Namaqua National Park escape to this land of contrasts, where the rigorous climate has created a myriad of life forms superbly adapted to their specific habitat. 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 what is genuinely the Creators’ playground.
Where is Namaqualand?
This simple question has several answers. The first is that Namaqualand lies in the west of South Africa, spanning the two provinces, Western Cape and Northern Cape, and with a national road, the N7, bisecting it south to north. As a magisterial district, Namaqualand is bounded in the south by a jagged line that runs from the coast eastwards to the vicinity of Kliprand, crossing the N7 at a point about 35 kilometres south of Garies.
The eastern boundary runs in a more-or-less straight line from near Kliprand to Pella Mission on the Orange River (formerly the Gariep). Thus, the magisterial district also encompasses a large portion of Bushmanland. This flat and sandy expanse is ecologically quite different from the escarpment zone and coastal plain to the west.
Plant geographers define Namaqualand as the part of the Succulent Karoo strongly influenced by winter rainfall and fog. In this sense, Namaqualand extends northwards from the Olifants River and the sandstone-capped Bokkeveld Mountains in the south and south-west (the northern boundary of the Cape Floral Kingdom) and includes all the area from the Atlantic coast to a line that runs from the vicinity of Loeriesfontein along the inland margin of the escarpment, across the Richtersveld east of Lekkersing, and thence to the coast north of Lüderitz in Namibia.
With the focus on plant life, it makes sense to follow the plant geographer’s delimitation of Namaqualand. Access to this area, known as the Sperrgebiet, is prohibited by the diamond mining industry. We have never been there.
Most boundaries are arbitrary. Patches of vegetation and flora typical of Namaqualand penetrate on granite koppies deep into Bushmanland, which receives about 100 millimetres of rain in late summer thundershowers. Namaqualand-like vegetation extends southwards well into the southwestern Cape region on dry sites such as hot, north-facing slopes and stony soils in lower rainfall areas.
Succulent veld, not unlike that of Namaqualand, grows on the rocky promontory of Cape Point, deep in the Cape Floral Kingdom at the southwestern extremity of South Africa. Similarly, patches of fynbos and renosterveld, the vegetation typical of the Cape
region, are found throughout Namaqualand, almost to the banks of the Orange River.
Namaqualand can be divided into five geographic regions, each with distinctive landscapes and climates. These are the broad flat plains of the Kners-vlakte in the south, the granitic hills of the central Hardeveld, the imposing massif of the Kamiesberg uplands, the vast, sandy expanse of the Sandveld along the coastal plain, and, in the north-west, the Richtersveld, a majestic area of mountain desert with arid plains.
Entering Namaqualand at its southern gateway is an experience that only some can ignore. Just north of Klawer and beyond the valley of the Olifants River, the countryside opens up to reveal the vast plains of the Knersvlakte. This is now desert – the annual rainfall is mostly less than 150 millimetres – and the landscape breathes space. Left behind are
agricultural clutter and claustrophobic walls of the Clanwilliam Valley. Further on, just past Vanrhynsdorp, lie the first patches of white quartz gravel, a seemingly barren surface studded with a bizarre assortment of stone plants and other minute succulents.
The name Knersvlakte is derived from the crunch (‘kners’) of wagon wheels crossing the gravel-coated plains (‘vlakte). Alternatively, it could be the transformation of ‘Kneg se Vlakte’ – named after Willem Kneg, a Dutch nomad (trekboer) who roamed there with his family and livestock. South and east of the Knersvlakte are the imposing sandstone walls of the Matsikamma and Bokkeveld mountains, where the annual rainfall is much higher –
– up to 400 millimetres in places – and supports fynbos vegetation. To the north, looming larger all the time, lies the Hardeveld, a beautifully broken granite landscape.
Sadly, Namaqualand’s many unique features have been little appreciated by the humans who have plundered this amazing desert for its riches. Over the centuries, but especially during the past 50 years, there has been a multi-pronged assault on its natural bounty.
When the earliest diamond miners, with pick and shovel, exposed the gem-studded gravels along its shore, they gave no thought to the value of the plants or the living topsoil carelessly cast aside.
Likewise, the first wave of settled pastoralists thought only of converting shrubs and opslag into mutton; in those early times of frontier hardships and seemingly inexhaustible resources, sustainability was not an issue.
Mid-summer holidays for the growing numbers of coastal campers – fail to do justice to the region’s offerings. The flower season begins in the autumn months of March/April with the amaryllis and ends in October with the vygies, and it should be marketed as such. There is, of course, so much more to Namaqualand than old fields of annual daisies.
Even in the summer months, there are innumerable features to enjoy: conophytums under their parasols, red-leaved crassulas and summer-flowering succulents – not to mention the sheer exhilaration of experiencing an undeveloped coast.
If Namaqualand is to reap the benefits of year-round tourism, and there is great potential for this, then much work must be done. Firstly, the system of protected areas must be significantly expanded.
Secondly, accommodation facilities must be increased and, in some instances, upgraded. Thirdly,
a sense of service in the tourism industry needs to be introduced via rigorous training programmes.
Fourthly, the region must be effectively and appropriately marketed. Finally, local guides need to be trained and interpretative materials produced so that visitors might be introduced to the wonders of Namaqualand.
With these building blocks in place, there is no reason why Namaqualand should not become a premier ecotourism destination. Tourism, if responsibly developed and managed, has the potential to combine the three goals of economic growth, human development and environmental conservation. By ensuring that the people of Namaqualand, especially those in need, benefit from training and employment programmes, the development of conservation-related enterprises will gain recognition as a viable form of land use.
Climate and Seasons
Namaqualand is an arid to semi-arid region with a Mediterranean climate.
Rainfall is confined mainly to the winter months, between April and August, when cold fronts bring rain and sometimes snow to the high ground. At these times, temperatures may drop to near freezing, and morning frosts are expected at higher elevations after clear winter nights. Additional precipitation along the coastal plain comes in sea fogs, especially in autumn and winter, providing supplementary moisture for many plants. These chilly blankets may persist most of the day but usually burn off by midday.
The cold Benguela Current off the coast, which is responsible for the condensation of these fogs, also ensures that temperatures near the coast never soar to blistering levels in the summer. Inland, however, temperatures regularly climb to the high thirties. Although Namaqualand is seldom actually stricken by drought, years of good rainfall are not annual events and a genuinely wonderful flower season may happen just once in a decade. It is a rare year, however, in which so little rain falls that there is not some sort of spring flower display.
One of the features of the flowers of many Namaqualand annuals is that they close at night and in cool or wet weather. An early start in winter or spring is thus not recommended, as the flowers will not be open until the day warms up. Temperatures above 16•C are necessary before many wildflower species of the higher-lying Hantam-Bokkeveld are available entirely; in warmer coastal parts, the critical temperature may be several degrees warmer.
Like biological thermometers, different wildflower species open at dif. Different temperatures. Dassiegousblom, Osteospermum hyoseroides, is among the least sensitive and opens its flower heads at temperatures as low as 11 °C. In contrast, gousblom, Ursinia cakilefolia, opens fully only at 18 °C, and Namaqualand daisy, Dimorphotheca sinuata, bittergousblom, Arctotis fastuosa, and sporrie, Heliophila seselifolia, require temperatures between 18-20 °C for optimum blooming. By mid-afternoon, many of these temperature-sensitive flowers are beginning to close, but some, such as gansies Conicosia elongata, only open in the late afternoon.
The main spring display of annual wildflowers lasts for little more than a month, peaking in August, but several bulbs only come into flower in September. Because the rains are often local and a few days of hot winds may cause the flowers to go over rapidly, it is always advisable to check with local sources for the best areas at the time.
Flowering generally starts earlier in the north and on the coast, which is often best in late July or early August.
The Anenous flats near Port Nolloth are among the earliest to come into flower and can be carpeted with annuals in July. By August, however, these same coastal flats are often already dry and brown, although several succulent shrubs are then at their flowering peak.
The higher country between Stein-kopf and Garies is at its best during the second half of August when several species of flowering shrubs dot the rocky slopes. At this time, it is well worth wandering among the granitic domes around Springbok or Kamieskroon.
Tucked between the grey boulders and the brassy trunks of the quiver trees are colourful flowering shrubs, annuals and bulbs. A confusing diversity of orange annual daisies occurs in these outcrops, and careful examination is necessary to distinguish between the various species. The mountain passes that lead down to the coastal plains are often bright with flowers. Among the most accessible are the Spektakel Pass west of Springbok and the Anenous Pass west of Steinkopf.
The two principal wildflower reserves, Skilpad in the south near Kamieskroon and Goegap further north outside Springbok, provide good opportunities for walking among the flowers. Later than elsewhere, the cooler heights of the Kamiesberg only come into full bloom in early or mid-September, and the bloated granite domes become seamed with brightly coloured bulbs, shrubs and annuals.
Namaqua National Park
Escape to this land of contrasts, where the rigorous climate has created a
myriad of life forms superbly adapted to their specific habitat.
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 what is genuinely the Creators’ playground.
Chasing Spring Flowers has become a tradition in the Aitkenhead household, tripping through the daisies, searching for rare and unique flowers. Photographing the colourful explosion of wildflowers, dramatic landscapes, and a wide variety of our natural Faunan is a highlight during our spring season. With the abundance of rain this year, we decided to explore the holy grail of spring flowers, the true Namaqualand and its surrounds.
Our family embarked on a journey of approximately 600 kilometres, setting out early to make the most of our midweek holiday, all amidst the splendid flower season in Southern Africa. The country had received its usual winter rainfall, resulting in a spectacular bloom of every seed that had found its way to the fertile ground.
Our halfway point brought us to the charming town of Vanrhynsdorp, nestled in the Matzikama Region of the Western Cape. It’s a picturesque place alongside the Troe-Troe River, with the imposing Maskam Mountain and the Gifberg Mountains as its backdrop. The Gifberg, aptly named the Poison Mountain, is only about 20 kilometres north of Vanrhynsdorp, and it marks the origin of the Troe-Troe River, which gracefully flows northward through the town.
Our brief stop in Vanrhynsdorp allowed us to capture some captivating photographs of this serene landscape before we continued our journey towards the enchanting Namaqualand. One curious observation in this quaint town was the presence of emergency numbers that included contact details for a tire specialist.
Little did we know that fate would lead us to require the services of Mr Tyre, who promptly came to our aid with just a phone call. At this moment, I also realized I still needed to pack my shoes for the trip. Fortunately, the local Chinese store rescued me, saving my feet from the perils of barefoot adventures. With renewed spirits and well-equipped for our experience, we pressed northwards towards Kamieskroon, passing through the captivating landscapes of Knersvlakte and Garies. The flowers, an endless sea of colours, adorned our path, beckoning us to stop and admire their beauty at every turn.
As far as the eye could see, the landscape was painted with nature’s vibrant palette. It was a breathtaking sight that left us awestruck. We couldn’t resist the urge to stop frequently, capturing the beauty through our lenses. Our destination for the next three nights was Groot Valleij, a choice that proved to be the pinnacle of our trip. Nestled in the heart of Namaqualand, this farm was a warm and welcoming haven. The farm family extended their hospitality with open arms, and even their friendly dogs became our constant companions during our stay.
Goegap Nature Reserve
Goegap Nature Reserve is situated approximately 15km south-east of
Springbok in Namaqualand and covers approximately 15 000ha.
The reserve encompasses the typical granite koppies and sandy plains of Namaqualand. This semi-desert area has an erratic and uncertain winter rainfall of between 80 and 160mm per annum. Daytime temperatures vary from a minimum of minus 10°C to a moderate 25°C with summer temperatures between 30 and 10°C with a maximum of 48°C.
The typical Namaqualand vegetation in the Goegap Nature Reserve consists mainly of plants with a short life span. These plants change the veld to a multicoloured carpet of flowers for a few weeks each year. Where a mass of flowers occurs in only one or two colours, it usually indicates that the veld was disturbed. In the reserve, a vast and interesting variety of plant species can be seen. Perennial plants are mostly summer deciduous or evergreen dwarf shrubs, of which many have succulent leaves. Five hundred and eighty-one plant species have been recorded in the reserve.
The 46 mammal, 38 reptile and 3 amphibian species found in the reserve are an essential component of the animal life in this arid region. The most important game species in the reserve are the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Gemsbok, Springbok, Klipspringer, Duiker and Steenbok. The 88 bird species which have been recorded include, amongst others, Ostrich, Cape Eagle-Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Black Harrier and Ground Woodpecker. Lists of bird and animal species are available from the front desk at reception.