Do you want breathtaking photo opportunities and a chance to stumble upon some rare fynbos? Then why not plan a trip to some of the most iconic regions around Cape Town? I will take you on a quick tour of several unique locations in and around the mother city highlighting endemic flora and important information for each location.
This installment will feature several sites within the Cape Winelands or Shale Fynbos. To explain what this means we will have a quick recap on how fynbos differs from region to region.
An Erica in bloom on West Peak (Helderberg Nature Reserve).
WHAT IS FYNBOS?
Fynbos refers to the Dutch term ‘fijn-bosch’ or kindling, a term applied to vegetation dominated by restios (grasslike reeds), ericoid (heaths) and proteoid shrubs (1). According to biogeographical characteristics (i.e. region/diversity of flora and geology) the flora can be subdivided into:
- Sandstone Fynbos
- Quartzite Fynbos
- Sand Fynbos
- Shale Fynbos (Cape Winelands)
- Alluvial Fynbos
- Granite Fynbos
- Limestone Fynbos
- Silicrete, Ferricrete & Conglomerate Fynbos
This might sound complex, but it just goes to show that microclimate and especially soil, plays an important role in where certain species can grow. So what can one expect to see when you visit areas around Cape Town?
Breathtaking views combine with beautiful fynbos on Helderberg.
As a tourist one invariably wants to visit the wine farms of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Unbeknownst to many, several nature reserves (Mont Rochelle/Jonkershoek/Helderberg) are scattered throughout the region providing a unique opportunity to observe Shale Fynbos. Each reserve has its own unique draw, but I will highlight some species to look out for as well as tips for future visits.
Nerine sarniensis or Guernsey lily in bloom.
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is a favorite for its majestic mountains and waterfalls. You can see the bright blooms of the waterfall lily (Gladiolus cardinalis) and G. hyalinus littering the mountain in summer and spring respectively. The reserve also plays host to Kumara haemanthifolia, Haemanthus sanguineus, Nerine sarniensis and the Strawberry-Head Brunia (Brunia fragarioides).
Tap the profile below for more information on Jonkershoek Nature Reserve:
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is home to the majestic Jonkershoek Mountains and parts of the Jonkershoek valley. The reserve, which includes the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, lies near the town of Stellenbosch in the south-western Cape. Visitors may choose to explore one or both reserves, as they are in easy reach of each other. The reserves are about 9km from Stellenbosch, on the Jonkershoek valley road.
The rugged Jonkershoek Mountains, which form part of the Boland Mountains, are ideal for hiking enthusiasts. The Eerste, Berg, Lourens and Riviersonderend rivers all start high in these mountains, although only the Eerste River actually flows through the Jonkershoek valley. The area is also rich in animal and plant life, with over 1 100 plant species and a variety of small mammals, birds and reptiles. Hikers should be on the lookout for berg adders, puff adders, boomslang and Cape cobras.
The reserve is about 9 800 hectares, while Assegaaibosch is about 204 hectares. The smaller reserve is home to the historical Assegaaibosch farmstead, a national monument built in 1792, while both reserves are World Heritage Sites.
Jonkershoek is hot in summer, and cold and wet in winter. Visitors in the colder months may even see snow dusting the higher mountain peaks. Hikers should note that weather conditions can change rapidly.
Helderberg Nature Reserve offers a unique look at aged fynbos (10+ years), which is one of the few places where you still observe Protea spp. in their treelike state (2 m tall). There is a spectacular avenue of blossom trees on the lower section of the reserve as well as an established Metalasia densa population. For the more enthusiastic visitor, the ‘Friends of Helderberg’ often offer night excursions and community hikes where you can learn more about both fauna and flora. If you do attempt the trails be sure to keep an eye out for the Protea hemiparasite or ‘Aardroos’ on the foothills of the mountains.
Tap the profile below for more information on Helderberg Nature Reserve:
The Protea hemiparasite Mystropetalon thomii can sometimes be found in Helderberg Nature Reserve.
Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve as with the other mountainous reserves, have a unique selection of fynbos. People often note the glamorous Yew Heath (Erica taxifolia) or Spinning-top Conebush (Leucadendron rubrum) on their hikes, however the mountain is covered in heaths of every shape and color. You may find Erica denticulate, E. cerinthioides, E. sessiliflora and E. viscaria on your morning hike.
Tap the profile below for more information on Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve:
Erica sessiliflora in bloom in Mont Rochelle
BEST TIME TO VISIT
In most cases you will find at least a few flora will be in bloom at any given time (2), however few will flower during the peak summer months (with orchids being the exception). The best show of blooms is during spring (September - November). Summer months pose a risk of heatstroke and activity should be limited to early morning hours.
Travel time: 2h 20 (subject to traffic)
Look out for: Protea nitida, Mystropetalon thomii (Protea hemiparasite) and the endemic herb Moraea aristata.
Important info: Private Guides are available for most nature reserves, but these need to be booked in advance and are offered by private enterprises, not as a park service. Only Helderberg Nature Reserve is equip with a restaurant and picnic sites. Mont Rochelle can be taxing, but extremely well signposted (maps available at the Info bureau in town). All reserves can and have been closed when fire poses any risks (please contact them directly before departing on a visit).
If you do visit the area, remember to save the plant information tags on Candide as a quick access guide to identify them. Enjoy your next adventure!
Protea repens on Du Toit's peak (Mont Rochelle)
(1) Rebelo, A. G., Boucher, C., Helme, N., Mucina, L., & Rutherford, M. C. (2006). Fynbos Biome 4. The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, 144-145.
(2) Manning, J. (2018). Field guide to fynbos. Penguin Random House South Africa.