Between July and September Namakwa sheds its drab facade and showers the world with flowers of every hue. Nature sheds any pretense at barren aridity and runs riot with tones and rainbow hues of rich and splendid brilliance.
Infusing the air with fantasy and delight, she takes our senses and sends them soaring on flights of floral fancy before returning us gently to earth at the onset of summer.
Too soon the show is over and the freshly-spilled seeds hide, once again, beneath the soil, awaiting the onset of the first rains of a new and far-off spring. The splendour of the flowers depends heavily on a good rainfall.
Strangely, the explosion of spring brilliance almost hides the province’s greater floral wealth, a seemingly infinite collection of fleshy-branched, small-leafed and wax-covered succulents with roots delving deep for water. The San drew latex for their poison arrows from the Euphorbia virosa, a member of the euphorbia family, spiky ornaments of the veld.
The rare, haunting halfmens (“half-human” or Pachypodium namaquanum) is peculiar to northern Namakwa. Tall, slender prehistoric plants capped by rosettes of small leaves, the legend has it that the Nama, fleeing from the north, crossed the Orange River and longingly looked back on their homeland. Pitying them, God transformed them into these succulents so that they could look at the land of their origin forever.
Namakwa, as part of the Succulent Karoo, is a biodiversity hotspot and as such is the only arid hotspot in the world. It contains more than 6 000 plant species, 250 species of birds, 78 species of mammals, 132 species of reptiles and amphibians and an unknown number of insects, making it the world’s most diverse, arid environment. More than 40% of these species are found nowhere else on Earth.
The world’s largest forests of quiver trees or kokerbome (Aloe dichotoma) lie outside Loeriesfontein, Kenhardt and Onseepkans. Owing its name to the San, who used the trunk, branches and its bark to make quivers, the aloe grows to four metres, stores water in its trunk, resists drought and lives for up to 400 years. Often the only trees for miles, their spiky branches are popular nesting places for sociable weavers, builders of the most intricate nesting systems in the world.
The sterboom or star-tree (Cliffortia arborea) grows nowhere else but the southern sides of high ridges of the Nuweveld mountain where it finds shelter from the blazing sun. The parks and nature reserve are amongst the best places to view this floral wonderland.
The 103 000ha Namaqua National Park, 22km north-west of Kamieskroon, is open to the public throughout the year, but a conservation fee is charged during flower season. An upgraded circular drive lets visitors experience a wide floral display.