A highlight of a trip to Cape Town is a visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. The name does not do it justice. These are no ordinary gardens. The setting is on the most lush, eastern slopes of Table Mountain, and the gardens lie within a nature reserve, bordering Table Mountain National Park. We visited on our first full day in South Africa, and loved it so much that we returned for our final few hours in the country before catching the flight home. I think if I lived in Cape Town, you’d be able to find me there every weekend.
The elevational span of the gardens, stretching up the mountain, has made it possible to showcase a huge range of native species in their natural habitats. The Kirstenbosch gardens were the first in the world to be devoted to a country’s indigenous flora, and a large proportion of South Africa’s endemic species are ‘fynbos’. Fynbos refers to the vegetation type that makes up the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is the smallest (in terms of geographic area) but richest floral kingdom of the six in the world. The plants of the temperate regions of the world, of North America, Europe, the Arctic and sub-Arctic, Western and Central Asia, make up the Boreal Floristic Region; the Neotropical Region includes the rainforests of central and south America; and the Paleotropical the African and Asian tropics; but the Cape Floristic Region, a tiny fraction of their size, has the greatest number of plant species of them all, with over 7700 species (70% of which are endemic, i.e. not found anywhere else in the world). Much more about the fynbos can be found here. Fynbos plants typically have small, tough leaves, have a dazzling array of flowers, and as you travel along the Garden Route their unique, sweet, herby scent fills the air. As well as fynbos, plants from all regions of South Africa can be found at Kirstenbosch, including the valley of cycads – contemporaries of the dinosaurs – and the glasshouses of cactii and succulents. We watched sunbirds, white-eyes, and Cape sugarbirds, and explored the different regions represented within the garden. Even with many repeat visits, you’d still be finding new favourite spots, new views. Also regularly making a home in the Botanical Gardens is an Eagle Owl family. Nesting on the ground, one parent keeping watch from the tree above, the chick was not fazed by many admirers cooing over his every move.