Ten must-do's at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is regarded as one of the finest in the world, and certainly Africa's most beautiful.
Here, set against the backdrop of Table Mountain National Park, you'll find a garden that not only showcases the unique and incredibly diverse flora of the Cape, but also offers incredible views.
Here are 10 unmissable activities while you're there:
1. Walk the Boomslang
The 'Boomslang' (named after the arboreal tree snake indigenous to South Africa) is a steel-and-timber canopy walkway that was built to commemorate the garden's 100th anniversary. It offers magnificent views and takes you through the tree tops of the Arboretum section of the garden. At its highest point, it's 12m above the ground.
2. Take a turn around the conservatory
Most of Kirstenbosch's outdoor display is devoted to fynbos, the unique vegetation of the Cape Floral Kingdom. But South Africa is also home to a third of the world's succulents and has 1400 species of bulbous plants. Some of these plants (that would not ordinarily grow in the Western Cape) can be seen inside the conservatory (found at the lower entrance to the garden). There's even a baobab tree here!
3. Admire the sculptures
At the lower end of the garden you'll find a display of Mambo Sculptures. These artworks in the Shona tradition are from Zimbabwe. While the individual sculptures are often swapped out, the display is permanent. You can also buy one of these stone sculptures from the Visitor Centre.
4. Visit the Garden of Extinction
This section of the garden is devoted to those plants that have either become extinct in the wild or have been rescued from the brink. Around 1500 plants are at risk, so the information signs in this section of the garden make for sobering reading.
5. Birds, bees and butterflies
Enjoy the birds, bees and butterflies that call this beautiful garden home. Look for endemic species like the orange-breasted sunbird and the Cape sugarbird while you're here, or simply take pleasure in watching birds, like this lesser double-collared sunbird feeding on a wild dagga plant.
6. See Van Riebeeck's Hedge
Van Riebeeck's Hedge is the remains of a hedge planted as a defensive barrier for the Cape Colony by Jan van Riebeeck back in 1660. Van Riebeeck was sent to the Cape to establish a provisioning station for the Dutch East India Company in 1652, thereby establishing the first European settlement in South Africa. The indigenous wild almond trees that were used for this purpose can be seen in this section of the garden.
7. Walk up an avenue of camphor trees
Another historic landmark in the garden is the Camphor Avenue, trees planted by colonialist Cecil John Rhodes in 1898 along the old wagon road that once led to Hout Bay. This grand, old avenue is also home to the spotted eagle owl that can sometimes be seen roosting in the branches here.
8. Check what's flowering
An ever-changing display in the garden is the small glass house where seasonal flowers are always on display.
9. Pack a picnic hamper
On any given day, you'll find people spread out on the lawns enjoying a picnic in a beautiful setting. No chairs are allowed. Rather just spread the picnic blanket and unpack your basket. Also, remember to take all your rubbish home with you.
10. Or stop for tea and scones
There are two restaurants in the garden. The tearoom close to the top entrance (the garden's old, original entrance) is famous for its scones. Definitely worth a visit on a sunny afternoon.