The spring flowers of the Cape West Coast, Cederberg and Namaqualand in the Northern Cape have a worldwide reputation.
This area of South Africa receives little rain throughout the year but after the winter rains from May to July/August, the normally dry landscape becomes a carpet of wild flowers with vibrant bands of gousblomme and vygies, as well as nemesias, lachenalias, babiana and ixias.
The wide variety of wild flowers is largely due to the varied topography – fertile valleys contrast with high mountains, the semi-desert plains of the north contrast with the unique Sandveld region near the coast with its wetter vlei areas. Certain species are found nowhere else in the world such as the yellow Leucospermum reflexum, the Snow Protea (protea cryophylla), blue Lachanaea filamentosa, yellow sparaxis, pink Cyanella alba and the Clanwilliam Cedar (widdringtonia cedarbergensis).
You may not feel you need any tips for flower viewing. (How hard can looking at flowers be?) But there is quite a lot to consider if you would really like to get the most out of this annual “super-bloom” experience.
Please take special note:
Rainfall varies from year to year. Back in 2017-2018, we had one of the worst droughts in decades, with extremely low rainfall in the Cederberg and Namaqualand regions. So the below info is based on a ‘normal’ winter rainfall. We advise that you check flower reports for the areas you would like to visit.
Visit Flowers of Namaqualand and the West Coast facebook page, or call the West Coast Flowerline 072 938 8186 for regular updates on the spring flowers, flower shows and weather forecasts.
[This article is written by Cedarberg Africa, a tour operator for Southern Africa. Given our office is in Clanwilliam, we know the spring flower area very well and this article gives our tips for flower viewing for the visitor. Please note that we don’t keep note of exactly where the best flowers are, during the season, as this is not our core business. Please check out the above pages and local tourism offices at the end of this article. Enjoy!]
Tip 1: Know when the Spring Wild Flowers are (read this if nothing else!)
This is probably the number ONE thing that visitors misunderstand. Our spring is NOT the same as cooler Cape Town. Our spring starts much earlier. I cannot tell you the number of times we get requests for late September when all the flowers have gone! We should actually call them “late winter flowers” but I appreciate it doesnt have the same ring to it.
Our spring starts in early to mid-August. The flower season peaks IN AUGUST and it is dependent on the winter rains. But it does depend on where you go…
The further north, the earlier the flowers…
As a general rule the spring flowers begin flowering first in the Northern Cape in Namaqualand in late July or early August. They then advance southwards through Nieuwoudtville and the Cederberg region and then appear on the West Coast at the end of August. Thus the West Coast offers the best chance of seeing spring flowers in early September.
So you can see that if you do a tour through the whole area, there will be some areas which are at their peak, some which are just beginning and some which are going over.
Plus there’s an element of luck as it all depends on the amount of rain. Some years are better than others! If there has been a steady flow of gentle cold fronts during the winter, then it is likely to be a good and long-lasting flower season. But one or two violent storms interspersed with lots of dry weather are not so good.
Spring/late winter temperatures are also important. If it heats up too quickly then the early visitors have glorious sunshine but the flowers do not last very long.
The Catch 22 is that lots of rain means good flower displays. But if it continues to rain during our Spring (August), then it’s not so much fun to view the flowers!
(You can tell that as a tour-operator, I don’t like being at the mercy of the weather gods can’t you!)
The bottom line is to come with an attitude of acceptance. Try to be prepared to explore other attractions of the area if the flowers are not so amazing. For example the Cederberg has some stunning mountain passes, Bushman rock art, rooibos tea farms and fantastic hiking country to enjoy. There is plenty to do here, year round. View the Bushmen rock art, do a walking trail or visit a Rooibos tea farm. The spring flowers are almost an added bonus.
Tip 2: Book Early
I cannot stress this enough. The ‘season’ is short and so people book months in advance. We run 5 day flower tours (booked up for 2021) and these are booked a few months in advance. We can assist with ad hoc private tours but only if you book in advance. But we don’t take last minute bookings because all our preferred accommodation has been booked up. We’ll refer you to the local information offices (see numbers below) who may be able to assist with last minute accommodation enquiries.
Ideally you want to be looking at early to mid August for Namaqualand, early to late August for the Cederberg and late August to early September for the West Coast. The West Coast flowers can continue until mid September in a good year or only to say the 10th Sept in an average year.
2022 Update: Book early especially if you wish to go to Nieuwoudtville, Garies or Springbok as there is relatively little accommodation.
So depending on your dates, you should choose your area…
(For example, if you are planning a trip for early September, you will be too late for Namaqualand. But fine for the West Coast around Paternoster and Langebaan. Similarly if you are coming in early to mid August then the best displays will be further north, with not much happening yet closer to Cape Town…)
Tip 3: Actual Tips for Flower Viewing
- As the flowers face the sun, a good general principle is to travel north relatively quickly and then do most of your flower-viewing in a southerly direction so that the flowers are always facing you.
- Similarly, as the displays are noticeably better if you travel with the sun behind you, you should plan your daily circular route accordingly. So try to travel in a westerly direction in the morning, southerly during the day. And then turn east in the afternoon.
- The flowers are at their best between 10:30-11am and 4.00pm in the afternoon. So there is no need to rush out straight after breakfast, (unless you have some travelling to do before you get to the flower region).
- The flowers will not come out in heavily overcast or rainy weather. So you should plan to visit other sights on such days.
- Get out of your car and walk amongst the flowers – you will appreciate them so much more!
- Pick up a printed flower guide to add to your enjoyment. These are available for not much money from various tourism offices in the region. They will give you photos and names of the most common flowers you are likely to see.
- Use the local tourism offices in each area to find out which local routes have the best flower displays at any one time. Or ask your guesthouse as they usually are ”in the know”*
- Don’t pick the flowers!
* This info is not really known ahead of time as it all depends on local climate, rains etc. So use the above seasonal guide and HOPE FOR THE BEST!
Ways to tour the flowers
Fundamentally there are four main options
One – Plan a visit using your own car or a rental car. This gives you the flexibility as you are free to explore some back roads and get out of the car to walk in the flowers as much as you want.
Two – Take an escorted flower tour such as our five day Wild Flower Tour with a small group of like-minded enthusiasts. The benefits are that your guide is both knowledgeable about the flowers and also knows which daily routes are likely to prove most rewarding in terms of flower-viewing. But as it is a small group guided tour (max 6), it is fairly expensive.
Three – If you don’t have so much time, you can also do a private day tour from Cape Town to the southern West Coast. This works well later in the spring when the wild flowers of the West Coast are in bloom (late August and early September.) But it is too far to get north to Namaqualand or the Cedarberg in one day. The only caveat is that these private tours are expensive, especially for 2 people, and the Cape Town guides are not really knowledgeable on flowers, only on the area. (There are only a few specialist flower guides and they are all booked up doing longer tours!)
Four – If you have just 2-3 nights, you can drive (or we can book a private transfer) to one of the lodges in the Cederberg. Good examples would be Cederberg Ridge Wilderness Lodge or Bushmanskloof Wilderness Reserve, or Oudrif Lodge. From here, you can do a day visit to Nieuwoudtville to see their flowers as well (if you have your own vehicle). This is a good option if booking relatively late when accommodation in Nieuwoudtville is already booked up – see later.
Springbok, Garies & Namaqualand
We suggest that you head north to Springbok and then meander southwards at a more leisurely pace so that the spring flowers are always facing you. There are various side roads which are often rewarding for flowers. Visit the Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok and Skilpad Wildflower Reserve at Kamieskroon.
(However if you are travelling in September, don’t plan to spend time here, as nearly always the best displays are over.)
Try to include Niewoudtville on any flower tour (if you book early enough). Many flowers, bulbs and orchid species that are not found anywhere else in South Africa can be seen here. The other charming aspect of Nieuwoudtville is the number of local farms which open their gates to visitors (usually for a small fee). They allow you to drive all over the farm viewing the flowers – perfect for picnics. Some even also have little curio and coffee shops for daytime meals during the flower season.
Plus the flower season in Nieuwoudtville also tends to be longer than elsewhere.
BUT: Accommodation is always an issue in Nieuwoudtville. Tourism is virtually non-existent for most of the year so it has very few guesthouses. These get booked up months (even a year) in advance. But you can plan easily plan a scenic day tour from Clanwilliam which is larger and more developed for year-round tourism.
2022 Update: Still some availability
Clanwilliam and surroundings
From Nieuwoudtville you travel down the dramatic Botterkloof pass and into the Cedarberg region. (Note: this is not recommended in bad weather!) At the foothills of the Cedarberg lies the picturesque town of Clanwilliam and a number of rewarding flower routes. These include the splendid Bieudouw valley. Which can be the highlight of any flower tour in a good year, as well as the Boskloof valley or Nardouwsberg.
A visit to the Ramskop Wild Flower Garden is an absolute must! Ramskop probably has one of the best displays of wild flowers in the country. And it looks especially fine during the flower season and beyond. There’s a new medical plant section in the garden.
If you pick your dates right, you can also visit the Clanwilliam Flower Show held at the end of August. (No show in 2021). The show usually starts the Friday before the final weekend in August. Every year about 400 species from 32 families are exhibited in their typical setting at the Clanwilliam Flower Show. Here the flowers botanical names, as well as their tongue-twisting local names, are displayed.
TIP: Accommodation in Nieuwoudtville often gets booked months in advance. But you can stay in the Clanwilliam area for 3 nights and use it as a base to visit both Clanwilliam and Nieuwoudtville. It is a full day trip to Nieuwoudtville but worth it. Good options are Cederberg Ridge Wilderness Lodge, just outside town or Yellow Aloe guesthouse.
The high Cederberg Mountains don’t usually have many spring flowers. (As the real displays are in the drier valleys). But higher up in the Cedarberg mountains, the protea flowers and other fynbos species are seen later on in the spring (September to October) with their spectacular large bulbous flowers.
The Sandveld & the West Coast
From the Cederberg you can head west to the ocean through an area known as the Sandveld. Continue south along the West Coast Road (R27) via the picturesque fishing village of Paternoster with its Columbine Nature Reserve. Then head along to the West Coast National Park. Along this coastal strip, you find the strandveld of salvias and showy daisies.
Within the West Coast National Park lies the Postberg Nature Reserve which is ONLY open during August and September. This reserve boasts the greatest variety of birds, game and Sandveld flowers in the Western Cape. This special section of the park is only open during August to October. We recommend visiting during the Darling Flower show held in mid-September.
The Duckitt Orchid Show runs concurrently with the flower show on a local orchid farm. You can also visit the Tienie Versveld Reserve near Darling which hosts babianas, lachenalias and chincherinchees .
As well as wildflowers, the West Coast offers stunning seafood restaurants, great birding in the West Coast park and nearby Verlorenvlei, the West Coast Fossil Park, and the impressive !Khwa ttu rock san cultural centre to the south. So there’s plenty to do here!
We can help you book mid-range hotels and guesthouses. Unfortuntaly we don’t book self-catering or campsites as we have no knowledge of that (as a tour operator).
However below I give some information on Tourism Offices and Flower Info.
Flower Hotline: 072 938 8186
Flowers of Namaqualand and the West Coast facebook page
OR email Weskus Tourism to be added to their Flower Update mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org). – they send out a weekly update of where the best flowers are to be seen in the various areas of the Western Cape. (So it doesn’t include Nieuwoudtville or further north of Vredendal.)
Clanwilliam – www.clanwilliam.info or 027 482 2024
Springbok – 053 832 2657
Nieuwoudtville – 027 218 1336
Paternoster – 022 752 2323
Langebaan – 022 772 1515
They may be able to help you with last minute enquries as generally they know who has a last room to sell etc.
This article was written by a tour operator, Cedarberg Africa
Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and busy people. We make our money on the difference between our trade rates and the rates that are available to you, so that means that effectively all our years of experience and expertise comes free of charge…
Contact us if you’d like a tailormade trip to the Cederberg/Northern Cape or West Coast for 2022.