The winters of Cape Town are often seen as miserable cold and wet, and may be perceived as not the best time to visit this popular city. What many appear not to know is that, during the winter, there will be many lovely warm and sunny days, which is why the winter is often called Cape Town’s secret season. Accommodation during this time is plentiful and rates are at their lowest, which is why those in the know take advantage to enjoy Cape Town when there are fewer visitors and less traffic.
Spring in the Western Cape is popular for colourful natural displays of wildflowers. This year’s winter was notable for early, heavy rains but many warm days, and has resulted in early blossoming of the wildflowers in many of the reserves. One of the notable parks for observing the wild flower displays lies just 40 min drive from Cape Town at the West Coast National Park and should be included in any visitor’s itinerary. Although the park is open all year, the upper section, known as the Postberg section, is closed to the public for most of the year to preserve its pristine natural condition and is opened only during the spring flower season months of August to October.
When one enters the Postberg gate, one may feel like it is the entrance to an enchanted kingdom. The plains are carpeted with the most magnificent display of brightly colored wild flowers, which stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction. Fields of red, yellow, blue, orange and white colours dominate the landscape, with some areas seeming like snow-covered fields from the masses of white daisies. While one requires a vehicle to drive through the Park, it is worth stopping now and then to walk the pathways to admire the many floral gems that may go unnoticed amongst the masses of flowers that make up the floral carpet. These beautiful and colourful blooms and bulbs can easily be overlooked amongst the masses of tightly packed flowers that make up the carpet. A walk in the flowers will also enable one to obtain a close up of the beautiful individual colourful blooms of the various types of flowers. Visitors may be rewarded by the site of various antelope grazing in the flowered covered fields, as the Park is home to indigenous game which includes Bontebok, Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest and Kudu as well as Zebra.
The West Coast National Park is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the West Coast and the beautiful blue Langebaan lagoon whose shores span the eastern side of the reserve. One can rent chalets in the Park or be more adventurous and rent a houseboat, or a cottage at Kraalbaai on the Lagoon. There not only beautiful views at this spot, of lovely clean white sand beach but a number of bbq pits with picnic tables and benches as well as clean toilet facilities. The sheltered islands and beautiful beaches of the lagoon are home to a many seabirds and migrant waders, such as heron and flamingos. Bird fanciers are catered for in the Park with a number of strategically located hides, which are detailed on the complimentary map of the Park that will be given to the visitor at the entrance. On the Atlantic side of the Park there are lovely beaches with dedicated picnic spots and barbecue pits for an enjoyable day out with the family.
Coinciding with the wildflower season is the annual migration of whales which leave their home in the Antarctic to mate and calf in the warmer waters of the coasts of South Africa, where they linger for several months; usually leaving towards the end of October. There are several observation spots in the West Coast National Park from which the visitor may be lucky enough to sight one of these giant aquatic creatures basking in the sun.
The Geelbek restaurant in the Park provides a variety of traditional dishes for those not wishing to do it themselves, and the visitor is sure to enjoy dining in the beautifully restored Cape Dutch manor house that dates back to 1740. Meals are served on the terrace, enabling one to enjoy the outdoors or in the dining room of the house with its beautiful old wooden beams, floors and woodwork. Whilst the menu is not extensive, the quality of the food and its pleasantly affordable prices, makes this an enjoyable spot to linger at the end of your wild flower viewing. The restaurant not only serves a range of drinks and cool beers, but offers also a selection of affordable wines from the local area, available either as a whole bottle or by the glass.
The recommended route to follow from Cape Town to the West Coast National Park is head out along the N1 highway and then take R27 exit, through Milnerton, and along the excellent West coast road. The Entrance to the park will be found shortly after the turn to the little beach village of Yzerfontein. An entry fee to contribute to conservation costs, is payable at the Park, with lower rates for South Africans than overseas visitors.