Africa Travel Articles
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens - Cape Town
Author: Sandra Mallinson
Date: November 2012
With its exceptional setting on the forested eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstensbosch is without doubt one of the world’s greatest – and most beautiful – botanical gardens. You can easily spend the best part of a day wandering the paths that wind past astonishing displays of indigenous flowering plants. Shady groves of trees, tranquil lily ponds and clear mountain streams add to the garden's beauty, and when your feet start aching, stop for a bite at one of the restaurants or, better still, open up that pre-packed picnic and have lunch on the lawns - Table Mountain will provide the backdrop.
Established in 1913, Kirstenbosch showcases South Africa’s extraordinary floral heritage, and headlining the show are many plants from the Cape Floral Kingdom - the smallest but richest of the world’s six plant kingdoms. There are an incredible 9 000 plant species within the kingdom, 70% of which are endemic!
The gardens are at their most dazzling in spring and early summer - August to November - but with such a wide variety of plants there is always something in bloom at any time of year. Depending on when you visit, you may see packed beds of colourful annuals or big stands of flowering ericas and proteas, their nectar-filled flowers attracting shimmering sunbirds and bustling sugarbirds. Don't forget to take in the prehistoric-looking cycad garden and stop in for some cool shade at the Dell – the oldest part of Kirstenbosch and home to a crystal-clear spring and bird shaped bath.
It's easy to explore: get a map at the entrance or if you’re there at 10am you can go on a free guided walking tour to the gardens’ main highlights. And speaking of walking, one of the things we love about Kirstenbosch is that the gardens never really end: take an uphill stroll on the manicured lawns and they eventually give way to a tangle of indigenous forest, extending onto - and right up - Table Mountain.
This is the starting point for two popular hiking trails up the mountain: Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge but don’t let the tranquil atmosphere of the gardens fool you: it’s a tough (but immensely rewarding) hike to the top along the mountain's network of meandering paths - we’d highly recommend taking a professional mountain guide with you.
On Sunday summer afternoons there are few things better than sitting on the gently sloping lawns at Kirstenbosch and listening to live music in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Concert-goers picnic on the grass, happy children run about, and as for the mountainous backdrop - it’s enough to put anyone in a fantastic holiday mood!
The Old Mutual Summer Sunset Concert series runs from November to April, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that these concerts have become wildly popular. Our advice is to book your tickets online, pack a bottle of Cape wine and some tasty nibbles, and get there early to avoid the queues.