The Namaqua National Park is a vast area of the Northern Cape's huge semi-desert. It is a Cinderella environment. Though typically dry and quite harsh, after the rains which fall in between May and July, the park is transformed by millions of brightly colored varieties of flowers, lilies and aloes. Namaqua National Park is famous for its indigenous flora species which burst forth every spring time, drawing thousands of people to witness this natural phenomenon. The landscape has a fair share of brightly colored daisies in spring, growing around quiver trees and up against the massive granite outcrops, putting on an unbelievable feast for the eyes.
The Namaqua National Park is found 495 kilometers from Cape Town in an area near the small town of Kamieskroon. A drive in this area is perfect for seeing the spring flowers and there are also many viewing spots along the road. There are some short nature trails and picnic sites in this area and you may well get to see the tiniest tortoise in the world - the Namaqua Speckled Padloper. The fauna in the Namaqua National Park is hardy, being able to adapt to the harsh Namaqualand environment, and provides grazing for the antelope, baboons and aardvarks.
Although the Namaqua National Park constitutes a wide diversity of flora, the Namaqualand Daisy is a favorite amongst the visitors to the floral kingdom. Ranging from the distinct orange and yellow hues to striking white, the daisy grows wherever it pleases in the Namaqualand. It is this graceful wildness that makes it so attractive.
It is impossible to properly immerse oneself within the floral carpet when looking on it from afar. The various hiking trails are the best way to get closer to the different types and colors that suddenly bloom all over the landscape during spring. Please refrain from making ‘flower angels’, as many previous visitors have done - the vegetation needs to be protected.
Amidst the beautiful flower carpet that covers the area in multi-colored magic, giant quiver trees can be seen standing out above them. The giant quiver trees are critically endangered and only occur naturally in a very small area. One of the reasons it is so endangered is because it falls prey to plant collectors who do not understand their non-affinity for a lot of water.
The park is situated on the less inhabited western coast of South Africa. Guests will fly to either Cape Town International Airport or Upington Airport. Most guests will visit the park after visiting other destinations, but if it is your first destination a charter flight to a private airstrip in Springbok approximately 70km from the park is the quickest way to get there.
Namaqualand is almost 500km from Cape Town, and 430km from Upington. Most guests prefer driving from Cape Town, heading north along the western coast to the park. The drive from Upington, however embraces the vast beauty of the Karoo. If you are driving from Springbok, it will take under an hour to reach the park. Whichever method you choose, you will be transported in a private air-conditioned vehicle.
The Namaqualand National Park should definitely be visited during spring and early summer after the winter rainfalls which occur from May to July and sometimes still in the first weeks of August. Consequently, the best time to visit is between August and October when the flowers have just started to bloom, although flowers can still be seen all through summer.
Summers in the semi-desert can, however, become extremely hot, but the park's location next to the Atlantic Ocean and the presence of the fog brought in from the coast means that the Namaqualand midsummer maximum temperatures average 30C when compared to the inland 40C. Winters are mild during the day, but temperatures can drop drastically in the evenings.
Namaqua National Park was officially proclaimed in 1999. Conservation in the area already started in 1988, when WWF-SA purchased a part of the Skilpad Farm in order to conserve wildflowers. By 2002, the first RARE Environmental Education Campaign began in the Namaqua National Park, which is the first of its sort in Africa. In 2003, the land amalgamation of surrounding farms in the area reached a size of 72 000 ha. By 2004, work began on a proposed corridor to the coast and, in 2005, negotiations started with De Beers Namaqualand Mine to eventually acquire the Groen-Spoeg River section of the national park by 2008.
Namaqua National Park was named after the Khoikhoi of the area. 'Nama' is the area that they are from, and the suffix, 'qua', means 'people'. They were Iron Age pastoral herders that replaced the Stone Age San (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers that previously inhabited this area. The Khoikhoi tribes arrived in southern Africa about 2 500 years ago and brought with them long-tailed, smooth-haired sheep, goats, dogs and cattle. They move around constantly to provide their livestock with enough grazing. The area that is now Namaqua National Park is within the region that the Namaqua Khoikhoi used to move to seasonally for grazing.
Namaqua National Park contains a surprisingly large number of smaller mammals, such as rodents, insectivores, hares, cats and small antelope. These animals are not as easy to photograph, and keen observation is necessary. The little steenbok that freezes at the first sight of danger can make for some good photography, and one might be able to see the agile common duiker bounce away into hiding. A gang of meerkats can entertain for hours with their antics, and the vigilant dassie groups keep a watchful eye on anyone that approaches their rocky outcrops. Four-striped grass mice and round-eared elephant shrews constantly run between shrubs.
Cunning black-backed jackal survey the surroundings daily, and nocturnal insectivores like bat-eared fox, aardvark, aardwolf and Cape fox own the night. Chacma baboons occur and, if you visit the coastal section, you may encounter rookeries of Cape fur seal. Caracal and African wild cat reside in the reserve and Cape mountain leopards move through the park every now and then. All the rodents attract a wide variety of raptors, such as rock kestrel, black-shouldered kite, black harrier and much more. Desert birds, like the cinnamon-breasted warbler, attract birders from far and wide. Reptiles are plentiful and the protection of angulate tortoise and speckled padloper is a top priority.
The Namaqua National Park is situated in the 55 000 km2 region referred to as Namaqualand. Namaqualand is famed for being the biodiversity hotspot with the largest concentration of succulents in the world, which is also the main reason the park was established. The area is a semi-desert with vegetation belonging to the succulent Karoo biome, north-western mountain renosterveld and Namaqualand broken veld. The area can best be described as undulating plains that extend to the mountains of the Kamiesberg Range. In spring, when the flowers bloom in a wide array of colors, the plains seem to even put the majestic mountains to shame.
The area is especially important because of the amount of endemic fauna and flora species that have been recorded. Various species are also listed in the Red Data Book, but luckily the plants are not as threatened by invasive alien species as in other areas of South Africa. It is also what makes these plants so unique – the fact that they have adapted to survive in this arid landscape. The succulent Karoo biome for which the area is known can further be divided into the strandveld succulent Karoo, lowland succulent Karoo and upland succulent Karoo. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of this biome is formally protected, and with the park attracting 100 000 visitors a year, one begs to ask why.
Namaqualand is synonymous with flowers. After the annual winter rains, the usually dry and arid Namaqualand transforms into a magical wonderland as a mass of flowers blossom. Carpets of orange, yellow and purple flowers cover the expanse. The blossoms are the main attraction of the park, and the most popular activity is walking or driving around with a “Wow” erupting every couple of minutes. The circular drive is great for flower viewing and also offers a couple of scenic viewpoints along the way. If you prefer to walk, the Silver Sands Trail is for you, and hikers are treated to both oceanic and floral views.
The park offers a multitude of other attractions and activities, however. The area is well-known for its excellent mountain biking terrain and birding opportunities. Guests can also drive through the park in search of the unique animals that reside in the area, the speckled padloper (the world’s smallest tortoise) and the angulate tortoise are endemic to the area. The local meerkat family and dassies are always guest favorites. Various 4x4 eco-routes can be undertaken, and are the best way to familiarize yourself with the terrain. Opportunities for landscape and wildlife photographers and cinematographers are endless.
The Namaqua National Park is one of the most sought-after floral destinations in the world, and is even a memorable visit for travelers that are not particularly interested in flora. Savor the unique nature of this flower utopia and its fascinating inhabitants.
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