Spring Floral Tributes in the Cape

Apart from marking the end of a seemingly endless rain-drenched winter each year, one of the lovely things about Spring in the Cape is the amazing display of colourful wild flowers that appear.

 

While you’ll see little clumps of them in fields out in the countryside and even by the roadside, you’ll need to do a bit of driving if you want to see them in all of their glory though.

 

If you can spare the time, the seven or so hour trek up to the semi-desert Namaqualand region near Namibia or the four-hour hike to the scrubby veld of the Tankwa Karoo National Park are apparently well worth it.

 

The shock of those lush carpets of bright, vibrant colour pulsating at the heart of apparently otherwise barren expanses under vast empty skies has to be seen to be believed, apparently.

 

But at about an hour and a half’s drive from Stellenbosch, there’s also a more than adequate option much closer to home in the shape of the Langebaan Postberg section of the West Coast National Park.

 

Only open from August to September during flower season, it’s subject to staggering queues of visitors from Cape Town and its environs on those weekends when the weather’s good. So the usual advice is to go during the week if at all possible.

 

Moreover, although the flowers start making an appearance from the end of July, another rule for seeing them at their best is to visit during either the last two weeks of August or the first two weeks of September.

 

Oh, and go on a sunny day because they’re fussy and won’t come out unless they can feel the sun on their faces – cloudy won’t cut it. But then I can’t say that I blame them.

 

And so it was that, one sunny day, after carefully checking the local weather forecast and scanning the sky for any rogue black clouds, my Beloved and I leapt into the car and made off.

 

Dodging tortoises

 

On arrival at the Park, however, we noticed that foreigners were charged literally twice as much each (R96 or £6) to enter as South African citizens.

 

While such an approach may be fair enough in some ways, the reason that I mention it is that it’s not the usual way of things. Or certainly the situation isn’t generally that blatant – although our friends in the northern suburbs have warned us before that our English accents, and their associations with comparative wealth, could well add a few rand to the bill here and there.

 

Perhaps because my Beloved let the attendant know that we lived here, citizenship notwithstanding, we managed to make it through at the local rate, however.

 

Anyway, after driving for another half hour or so along a remarkably well-surfaced road, dodging tortoises that can’t half move at some lick when they have to, we noticed that the flower-to-scrub ratio was mounting.

 

And by the time we glimpsed the Atlantic, meadows full of beautiful white, yellow, orange and purple blooms were laid out before us in their full floral splendour, while being delicately picked through by eland, gemsbok and kudu. Stunning.

 

Another truly beautiful, although again heavily touristed, spot if you ever get the chance to go is Cape Point in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve in Table Mountain National Park.

 

Although widely believed to be the southernmost tip of Africa and the spot where the cold Atlantic and warm Indian oceans meet, it is, in fact, neither.

 

That accolade goes instead to Cape Agulhas, which is about 220km or so away further east on the Whale Coast and one of South Africa’s most treacherous, counting 250 or so shipwrecks to its name.

 

In fact, the spot was named ‘Capo das Agulhas’ or ‘Cape of Needles’ by Portugese navigator, Bartholomew Dias, in 1488 for two very pertinent reasons related to this fact.

 

Cape stories

 

And never being one to pass up on a good story, here they are: On the one hand, Dias was being all artistic as the coastline is marked by jagged, needle-like rock formations.

 

On the other, he was referring to the strange behaviour of his compass needle. The issue was that, when rounding the Cape in a boat in the 15th century, you’d see your needle start swinging in a worrying fashion, incapable of distinguishing between true and magnetic north.

 

Hence the goodly number of shipwrecks, not helped by the fact that, for about 250km out to sea, the ocean is a ship-shatteringly shallow 60 fathoms deep, before dropping off sharply to a vast 180,000 fathoms until it hits Antartica.

 

Anyway, back to Cape Point. While it may not be all its cracked up to be in mythical terms, it certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of dramatic vistas.

 

A windy sandstone promontory at the south-eastern corner of the Cape Peninsula, its sheer cliffs plunge down steeply into the pounding Atlantic with its dangerous swells, tides and localised currents generating lethal whirlpools.

 

Although too dangerous for swimming, or even fishing, with scores of unlucky anglers having been swept out to sea for their art, there are nonetheless safe tidal pools to amble through at Buffels Bay and Bordjiesrif, only about 10km to the north and complete with nice braai areas if you’re feeling a bit peckish.

 

From the Cape Point car park though, it’s only a short, if steep, 1km trot to the site’s most famous viewing point, the original lighthouse, which was built in 1860 – although there is always the Flying Dutchman Funicular for the less energetic amongst us.

 

From the spectacular ridgeway path, however, you can also see the second, newer lighthouse. This was built lower down and closer to the Point itself in 1914 because the original one was all too often shrouded in fog, making it somewhat less than effective.

 

But despite the unpredictability of the weather here – as in the rest of the Cape – I can truly say that I’m just delighted that Spring has finally arrived and, with it, the hope of more sun.

 

 

 

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