Taking Time to Smell the Fynbos

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Our current compromise between travel/play and boat chores is a half day on the boat and half day doing something fun. That's not to say that boat chores aren't fun … they're a blast … like watching varnish dry. Exploring Cape Town, even though we've been here before, is much more preferable in my mind, however, and thus, the usual compromise. One such morning compromise was spent at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

kirstenbosch botanic garden visitors center

Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the gardens encompass 1,320 acres of cultivated gardens and nature reserve. Morning is a wonderful time to go. There are splendid walks throughout the different areas of the garden, but we headed for the elevated walkway first, aka the Boomslang, Afrikaans for tree snake. Walking through the tree canopy is always such a thrill, getting a bird's-eye-view of treetops and the gardens below. Surprisingly, a spotted eagle owl was perched in one of the trees, preening.

canopy walk kirstenbosch botanic garden

Again, since it was autumn, many of the flowers were not in bloom. Those that were, however, provided a riot of color. The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest and richest of six floral kingdoms in the world. Fynbos, the name given to the heath and shrub-type plants that grow here, are well adapted to the poor soil and varied rainfall. There are some ~9000 species of plants occurring in the area, around 6200 of which are endemic, i.e. occurring nowhere else in the world.

flowers of kirstenbosch botanic garden

We wandered along well-trod paths and walkways and trails. Birds were singing varied songs and taking advantage of the flowers that were in bloom. Butterflies flitted from bloom to bloom. Though we observed several bird species, my favorites were the double-collared sunbird, the orange-breasted sunbird and the little swee waxbill.

birds and butterflies of kirstenbosch botanic garden

We passed through a lovely sculpture garden, but were disappointed that none of the sculptures were named, nor were the artists' names visible anywhere. The most we could find out was that “ the Mambo stone sculptures follow the Shona tradition” and that the sales office was in the Visitor's Center.

sculpture garden kirstenbosch botanic garden

We heard children laughing and giggling in a forested area and found a leafy path to investigate. Here was the Van Riebeek's Hedge, an almond tree boundary planted in 1660 by the newly founded Cape Colony to mark and protect the settlement from the locals. Now overgrown, the huge, gnarled roots of the trees provide a natural jungle gym for kids to climb and play on.

enchanted forest kirstenbosch botanic garden

As the day grew hotter, we sought out the shaded Camphor and Ficus avenues. The Kirstenbosch area, originally part of the 17th century Dutch East India Company settlement, was later used as a timber resource, then a farm and later procured by Cecil John Rhodes. Think Rhodesia and Rhodes Scholarship. It was he who planted the camphor trees that still line the avenue. He deeded this area to South Africa when he died in 1902 with the proviso that it be protected from urban development. In 1913, it became the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

We checked our watches … my half day at the gardens was up and Nine of Cups needed attention. On our way out, we noted a mileage signpost … New York – 12258 km and Missouri - 13759 km. The other signpost choices were well-known world cities like London, Sydney and Edinburgh. New York, we understood, but the state of Missouri? Really? No offense to Missourians, we used to live in Missouri, but we wondered who the heck chose it for the signpost. Another unsolved mystery.

sign post kirstenbosch botanic garden