Sanibonani, Kunjani ? That’s how we say it in Swati !
Welcome to the West Coast National Park, located 75 miles North of Cape Town. It covers 106 square miles between the Atlantic Ocean and the R27 from the town of Yzerfontein in the South and up to the azure blue Langebaan lagoon, one of the largest wetlands in South Africa. The Park is renowned for hosting millions of birds, big and small, and is also well-known for its wildflowers. Although concealed behind a black mask (but where is “Tornado” ?), we recognize a Kittlitz’s Plover looking for some beetles, flies and other insects in the sandy soil for his lunch. The plover performs “foot-trembling” behavior, an original foraging technique to expose prey. The technique consists of holding one of the legs forward at a 45° angle and then vibrating the foot and tarsus rapidly so that the victim comes out of the sandy soil (ok, I admit it, you have to be flexible !) Nearby, perched on a branch, sits a Malachite Sunbird. It is easily recognizable by its iridescent blue plumage and its long, black, thin downward-curving bill about 1.5 inches long. The lagoon attracts numerous migratory birds, taking advantage of the water to rest and to find abundant food. Seagulls, flamingos, cormorants, egrets… are common.
Another major attraction of the West Coast National Park, the Postberg Nature Reserve, is located in the north of the peninsula. The Postberg is open to the public only during the two spring months of August and September. The highlight of the Postberg conservation area, besides being a resting stop for thousands of migrating birds, is undoubtedly the impressive and exceptional carpet of annual Spring wildflowers, conferring on the Reserve a unique multicolored landscape several square miles in size. The flower season is a delight for professional and amateur photographers. As Lolo sings, “je m’souviens, on avait des chansons, des paroles / comme des pétales et des corolles…” translated as “I remember, we had songs, lyrics / like petals and corollas…” lyrics by the French singer Laurent Voulzy (Le pouvoir des fleurs). The Nature Reserve is rich in fauna. Visitors can glimpse bonteboks, Oryx, zebras and other species of antelopes. A landscape unique in the world with the ocean on one side and rock formations on the other.
But it is time to leave the Atlantic Ocean and rush inland to the Cederberg Wilderness Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. The Cederberg region, about 300 miles North of Cape Town, is barely on the tourist map of South Africa because, for many visitors, South Africa is limited to two points of interest: animal reserves and Cape Town. The richness of the Cederberg is readily accessible from Cape Town for those who are not put off by a few hours in a four-wheel drive vehicle on partly unpaved roads. The Cederberg is dominated by rugged mountains, extraordinary rock formations, and oxide-stained red sandstone cliffs providing an intense orange-reddish color at sunset. The atmosphere is serene as the light falls slowly…
The Cederberg Wilderness Reserve is a true paradise for hikers and rock-climbing enthusiasts. Valleys and peaks follow one another from North to South over a hundred miles. The spectacular sandstone formations weathered by mother nature take strange and fascinating shapes, notably on the side of The Stadsaal, a series of interconnected caves featuring the San people’s astonishing rock art. What a beautiful setting for a movie ! One almost expects to relive the scene starring Rachel Welch in the 1966 British film “A million years before J.C“… And a little away from these strange forms, could it be Elephant Rock ? A must-see for any visitor to the Cederberg. Besides the spectacular landscape and rock formations, the Cederberg Wilderness Reserve offers a vibrant, multihued floral display of many different species. You can pick any color you like from the orange of the Gladiolus equitans to the eye-catching violet of the Sparaxis metelerkampiae and the bright pink of Jordaaniella spongiosa ? Another highlight is the Red Bush or Rooibos also known under its scientific name Aspalathus linearis. The plant grows wild in this region and is cultivated nowhere else in the world… The shrub of the acacia family is endemic and fiercely attached to the area. The United States, Australia, and China tried to cultivate the Red Bush, but their attempts have been futile. Many recipes use this red herb. Its thin red-brown leaves produce an herbal tea with medicinal virtues. This “red tea” was less expensive than the “black tea” brought from the East by ship… It offered residents an unofficial “national” drink competing with fashionable Londonian tea. Among the fauna, the leopard is the largest predator of the reserve, but only the lucky few may catch a glimpse of him, except on a sign…
Our last floral glimpse before heading even further north to Augrabies: Namaqualand (Namakwaland in Afrikaans). Namaqualand is an arid region on the West coast of South Africa stretching over 600 miles along the coast between the Northern edge of the province of Cape Town and the Karas region of Namibia further to the North. Namaqualand covers an area of 170,000 square miles. This region displays one of the most arid landscapes in South-West Africa, but this land of desiccated plains and desolate mountains undergoes a metamorphosis once a year: larva turn into butterflies ! In the early Springtime, from August to September, the arid plain becomes covered with a carpet of multicolored wildflowers (Orange is the New Black ?). This metamorphosis is known as Namaqualand daisy season. The entire monochrome surface of the desert changes as the Spring flowers bloom on the previously barren landscape. A phenomenon that can be explained by the survival of plants that managed to resist the blazing summers when fifty million years ago (not so young !) this previously humid coast became a desert due to climate change.
The true descendant of the unicorns, but with two long, V-shaped, corrugated horns averaging 85 inches in length, the Oryx Gazella or Gemsbok appears in this magical environment. A large antelope of the Oryx genus, it is sometimes referred to as an antelope even though not scientifically classified as such. Its main predators are lions and leopards… even so, even lions, if they are lovers of their flesh, approach the gemsboks with caution because their horns are fierce !