With the start of each Spring, the months of August and September see our West Coast region bursting with colorful carpets of wild flowers, instantly transforming this laid back and generally quiet part of South Africa into a total tourist mecca. With people streaming in from all over Cape Town and its surrounds, the West Coast and its sister Namaqualand are simply put, the places to be if you want to go flower watching.
The West Coast National Park (one of the few national parks that I’m actually older than seeing as it was only officially proclaimed in 1985, a full 5 years after I was born) is a 36,000 hectare strong nature reserve centered around the Langebaan Lagoon. Lying 120 km north of Cape Town, the park is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the R27 coastal road, and stretches from Yzerfontein in the south right up to Langebaan and its lagoon in the north. (It also has a few islands in Saldanha Bay attached as well).
The park is home to a number of antelope species, including eland, red hartebeest, bontebok, kudu, gemsbok, steenbok, and duiker, as well as ostriches and a host of smaller animals like the bat-eared fox, caracal, and Cape gray mongoose. Bird life is of course abundant (a bird watcher’s dream to be sure) and many Palearctic migrants spend their winter months around the Langebaan Lagoon. The coastal islands at the mouth of the lagoon are important breeding colonies for Cape and Hartlaub’s gull, Cape gannet, cormorants, terns and even the African penguin.
Then there is the flora of course, and coastal fynbos and scrub aside, the Postberg Flower Reserve (privately owned land situated within the national park’s bounds and which is included as a “contractual national park”) is the site where the majority of the annual Spring wild flowers bloom, making it the focal point come flower season.
The lack of big predators means that much of the park is open for human outdoor activities like walking, hiking, mountain bike riding, and jogging. There are a number braai facilities scattered around at sites like Tsaarsbank and Preekstoel (named after a large uniquely shaped rock found there), as well as spots to cool down on both the banks of the lagoon and the ocean. (The lagoon is also home to house boats that you can rent as accommodation).
I took Chantelle and the girls out for a flower watching jaunt last Spring, and as expected (due to the lengthy period of drought that the Western Cape had just emerged from), the flower bloom really wasn’t nearly as good as what we’ve encountered before, with many previously blanketed swathes of fields and koppies devoid of any of the characteristic carpets of colour that we’ve come to associate them with.
Nevertheless, it was a delightful drive through nature, and the lack of large crowds (because of the decreased amount of flowers on display) meant that it was slightly less stressful and we had a lot more opportunity to stop and explore than what we have had before.
We ended off our day of flower watching with a slightly overpriced lunch at the onsite Geelbek Restaurant (love its historic Cape Dutch building though!), before heading back out of the park to hit the long road home – but only because by this point Chantelle had had enough viewing for the day and wouldn’t let me traipse over to the bird hide on the lagoon!
I’ve mentioned before that the West Coast National Park is probably not the most exciting of our national parks to take a self drive through if you are interested in actual game watching, but regardless of that, the wide open space, the fresh air, and the long empty views do make for an excellent break from city/suburban life. Plus, if you go there during flower season (on a good year and somehow manage to miss the big crowd that comes along with it), it truly is an amazing natural sight to behold!