Spring is coming! Head along Cape Town’s West Coast for a Wildflower experience second to none, but do be warned, there is lots to learn. Above all, if you want to see the flowers, you are going to have to be prepared to go slow. And I do not mean a drive-by sighting, I mean walking through the reserves while keeping a lookout for animals. If you require wheelchair access, I can suggest the Wildflower Festival.
Whether you are on two wheels, or touring the Winelands along Cape Town’s coastline, the wildflowers will be there to greet you. I share my favourite wildflowers and reserves with you below.
West Coast Wildflower Festival
When the wildflowers open to greet the rising sun on the West Coast of Cape Town, it transforms the platteland into a plant lover’s paradise. Similar to Table Mountain, you’ll find endemic flowers which are not found in any other environments! Buying a ticket ensures access to the Darling Museum, where a specimen table, market, and various attractions including music, all contribute to conservation.
The Darling Wildflower Society is hosting the Wildflower show from the 15th to the 17th of September 2023. It’s a foolproof option to see a wide variety of specimens with the bonus of name tags below the plants. The displays are creative and help you to identify who is who before you go trudging around the various reserves in the area.
The small town of Darling truly comes alive during the festival, with cars often lining the wide streets. Luckily, the town is just one of the venues on a wildflower route along which you can experience the flowers in abundance. If you are traveling from Cape Town, you can plan a round route to see the reserves and the festival, with a scenic stop for a picnic or lunch at a wine estate.
Wildflower Reserves on the West Coast
Thanks to the work and generosity of individuals and families, a selection of farmlands is protected for the public to visit where the wildflowers naturally grow. The often-barren looking renosterveld, vlieland, sandveld, and strandveld areas come into bloom with a variety of colours through the end of winter and into spring. Below are three reserves which you could visit in one day.
Darling Renosterveld Reserve
Location: Kalkoentjie Street, Darling (Parking opposite the Darling Primary School)
This reserve is located at the top of the town of Darling and offers the public a chance to see a variety of Darling’s most treasured flowers. The location atop a hill provides plenty of sunlight and the residential area makes parking safe and easy. I enjoyed taking my time at this reserve and painted the Blou Pypie and Suurtjies while sitting in the sun on a cold July afternoon.
A vulnerable endemic species you can see here in September is the Bleek Kalossie (Ixia Lutea). Its natural habitat in areas of renosterveld and fynbos are continuously under threat of development. Another great reason to visit and support the protected reserves we have listed here. The Blue Cap (Sparaxis villosa) and Shaggy Froetang (Romulea-hirsuta) were standouts during my visit in August.
SANBI Tinie Versfeld Nature Reserve
Location: Along the R315 road to Darling
Tinie Versfeld Reserve is a circular walk with the best chance of seeing the Geel Kelkiewyn (Geissorhiza Darlingensis). Bring gumboots if you are interested in doing the full circular walk which passes along the dam and handmade pump house. Unfortunately, the details on the board at the entrance have long disappeared from the sun damage, just stick to the paths and you’ll be fine.
This reserve is free to visit and is open to the public thanks to the smart participation of a private landowner with the National Botanical Society of South Africa. Should you find any plant you are curious to identify, the SANBI website is my recommended go to!
West Coast National Park
Location: Off the R27 (West Coast Road)
When visiting the West Coast National Park for the flowers your best choice is to stay the evening in one of the Churchhaven cottages, or the memorable houseboats. You’ll pay for two days in the park, but you’ll gain the precious evening hours. Day visitors need to be prepared to reach the gates before they close at 18:00 in August and 19:00 in September.
Photo by Callum Evans
So I can suggest starting early to enter between 7am and 8am, allowing yourself plenty of time to reach Tsaarsbank, or the Postberg section of the park. This ‘wild’ side of the reserve gives you an opportunity to see some of the larger mammals such as the eland, kudu, bontebok and ostriches. On a windless day you can make the most of the braai facilities found along the coast. Other attractions are the bird hides and reptiles, giving you more reasons to take your time within the park.
The beauty of this area is unmatched in the West Coast, with limited access helping to preserve the fields of colour which arrive in Spring. This protected area within the West Coast National Park is only opened for flower season between August and September each year. A 1-day or even 2-day hike across the Postberg section is recommended as the best experience of the wildflowers in pristine nature.
Photo by Tanya Paquet
Popular Wildflowers by Month
You and I simply cannot dictate when the wildflowers will bloom. Nature has a magical way of waving its wand (more likely rain) over areas that a few days later break into jaw-dropping landscapes of colour. What we can do is loosely paint a picture of when you will see each species flowering.
August is the beginning of the flower season and often coincides with the arrival of a kaleidoscope of colours. Take a closer look and you will even note variations in the markings and colours of a single species. In September, keep an eye out for Froetang’s, specifically the Darling Froetang (Romulea Exima) found at all of the reserves.
October is a good time to see the Darling Kalkoentjie (Gladiolus Meliusculus) standing proudly in all the Darling reserves. In November, Cineraria (Senecio Elegans) opens along the coastal areas in colours ranging from dark mauve to bright pink. December brings the opportunity to see the fascinating bulbous plant Kukumakranka (Gethyllis Afra) blooming with tulip-like white and yellow petals.
January’s offerings include the flowering of the succulent, Plakkie (Cotyledon Orbiculata), commonly found in residential areas and in the coastal veld. February is a beautiful time to explore the West Coast National Park, with yellow flowers from the Strandgombos (Pteronia Uncinata) complimenting the warm weather. March is typically when the Poeierkwassie (Haemanthus pubescens) flowers in the coastal sandy areas.
In April, the Groot Klossie Heide (Erica Mammosa) is one of the species you can look forward to seeing flowering amongst the fynbos in sandy areas. In May, we admire the yellow flowers of the Katstert (Bulbine Cepaceae) while taking great care to avoid treading on the flowering Platdoring (Arctopus echinatus) in the Darling Renosterveld Reserve.
June and July can be unpleasantly cold but there are still flowers which open on the select days when the sun shines. The endemic Ploegtydblommetjie (Empodium plicatum) and Blue Pypie (Gladiolus gracilis) give dashes of colour during this time. In July, the Skilpadbos (Muraltia macropetala) brings bundles of pink.
Free Wildflower Activity Worksheet
I love channeling my creativity through projects, and this one was born in my mother’s Darling kitchen. “Why don’t we create embroidery kits, with your drawings of wildflowers?”. Alas, I have taken the initiative through a first draft, and to encourage you to get creative I am offering the design to you. Download the free worksheet, print it out, and colour it in. Or, use it as a template for embroidery.
How To Get There
Leave early in the morning to travel to the West Coast National Park, driving slowly from the gate to the Postberg section. Picnic along the coastline or take a dip in the lagoon before heading to the R315 for a visit to the SANBI Tinie Versfeld Reserve. The circular walk will only take you 20 minutes but allow time for photographs.
Continuing to Darling Renosterveld Reserve you can do the 20 minute walk before or after a well-deserved lunch in town. Making sure not to speed, head from Darling to Malmesbury to travel back to Cape Town along the N7 freeway.
Wild Flowers everywhere!
While we have focused on three areas, you can be certain that there will be wildflowers everywhere along Cape Town’s West coast. The feeling we experience during our local adventures is motivation enough to set out and let nature surprise you. With your first visit under your belt, you can return knowing that other species will no doubt appear.
And remember, what makes these natural spaces so special is the tranquility and purity. So, respect your fellow flower admirers by keeping quiet and do pick up any litter you may come across.