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TThe Wild Flower Route in South Africa’s Northern Cape province is a springtime vision that will colour your imagination for the rest of your days. Here, Namaqualand daisies and more than 3 500 other floral species emerge in spring – from early August to the end of September – to offer one of the world’s greatest flower shows.
A 3-hour journey up the N7 from Cape Town, branching at Vanrhynsdorp, takes you to your first stop: the 6 200-hectare Hantam National Botanical Garden, just outside the village of Nieuwoudtville. Known as ‘the bulb capital of the world’, its soils contain startling numbers of geophytes (plants that have underground storage organs). A single spadeful of earth can yield nearly 100.
‘An incredible 1 350 plant species have been recorded on the Bokkeveld Plateau so far, and about a third of these are threatened with extinction,’ says the garden’s curator, Eugene Marinus.
Among the most spectacular geophytes are the brilliant blue pride of Nieuwoudtville, Geissorhiza splendidissima, and the 2 finest Sparaxis species – Sparaxis elegans and Sparaxis pillansii.
While most visitors come to see the spring flowers, autumn (March and April) in Nieuwoudtville offers another spectacular flower display, when the Amaryllidaceae species – the beautiful, lily-like amaryllis family – come out to play.
The Hantam National Botanical Garden also offers a choice of hiking trails and mountain-bike routes, as do several farms in the area.
From Nieuwoudtville, head back up the N7 to the 150 000-hectare Namaqua National Park, where flowers bloom as far as the eye can see. There are several floral hotspots along the way, including the Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve at Kamieskroon. This route leads all the way through the Namaqualand town of Springbok to the Goegap Nature Reserve, which covers nearby 7 000 hectares.
Hiking, eco-trails, day drives, mountain-bike and 4-wheel drive routes are all on offer in and around both reserves. You can also learn about pollinators, including butterflies, bees and birds, as well as wildlife, including the bat-eared fox, steenbok and Cape porcupine.
The information offices at the Namaqua National Park and in Nieuwoudtville offer maps and everything else you’ll need to know – so come for at least a week, and take the long road to the land of colour and imagination.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Hantam National Botanical Garden
Tel: +27 (0)27 218 1200
Nieuwoudtville information office
Tel: +27 (0)27 218 1336
Namaqua National Park
Tel: +27 (0)27 672 1948
How to get here
Drive yourself or book a tour. The Hantam National Botanical Garden outside of Nieuwoudtville is 350km from Cape Town, or a relaxed 4-hour drive. The Namaqua National Park is 495km from Cape Town – about a 6-hour drive.
Best time to visit
The best time is spring (late August to the end of September), when you can see the mass flower display. Autumn (March/April) is the best time to see the flowering of the March lilies and other bulb species in Nieuwoudtville.
Drive yourself or join a tour.
Length of stay
At least a week to see the flowers and attractions in this vast area. Also bear in mind that the flowers do not open in heavily overcast and rainy weather, so you need to factor in a day or 2 extra for this.
What to pack
Walking shoes, binoculars, cameras, water, snacks, hats, sunblock.
Where to stay
Throughout the Wild Flower Route there are places to stay, but it is best to book in advance. Contact the parks or the tourist offices to find out what is on offer.
The information offices will provide you with details of where the flowers are blooming best each day and about other activities in the area.