Bloomin' beautiful: Cape wildflowers are back after seven years of drought
The provincial borders have opened in the nick of time, so rush to see the flowers of Namaqualand and the Western Cape before they're gone, urges Anton Ferreira
If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? What if eleventy-gazillion wildflowers bloom in Namaqualand and no-one is there to see them? Will they still be beautiful?
Due to the lockdown restrictions on travel between provinces, it was touch and go whether we would now be grappling with this philosophical conundrum.
After seven years of drought, good rains fell this winter in the spring-flower region, transforming the arid landscape by allowing a thousand garish carpets of orange, purple, yellow and white to bloom.
But there were no admirers to ooh and aah. Well, not in any numbers. Northern Cape residents could have gone to gaze at the spectacle but, between them, Upington, Kimberley and Pofadder could probably muster no more than a few hundred potential flower tourists.
To achieve critical mass, the provincial frontiers had to be flung open - which of course they were, and in the nick of time. Flowers are not forever, especially when the Namaqualand temperatures start climbing towards the end of September.
I booked my trip even before the announcement that the lockdown strictures were being eased to level 2. But I have an essential worker permit - media - so I was confident I would be able to talk my way past the roadblocks.
In the end, President Cyril Ramaphosa made it so I didn't need the permit, but the interprovincial travel ban helped because, when I booked, just about all the accommodation in Namaqualand was empty. In normal times, you have to book months in advance. And by now vacancies might already be few and far between.
Of course, the Northern Cape is not the only province to boast breathtaking blossoms this season. In the Western Cape the Cederberg, the West Coast and the Biedouw Valley near Clanwilliam are also featuring on many an Instagram feed (@Cederbergclickclick, for example).
So, as a resident of the Cederberg, I didn't have to go very far to see flowers. In fact, my front yard is full of them. But to make a road trip feel like a road trip, you have to spend at least a few nights away from home.
There were flowers all the way north on the N7, especially around Vanrhynsdorp and Bitterfontein. I was gasping and stopping to photograph them every few minutes, until what should have been a comfortable three-hour drive to Kamieskroon looked like it would stretch to twice that long.
On the first night, I stayed about 20km outside Kamieskroon in a rustic, dead-quiet, self-catering cottage at a place called Verbe on the farm No Heep. It not only has gorgeous flowers and quiver trees of its own but is also convenient for visits to the Namaqua National Park.
The park is where you must go if you want entire hillsides packed chock-a-block full of daisies. It offers accommodation, including some of the best coastal camping sites in the world, remote and right on the Atlantic waves.
I also spent two nights near Springbok, at Liefland self-catering, in a more modern cottage. I had hoped to visit Goegap Nature Reserve east of the town, run by the Northern Cape provincial administration, but it was closed because of Covid-related issues.
By the time I got to Liefland, I was feeling a little sated after all the panoramic carpet-style daisy landscapes, so I wandered around crouching at ground level to sigh over individual tiny lilies that come in an infinite range of colours and styles.
Would they still have been beautiful if I hadn't been there to see them? Possibly, possibly not, but I'm glad I made sure they were.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
WHEN TO GO
The flowers generally start to bloom first in Namaqualand, Northern Cape, in late July or early August. They then spread southwards through Nieuwoudtville and the Cederberg region and appear on the West Coast in late August.
By September, your best chance of catching them is thus to head for the West Coast, where, if the rains co-operate, they can last into October.
Try Biedouw Valley and Ramskop Nature Reserve near Clanwilliam, Tienie Versfeld and Groenekloof Reserve near Darling, Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area near Porterville, and Postberg in the West Coast National Park.
BEFORE YOU GO
The "Flowers of Namaqualand and the West Coast" Facebook page has regular updates on the blooms.
In August and September the fee for day visitors in the West Coast National Park is higher than usual. South African citizens (take your ID) pay R90 per adult, R45 per child (it's usually R64/R32). The Namaqua National Park is R46 per adult, R23 per child. See sanparks.org.