Vast fields of flowers in the Postberg Reserve in the West Coast National Park

The end of winter and the start of spring marks one of my favourite times of the year: it is flower season in the Western Cape, the Namaqualand and the Northern Cape. Mother Earth responds to good winter rains by carpeting vast areas of the countryside in bright, cheerful colours.

Like this:

Wouldn't you love to live here?

The West Coast National Park

In August and September every year, the otherwise restricted Postberg Flower Reserve inside the West Coast National Park on the shores of the Langebaan Lagoon is opened up to the public.

Our friends (L, V and little N) with whom we’ve done some lovely hikes lately (Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch, Newlands Forest to Kirstenbosch, Silvermine River Walk and Jonkershoek Nature Reserve), were also very keen to see the flowers, so when Sunday morning dawned clear and blue (after days of unpredictable weather), we quickly decided to drop everything and head north.

The quickest way to the Park from Cape Town is to follow the coastal route: take the R27 northwards, past Table View, Melkbosstrand and Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (yes, South Africa’s one and only – thank goodness! – nuclear power station), and past the holiday resort of Grotto Bay and the fishing village of Yzerfontein.

Alternatively, you can follow the inland route: take the N7 northwards, past the turn-off to Philadelphia, turn left at Malmesbury, and head down to the coast via the delightful town of Darling, which is the route we took to reach the southern entrance to the West Coast National Park (the northern entrance is just outside the small town of Langebaan).

We showed our Wild Cards at the gate, and were pleased that these entitled us to free access to the park. In the flower season, entrance is R40 per person per day; outside flower season, I think it is R30 per person per day (you can find the tariffs here).

Can you see something unusual in this picture of the entrance to the park?

The southern entrance to the West Coast National Park

What was it?

If you can’t see it, have another look.

The answer will be revealed at the end of this post. (Go ahead and peek, if you can’t bear the tension!)

The park covers a fairly large area, surrounding the Langebaan Lagoon (you can download the official map here: Map of the WCNP)

We drove roughly northwards from the gate, until the road divides just south of the lagoon: The right branch goes past the Geelbek Visitors’ Centre and Restaurant (where you will also find bird hides right on the edge of the water) and up to the Langebaan Gate. The left branch takes you along the spit of land that separates the placid turquoise waters of the lagoon from the churning breakers of the Atlantic ocean.Β  The northernmost section of this is the Postberg Reserve – with the area beyond it operated by the South African National Defence Force and thus out of bounds.

As entrance to the Postberg section is apparently limited to a certain number of visitors per day, we drove straight there.

Unfortunately, you are only allowed to leave your vehicle at the designated picnic sites and viewing points. As disappointing as this was, it is understandable: the park authorities don’t want hordes of people trampling over these vast fields of flowers. But for a photographer, this was reallllllly hard!

Orange and blue-and-yellow daisy blossoms by the roadside

A tip: When you want to take a photograph from your vehicle, turn off the engine; otherwise, the vibration of the engine will cause a slight blurring, which is worsened if there is a brisk breeze (which there was during our visit).

Another tip: Make sure you not only have a wide angle lens to capture these amazing vistas, with fields of colourful flowers reaching to the horizon, but take along a telephoto lens too, if you have one, so that you can zoom in on any of the animals (look out for ostrich, bontebok, eland, zebra, wildebeest and Cape grysbok, in addition to whales and dolphins), who are bound to be well camouflaged quite some distance away from the few roads that are open to vehicles.

These eland are very relaxed and seem to be resting in the midday warmth

You can also use the telephoto lens to get close-up shots of the flowers, though you won’t be able to play with the angles much if you are limited to taking photos through the car windows or the open door!

Each flower embraces and holds a beam of sunlight

I admit, being so confined was rather frustrating for me.

Another reason for driving fairly slowly in the park – apart from the fact that it gives you time to scan the surrounding shrubs and plains for well-camouflaged wildlife – is that you occasionally come across a tortoise. When you do, it is best to stop and to give it a chance to cross the road safely (in case it changes its mind and turns back…) – and to warn oncoming traffic or vehicles behind you, who might not have seen the little fella. We met one that had only three legs, but despite this impairment, it fairly motored across our path.

Drive slowly on these gravel roads - tortoises have the right of way here

And occasionally, you may encounter something ominous slithering across the gravel…

Ohhh! A large puffadder slithers across the road! A good reason to stay inside the car!

There are a couple of hiking trails in the Reserve – shorter day ones, as well as two-day trails.

When you do go hiking, it is advisable to wear long sleeves (protection against insects, including ticks, which like to nest in the fynbos), as well as long pants and proper ankle-covering hiking boots – and to watch your step! Puffadders and Cape Cobras are common in this area, and you definitely do not want to step on one. Puffies like to lie all curled up in a sunny spot (such as in the middle of a narrow path through the fynbos and the strandveld), minding their own business (or lying in wait for unsuspecting hikers…?). Because they are so extremely well camouflaged, you may not see them until you are very close. A good reason not to go hiking on your own, I think!

Picnic at Postberg

There are a couple of viewing sites and picnic spots where you are allowed to climb out of the car. We made our way to a large rocky outcrop, from where we had a lovely view of the Langebaan lagoon towards the east. A cluster of flat rocks made the perfect picnic spot, and it was also fairly sheltered from the wind. And Little N had her first experience of the wonders of the Cape Wildflower Season!

View roughly eastwards across the calm turquoise waters of the lagoon towards Langebaan - the island is apparently Schaap Island

The island you can see on the left is Schaapen Island, a bird sanctuary that hosts the largest colony of Kelp birds. It is also a Ramsar site (named after the Ramsar Convention):

“The Ramsar Convention (The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat) is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands,[1] i.e., to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognising the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value. It is named after the town of Ramsar in Iran.” (Wikipedia)

Inbetween munching fresh bread rolls with generous helpings of a truly superlative salad and sipping cups of hot tea, I scampered around our picnic site, getting up close and personal to an array of pretty flowers. I’ve included a selection for you in the slideshow.

It is such a special experience to see all these lovely flowers close-up

Eventually, the time came to pack up our goodies and head back to the car for the return trip. Coming down from the rocky outcrop, we saw vast open areas, carpeted with flowers. Here and there, we could even see herds of zebra and bontebok and a couple of ostriches. You really need good eyesight for these, though – or binoculars and a good telephoto lens!

Those white patches are neither beach sand nor snow - it's masses of flowers!

We stopped briefly at Tsaarsbank (I think), where the Atlantic Ocean breakers were fairly pounding the rocky shore, sending an impressive spray high into the sky!

The Atlantic ocean was impressively choppy and wild

Can you see the two youngsters on the rocks? Like kids across the world, they were really keen to get as close as possible to the Wild Ocean – mind you, from this angle, it looks more dangerous than it really was. Although they might’ve gotten a bit damp with the spray, it’s highly unlikely the waves could’ve swept them off the rocks.

Geelbek Visitors’ Centre

By now, with all this slow driving and stopping by the roadside to peer into the distance, we were starting to feel a little peckish again. An excellent reason to visit the Geelbek Visitors’ Centre and Restaurant! So that is what we did.

The main building at Geelbek with its white-washed walls and thatch roof - Hubby does the royal wave, while V pushes the pram with Little N

In not-so-nice weather, you can shelter inside the beautiful whitewashed building with the thatched roof; and when the sun is out, there are plenty of tables and chairs outside, either on the front lawns, or out the back, in the shade of some massive trees. The trees have been adopted by a twittering and tweeting and chirruping colony of weaver birds.

How do they manage to hang upside down while weaving their nests?

There was a splish-splashing water feature under the trees, where the birds cooled themselves off after all this hard work. They are so entertaining to watch!

Water droplets fly everywhere

If you are into birdwatching, and have a fair bit of time, you can also amble down to two bird hides, which are right on the lagoon. I’d think, bring a thermos of tea, a picnic, some cushions and get comfortable with a tripod and a powerful zoom lens. πŸ˜‰

And if you have kids, there is a delightful playground at the back, with all kinds of obstacles on which the youngsters can test their balance and their agility (adult supervision is advisable, though). They are bound to have a great time, working off all the sugar from the scrumptious deserts!

We ordered an apple crumble with cream, and an unbaked cheesecake, both to share (have to watch those calories, you know… ;-)).

They were excellent, and I can definitely recommend this place.

A glass of hot chocolate with a warm apple crumble - just the thing to round off a wonderful day in the West Coast National Park

An inspirational story

When we arrived at Geelbek, parked outside the centre was an interesting contraption that looked like an aluminium pushcart with four wheels, and dayglo-yellow flags mounted at each corner.

An intriguing cart - with an incredibly inspirational story

Curious, we investigated it more closely.

The description on the front of the cart was ‘Ten Million Steps for Cancer’, with a link to a website: http://www.tenmillionstepsforcancer.org.za/.

When I got home, I looked it up. The website tells the story of Joppie whose daughter MarlenΓ© died of a particularly aggressive form of bone cancer in July 2009:

“5 100 kilometres, 113 towns, approximately one year and Ten Million Steps for Cancer! A man, his love for his late daughter and those who are suffering from cancer, a customised hospital bed and about ten million steps.

This is the story of 50 year old Joppie Fourie from Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo, South Africa for 2011 and 2012. On Saturday 6 August 2011 Ten Million Steps for Cancer will start in honour of Joppie and his ex-wife’s daughter MarlenΓ© Fourie. 17 year old MarlenΓ© was born on 9 August 1991 and passed away on 5 July 2009 after suffering from a very aggressive and extremely painful type of bone cancer.”

On the top of the cart was mounted a map of South Africa, with a route marked out in green pen, with several dates printed onto it. This is what it looked like:

This is Joppie's route around South Africa

On 6 August 2011, this courageous man left Oudtshoorn on a year-long walk around our country; he hopes to have made it back home by 30 June 2012. During his walk, he will be raising funds for cancer support and research services, visiting oncology units, hospitals, mayors, cancer patients and cancer interim houses in a whole range of towns around the country, presenting motivational talks, and visiting community and national radio stations in various towns on his way.

Isn’t that amazing?

From the bottom of my heart, I wish him well. I hope he will have the strength, the courage, the energy, and all the support he needs to finish his walk on time. You can follow his blog here. I look forward to hearing more about this inspiring story!

——————-

* Now to solve the mystery: In the first picture, right at the top, showing the entrance to the park, the unusual element was the green stop sign. It’s rather counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Normally, after all, one associates Red with STOP! And Green with GO! Well, apparently not in the West Coast National Park. πŸ™‚

And now, sit back, and enjoy the slideshow!

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35 thoughts on “Vast fields of flowers in the Postberg Reserve in the West Coast National Park

  1. Wow, this is quite a post! Lovely photos – even when you couldn’t get out of the car.

    Love the weaver bird photo – the one on the nest. I recently tried to capture weavers near us, and they just wouldn’t sit still!

    I really like how your outings always include a nice piece of cake and coffee! πŸ˜‰

    • Thank you kindly, Lisa. I am beaming.

      Those weaver birds are really fast-moving, and with the light/shade of the tree, most of the shots came out rather blurry. But they are pretty birds, aren’t they?

      As to the cake and coffee – great minds think alike! I am delighted to report that our friends also share our love of good picnics – it really eases the pre-trip and pre-hike worry of “Oh dear, are we going to have only water and dry crackers for our picnic? Maybe I should pack some extra sandwiches and salads, or some chocolate, or apples and bananas, or an extra thermos of tea, you know, just in case…” Yes, I worry about such things. I’m a Cancerian: we’re like mother hens. We like to make sure that both we AND our friends have enough food and drink. Just in case. You never know. The restaurant could be closed. Or we could run out of petrol and have to walk to the nearest petrol station. Or … or … or … Best to be prepared! πŸ˜‰

  2. Wonderful pictures from this magnificent trip in great landscapes and among so many lovely flowers, birds and animals. I also like the amazing story about β€˜Ten Million Steps for Cancer’!

    • Thank you, Truels, glad you liked the pics.

      I love coming across such stories, just by keeping one’s eyes open – there are so many courageous people around who do extraordinary things to raise awareness of important issues. I admire that.

  3. Hi Reggie
    So many interesting elements in this posting. I guess both the Cape Cobra and the Puffadder are posionous? Sp?

    Curious – the larger mammals you mentioned such as the zebra, wildebeest and others – are all those animals protected or are some of them hunted for sport? I mean does hunting exist in your region or has it been out lawed long ago? In Oregon hunting is allowed for many species of animal but is allowed only at certain times of the year.

    Beautiful flowers- odd to think you are just coming into spring, and I am going into fall and , burr, winter…

    • Hello Sher, yes, both the Cape Cobra (Naja nivea) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Cobra) and the Puffadder (Bitis arietans) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitis_arietans) are poisonous.

      The Cape Cobra is likely to flee when it hears you coming, but if you surprise it or provoke it, it raises the front portion (the hood) and hisses before it strikes – and apparently it can leap quite high. I think there is also a spitting cobra version. Its powerful neurotoxin affects the respiratory system; unless anti-venom is applied, death normally occurs 2–5 hours after being bitten, basically because the venom paralyses you and you cannot breathe.

      The Puffadder tends to be a rather sluggish snake; if you encounter them unexpectedly, they will coil themselves tightly, and – if you are lucky – try to back away from you. However, if you provoke them or are too close, then can strike very quickly – both to the side and forwards – and a third of their body length in distance, or more. They have a very powerful bite, with their fangs able to penetrate leather. They won’t grip you for long, but will release you and get ready to strike again. Puffadders are responsible for more fatalities than any other African snake (according to the Wikipedia); this is because they are so widespread and so large in size, and because their powerful venom is produced in large amounts, and their habit of “basking by footpaths and sitting quietly when approached”. (gulp). Their venom is extremely cytotoxic, so it destroys tissue. If you want to know more (if you can stomach it!), have a look at the Wikipedia article.

      I think those larger mammals I mentioned are not really protected; however, the park is a nature reserve, and there are many such reserves, both privately owned and state run, throughout the country, where hunting is prohibited. There are reserves, though, where hunting for sport is allowed (that makes my stomach turn), and farmers are allowed to hunt animals on their farms for meat or to ‘cull’ excessively large populations.

      Unfortunately, we still offer what is called ‘canned lion hunting’ (!) for sport – quite frankly, I would only regard it as fair if it was one human being with a spear and a knife pitted against a lion!

      We also have a huge problem with poaching of rhino and elephants, both of which are slaughtered brutally and barbarically for their horns. Fellow blogger Riekie from Clouded Marbles recently wrote a heart-wrenching blog about rhino poaching here. She also linked to a report by Dr William Fowlds here. The horns are exported to the east, where they are revered for their aphrodisiac properties. Can you believe it? Human beings are seriously sick.

      On a lighter note, I am glad you are enjoying the flower pics. It is a wonderful time of year to explore this part of the country. πŸ™‚

  4. I envy you, heading into spring and summer while we sink into fall and winter. I look forward to your beautiful summer photos during our dark days! I also love seeing photos of your “wildlife” in their natural habitats, things we only see in zoos.

    • Hello Sally – I do hope you can come and visit our country during spring/summer sometime; it’s a great time to visit! πŸ™‚

      And we are soo lucky to still have ‘wildlife’ that is fairly accessible, even if you do have to drive a bit of a distance to see it in its natural habitat.

      Given the growth of cities and the spread of settlements, though, our natural habitat is being reduced more and more… and polluted more and more. Having multinational companies like Shell coming into our country to do fracking in the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Karoo, and causing long-term if not permanent devastation of our environment and resources, is appalling!

    • Glad you’re enjoying them, Alison! If you can take a drive out to Postberg nature reserve, or even Darling, which aren’t that far away from you, to see the flowers in person – I can highly recommend it. πŸ˜‰

  5. Reggie I thoroughly enjoyed the trip through your eyes because you describe everything so perfectly via words or photos. And your photos just took my breath away – I’ve never seen fields of flowers like that before.
    Also interested to see the wildlife!

    I’m with Lisa – I also enjoy how you share your tea and cake with us.

    • Hello Rosie – Aww, thank you! That is sweet of you.

      If you are ever in the Western Cape, I think we should have a picnic somewhere nice. πŸ˜€

      Personally, I’m hoping that, one day, I will be able to meet up with fellow South African bloggers, such as Lisa from Notes from Africa, Riekie from Clouded Marbles, and Helen from Walking the Cape. I think we all have so much in common – a love of nature, a love of photography, and a love of picnics! Can’t think of a better combination! πŸ˜‰

  6. Reggie- Thank you for taking the time to provide so much information on your native snakes, which are quite exotic to me. In our area we have the diamondback rattlesnake, and this is enough to keep me and my hunting dogs on their toes. I think your area would be a serious problem for Skookum and Ouzel, because of their tendency to switch back and forth as they cover ground–always on the run.

    Interesting on the hunting and the lion hunting. I had forgotten Africa is known for lion hunting. Not a fan of such sport hunting. Also the idea of poaching really bothers me. I’d also forgotten you have such magnificent animals as the rhino and elephant.

    Also interesting that some of your reserves are privately owned whereas most of ours are public.

    Thanks again and happy hiking.

    Thanks for posting the links to those three other Africa blogs; I signed up for one that interested me. Sher

    • You know, I haven’t heard of any dogs being bitten by Cobras or Puffadders here – I’m sure it’s not that it doesn’t ever happen, but it’s not widely reported, so perhaps it’s very rare?

      Yes, we are very lucky to have elephants and both white rhinos (also known as square-lipped rhinoceros or Ceratotherium simum, they are herbivores and generally fairly placid) and black rhinos (also known as hook-lipped rhinoceros or Diceros bicornis, they have a reputation for being very aggressive – perhaps because they are very short-sighted).

      When you encounter the two rhinos in the bush, you will notice that they are not really white or black, but both are kind of grey/pale-brown in colour. There is a theory that the name ‘White Rhino’ was a mistranslation of the Dutch word ‘wijd’, meaning ‘wide’ in English – which refers to the width of the white rhino’s mouth, not to their colour. So the other type of rhino was called the ‘black rhino’ to distinguish it. It’s likely that there is no foundation for this theory, so who knows?!

      We also have whales, especially humpback whales, and sharks, especially great whites. Whales are protected in our coastal waters, but, alas, they are still hunted “for research purposes” (!) by the Japanese fishing fleets (insert a whole plethora of choice expletives, which signal exactly what I think of that!). The small town of Hermanus and its neighbouring town of Gansbaai along the South Coast (about 1-2 hours east of Cape Town) are known as the best places in the world for land-based whale watching.

      You’ve probably heard of shark cage diving? It’s very popular among tourists – and local thrill-seekers too; boats go out into False Bay or along the southern coastline, throw fish parts and blood into the water (a practice known as ‘chumming’ that is used to lure the sharks towards the boats), and then lower a cage into the water, so that people can watch and photograph the sharks up close and personal without getting eaten!

      Chumming is a rather contentious practice, because there is speculation that it is increasingly associating humans with food, which could cause an increase in shark attacks. (Others, however, maintain that the sharks are far more intelligent and wary of such obvious ploys…). If you’re interested in reading more, have a look here and here. I definitely don’t blame the sharks – actually, it is a miracle that there aren’t MORE shark attacks, given the numbers of people swimming, surfing, paddling, etc. on our oceans.

      In KwaZulu Natal, on the beaches of Durban, for instance, there are so-called shark nets all along the coastline, to protect the beaches. Unfortunately, they have a devastating effect on the marine environment too, and kill lots of animals other than sharks (here and here).

      On a happier note, I’m delighted that you’ve subscribed to another Africa blog. πŸ™‚

    • Hello Pauline – you know, the wild flowers are not even that far away from Cape Town: Darling is only an hour’s drive away, isn’t it? I so wish you could see them in reality, because it is so much more beautiful close-up. Do you have family or friends who can go with you?

  7. I hear the flowers further north are the best they have been in years. Great to see Postberg looking lovely too. Spring is my favourite season by far.
    That puff adder is giving me the heebie-jeebies though!

    • We sometimes miss the flower season entirely, so it was wonderful to take a drive out to Postberg this year, and to spend some time getting to know the reserve, and admiring the flowers. My favourite seasons are spring and autumn, though it’s a close-run race between the two! πŸ™‚

      Ditto re the puffadder – wouldn’t want to step on him by accident!

  8. Reggie, that puffadder made the garter snake I saw crossing the road this week seem so tame!

    Your photos of the wildflowers are especially beautiful. Yes I would love to live in such a place πŸ™‚

    I love your new banner and background.

  9. What a touching story about the ten million steps project, I wish him good luck. Thank you for the link, I will surely take a look now and then, perhaps even learn some more about how everything looks in your country.
    This post has so many subjects, and nice photos! It is a little strange to read about the comming spring, as we are having autumn and winter ahead, but never the less always wonderful to see how the light increase. I am looking forward to see a lot more of your summer and sunshine photos – lucky you!

    • Thank you, Birgitte.

      I really do hope that Joppie achieves what he is setting out to do; it is a big undertaking, and I admire him greatly for having the courage to do it.

      Yes, it is strange to have our seasons the other way around! While we are sweating in the sun, you are building snowmen! And while you are admiring butterflies and flowers in summer, we are shivering in the cold and the wet. πŸ™‚ But it is a good reason to come and visit our country, while you have autumn and winter! πŸ˜‰

    • πŸ˜€ – Thank you, Paprika. Spring season in the Namaqualand and on the West Coast is indeed unforgettably beautiful. At other times, the area can look rather bland and monochromatic – but over spring, it’s like a painter has gone wild with paints on his canvas.

  10. Pingback: Springbok up ahead | Finding Frohsinn - Living Now

    • Hello Glynnis – thank you! I only changed over to the Twenty-Fourteen theme a week ago, and it needs considerable tweaking, because of the different formatting and layout, especially of images. I will get to that as soon as I have time. But I like the overall feel of the new theme too.

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