When you go wildflower hunting along the West Coast, follow the road less travelled and make a day of it. Guide Lizette Swart shares her suggestion for a relaxing day trip.
Spring comes early along South Africa’s West Coast. No sooner has the land been soaked by lovely winter rains or wildflowers start popping up all along roadside verges. In August and September, a visit to West Coast National Park delivers carpets of flowers in an array of colours. After months of staying put, heading there on the highway may feel a little intense. So make your way to the park along back roads that take in some charming villages – guide Lizette Swart explains how.
A leisurely start in Philadelphia
“Because I stay off the highways whenever possible, I happened upon the little village of Philadelphia one day. It is a small, rustic spot where you can enjoy a leisurely Sunday breakfast or stroll through various souvenir shops. I did not have time to explore all the eateries, but De Malle Meul served me a decent cappuccino.
“You can browse for art, antiques and knick-knacks in the Wunderkammer or The Pepper Tree Art Stable & Coffee Shop. While Helena se Hoekwinkel sells modern-day conveniences such as washing powder, bread and lottery tickets, sweets are still sold in bulging jars. I remember the ones full of boiled sweets sold by weight found at the corner store not so long ago. This corner store is in a fascinating old building, with traditional Victorian Broekie Lace around the patio. Also worth a photo stop is the picturesque Dutch Reformed Church, established in 1863.
Say hello to Darling
“But Philadelphia isn’t the only quaint village in these parts. Stick to the back roads to pass through the historic hamlet of Mamre and from there make your way to Darling. This small town is well known for Evita se Perron, where South African comedian Pieter-Dirk Uys hosts shows as Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout. Unfortunately closed during lockdown, his performances have moved online. But you can still enjoy a meal, shop for tasty goodies (including Darling Sweets) and wander through Boerassic Park, the outdoor museum.
For more than 100 years, Darling has hosted an annual wildflower show in September. Due to the pandemic, it won’t be taking place in 2020, but you can visit one of the local flower reserves. At the Darling Renosterveld Wild Flower Reserve and Tienie Versfeld Wild Flower Reserve, you’ll be met with a spectacle of colour. If orchids are your thing, Darling is also home to the largest orchid nursery in South Africa. Heading towards the coast, keep an eye out for Darling Windfarm, one of the first wind farms in the country.
Sea views at Yzerfontein
Yzerfontein is a picturesque seaside village popular with surfers and anglers. The name comes from the iron (yzer) coloured spring (fontein) on the farm where the village was established in 1937. Next to the road you can spot two lime kilns, built in the ’40s to produce building lime from the mussel shells so abundant along the coast. Once producing more than 300 bags of lime per day, both kilns are now proclaimed heritage sites. A scale model can be seen in front of the tourism offices, which are situated inside Yzerfontein’s oldest building, The Fish House.
In season it is possible to observe whales that seek out protection in Yzerfontein’s pretty bay. Strandkombuis offers excellent meals with superb views over the ocean but call first to confirm if they are open.
From Yzerfontein it’s a short drive to the West Coast National Park. If breathtaking views across the Atlantic Ocean are your thing, you have come to the right place. The park is also a well-known Ramsar birding site, so birders will be in their element – but note the hides are closed to the public. After the winter rains, the reserve becomes a showcase for local wildflowers. In particular, the Postberg section offers spectacular displays and the chance to see eland grazing among the daisies. Postberg is open only during flower season (August and September), so is not to be missed.
West Coast National Park need to know
- West Coast National Park is open from 07:00 to 18:00, self-drive only.
- Visits to the Postberg section from 10:00 to 16:00, last entry at 15:00.
- Geelbek Restaurant is open for guests.
- All visitors are screened at the entrance gates.
Heading back to Cape Town on the R27, you’ll come to the !Khwa Ttu Cultural Centre, a fascinating destination for insights into San heritage, traditional life and medicinal plants. Amazing to realise that the San practised social distancing in response to disease. In addition to the centre’s restaurant and museum, you can enjoy hiking and biking trails in untouched nature.
Also read: Wild wonderful West Coast