The annual Wildflower Season along South Africa’s western coastline takes place during August and September. The area stretches from the Atlantic ocean to the edge of the Karoo, a distance of about 70km from West to East and 200km from North to South .
The most abundant wild flowers are found in an area known as Namaqualand, a 350km drive from Cape Town.
There are spectacular displays of flowers covering the veld - as far as the eye can see. The most common are daisies in a variety of colours, white, blue, pink, orange and yellow as well as other indigenous plant species, flowering bulbs and shrubs.
Every year during this time, accommodation in there area is at a premium and eateries, though few and far between, are crowded.
Namaqualand and the Northern Cape Province are normally a quiet, rural expanses of agricultural activity where in the main, sheep are farmed along with the occasional herd of hardy Nguni cattle.
What great photo opportunity!
Barberton Daisy. Bittergousblom. Bright orange!
A couple of days driving through hectares of brightly coloured fields and grey renosterveld shrubs interspersed with splashes of vivid colour.
We climbed into a friend’s SUV and off we went, the four of us.
We took a no-hurry drive from Cape Town, made a brunch stop at an unremarkable roadside farm stall near Citrusdal.
A dark, dingy dining room with unusual, dangerous-looking chairs, occupied by 3 or 4
Now I’m not a cat person at the best of times. Before sitting down, I managed to outstare one of the animals which crept away and then hissed at the rest.
They drowsily stood up and slowly sauntered off to another room.
Bacon with eggs fried in fat and farm toast with hot, moer coffee in a tin mug!
Real artery-clogging stuff!
To the car again -
heartburn already kicking in.
We by-passed Citrusdal and then Clanwilliam, en route to Van Rhyn’s Dorp where our journey would make a right turn.
We should already be in the midst of a floral wonderland … but not a petal in sight.
A short stint of uphill after Clanwilliam and we reach the Olifants River Irrigation System which carries water to local farms.
I shoot a lot of stuff for image banks around the globe so am always on the look-out for interesting subjects and situations.
This was my first real photo opp of the day - over 300kms of concrete channels fed by
water from the Olifants River. Been in operation for over 100 years. By using an ingenious system of weirs and varying canal widths and depths, the water seemingly flows uphill without the use of a single pump.
To get this into perspective, I hauled out my drone, took to the air and flew around at about 200m above where I was standing until I could see the water flowing up and down the mountainside with the river far below in the distance.
And onwards once again. Still no flowers in sight.
Next stop was at Van Rhyn’s Dorp, first the winery for an obligatory tasting, then to the old jail which is now a museum, curio shop and plant nursery and is the absolute highlight of any visit to this small town.
Bought a couple of succulents to take home.
Here we get our first suggestion that all is not well … “the past three days have been devastating. We had two days of extreme heat and then the third day (yesterday), twelve hours of gale-force warm winds”.
All the flowers had been wiped out, burned dry by the unseasonal weather.
Chat Flycatcher. Even the bird-life was scarce.
Ever onwards …
We stopped at the Bagdad Cafe (sic) - recommended by “the keeper of the keys” at the jail, for it’s delicious pancakes - hygiene, by-the-way, was irrelevant … but sometimes one must simply close one’s eyes. As the Afrikaans saying goes: “Wat nice dood maak nie, maak vet” (if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you fat). The ladies asked if they could watch the owner making the pancakes. Permission granted.
But the cook was nervous with us standing at her side - “like when the health inspector visits” we were told.
The pancakes were great!
We arrived at Nieuwoudtville, no longer expecting endless fields of flowers, and weren’t disappointed.
Turn left and head North again.
Old GMC truck. Left to rust away in the veld - a decoration breaking the monotony.
First stop was at the waterfall. On a previous visit I stood in awe watching as the river flowed through a hole in the rocks at the top of a tall cliff and tumbled many metres to the valley floor below before re-commencing it’s journey to the sea.
This water was the life-blood to local farms which grew lucerne to feed their livestock and and wheat for the market and the cashflow.
It was going to be another job for the drone as well as my trusty Nikon.
In my mind I had been planning the shot.
From the view-sight, flying from the cliff-top close to the water, above the top of the falls and and then moving away, left to right to get the perspective of this spectacle, but staying away from spray and splashes which could distort the image if I got water drops on the lens and even damage my drone if it got wet!
There was no waterfall.
It was dry.
Not a puddle to be seen.
No point in even getting out of the car.
Acacia trees and a windmill. Shut down and dry.
So, on to our accommodation. According to the pics on the website, a pretty little building surrounded by spring flowers at the edge of a large dam - idyllic setting. And it was warm enough to have a swim on arrival!
We drove up to the main farmhouse where we were met by the farmer’s wife, given the keys to the cottage, a pack of lamb (that we’d pre-ordered) and directions.
She told us that the river had dried up, the drought was so bad that they’d had to sell most of their sheep as they could no longer feed them. Windmills were the only source of water and some of these had to be shut down.
We drove for 10 minutes, through a desert. Hot, dry sand and stones with a sprinkling of small acacia trees.
Arrived at the cottage, on the edge of a dry, sandy huge dent in the ground. The dam was a dust bowl. And not a flower in sight! In the aerial shot above, we see the cottage with the SUV parked in front. The Dam wall is top centre diagonal and the empty, dry sand that was the dam, on the right.
Out of the car into an eerie stillness. You could “hear” the silence ringing in your ears!
Each footstep stirred a cloud of dust.
The distant Karoo kopies shimmered like mirages in the intense heat.
Gate to the cottage. No point in bothering to close it.
Not what we expected but what an experience. No air movement, not a tree or a shrub.
Just dust and quiet …
Unpacked the car and lit our braai fire.
Sat on the stoop staring at the dry, nothingness as the sun set behind us and the full, red moon rose in front.
After dark, I took a torch, my camera and tripod and walked about 200m into the desert.
Set everything up and did a fifteen-minute exposure using a 15mm wide angle lens, of the cottage under a clear star-filled sky.
Next time will have to try 30 minutes (can kick myself - should have done it at the time!).
In fact this is a lesson that I keep forgetting - if you see the “the shot” or have an opportunity,
take the pic it may not happen again …
Often, when traveling by car, I see a potential pic flash past the corner of my eye and most times, do a U-turn and go back to shoot it.
In the morning we drove to the nearby quiver tree forest.
An ethereal space, on a north-facing mountainside filled with the succulent quiver trees (kokerboom) looking like soldiers climbing to the peak.
The tree is apparently relatively difficult to keep outside of its natural habitat. It requires very little water but in the rare event that it is under-watered, the leaves will curl up and die-off at the tips; this is not fatal, but indicates that it is too dry.
So here entire forest was curling, some trees had collapsed - it was dry, very dry.
Trees were dying.
Never-the-less, a series of images waiting to be shot.
And I did.
Elevations, angles and groupings. Every-which-way!
From the ground, up the hill, down the hill, across the hill and then from the drone.
Stills and movie clips -
I shot the forest!
In colour and black and white.
I have a feeling these quiver trees won’t be there much longer.
We drove into Nieuwoudtville, (most of the guesthouses had “closed” signs on the doors), took a few pics.
We visited the local Dutch Reformed Church an interesting brownstone building.
For some reason, local image libraries are always looking for pics of churches in small towns around South Africa.
Happy to oblige …
In the adjacent church hall was a craft market and a pop-up coffee shop where the speciality was pancakes - don’t mind if I do.
Pancakes seem to be an exotic import to the region. But they have been perfected in Nieuwoudtville.
While eating our fill, the coffee shop manager came across for a chat.
It would appear the the people of the area waste no energy unless there is just cause.
It had been decided that were to be the very last customers of the annual flower season.
The unseemly weather had killed the flowers, which had killed the golden goose -
the spring flower tourist (except for us) so there was no point in staying open any longer.
The season would simply, officially end three weeks early.
We were the last customers of the season!
Suck it up.
Farmworkers cottage surrounded by large cactus plants.
The manager, who spoke English with as much difficulty as we did Afrikaans, explained all this and then said that “when” we came back the following year, we must remind him that coffee and pancakes would be on-the-house.
As a little aside, he had inherited a very Scottish name like MacDonald (or something) and his given names were Duncan John (they weren’t - but similar). I have them stored in the memory banks for our return.
I did get some interesting pics over the three days of exploration - even managed a few half-hearted flowers.