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.
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21 August – 3 September 2023


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Not included

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Group size

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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!

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, and we will be exploring in spring, the peak time for flowering.

Although the plants are the chief attraction, we will also enjoy the rich wildlife of the area: African Penguins and Southern Right Whales along the coast; iridescent sunbirds and the endemic Cape Sugarbird in the fynbos; stately Blue Cranes and the stunning Black Harrier out on the plains; endearing hyraxes bounding about the rocks of Cape Point; and ‘big game’ including Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, Springbok, Eland and Rhebok are all likely to be amongst the trip’s highlights.

We are very pleased to be joined on this botanic tour by our great friend Claudio Vidal, well known to our travellers from our visits to Chile, along with expert local guides.

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.

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.

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Day 1 Overnight flights take us from London to Cape Town, arriving the following morning.

Day 2 We start with a visit to one of the most famous Botanic Gardens in the world, set in one of the most stunning of landscapes: Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, where we will have time to explore the wide collection of plants from across the country. This is 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 will start to become familiar with some of the major groups that will be keeping us company over the trip. In the open areas of the reserve we will look for Bontebok and Cape Mountain Zebra, Eland and Chacma Baboons, as well as visiting the Point itself. After lunch we head towards the Cape Flats, which was once covered by the species-rich Cape Flats Sand Fynbos vegetation. Less than 1% of this habitat remains, and the surviving fragments are now the last retreat for a variety of critically endangered species. We will visit Rondevlei nature reserve, where we will learn about the conservation work going on to ensure their survival, and meet Erica verticillata and Serruria foeniculacea, which are both now endemic to this one site.

Day 4 We leave the big city behind and make our way up the west coast. In the Darling Hills, we will visit the Tinie Versveld Wild Flower Reserve with its profusion of bulbs. We stop on the coast for lunch, exploring the ‘strandveld’ where we will search for the bizarre Freesia viridis and keep our eyes peeled for Haviside’s Dolphin playing just beyond the surf.

Day 5 Today we explore the flashy displays of daisies on the coastal sands and the endemic-rich granites of the West Coast National Park. After the winter rains, enormous patches of daisies, such as Arctotis hirsuta, Gazania krebsiana and Dimorphotheca pluvialis paint the hillsides white and orange. Amongst the granitic rocks we will find more wonderful bulbs, with Lachenalias, Trachyandras, Moraeas and Spiloxenes all likely to be in flower. 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 out to the north, 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 the sites that are at their best. As we potter from place to place, the diversity at our feet is amazing. 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 open late in the day in preparation for nocturnal pollinators. 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. Whilst botanising, we will also keep our eyes open for the impressive Ludwig’s Bustard feeding in the fields.

Day 8 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 into the Koue Bokkerveld mountains, and then drop down into the fertile valley where we will spend the night.

Day 9 From Ceres we cross the Langeberg at the scenic Tradouw Pass and drop down onto the coastal plains, where Blue Cranes and Denham’s Bustards forage in the fields.

Day 10 We explore the wonderful De Hoop Nature Reserve today. The Potberg mountain, within the reserve, 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 we can expect to get good views of mothers with their new calves. 

Day 11 From De Hoop 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 to visit the African Penguin colony at Stony Point, also 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, just on the edge of Hermanus for more wonderful wild flowers. After lunch on the sea front, 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.

Group flights

Group flights are with British Airways, from London Heathrow to Cape Town

You might want to consider flying out a day or two early, to have a more relaxed start to the trip, or to spend more time in Cape Town.

It is also possible to fly from Manchester, connecting in London: please talk to us about the options.

Overland travel

There are cruise and freight links between the UK and South Africa. Contact us to find out more, and to make your holiday flight-free.

Time zone

South Africa is one hour ahead of UK time.

Entry requirements

If you hold a British passport, you can travel to South Africa for up to 90 days per year without a visa. Your passport must be valid for at least 30 days after the end of the holiday, with at least two blank pages.

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°C 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.