Explore: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden


Justin Hawthorne

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a place that cries out for you to slow down and soak it all in. Ideally, it needs more than a quick visit. More like a day! I did just that and went in to catch sunrise before slowly strolling its vast network of pathways, eventually finding the bench that said: “Justin, sit.”.


A beautiful Strelitzia (Crane Flower), Kirstenbosch

What are my TOP 10 highlights of this grand garden? 

  1. The Fynbos Walk
  2. Tree Canopy Walkway (Boomslang) at the Arboretum
  3. The Dell & Colonel Bird’s Bath
  4. Matthews Rockery & the Vygie Garden
  5. Otter Pond
  6. Conservatory
  7. Camphor Avenue (Old Rhodes Drive)
  8. Nursery Stream
  9. Main Pond
  10. Cycad Amphitheatre & Pearson’s Grave

Strolling across The Boomslang at sunrise, Kirstenbosch

The Fynbos Walk 


Silver Tree leaf detail (Protea Family), Kirstenbosch


A pretty Polygala (Milkwort Family), Kirstenbosch

The upper lawns are my favourites! Immersed with Fynbos gardens showcasing the main families: Protea, Erica & Restio, the green slopes provide wonderful views over Kirstenbosch. There are ample benches to sit and absorb the beauty, lawn space for lazing & picnicking and the individual garden ‘islands’ themselves give you a great taste for the Cape Floral Region. Look out for the ‘Fynbos Walk’ which is a pathway cutting through this section, with many deviations (take them all!). There is always something in flower, and right now (May) you’ll be seeing many Proteas in bloom. An absolute MUST is the Buchu garden – Citrus Family – where you’re encouraged to crush the fragrant leaves to release their incredible aromas!

Tree Canopy Walkway (Boomslang) at the Arboretum


Tree Canopy Walkway (The Boomslang), Kirstenbosch

A new addition to the Garden in celebration of the centenary milestone dating back to the establishment of the Botanical Garden in 1913 is the Tree Canopy Walkway, more commonly referred to as The Boomslang (The Tree Snake). The impressive structure allows you to walk through the Arboretum Tree Canopy, getting wonderful views over the Dell and beyond. The Arboretum displays a vast number of African tree species, and there are shaded pathways cutting through the section. Bordering the Arboretum make sure you look out for the sprawling 17th century Wild Almond trees of Van Riebeeck’s Hedge which acted as a boundary in the days of Jan van Riebeeck. If you can get to The Boomslang close to sunrise, do try, as the lighting is brilliant.

The Dell & Colonel Bird’s Bath


Colonel Bird’s Bath is at the heart of the Garden, Kirstenbosch


This beautiful stone pathway leads through The Dell to the famous spring, Kirstenbosch

Surely the main feature of the Garden is the lush Dell, located in the central amphitheatre. It is the oldest part of the Garden and is structured around the crystal clear spring, constantly flowing from the depths of Table Mountain, namely Colonel Bird’s Bath. Large Tree Ferns, cobbled stone pathways, and tall Afromontane trees dominate this shaded grove. Be sure to look at the info board behind the spring to find out more about the two majestic Cape Holly trees which stand adjacent to the water source.

Matthews Rockery & the Vygie Garden


Krantz Aloes, Kirstenbosch

The Matthews Rockery (named after curator, J W Matthews) showcases dry region plant species such as succulents and bulbs. The Vygie garden beds, alongside the main pathway leading through the main gate, offer a grand display of Krantz Aloes during the early winter months (typically May-June).

Otter Pond


The Otter Pond, Kirstenbosch

Near The Dell, you’ll find the Otter Pond, surrounded by lush green water-loving vegetation. The central feature is the statue of a Cape Clawless Otter, lying on a rock with its catch of a River Crab. Read the info board nearby for an introductory message to the secretive lives of these wonderful creatures.



Quiver Tree in the Conservatory, Kirstenbosch

Upon entering the Main Gate you’ll see the large glasshouse, The Botanical Society Conservatory, which houses dry region plants such as the Quiver Tree from the arid Northern Cape. You’ll also see a display of threatened Coastal Fynbos at the far upper level, and fossils from the Eastern Cape.

Camphor Avenue (Old Rhodes Drive)


People watching along Camphor Avenue, Kirstenbosch

Another feature pre-dating the establishment of the Botanical Garden (along with Van Riebeeck’s Hedge & Colonel Bird’s Bath, both mentioned in this blog) is The Camphor Avenue or the historical Rhodes Drive. Walk beneath the shaded Camphor Trees and make your way to The Matthews Rockery where you’ll notice the concert stage which is a summertime favourite on Sunday evenings for locals and visitors alike.

Nursery Stream 


Crossing Nursery Stream, Kirstenbosch.

There are a number of bridges crossing the streams flowing through Kirstenbosch, and one of my favourite places is tucked away under the lush vegetation on Nursery Stream. If you’re in the vicinity of the Main Pond or The Magic Tree (Breede River Yellowwood) then you’re close! The pooled rainwater on the rock provided good opportunity to capture the reflections of the tree canopy along the stream.

Main Pond


The Main Pond under the Oak Tree, Kirstenbosch

The Main Pond is located near Gate 1 (Main Entrance) and is fed by Colonel Bird’s Bath. A number of benches are dotted about in the general vicinity such as under the massive old Oak Tree. Often you’ll share the lawn space with Egyptian Geese (goslings too!) and Helmeted Guineafowls.

Cycad Amphitheatre & Pearson’s Grave


The unmissable Atlas Cedar alongside Pearson’s Grave, Kirstenbosch


Overlooking the Cycad Amphitheater, Kirstenbosch

On the Western and Southern sides of The Dell, you’ll find the Cycads: unqiue woody, evergreen plants which date back to prehistoric time. The Botanical Garden was established by Harold Pearson back in 1913, sadly passing away shortly after work started in the Garden in 1916. His grave is located alongside the grey-green leaves of the iconic Atlas Cedar, at the southern side of the Cycad Amphitheatre. Take a seat on the bench nearby, and give the place a minute of your time.



Cape Francolin, Kirstenbosch

On your average day, you should expect to see birdlife as the dominant fauna: Hadada Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Cape Francolin, Helmeted Guineafowl are your more common birds, along with Sunbirds, Cape Robin-chat, Cape White-eye and much more.


Tree Fuchsia detail, Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden acts as a gateway to Table Mountain’s eastern slopes, and a great addition to any hike. Try hiking Skeleton Gorge and onto Maclear’s Beacon before ending up at the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Be guided by professionals to get the most out of your hike experience.

*Remember, you may NOT swim in Hely-Hutchinson Reservoir (or any of the Table Mountain Dams for that matter) when doing this hike. The water is part of the supplementary drinking water supply for Cape Town. 


Sprinklers on at the Big Fig tree at the edge of The Dell, Kirstenbosch

Within short walking distance to the Otter Pond, you’ll notice a massive tree, The Big Fig. On this particular day, the sprinklers on, catching early morning light through the branches created an interesting picture.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is part of the Cape Town Big 7, the big attractions of the city.

Join up to the Botanical Society of South Africa for perks such as early and unlimited entry: info@botanicalsociety.org.za

5 thoughts on “Explore: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

  1. Pingback: Sunrise spots: The Boomslang | Justin Hawthorne

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  4. Pingback: Explore: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden – Justin Hawthorne – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

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