Depending on unpredictable spring weather, the best time to see South Africa’s West Coast Wildflowers is from mid-August to mid-September. Viewing them 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 – smaller crowds of tourists. My new favorite wildflower is the South African gem Geissorhiza Radians, also known as “Wine Cups”. Winecups are hearty drought-tolerant perennials. Varieties are found in parts of the United States.
The drive north via Route 27 has several points of interest and stunning panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean. Mamre, a town established by Moravian missionaries in the 1800s, was a post for the Dutch East India Company.
I felt a bit emotional when driving by Koeberg Nuclear Power Station where I was a consultant in the late 1980s. Koeberg is the only nuclear power plant in Africa.
Back then, I lived on Beach Road in Sea Point and every morning car pooled with other consultants along the coast passing Table View, Boulbergstrand, and Melkbosstrand. Politically, the 1980s in South Africa were extremely volatile, so getting to the plant was often fraught with stress and multiple security checks.
“The resistance of the mid-1980s destroyed utterly 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 machine gun carrying security guards with German Shepard police dogs. I haven’t forgotten those tense times. The daily Koeberg “drill” was many things – never blasé!
Beyond Koeberg sprawled over the hills there were breathtaking fields of pollen-laden wildflowers thick with blossoms frequented by bumblebees. In the midst of heavy buzzing, human hay fever sneezes were also audible. One photographer wearing shorts complained about his bee stings.
South Africa’s dreamlike wildflower fields are popular with photographers and there were some photo shoots in process. One photographer was taking pictures of a semi-naked model seductively draped in front of a cluster of vivid blossoms.
Sweet floral fragrances filled the spring air creating an intoxicating atmosphere more alluring than any perfume! I spent a few hours wandering through the flower fields and then drove to nearby Darling for lunch and a tour of their annual Wildflower Show.
Everything about sleepy Darling happens slowly. The rough backroad leading to the town 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 patiently for 5 to 10 minutes while a long line of traffic passed in the other direction.
I stopped for a leisurely lunch at a cafè and charcuterie called The Flying Pig. In addition to their popular pork dishes they served a variety of delicious sandwiches, pastries, coffee, and homemade juices. I sat outside in the sun enjoying the garden.
I decided to skip the crowded Darling Flower Show since it seemed more interesting to people buying plants. 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 some of the bizarre police chases we saw during an African safari when policemen pursued suspects along the roadside. It wasn’t like that.
I passed to the front and an Afrikaner policeman approached with a small 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 must be a popular check point for police, especially on weekends. After passing the breathalyzer test, I was allowed to continue. It was my first breathalyzer!
Along the coast, the silhouette of my atomic friend Koeberg 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 the area.
Later back at Mouille Point there was another spectacular ocean sunset. I watched in a mild state of euphoria and reflected on another interesting day in Africa.