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Namaqualand 2021

25 August to 4 September 2021

A world away from the lush, safari-visited jungles and plains of Africa, Namaqualand, a largely unknown and overlooked corner of South Africa, offers a beauty unsurpassed by all else.

Namaqualand is one of the great treasure-houses of the botanical world, haven to more than 3000 different floral species. Many of these, for a few weeks in springtime, burst into riotous life, clothing the countryside in a spectacular mantle of orange, yellow and white blooms. Apart from these instantly accessible, dazzling tapestries of bright spring colour, Namaqualand sustains a wide variety of perennials: geophytes, dwarf shrubs and a huge number of succulents. Three main vegetation types occur across the area being visited, namely Cape fynbos, mountain renosterveld and succulent karoo. Each is recognised by a suite of dominant shrubs, often of quite different plant families and usually with a distinctive leaf type and overall appearance.

We depart from Johannesburg on an early morning flight and head for the “Fairest Cape of All” at the start of what promises to be a memorable and rewarding trip.

The Destinations

Postberg Nature Reserve

Our first port of call is the Postberg Nature Reserve, situated in West Coast National Park, about an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town. Closed for most of the year, the reserve opens to the public in August and September when the spring flowers are at their brilliant best.The wild flower bloom in this section of the Park is spectacular, with a wide variety of species flowering in a multitude of colours.

Gemsbok

The Park hosts large concentrations of game including, Eland, Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok and Springbok and is also a great birding destination throughout the year. It has become a legendary birding site, best known for the large numbers of migrant waders that crowd the mudflats in summer. Throughout the year excellent “bush”birding is on offer, with key target species being Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan and Grey-winged Francolin. Five lark species can be found, with Red-capped, Large-billed and Karoo Larks being common residents.

We head northwards to our first overnight stop for two nights, a guest farm in the peaceful and tranquil Boskloof valley near Clanwilliam. Here we are surrounded by the majestic Krakadouw and Cedarberg mountains. Clanwilliam is a picturesque town of white Cape Dutch homesteads. One of the ten oldest towns in South Africa, Clanwilliam, rich in settler history, is surrounded by picturesque vineyards, fragrant orange orchards and wildflowers in spring. The town is the centre of various short flower routes. Graafwater, Lamberts Bay, Leipoldtville, and the Biedouw Valley can be combined with history and rock art viewing. The Ramskop Nature Reserve, above the Clanwilliam dam, is home to endemic wildflower species and is a must-see during August and September.

During our stay in Clanwilliam we visit the Cape Gannet colony at Lambert’s Bay and Kransvlei Poort, a reliable site for Protea Seedeater and Ground Woodpecker.

We leave Clanwilliam and head northwards. Our routing takes us via Vanrhynsdorp and the Knersvlakte to the most northerly point of our trip, Naries Namaqua Retreat, near Springbok.

Driving through the area known as the Knersvlakte without being told, you would cast a bored look across the white quartz-strewn plains and think there was nothing there. However, it is a world of miniature succulent plants, sheltered from the worst of the summer heat by the reflective quartz gravel. This botanical treasure is sprawled between the towns of Vanrhynsdorp and Bitterfontein. It falls within the Succulent Karoo region, considered one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world.

Knersvlakte means gnashing, or grinding, plains. Opinion is divided about whether this refers to the difficulty of crossing the plains in an ox wagon (and the attendant gnashing or gritting of teeth), or the crunching noise made by iron wheels on quartzite gravel.

Here you will find plants with names as cute as they look: baby bums, donkey ears, little buttons, and fingers-and-thumbs. Some look like tiny green marbles, others like flowering pebbles. Others emerge above the soil only during the temperate spring and retreat into the soil, almost invisible, when the summer heat arrives.

Heading northwards to Garies and beyond, our trip takes us into the heart of spectacular spring floral displays that provide such a colourful, yet ephemeral façade to a fascinating region. In a radius of 60km, one finds four different regions, each with its characteristic rock formations and natural flowers, developing at their own pace during the flower season to eventually display a kaleidoscope of colour–multi-coloured carpets stretching as far as the eye can see.

Naries Namakwa Retreat

Our next destination is Naries Namakwa Retreat, a beautiful hideaway on the edge of the Spektakelberg, between Springbok and Kleinzee. Many people flock to Namaqualand for its wildflower displays in springtime, but few are aware of the many succulent species that can be found all year round. Naries hosts several of these extraordinary gems.

Birding specials at Naries include Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan, Grey-winged Francolin, Karoo and Cape Clapper Larks, Grey Tit and Layard’s Tit-Babbler and Black-headed Canary..

 

Namaqua National Park

Using Naries as our base we pay a visit to Namaqua National Park, near Kamieskroon. The Park is best known for its spectacular display of wildflowers in early spring. It captures the full grandeur of the flower season and in years when surrounding areas have less than splendid displays, the Park is magnificent. As if by magic a tapestry of brilliant colours unfold enticingly along the winding roads. Butterflies, birds, and long-tongued flies dart around among the flowers, seemingly overwhelmed by the abundance and diversity. Every turn in the road paints an unforgettable picture: valleys filled with Namaqualand daisies and other spring flowers that pulse with sheer energy and joy.

This is also the best time to visit the area, as many of the birds are opportunists which move into the area and breed after winter rain. Cape Clapper Larks, performing their courtship displays, are usually abundant and the grating call of Southern Black Korhaan rings out in the early morning. Both races of Black-headed Canary occur when conditions are favourable and Layard’s Titbabbler is common. A pair of Booted Eagles has bred in some exotic trees near the Park reception for the past few years.

We also spend some time in the Goegap Nature Reserve, 15km south-east of Springbok. The reserve features most of Namaqualand’s natural riches on 15000ha of typically granitic, rocky hills and sandy flats. It supports close on 600 indigenous flower, 96 bird and 45 mammal species. The Hester Malan Wildflower Garden is a spectacular additional feature, showcasing many Namaqualand succulents and a spectacular rock garden.

Birding highlights include Pale-winged Starling, Ground Woodpecker, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Layard’s Tit-Babbler and Black-headed Canary.

Garies

Fields of flowers, star studded nights, quiver trees, enormous granite outcrops and the icy Atlantic are but a few wonders that await the visitor to the area around Garies. To describe Garies as in the middle of nowhere does not do any damage to the reputation of the town.

Goegap Nature Reserve

It lies in the heart of the Namaqualand and makes an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding area. Garies and Kamieskroon lie in the heart of an arid biodiversity hotspot – the succulent Karoo.

The sheer lavishness of blooms during spring, after good rains, draw visitors to this part of the Namaqualand from around the world.

A landscape carpeted in wildflowers, starry skies that stretch as far as the eye can see and a luxury tent with a spectacular view is what awaits us at the luxurious Agama Tented Camp, our home for two nights.

In good seasons the veld around the camp is carpeted with flowers in breathtaking hues.

A recent extension of the Namaqualand National Park, between the Spoeg and Groen rivers, allows us to explore the somewhat flat and undulating landscape along the coastline known as the Sandveld.

Much of Namaqualand’s coastal plain is covered with deposits of loose, windblown sands which are somewhat alkaline and rich in nutrients. Fringing the dunes is a kind of shrubby vegetation known as Strandveld, which runs into another low shrubland called Duneveld, that is dominated by erect and creeping leaf-and stem succulents as well ass annuals. In good years, the Duneveld can present spectacular floral displays. Scattered patches of acidic sands poor in nutrients support stands of different Sand Fynbos vegetation.

Target birds in the area include Booted Eagle, Black Harrier, Ludwig’s Bustard, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatcher, Grey Tit, Bokmakierie, Cape Long-billed and Karoo Larks, Pririt Batis and Cape Penduline-Tit.

En route to our final destination in Namaqualand, we visit Aardvark Kloof, one of western South Africa’s great endemic bird sites. The diversity of habitats here supports a bird community that will leave any desert bird enthusiast spellbound.  Cinnamon-breasted Warbler’s calls echo through the roadside boulders, while Red Larks display nearby. Other specials include Large-billed and Karoo Long-billed Lark, Karoo Eremomela, Grey Tit, Fairy Flycatcher and White-throated and Black-headed Canary

Nieuwoudtville

The village of Nieuwoudtville lies on the Bokkeveld Plateau, where the Cape Fynbos meets the Hantam Karoo, Bushmanland and the Knersvlakte. It is a place where the experience of silence, space and stars contribute to a tranquil way of life. Nieuwoudtville is world famous for its flowers and the incredible density and diversity of bulbs produces a spring floral display that is nothing short of spectacular. The great diversity of flowers, and particularly geophytes, that occur on the Bokkeveld is what makes Nieuwoudtville both special and different from the rest of Namaqualand. In good rainfall years the display of spring annuals around Nieuwoudtville transforms the landscape into a picture of colour and, when these have set seed, there are still many interesting flowers to be found long after the first flush of spring. The diversity of geophytes is particularly astounding.

Namaqualand floral splendour

 

The area around Nieuwoudtville has around 309 species of geophyte. To put this in perspective, there are about 1550 geophytes in the entire Cape Flora and this is 4-5 times richer than other Mediterranean regions such as California, Western Australia, and the Mediterranean basin. To get the most out of the area one must take one’s time. It is not uncommon to find up to 50 different species within one square metre of Renosterveld!

SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) has found it fitting to establish the Hantam National Botanical Gardens on a farm outside Nieuwoudtville. Many botanists and researchers, from all over the world, visit this area each year. Flowerwatching is at its best in the Nieuwoudtville Flower Reserve and we will also visit the Nieuwoudtville Falls, a 100 m natural wonder on the Doring River.

Interesting bird species in the area are Blue Crane, Ludwig’s Bustard, Verreaux’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Black Harrier, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Clapper Lark, Grey-winged Francolin, Rufous-eared and Namaqua Warblers, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Karoo Eremomela, Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Siskin and Black-headed Canary.

We spend three nights at a charming farm guesthouse near the town.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and after an exhilarating and soul enriching experience we must take our leave of Namaqualand and head for “civilisation”. We travel via Calvinia and Carnarvon to our final overnight stop, situated between Loxton and Victoria West.

En route we will be visiting the Akkerendam Nature Reserve, near Calvinia, which boasts several interesting bird species, including Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Karoo Prinia, Black-headed Canary, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Verreaux’s and Booted Eagle and Karoo Lark. The reserve boasts magnificent mountain scenery and the sought after “sterkboom”.

Our last night is spent at the charming Melton Wold Guest Farm, near Victoria West. The farm is unique in the sense that it claims to be the oldest guest farm in South Africa, having opened its doors in 1938.

After some early morning birding and a hearty Karoo breakfast, we head for home.

The 11-day tour departs from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned VW Caravelle, 4-wheel drive Microbus.

Itineraries

Day 1

Date : August 25, 2021

Johannesburg-Cape Town-Postberg-Clanwilliam

Early morning flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Head for West Coast National Park, via Malmesbury and Darling. Rest of morning and early afternoon spent flower watching and birding in Park. Head for Clanwilliam for overnight stay at farm guesthouse near the town.

Day 2

Date : August 26, 2021

Clanwilliam-Lamberts Bay-Clanwilliam

Early morning birding on farm. Depart after breakfast for Lamberts Bay, visiting Kransvlei Poort en route. Visit Cape Gannet colony on Bird Island and spend rest of day roadside birding and flower watching. Overnight at farm guesthouse.

Day 3

Date : August 27, 2021

Clanwilliam-Naries

Early morning birding around Clanwilliam. Visit Ramskop Botanical Garden and the Clanwilliam Wildflower Show. Depart after lunch for Naries Namakwa Retreat, near Springbok. Afternoon birding and flower watching and overnight at Naries Namakwa Retreat.

Day 4

Date : August 28, 2021

Naries-Namaqua National Park-Naries

Early morning birding walk around Naries. Depart after brunch for Namaqua National Park near Kamieskroon. Rest of day spent birding and flower watching in Park. Return late afternoon and overnight at Naries Namakwa Retreat.

Day 5

Date : August 29, 2021

Naries- Goegap-Garies

Morning birding and flower watching around Naries. Visit Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok, en route to Garies. Afternoon birding and flower watching en route to our next destination. Overnight at Agama Tented Camp.

Day 6

Date : August 30, 2021

Garies area

Day spent flower watching and birding around Garies. Overnight at Agama Tented Camp.

Day 7

Date : August 31, 2021

Garies-Aardvark Kloof-Nieuwoudtville

Early morning departure for Aardvark Kloof near Kamieskroon. Rest of morning spent birding in kloof before departure for Nieuwoudtville. Travel via Leliefontein and Vanrhynsdorp, arriving in Nieuwoudtville late afternoon. Overnight at farm guesthouse near town.

Day 8

Date : September 1, 2021

Nieuwoudtville area

Early morning visit to Nieuwoudtville Falls and Quiver Tree Forest. Rest of day spent flower watching and birding around Nieuwoudtville. Overnight at farm guesthouse.

Day 9

Date : September 2, 2021

Nieuwoudtville area

Day spent flower watching and birding around Nieuwoudtville. Overnight at farm guesthouse.

Day 10

Date : September 3, 2021

Nieuwoudtville-Victoria West

Early morning departure for Victoria West, via Calvinia and Carnarvon to Victoria West. Visit Akkerendam Nature Reserve on route and arrive at destination in the late afternoon. Overnight at Melton Wold Guest Farm, between Loxton and Victoria West.

Day 11

Date : September 4, 2021

Victoria West -Johannesburg

Early morning birding around guesthouse. Depart after breakfast for Johannesburg. Travel via Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom and arrive in Johannesburg before dark.

Includes

Flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town

Ground transport, all meals and accommodation, guiding, conservation fees, entrance fees.

Excludes

Alcoholic beverages, gratuities and items of a personal nature.

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