a bit trickier to reach (there are road signs, but you'll want to get directions from a local) but is a must-do for shutterbugs. The trees are actually aloe plants that, with their small bunches of spiky green leaves, look downright Dr. Seuss-ian. The "forest" is made up of several dozen trees spread out upon rocky ridge lines; it’s located on private property but visitors are allowed (you’ll likely see other cars stopped; there's also a guesthouse).

Where to Stay: Local B&Bs and lodges are sprinkled throughout the region, but near the town of Springbok, Naries, located on 6,000 plant- and wildlife-rich hectares in the foothills of the Spektakel Mountains, is an upscale oasis with miles of hiking trails, gorgeous views, and affordable rates (prices at the five-room manor start at an affordable $160 per night, including breakfast and dinner). For a smart splurge, stay in one of three private mountain suites, which are built into rock formations.

Insider Tips: Late sleepers can rejoice, because wildflowers generally don't open up until mid-morning and are best viewed when skies are sunny. For the most brilliant blooms, try to time your visit approximately 10–14 days following a rain, as the hydrated flowers will be most vivid at that time. Consider leaving the driving to someone else and hire a guide (Jaco Powell, of Kalahari Safari, has an in-depth knowledge of both botany and photography, ensuring you go home with some beautiful shots.)

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