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TThe Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens are set on this unique ecosystem's south-western boundary, just outside the town of Worcester. It's conveniently close to Cape Town and boasts masses of succulents and stunning desert wild flowers. If you're in the area, it's a must-see.
The Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens at the foot of the Hex River mountains near Worcester are famous for being the only true succulent gardens in the southern hemisphere. This falls within the Karoo biome, which also includes the Namaqualand desert wild flower region further north.
These botanical gardens are only 120km from Cape Town and offer a spectacular floral experience, particularly in spring when the vygies (mesembs) come into flower from August to the end of September.
The garden was originally located at a railway siding at White Hill, 5km east of Matjiesfontein in the Karoo, because the local station master, a Mr J Archer, had a passion for succulents.
However, due to a lack of water at Matjiesfontein and the rerouting of the N1, the garden was moved to Worcester in 1945. A Swiss horticulturist based at Kirstenbosch, Mr J Thudichum, became the first curator of the garden and personally relocated and hand-watered many of the plants, including the quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) that are still to be seen in the spot where he planted them.
Today, about 400 plant species occur naturally, and this botanical garden is also home to 300 protected species that are being propagated here. About 144ha of the gardens are maintained as a nature reserve, featuring many hiking trails. The garden is also home to 70 species of birds and a wide range of small mammals such as the Cape grey duiker.
This special botanical attraction has a plant maze, Braille trail, organised tours and a nursery stocked with indigenous species. It offers a totally unique view of some of South Africa's most colourfully spectacular flowers and plants.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens
Tel: +27 (0)23 342 1298
How to get here
Worcester lies on the N1 freeway connecting Cape Town and Johannesburg and is about 120km north of Cape Town. The Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens are situated in Roux Road on the outskirts of Worcester.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit the Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens is in spring, from August to October when the vygies are dazzling. The gardens are open daily from 7am to 6pm, 365 days a year.
What will it cost?
There is a nominal entrance fee that varies depending on the season. Expect to pay anywhere from R15 to R30.
Things to do
The Worcester Museum and Matroosbergstasie – a decommissioned railway station – offer glimpses into the history of the area. There’s also the award-winning Willow Creek Olive Estate, which is definitely worth a visit.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, hat, cameras and binoculars.
Where to stay
Accommodation is available in nearby Worcester in a range of guesthouses, B&Bs and self-catering facilities.
What to eat
Try catch the Pure Boland Market on the first Saturday of the month, which boasts over 45 local producers and ‘humble hospitality’.