THE BIRTH OF A PARK
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) bought a part of a farm called Skilpad in 1988. About 10 years later, SANParks took over the management of this wildflower reserve and acquired more farms in the area. In 2008, a section of coastline between the mouths of the Spoeg River and Groen River, previously a De Beers mining area, was incorporated into the park. SANParks is adding more land to the park on a continual basis – it’s currently 1400km² in size.
I zip open my tent and a light sea breeze puffs its salty breath inside. The waves pound the rocks metres away, the sound fading into static, like a radio looking for signal.
I get out of the tent, and then I see it: a clear, blue sky. Nothing. Not a whisp of cloud. “Sam!” I yell. “The sun’s out, we’ll see flowers today!”
It’s our third morning of four in Namaqua National Park, and until now the sky has been low and overcast – not great for seeing wildflowers. You never complain about rain in this arid part of the country, but this morning I’m ecstatic about its absence.
We set off and drive north along the coast to the mouth of the Spoeg River. The dark blue sea is on our left for kilometres on end. Closer inshore, foamy waves and dark rocks.
At the river mouth, we turn right and drive into the northern section of the park at the Hondeklip Bay gate, following the Caracal Eco Route. A jeep track leads over the succulent Karoo plains in shades of green and brown, until we reach the deserted Riethuis farmstead. We pull over to look at the wheel of an old horse mill in the shed, then drive on.
From Riethuis, we climb to the plateau via Wildeperdehoek Pass (no wild horses, but there were once mountain zebra here). Behind us, shafts of sunlight fall on the plains of Namaqualand.
Do you see those spots down there? They’re known as heuweltjies and are made up of old termite nests that have changed the composition of the soil over time. Different plant species grow in these spots, compared to what you find in the surrounding veld. In spring, the heuweltjies are often bright yellow when sorrel is in bloom.
After this pass we turn right and travel past the ruins of Kookfontein and Koeroebees – old farmsteads predating the park. Along the way we see a handful of gemsbok, a curious meerkat family, and pale chanting goshawks in the sky.
We encounter other vehicles for the first time at Skilpad. Orange Namaqua daisies cover the shrubland like lava. People are walking among the flowers with their plant guides in hand; long lenses point out of open windows. It’s definitely a spectacle!
But it’s also busy and overwhelming. I’m longing for the sound of the ocean again, the simplicity of our days at Skuinsbaai Noord campsite, and the dirt roads that looked like they might take you to the end of the earth…
Namaqua National Park is known around the world for its annual wildflower bloom. And it is truly beautiful, but the park also offers so much more. It’s a place where you can get lost, with a stretch of coastline so wild you’re more likely to see a castaway than a tourist. Bring your wildflower guide and camera, but also your fishing rod, mountain bike, hiking boots, bird guide and binos. Once your flower fever has died down, the rest of the park awaits.
7 THINGSTO DO
1 Visit these wildflower spots
The most popular part of the park to see flowers is around Skilpad, where the fields of orange daisies are fit for any Namaqualand brochure. The area used to be agricultural land, but the flowers have taken over and the landscape pulls on a bright orange coat every year.
From Skilpad, you can drive the Caracal Eco Route west down the Kamiesberg. The fields of daisies will now be in your rear-view mirror. Around Koeroebees and Soebatsfontein, you can look for wildflowers like blue sporrie, bright pink t’neitjies and yellow satin flowers, all growing among other shrubs. There are also quiver trees on the koppies.
The flowers on the coast look completely different: a variety of vygies and succulents grow low on the ground. Look for the yellow and white knopiesbos, the purple douvygie and the red bells of the cancer bush. Bring a macro lens because you’ll want to take close-up photos. What time should I get up? You can have a lie-in! The best time to see the flowers is between 10am and 3pm, when the sun is at its brightest. Remember to drive away from the sun so the flowers face you. Explore in a western direction in the mornings and an eastern direction in the afternoons.
2 Take a hike
The Skilpad Trail (5 km) is a loop that starts at the Skilpad office. During flower season, this trail is the best way to experience the flowers. You roughly follow the same route that vehicles drive, but on foot so you can get a closer look and take photos.
The Korhaan Trail (3km) also starts at the Skilpad office. This loop runs through the veld to the southeast and takes you to patches of fynbos with a bigger variety of wildflowers.
Follow the Heaviside Trail (6km) north from the Abjoel viewpoint if you want to explore the southern section of the park on foot. You’ll walk over a dune and some rocks to a long beach, where you might see Heaviside’s dolphins and humpback whales. It’s a one-way trail, so you’ll have to arrange for someone to pick you up at the end point – a boardwalk down to the beach – or you can turn around and walk back to your vehicle (12km in total).
3 Drive these routes
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