Fallow fields of intense naartjie-peel coloured daisies reflected the bright Northern Cape sunshine. Each year after winter rains Namaqualand explodes into a vibrant display of wildflowers and we headed there for just that!
Cruising the dusty dirt road we counted sheep while on the lookout for splashes of floral colour along the roadside embankments. Fence poles flew by in my peripheral vision like running fingers over corrugated roofing.
Old farm gates dictated passenger gatekeeper duties on a number of times and soon after we were passing carpets of bright orange daisies. We’d well and truly arrived at the famous Skilpad section of Namaqua National Park after the long drive from Cape Town. And what a special sight indeed…
Situated at the top of a koppie above Skilpad, the cottages hold real charm and sense of isolation which was perfect for our two night stay. We walked through and opened up the patio door to see a beautiful Yellow-rumped widow, a mere two meters away, and in full breeding plumage. Rolling granite mountains dominated the view towards the Atlantic Ocean which lies 54 km away – as the Weaver flies.
On this calm, late July evening we enjoyed the slow wind down of the day whilst listening to the repeated raucous calls of endemic Black korhaans in the not too distant thicket. Chacma baboons barked as the fiery-red sun set and the movement of a scrub hare caught our attention below. With our fire crackling away I sipped on a glass of bourbon and began preparations for our braai. Slowly, after the intense Namaqualand sunset, the day drew a close.
Waking up to an icy cold wind under a clouded sky reminded us that we were, in fact, visiting during winter. Three weeks of warm, windy and dry conditions following good rain had brought the flowers out in early July. Two mugs of fruity Colombian coffee was the perfect accompaniment as we stood on the patio sipping the steaming brew where the cold air worked my fingertips near-numb and we slowly cranked into second gear. A female Malachite sunbird drank nectar from the tubular red flowers of a Microloma sagittatum and what must have been the same scrub hare moved from dense shrubbery to dense shrubbery.
We set off on the short Skilpad Walking Trail and were quickly distracted by a variety of wildflower species. Although dominated by orange daisies, by walking you realise just how diverse this landscape is. Beautiful blue Babianas, purple Pelargoniums and a solitary burnt-orange Gladiolus equitans all added to an amazing floral scene. Termite mounds litter the landscape, with antelope droppings and mammal spoor ever present. After startling a flock of Helmeted guineafowls we passed Sweet thorn trees and reached the windmill pumps back at the Park office.
After refreshments under the Blue Gum trees we set off on the Korhaan Walking Trail which begins near an old farm predator trap. Cape Weavers flew back and forth with nesting material in a hive of activity. Just a couple minutes into the hike and we were treated to an amazing encounter with a herd of nine majestic Gemsbok. The trail took us in their direction and the Gemsbok skittishly darted off…only to end up with them closer to our path. As we once again closed in on the herd they all stood still, eyes affixed on each other, before they charged off into the distance. The large antelope, together with carpets of daisies (albeit closed due to cloud cover) made for a spectacle.
Stand out flowers for me included Lapeirousia silenoides, Dessert Primrose, Pelargonium incrassatum as well as Beetle Daisies. This small selection is merely scratching the surface of what is on show!
Back at the cottage the cold wind persisted as the sun finally broke through and warmed our stiff hands by the windows. The late afternoon inched closer to sunset and we were happily relaxing with a cup of tea in one hand and book in the other.
The cloud had dissipated and the night sky sparkled as it so religiously does in the Northern Cape. I layered up to brave the 4°C chill for a few brief minutes in order to photograph the cottage by night. Inside, wrapped in a blanket in front of the gently burning fire, I was once again dozing off fairly early.
Awakening to the soft chirps of birds at first light, we gathered our belongings to get packed up for departure. As the suns presence slowly crept over the layers of mountains to the far east we enjoyed a fresh brew of coffee and buttermilk rusks.
Another Scrub hares big ears caught our attention in the early morning sunshine and we stopped to watch it for a few minutes in among the still-closed orange flowers. A couple Suricates (Meerkats) dashed across the road…their dens location now revealed, we sat waiting for them to show their faces. Nervously a head popped up, and back down again. Then another took a peek and disappeared once more. This went on for a while before we left them to go about their diurnal habits in relative peace. Before realising it we were once more on the N7’s surfaced roadway…longing for the peace at Skilpad.
Every years’ floral display varies in terms of timing and intensity. This has not been the finest year for wildflowers, but there have certainly been worse!
How to get there:
From Cape Town follow the N7 to Kamieskroon (495km / 5hours) where you’ll take the Namaqua National Park turnoff. Continue on the gravel road to the Skilpad office (22km / 40min).
Where to stay:
Cottages which sleep 3 at Namaqua National Park go for R1120 (2 person base rate).
- Get a WILD card and save on gate fees / conservation levies;
- The sun is important: when driving you’ll see more with the sun at your back;
- Get a flower book such as John Manning’s Ecoguide: Namaqualand;
- For cool things to do on the way to or from the Park, check out West Coast Way.
By Justin Hawthorne