As the mild Cape winter comes to a close in August-September, pockets of spring flowers start to emerge alongside roadside verges. If you have planned your trip to arrive in the city at this time, you have a chance of seeing the brilliant purples, yellows, and reds of the hardy daisy species that start to emerge. It will have to be on the awkward to get to places around the city or steeply sloping road verges, as the city has a policy of continuous mowing to keep weeds down. This also cuts the flowers down before they reach their prime. It is a frustration for city dwellers, but locals and tourists do not have to venture far to catch the glorious colours, which blanket the landscape.
Spring flower season is sensational from the Cape Winelands right up to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. A trip to the wine regions of Paarl with its wildflower reserve and Darling at this time of year is enormously rewarding. The kiss of life provided by the Cape’s winter rains germinates the seeds so that by mid-August their rapid growth has transformed the landscape.
Most tourists will perhaps just pass the odd city verge full of flowers or maybe take in a Winelands trip. If you have the time in your itinerary however, within a couple of hours from Cape Town there are more dramatic options.
Firstly why not consider heading north to the Cederberg Mountains. Here the Table Mountain sandstone group rises once again out of the surrounding farmlands. The region is visited by rock climbers and seekers of the elusive Cape Leopard, who makes the area its home. In spring time, however the area is one of the best flower regions in the Cape. Whole mountainsides are transformed into blankets of pink and yellow. In particular the area of the Biedouw Valley is sensational. As you rise over the Hoek se Berg mountain pass the valley floor opens up before you. In a good year the entire valley from the mountain tops down to the valley floor is carpeted with flowers.
Unlike a wildlife safari, where you must be up at sunrise to catch the animals moving before the heat of the day sets in, flower watching can be done with a slow start to the day. The flowers respond to the sun, requiring both warmth and direct sunlight to fully open their petals. Therefore the best time to view them is between 11.00 and 15.00 hrs with the sun directly behind you. Take a leisurely breakfast and then drive out into the flower fields.
My second choice for dramatic flower watching involves both wildlife and flowers. The months of August and September are the only time of the year when the tip of the Potberg Peninsula in the West Coast National Park is open to the public. Permits are available for a one or two day (bring your own tent) hiking adventure, which guides you along the gently undulating landscape amongst dramatic sea views and endless fields of flowers. Amongst the flowers are the wild animals. This part of the park is home to its most impressive game. Zebra, Eland, Bontebok, Hartebeest, Oryx, and Springbok all look that much more dramatic profiled against fields of flowering daisies. If you are as lucky as we were you may also catch a caracal on its daily hunt. If you are as unlucky as we were you may also step on a Puff Adder – but that’s another story!
This is a full day walk, so you will need accommodation nearby, such as the parks self- catering chalets or guesthouses in the nearby Langebaan and Paternoster. Only a set number of permits are issued for any day, so it is also best to book early with the National Park. The plus side is that you see very few other hikers during the day. That is not always the case with the driven flower routes, which pull in visitors from the whole region.
These activities are all very seasonal. The flowers last well into September, but fade quickly as the summer takes hold. You will also need the guarantee of a sunny day to see them at their best, which is not always possible at this time of year in the Western Cape. However when it all comes together it can be one of the most rewarding seasons to view the regions dramatic landscapes.