Resetting the Cape Compass – Cape Town

Daisies and diamonds

Leaving the Cederbergs, I followed the N7, crossing into the Northern Cape Province on a quest. I entered Namaqualand, a 440,000-square-kilometre swathe of arid plains and hills in South Africa’s far north-west, in search of one of the world’s great floral spectacles but arrived at the Skilpad Wildflower Reserve in the middle of a downpour. Through the metronome of the car’s windscreen wipers I spotted the flowers. Lots of them. But they were shut tight, their heads stooped to the ground.

There’s nothing quite like Namaqualand in full bloom

But I’d get another chance to see them. Until recently, remote Skilpad had always been a place for a flying visit, but a new seasonal tented camp now means you can linger. So I waited out the storm

The following morning blue skies and sunshine revealed a very different scene: a landscape gilded by flowering daisies; entire hillsides cloaked in flowers, molten orange under the bright African sun. Truly spectacular. The mass flowering of Namaqualand each August and September is dominated by the golden Namaqua daisy, but it’s just one of the region’s 3,500 plant species – a third of which are found nowhere else.

I spent the morning on a botanical ramble through the reserve, before driving west on gravel tracks towards the coast. Namaqualand’s floral cloak reaches all the way to the Atlantic, where Skilpad’s beachfront sister camp is located. There the ocean had been whipped up by the previous night’s storm into a ‘cappuccino coast’ of frothy spume.

Mesmerised by the sea, my thoughts turned from daisies to diamonds. This wild, remote shore is known as the Diamond Coast. An estimated 1.5 billion carats of gem-quality diamonds are found in these turbulent waters, washed out to sea in ancient rivers and carried north towards Namibia by littoral drift. Diamond surf divers have worked this shore for many years.

Following the coast north to Noup, I spent the night in an old surf divers’ hut – a cobblestone bolthole converted into one of the most remote self-catering cottages you’ll find anywhere in the world. Exploring the strandline, I discovered hyena droppings, dolphin vertebrae, a seal’s jawbone and monstrous strands of kelp. How divers ventured into the surf to vacuum diamond-bearing gravel from the seabed was almost impossible to fathom.

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