Whether you’re a flora lover or not, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the carpets of brightly-colored spring flowers in South Africa. Explosions of blooms roll over vast swaths of the Western and Northern Cape each spring after the long winter rains.
There are easy day trips from Cape Town where you can go flower-spotting in sunshine-filled fields, but to get the most out of spring flower season, you should stay in a flower area for a few days and go on hiking and mountain biking trails.
The best time to see the spring flowers is between July and September, but the flower blooming is weather and rain-dependent, so it’s best to check with the tourism authorities in the place you’re planning to visit before you go. Also remember to check weather forecasts – the flowers only show their pretty faces on sunny days.
An hour and a half from Cape Town, Darling is a charming country town that forms part of the West Coast flower region, which has more than 1200 species of flowering plants and 80 endemic species found nowhere else. In the fields around Darling you can see a wide range of blooms ranging in color from white and orange to bright pink and purple.
Don’t miss the Darling Wildflower Show, which has been running for almost a century and takes place from 19 through 21 September 2014, and offers wild flower displays with rare blooms, as well as tractor rides, craft stalls and food stands with South African traditional dishes such as potjiekos.
To see flowers of a different sort (and catch some great local bands), head to Darling in early October for one of South Africa’s biggest music festivals, Rocking the Daisies. There are a few spring flowers in the camping fields, but the floral theme here is more about the decorations – giant daisy motifs adorn the stage and there are life-sized blooms dotted about.
West Coast National Park
The West Coast National Park, a beautiful coastal wilderness area known for its abundant bird life, has a northern section, which is only open to the public during the spring flower season, when it’s covered in rainbows of petals. This section of the park, the Postberg Flower Reserve, is also home to zebra and wildebeest, and you may also be lucky enough to spot whales on your visit (the whale watching season coincides with the spring flower season). The bonus is that Postberg Flower Reserve is just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, which makes it an easy day trip from the city.
You can take a gentle stroll through the fields of blooms in Postberg, but if you’re fit, try the 8.6-mile Steenbok Trail, which takes you on a spectacular route through flowers and fynbos. The trail is open in August in September, and it’s very popular so be sure to book ahead.
Three hours north of Cape Town, the Cederberg region is spectacularly beautiful: ancient mountains, dramatic sandstone formations, vast tracts of wilderness and unpolluted night skies. In spring, this arid, sparsely populated area is dotted with bright spring flowers. A great place to see them is the Biedouw Valley, where you can stay in rustic white washed self-catering cottages surrounded by fields of orange and yellow petals at Enjo Nature Farm (book their Lonely Planet cottage, their most remote one, if you’re after privacy). If you’re into history as well as flora, don’t miss seeing some of the Cederberg’s millennia-old rock art sites. On the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, a two-mile hike, you’ll get to see ten rock art sites as well as spring flowers.
Clanwilliam, a small town in the Cederberg region and the center of the rooibos tea industry, has a wonderful wild flower show each year at the end of August (this year the show runs from 28 August through 6 September 2014). The Clanwilliam Wildflower Show displays flowers from the different biomes of the area surrounding Clanwilliam including flowers found nowhere else in the world, from the snow protea to the botterblom.
The area around Niewoudtville, a small sleepy town in the heart of sheep farming country in the remote Northern Cape has been dubbed the “bulb capital of the world” and the “Serengeti of the floral kingdom” because it’s said to boast the highest concentration of bulbs in the country.
You can go flower spotting in the Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve and the Hantam National Botanical Garden and also visit local farms – during the spring flower season many farmers allow visitors onto their land to view the blooms.
Nieuwoudtville is several hours’ drive from Cape Town, which makes it too far for a day trip. Book far in advance to stay at Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm, a few miles outside of Niewoudtville, a sheep, rooibos and olive farm which gets covered in bright flowers each spring. Papkuilsfontein offers a truly memorable experience of staying in century-old beautifully restored farm cottages run by a welcoming family who give you a taste of Karoo farm hospitality (don’t miss trying their home-cooked three-course dinners).
The ultimate flower destination in South Africa is Namaqualand, in the Northern Cape, several hours’ drive north of Cape Town. While you’ll see flowers all along the highway and side roads, the Namaqua National Park, dotted with photogenic quiver trees, is the center of it all: part of the semi-desert Karoo biome, the park is home to more than 1000 plants which are only found there.
Just outside the town of Kamieskroon, Skilpad Wildflower Reserve forms part of the Namaqua National Park, and is where you’ll find a spectacular concentration of flowers, the “Roof of Africa” panoramic vista and 4×4, mountain bike and walking trails. There are two accommodation options in Skilpad: self-catering chalets which sleep four people and a luxury tented camp, which is only set up during the flower season – book far in advance for this popular option. North of Skilpad, Goegap Nature Reserve also has a dazzling display: here you can do day hikes, choose to drive a route through the reserve in your sedan, get a bit more adventurous on the 4×4 trail if you have a suitable vehicle, hop on a mountain bike or see the flowers on horseback on multi-day trips with Namaqua Horse Trails.
When you’re visiting Namaqualand, bear in mind that flowers face the sun, so it’s best to travel a north to south route so that the flowers face you as you drive.
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This article was originally published on April 16, 2015.