Depending on unpredictable spring weather, the best time to see South Africa’s West Coast Wildflowers is mid-August to mid-September. Viewing flowers on a sunny day is essential. In the past, between the weather and commitments there was always a reason to delay wildflower outings. This year it happened!
Waiting until mid-September was risky but rewarding. I found fields of colorful blossoms with an extra-added benefit – fewer tourists. My new favorite wildflower is Geissorhiza Radians, also known as “Wine Cup”. Hearty wine cups are drought-tolerant perennials, and varieties are found in parts of the United States.
The drive north via Route 27 has stunning panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean and several points of interest. I passed Mamre, a town established by Moravian missionaries in the 1800s and a post for the Dutch East India Company.
Koeberg Nuclear Power Station
I felt emotional when driving by the entrance of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. Koeberg is the only nuclear power plant in Africa, and I was a consultant there during the turbulent late 1980s.
Back then, I lived on Beach Road in Sea Point and rode in a carpool with other consultants passing the coastal communities of Table View, Boulbergstrand, and Melkbosstrand. Politically, the 1980s in South Africa were volatile, so getting to the nuclear power plant was fraught with stress and security checks.
“Resistance in the mid-1980s destroyed the ‘total strategy’ tactics of the Botha government. The campaign to win hearts and minds was in tatters, with thousands in detention and an occupying army in the townships.”
The final approach involved walking a half mile over sand dunes patrolled by Eskom’s machine-gun-carrying security guards with German Shepherd police dogs. I haven’t forgotten those tense times. The daily Koeberg “drill” was many things – never blasé!
Beyond Koeberg sprawled out over the hills there were glorious fields of pollen-laden wildflowers thick with blossoms frequented by busy bumblebees. Human hay fever sneezes were audible in the midst of heavy buzzing. One photographer wearing shorts had legs covered with bee sting welts.
The Western Cape’s dreamlike wildflower fields are popular with photographers, and there were photo shoots in process. One photographer was taking pictures of a semi-naked model draped in front of a cluster of vivid blossoms.
Sweet floral fragrances filled the air creating an intoxicating atmosphere more alluring than perfume! I spent hours wandering through the flower fields and then drove to the nearby town of Darling for lunch and the annual Wildflower Show.
Everything about sleepy Darling happens slowly…
The rough backroad leading to Darling is being transformed into a paved two-lane highway. Construction resulted in one-lane traffic for most of the drive. At points along the way, flaggers waved drivers to a stop, where they waited for 5 to 10 minutes while a long line of traffic passed in the other direction.
I stopped for a lingering lunch at The Flying Pig, a charcuterie and cafè. In addition to their popular pork dishes, they served a variety of delicious pastries, sandwiches, coffee, and homemade juices. I sat outside, lazing in the sun enjoying the ambiance of the garden.
I decided to skip the crowded Darling Flower Show, since it seemed more interesting to people buying plants, than those looking at them. I found a good jazz station on the radio and settled in for a slow scenic drive back to Cape Town.
Beyond road construction but before the coastal turnoff for Cape Town, there was a traffic bottleneck. I wondered if there was an accident. Closer to the source of the delay 6 or 7 police vehicles were parked near cars pulled to the roadside. I had flashbacks about scary, bizarre police chases we saw during an African safari, when policemen pursued suspects along the roadside. Thankfully, it wasn’t like that.
As I passed to the front an Afrikaner policeman approached me with a small metal object in his hand. He asked me to breathe into it, so he could check for alcohol. There are several craft breweries and wineries along the wildflower route, so the area is a popular checkpoint for police, especially on weekends. After successfully passing the breathalyzer test :o), I was allowed to continue. It was my first breathalyzer!
Back to Mouille Point
Along the coast, the silhouette of my old atomic friend, Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, hulked in the distance. For old times’ sake, I decided to stop and take a photo. Security made getting close a challenge. I pulled off the road some distance from the plant and snapped a shot – wondering if hidden security cameras were monitoring me.
Later, back at my apartment in Mouille Point, there was another spectacular Atlantic Ocean sunset. I watched in a state of euphoria reflecting on another interesting day in Africa.