Flora of the Cape (not a Scottish fisherwoman)

It’s a common topic of conversation when you meet people from around the world. Which is the best place (city) to live in ? You often hear people espousing the virtues of San Francisco, Sydney, London, Geneva, New York, Paris etc. There is one place that has consistently come out on top of this completely anecdotal survey over the last 20 years; Cape Town.

I was therefore somewhat prepared for it’s beauty. The expectations were sky high. Am happy to say that I haven’t been disappointed at all, the views from Table Mountain are sensational, there are beaches everywhere, interesting architecture in town etc. What has been an unexpected surprise though has been the diversity of the fauna and flora.

The cable car to the top of Table Mountain is great but then what ? Well, then you hike around up on the top in the Cape Floral Kingdom (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

It’s amazing how far you can walk and also the beauty of the plants, surviving in such a seemingly hostile environment. If Maropeng (see previous post) was a reminder about the origin of mankind which has only existed in it’s current form for a mere 200,000 years, then the moss, lichens etc. up here are reminders of a heritage measured in billions of years.

Charles Darwin visited the Cape aboard HMS Beagle in 1836. They were on their way home by then on their 5 year voyage of discovery but Darwin spent more time here than anywhere else except the Galapagos Islands. He also had dinner here with John Herschel (son of William) who was another botanist curious about the extinction of species.

It is quite possible their exchange of ideas that night, over port and cigars, was significant in Darwin’s evolving thinking.  Soon after the return of HMS Beagle Darwin was already convinced that “one species does not change to another” but it was not until 1858 when he, together with Alfred Russel Wallace, laid out their theory which was to be published as “the origin of species”.

Back to the top of Table Mountain, where you could basically hike all day if you wanted to, there are various routes down by foot. Some intrepid people even walk up. One of the routes (Skeleton Gorge) takes you down the slopes to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. You can also get there via taxi from the bottom if you don’t fancy a 3 hour hike down..

If you like Kew Gardens in SW London, you’ll adore this place. Home to 8,500 of the 22,000 plant species of Southern Africa it is a great place to meander round for an afternoon and just lose yourself, quite literally.

I wandered (lonely as a cloud) round for a whole afternoon and often went more than 30 mins without seeing another person. Even in Winter the variety of plants look stunning so I can scarcely imagine the wonders of Spring here. If you’re after some tranquility and a visual sensory stimulus, this may be the best option in whole of Cape Town.

Entry costs about 30 Rand which is about 5 of your Yankee dollars so it’s also good for those on a budget.

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