Highlights of South Africa

Namaqua National Park

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In the land of the Nama people, descendents of the Khoikhoi herders, the 144,000ha Namaqua National Park is a biodiversity hotspot and part of the semi-desert Succulent Karoo biome. It is deservedly renowned for providing one of the floral wonders of the world. Whilst relatively bare at other times, in spring (sometime during August and September) the dry valleys of Namaqualand explode with the brilliant colours of its wild flowers. A perfectly timed visit after the winter rains will reveal the richest bulb flora display of any arid region world-wide and lilies, mesembryanthemums (vygies), aloes, gladioli and various colours of daisies emerge from their underground dormancy to carpet the land in brilliant fashion. Around 1000 of its estimated 3500-4,000 plant species are found nowhere else on earth. It is also a paradise for butterfly and bird enthusiasts and, of course, photographers. As per the wildlife safaris, tracking the best floral display involves skill, local knowledge and luck – and as with a lion sighting, vehicles may converge out of nowhere at the best spots! Another factor to consider is that accommodation needs to be booked in advance and so one must hope for lucky timing.

Namaqua National Park is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and reaches 1700masl at its highest altitude. Winding dusty roads curve through a landscape of endless horizons, massive granite outcrops and sandy alluvial valleys, with quiver trees (kokerboom) standing sentinel.

Wildlife of Namaqua National Park must be well-adapted to the challenging climate. Reptiles thrive, including the Namaqua speckled padloper (roadrunner) – the world’s smallest tortoise, reaching 6-10cm. Mammals include aardvark, baboon, porcupine, klipspringer, duiker, steenbok, black-backed jackal and (though rarely seen) leopard. Around 250 bird species include black harriers, cinnamon-breasted warbler, Cape long-billed and Karoo lark, black-headed canary and cape bulbul.

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