South Africa – wild flowers and wildlife of the Cape Floral Kingdom
The Cape Floral Kingdom is a wildlife wonder. This tiny, yet unique plant kingdom, situated in the mountains of the southernmost tip of Africa, boasts spectacularly high numbers of plant species: about 8,600 in an area roughly the size of Scotland; two thirds of which grow nowhere else.
In addition, the adjacent Succulent Karoo is the world’s richest area for succulents, and the clay soils that form the common border of these two regions hold the greatest concentration of bulbous species in the world. We’ll explore all of these areas in spring, the peak time for flowering.
On this tour, we will traverse many different landscapes – ‘Mediterranean’ heathlands (fynbos), semi-desert shrublands and temperate rainforests. Each has its characteristic soils and climate. The rainfall ranges from 75 mm per year in parts of Namaqualand to at least 2,000 mm per year in the eastern part of the area. Each landscape has its own kaleidoscope of plant species.
You can easily extend this tour to see more of Cape Town with its dramatic Table Mountain, or to spend time visiting some of the famous wineries: it would be possible to fly out before the group or to stay on after.
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
24 August – 6 September 2020
To be confirmed
To be confirmed
Return flights from London Heathrow to Cape Town. Local transport on excursions as specified in the itinerary. Eleven nights’ accommodation, full board basis. Entry fees (National Parks and Botanic Gardens).
Refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
To be confirmed
Day 1 Our flight takes us from London to Cape Town, arriving the following morning.
Day 2 We visit one of the most famous Botanic Gardens in the world, set in one of the most stunning of landscapes: Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, a perfect introduction to our itinerary and the (bewilderingly diverse) flora of the region.
Day 3 We head to Cape Point Nature Reserve. The Peninsula holds more plant species than the entire British Isles, and we start to become familiar with some of the major groups that will be keeping us company over the trip. In open areas we look for Bontebok and Cape Mountain Zebra, Eland and Chacma Baboons, as well as visiting the Point itself, where Cape Cormorants breed. After lunch we visit the last surviving fragments of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos vegetation, and finish our day at nearby Strandfontein nature reserve.
Day 4 We make our way up the west coast. In the Darling Hills, we visit the Tinie Versveld Wild Flower Reserve.The shales in the Darling area have a profusion of bulbs, perhaps including our first Romuleas, Babianas and Lachenalias. We stop on the coast for lunch, exploring the ‘strandveld’ where we search for the bizarre Freesia viridis and keep our eyes peeled for Haviside’s Dolphin playing just beyond the surf.
Day 5 We explore the flashy displays of daisies on the coastal sands and endemic-rich granites of the West Coast National Park, centred around the 16 km long Langebaan lagoon. After the winter rains, enormous patches of daisies, such as Arctotis hirsuta, Gazania krebsiana and Dimorphotheca pluvialis paint the hillsides white and orange, surely one of the seasonal highlights of this coastline. The open ‘flats’ of the reserve are home to grazing animals, while the stunning Black Harrier may be found, quartering the hillside.
Day 6 We head into the southern edge of Namaqualand, where the Cape Mountains give way to the valleys and plains of the Karoo. Here we visit the ‘grinding plains’ of the Knersvlakte, a low-lying quartz plain, part of the Succulent Karoo flora and home to a diversity of succulent plants, many of them truly tiny, including the delightful Argyroderma ‘babies bottoms’. From here we climb up into the Cederberg mountains, enjoying the spectacular views, before arriving at Nieuwoudtville, ‘the world bulb capital’.
Day 7 There are a variety of sites in the Nieuwoudtville area that differ between years and we will take local advice in visiting sites that are at their best. Damp valleys are dominated by the tall yellow Bulbinella nutans and there is a profusion of Ornithogalums, Lachenalias, Moraeas, Romuleas, Ixias and Geissorhizas. Delicate Hesperanthas only open late in the day. Three species of Sparaxis are here and there are numerous Babianas and Gladious. Nearby we will visit the ‘Kokerboom Forest’, a grove of iconic Quiver Trees Aloidendron dichotomum.
Day 8 Today we head south and cross the spectacular, arid Tanqwa Karoo National Park, home to Gemsbok and Bat-eared Fox, Mountain Wheatear and Martial Eagle. We will encounter some awe-inspiring views as we head up into the Koue Bokkerveld mountains, and then drop down into the fertile valley where we spend the night.
Day 9 From Ceres we head eastwards, crossing the Langeberg at the scenic Tradouw Pass and dropping down onto the coastal plains.
Day 10 We explore the wonderful De Hoop Nature Reserve. The Potberg mountain is home to a colony of Cape Vultures, and the unique limestone fynbos here has showy species such as Protea obtusifolia and P. neriifolia, Leucospermum truncatulum and L. pattersoni, various Leucadendrons, Polygalas and Ericas. Southern Right Whales gather off the coast in good numbers, and the reserve also holds healthy populations of ‘game’, with Rhebok, Bontebok, Cape Mountain Zebra and Eland all grazing right outside our rooms.
Day 11 We drive via the Agulhas Plains and the plains of the Overberg to Hermanus and Walker Bay. Much of the plains have been converted to wheat, but patches of ‘renosterveld’ vegetation survive along the roadsides, supporting a variety of Gladiolus and Watsonia.
Day 12 We head for Betty’s Bay, where we visit the African Penguin colony at Stony Point, home to all four of the Cape’s coastal cormorants and some very relaxed Rock Hyraxes. We then visit the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, where beyond the more formal plantings, we will explore the hillside where fynbos vegetation intermingles with afromontane forest of Podocarpus latifolius, Cunonia capensis and Widdringtonia nodiflora.
Day 13 We visit the Fernkloof Nature Reserve on the edge of Hermanus for more wonderful wild flowers. After lunch on the sea front, where we will have another chance to see Southern Right Whales or maybe even a passing pod of dolphins, we return to Cape Town in time to board our evening flights home, arriving back in London early on Day 14.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
We will stay at local guesthouses, bed & breakfasts and lodges. All rooms have hot water and private facilities, with the possible exception of one of the smaller places, where you might, but not always, have to share a bathroom with other members of the tour.
Meals are a mixture of local and international cuisine: special diets can be catered for.
Transport will be in small minibus/people carrier: we may be in two vehicles, depending on group size.
The group flights are with British Airways. Flight times for 2020 aren’t yet available, but are likely to be similar to 2019 times as follows:
24 August depart London 21.40, arrive Cape Town 10.10 (25)
5 September depart Cape Town 19.30, arrive London 06.30 (6)
South Africa is one hour ahead of UK time in August.
You might want to consider flying out a day or two early, to have a more relaxed start to the trip. It is also possible to fly from Manchester, connecting in London: please talk to us about the options.
UK passport holders must have a valid passport, valid for at least 30 days after the end of the holiday with at least two blank pages. For visits of up to 90 days, you don’t need a visa. For holders of non-UK passports it is essential that you check with the South African embassy or consulate and obtain the necessary documents prior to travel.
This is early spring in South Africa, with average daily temperatures around 10°-20° C. It can feel chilly, especially at night and on the coast, where it may also be windy and we might expect some rain. On the other hand, on some days it will likely get to 25° or a little higher during the hottest part of the day.
No strenuous walking is involved but you need to have a reasonable level of general fitness to be able to participate in the holiday. The tour visits several locations and we will be moving on every two or three days, which can be tiring if you are not used to it. However, the trip is designed to be relatively comfortable so please discuss any concerns with us.
You should consult your GP for travel health advice at least eight weeks before travelling. We do not visit any areas where there is risk of Malaria, but the ‘standard’ travel vaccinations to consider are tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies and cholera.