This weekend I drove to the West Coast National Park just North of Cape Town for a day of seeking out the Spring flower phenomena that occurs here each year. With my parents for company, we stopped to admire the carpets of colourful buds in shades of pink, yellow, orange, fuchsia and white that we discovered.
Stopping to take a look at the 16-mile beach and powerful waves of the Atlantic Ocean, meandering down to the jetty on the Langebaan lagoon before heading into the Postberg part of the park where we lingered in appreciation of the flowers that grow wild here, blooming every spring.
More about the West Coast National Park
About an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town one happens across the jewel that is the West Coast National Park. Against the backdrop of the azure blue lagoon, white dunes, rare fynbos, green wetlands and unbounded waves, there is much to experience. A paradise for hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers, birders and nature-lovers alike.
About the West Coast National Park’s specific vegetation
Though the thousands of migrating birds are one the main reasons for the conservation of the West Coast National Park, the beautiful plants of the area, found growing on granite or limestone rocks, especially during springtime, are what attracts most of its visitors.
The 24 000 ha park contains mostly strandveld vegetation, which was previously classified as West Coast Strandveld and Langebaan Fynbos. In recent years the park has expanded to incorporate a substantial 6382 ha of additional habitat. Together they have a 50% irreplaceable vegetation rating and are considered threatened by alien plant invasion, making it essential to preserve them.
The strand veld vegetation occurs on the Langebaan peninsula and east of the Langebaan lagoon, with the sand plain fynbos occurs inland of the strand veld on deep acidic light-grey to pale-red sands of the Springfontyn formation. Extensive marshes, ‘dominated by Sarcocornia, Salicornia, Spartina, Limonium, Phragmites, Typha, Juncus, and Scirpus species, occur on the fringes of the Langebaan lagoon.’
The vegetation of the park, excluding the newly acquired properties such as Van Niekerks Hoop, Kalkklipfontein, Langefontein and Elandsfontein, may be divided into 36 communities, having some 482 plant species, including salt marsh species, of which 21 are Red Data Book species. A further 14 Red Data species have been recorded here.
A collection of pics of my parents and the flowers we saw.
Other attractions in the National Park
The magical Langebaan Lagoon, rare fynbos, white sandy dunes, internationally acclaimed wetlands and incredible birdlife are only some of the delights that the West Coast National Park has to offer. With so much to see and do it is hard to decide where to begin. Suggested activities include the following.
Park your car at the Langebaan gate and walk the short 4.6km trail to the Seeberg Viewpoint, which offers the best vistas of the Park. Visit one of the bird hides and spend some time enjoying the quiet, as you look out at our feathered residents in their natural habitat. Make a stop at the Geelbek Visitor’s Centre and have a look at the replica of Eve’s Footprints – fossilised footprints that belong to a young woman who lived alongside the lagoon some 117 000 years ago.
Tick off the animals ones you spot: African Black Oystercatcher, Bat-eared fox, Bontebok, Cape Cobra, Caracal, Common duiker, Dung beetle, Eland, Lesser Flamingo, Gemsbok, Cape grey mongoose, Black Harrier, Molesnake, Ostrich, Great White Pelican, Puff adder, Red hartebeest, Steenbok, Angulate tortoise, Cape mountain zebra.
The jetty and calm blue waters of the Langebaan lagoon.
The 16 mile beach on the Atlantic Ocean.
The road with flowers on either side.
Mammals in the Park
The largest concentration of mammals in the West Coast National Park can be found in the Postberg section, but this is only open to the public during the annual flower season of August and September. However, mammals are found throughout the rest of the reserve. Eland, red hartebeest, Cape grysbok, caracal and rock hyrax are some of the terrestrial species to search for. Visitors should also keep an eye on the Atlantic Ocean for passing whales and dolphins.
Birds in the Park
The park surrounds the Langebaan Lagoon, which is a world Ramsar site (deemed to be of global significance to wetland bird species). Many of the wader species are Palearctic migrants, so summer is the best time to visit the lagoon, particularly in September as species return fatigued from their transcontinental travel, and March when they congregate in large numbers to feed heavily prior to undertaking the reverse journey. In such times, the birds are often changing into or out of their Northern Hemisphere breeding plumage.
The best time to observe the lagoon waders is to visit the Geelbek hide from low tide as the tide is coming in. As the water level rises the waders are forced closer to the hide until eventually, they must fly off until the tide has receded once more. The smaller species depart first, with the more long-legged godwits, whimbrels and curlews the last to leave. Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ruff, Marsh, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed and Grey Plover, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit are present on most occasions, while there is always the possibility of seeing rarer species.
Little Egret and South African Shelduck may be seen alongside the waders. Flamingoes and White Pelican frequent deeper water, and there is a chance of seeing Osprey. Another isolated hide west of the Geelbek educational centre overlooks a salt pan that is an excellent place to see Chestnut-banded Plover.
The reserve’s fynbos surrounding the lagoon hosts Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Spurfowl and Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Grey and Cape Penduline Tit, Ant-eating Chat, White-throated and Yellow Canary, Karoo Lark, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Bokmakierie and Cape Bunting are all easily seen. African Marsh and Black Harrier can often be seen quartering the ground.
The coastal islands at the mouth of the lagoon are breeding havens for a number of species such as Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gull, Cape Gannet, and African Penguin. Cormorants and terns are present too.
The Geelbeck Restaurant
The Geelbek Restaurant has a proudly South African heritage that dates back to the 1700’s. Situated inside the West Coast National Park; right on the picturesque Langebaan lagoon; it offers spectacular views of the Park and lagoon and surrounded with breathtaking natural vistas of flamingos and other birdlife, with a huge variety of game and wildlife.
This Cape Dutch building is a national monument and is known world-wide for its distinctive African flavour. Under the new management of Rassie Erasmus and his team, this magnificent restaurant brings a sensational fine dining experience to the table, with superb mouth-watering dishes that will entice your palate and enchant your senses.
This beautiful setting offers succulent South African meals and dishes such as Cape Malay Chicken Curry, Bobotie, Pumpkin Pie, Venison Pie, Lamb Potjie, Geelbek Mussels, Vegetable Quiche, Crab Cakes, Ostrich Mediterranean Open-Roti Burger and many, many more all-time favourites.
The Park’s History
The key conservation areas of West Coast National Park are the Langebaan Lagoon and the offshore islands in Saldanha Bay, which is a wetland of international importance. The lagoon has a rich diversity of marine invertebrates and seaweeds and supports approximately 10% of the coastal wader population in South Africa. The offshore islands provide important nesting areas for several red-listed seabird species.
The Langebaan Lagoon was proclaimed as a marine reserve in terms of the Sea Fisheries Act in 1973 and later in 1985, was proclaimed Langebaan National Park with the name later being changed to West Coast National Park. It was on 25 April 1988 that the Langebaan Ramsar site was declared.
The initial purpose of the park area was to protect the key conservation areas of the Langebaan Lagoon and associated wetlands as well as the offshore islands in Saldanha Bay. The management focus has since broadened to include the terrestrial surroundings as representative sites of the ecosystem of the West Coast Region.
In 1987, the first expansion of the park occurred, including a dune reclamation scheme, Geelbek and portions of the farms Bottelery, Schrywershoek and Abrahamskraal. In the same year, some 1 800ha of land around Postberg was included on a contractual basis and a hotel site in Langebaan was also included into the park.
Today the park, including the lagoon, islands, contractual areas and MPAs, covers some 40 000ha.
In the South African Context, the saltmarshes of Langebaan are unique in that no river feeds into the lagoon. These salt marshes constitute approximately 32% of the entire saltmarsh habitat in the country, the largest in South Africa.
The lagoon is entirely marine with a relatively stable salinity and supports dense populations of molluscs and crustaceans as well as 71 species of different marine algae.
The lagoon also serves as a nursery for the development of juvenile fish; the extensive intertidal areas of the lagoon support up to 55 000 waterbirds in summer, most of which are waders (23 species), including 15 regular Palaearctic migrants.
The five islands of Saldanha Bay to the north of the Lagoon provide a home for nearly a quarter of a million seabirds, many of which are endemic to the nearshore regions of South Africa and Namibia. Cape Gannets and Cape cormorants are abundant and the largest known colony of Kelp Gulls in Southern Africa is found on Schaapen Island.
Some additional facts about the park
In 1648, the first Khoi dictionary was documented (400 words) by De Flacourt (Director General of the French East India Company) at Kraalbaai. In the 1700s, the VOC placed a beacon at Geelbek. A beacon of Robben Island slate engraved with the VOC monogram from about 1750 claims the land and its resources for the Dutch East India Company. In 1909, Norwegian whalers started a whaling station at Donkergat, which remained operational until 1930. In 1920, Geelbek had the largest wine cellar in the country.
This was not due to wine production, but because the Governor General (Henry de Villiers Steytler) used Geelbek to store his vast quantities of wine. Langebaan Lagoon was classified as a wetland of international importance according to the Ramsar Convention criteria in 1975. Bird species like Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Red Knots journey 15000 km every year from their breeding grounds in the Siberian Tundra to the northern winter (our summer) feeding grounds in Langebaan Lagoon.
The West Coast National Park hosts a total of over 250 bird species annually, over a quarter of South Africa’s total. The Park was established in 1985 and comprises some 32 000ha
The Essential Details
Flower season in the West Coast National Park is at its peak from August to September annually. During these two months, visitors to the park will see a wide variety of flowers on display. Large areas of flowers can be seen in the Seeberg, Mooimaak and Postberg areas. The West Coast National Park is a member of SANParks, Download the Visitor’s Map for more insight into what is on offer. Contact: +27 22 772 2144 and www.sanparks.org. Times: September to March: 07:00 – 19:00 From April to August: 07:00 – 18:00 Postberg opens during August and September (flower season): 09:00 – 17:00 Last entry to Postberg is at 16:30.
Golden Rules – The speed limit is 50km per hour. Do not pick any plants or flowers. Do not pick up tortoises or disturb any of the wildlife.
SPECIAL NOTE TO ALL: While in the Park, which was heaven on earth from start to finish with incredible flowers to enjoy, we noticed an adorable little tortoise on the side of the road and stopped to watch it, when a car came recklessly speeding around the corner and hit it. We had to move him off the road, shattered, suffering, at his end. There was nothing left 🙁
The driver just kept going. I am brokenhearted by the event and will never get the sweet tortoises (painful) gasping for air, last moments out of my mind. I did report it at the gate, but the speeding drivers seemed oblivious and I just have a feeling this is who they are. Completely lacking in respect.
Please, when you visit the park, any park, do so with a consciousness and consideration. We are in the animal’s space, and driving slowly to en sure their safely, is the least we can do given the privilege.
NOTE: The information about the West Coast National Park is sourced from their website.