Monday, October 5, 2015

Turn north for flowers

Bound for Namaqualand's spring flowers, we left green Cape Town at 8am on a Thursday morning, and found the first part of the N7, where it is still four lanes wide, and hugging the city's outer, northern limits.

Soon we were passing the acid fields of the spring canola crop, and the endless green undulations of the Swartland's winter wheat. Parched white in summer, the land after rain is fat.

Mogashagasha, the Landcruiser that has made our overland trips so trouble-free, purred northwards, and we reaquainted ourselves with the manners of the South African open road: driving on the shoulder to allow faster traffic to pass, flashing the emergency lights twice to say thank you if a vehicle has done this for you, and flashing your brights to say you are welcome to a car that has said thank you.

At Citrusdal we met an obstruction: many kilometers of Stop-Go - what happens when there is roadwork; one direction of traffic Stops, waiting for the opposite stream to Go. In the wide and long valley, home to thousands of citrus trees, the N7 has narrowed to two ill-kept lanes clogged with traffic, and additional lanes are being added to this agricultural hub, without closing the highway to ceaseless traffic north and south. 

I suspect that a lot of fynbos bit the dust in the process. But it was impossible not to admire the scale and military precision of the transformation, or to be inspired by the employment that the work of improving infrastructure created. 

And then we were free, leaving behind the trucks (South African for tractor-trailers) at Clanwilliam, and the end of the valley, where we refuelled. I asked around hopefully for roosterkoek, remembering the hot breadrolls I had seen being baked over a fire beside the road in town years ago, on a flower trip with my mom, but "only at the weekend," said the petrol attendant.

The Knersvlakte rolled out ahead of us and from horizon to horizon. It is hard to imagine the botanical diversity here, but just a few months ago a Spanish couple was arrested for poaching rare plants from these unforgiving flats where succulents have evolved to look like the stones that surround them.

We stopped for a picture of the Gifberg, and I crunched around in the dry gravel beside the N7.

A gladiolus was growing at my feet.

And we drove. Five hours after leaving Cape Town we began to see the famous daisies of Namaqualand.

We turned off the N7 at Kamieskroon and hung a sharp left west towards the distant and invisible Atlantic Ocean.

The Landcruiser hummed as she tasted her first dust. Fields of nitrogen-fixing lupine crops flanked the dry road. At a tiny wooden hut we were signed into SANParks by a friendly ranger. We paid our conservation fees and headed towards our home for the next two nights.

Flowers along the way made us stop, many times.

At the end of the first week of September, and after poor winter rains, we knew that we were at the tail end of the daisy season - you can see that they are quite small. above, and that the land is very dry.

I was worried that Vince, who had never been here, would be disappointed. Instead, he seemed thrilled. And for me, tuned to the floral details, it was a treasure trove.

Gazanias are well known the horticultural world by now, but to see them studding the veld at random in their native habitat, is magical.

Near Skilpad, where we were staying, the orange fields were endless. 

We drove slowly up to our ready-made camp, and parked. The car was a little bigger than our tent.

But this was our view:

Tune in soon for the next installment.

And if you are curious about roosterkoek and what we found to eat on the way, read my story on Culinary Backstreets - Boerekos in the Blommetjies. It was quite an adventure.


  1. These posts make me breathe deeply.And smile.

  2. I've been waiting for this post ever since you said that you were heading north from Cape Town. Work took me to the same area (not a bad job to have) and every time I saw a car stopped at the side of the road I kept expecting to see you and Vince taking photos of the flowers. Thank you for the beautiful post and also for mentioning membership of the SA Botanical Society in another post. My mother was thrilled with her birthday gift.

  3. Yay! Apparently one of those little Gazanias is a special - endemic to N'land. I forget the name.. bad botanist.

  4. Thank you for sharing these spectacular scenes with us. Gorgeous pictures.


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