Botanical garden tour Kirstenbos South Africa - www.classicencounters.com

 

NAMAQUALAND - LAND OF WILD FLOWERS

The Northern Cape's Namaqualand region is unique in every way. During the springtime this gentle desert erupts into a myriad of wildflowers in dazzling array. It is said of this spectacle "you weep twice when visiting Namaqualand - first when you arrive, and once when you leave…."

  • Namaqualand, in South Africa's far north-western corner, is much-loved by botanists and visitors as one of the world's most special places and the most unusual desert on earth.

  • Conservation International has recognised this desert as the earth's only arid hotspot of biodiversity, placing it among the 25 most ecologically valuable places in the world.

  • This dry land is home to almost 3 000 plants, most of them found nowhere else on the planet.

  • When spring comes to the Namaqualand, the dry land is covered by wild sweeps of orange, pink, white and yellow flowers. It is a time of frenzied reproduction, when plants generously show off their wares to prospective pollinators, yet the spectacular display lasts for only two months, at most, often less.

  • Ditch your binoculars in favour of a magnifying glass. It will give you a startling insight into the "landing lights" designed by the flowers to attract their favoured pollinators.

  • Neil McGregor, who owns the farm Glen Lyon just outside Nieuwoudtville found a way of farming his sheep in such that it guarantees maximum biodiversity, echoing to some extent the effects of the trekbokke (springboks) decades ago. Every spring, farming takes a backseat while he drives fascinated tourists around on special bus tours that are booked up months in advance by foreigners and locals.

  • The spectacular sweeps of colour over the landscape are spectacular are also Nature's highlighters, indicating old fields or where ground has been overgrazed or ploughed up. In fact, the fields of orange and yellow that are so sought after at Skilpad Nature Reserve, now part of the promising Namaqua National Park, are kept flowering by careful dint of disturbance and ploughing after spring.

  • There are about 1 000 species of succulents, and they are among Namaqualand's most charismatic plants. They make up at least one third of the desert's flora, and one tenth of the world's succulents. Some are minute, the smallest in the world. The Mesembryanthemaceae (mesembs, or vygies) are the foremost family among these succulents.

  • The first thing you learn as a flower tourist is that the flowers are incredibly sensitive to temperature, generally closing when the temperature is below 17 deg Celsius (or even 20 deg C on the coast).

  • The Namaqualand is full of edible and medicinal plants - if you know where to look. The slimy roots of Grielum humifusum, better known by the more descriptive name Pietsnot, can make a meal, if you're really hungry. In fact, they and the underground organs of many other plants formed the staple carbohydrate diet for Khoi and Nama.

  • Colla Swart, a photographer who lives in Kamieskroon (in the middle of the Namaqualand) has opened many people's eyes to the beauty of Namaqualand, but she always says the flowers are just the lipstick on the face of a beautiful woman whose face is exquisite, but different, all year round.

  • Possibly the most touching thing about the Namaqualand is its tenacious beauty that seems ever willing to transform the land in unexpected places.

  • The Kokerboom or Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma) is one of the few large plants in the Namaqualand. It acquired its name from the Khoi's use of the hollowed out stems or branches to hold arrows. These trees are concentrated in the eastern and northern parts of the Namaqualand, and can live to be 100 years old.

 

 

PRETORIA TO CAPE TOWN

Board The Blue Train in the jacaranda city of Pretoria - the administrative capital of South Africa - and travel south through farmlands and along the 'golden arc'; visible only by the mining shafts in the distance.

En-route to Cape Town, stop in Kimberly for an off-the-train excursion. Kimberly, once the epicenter of a worldwide diamond rush.  This city's chequered history is inextricably linked with the romance of those rare and beautiful stones. 

Here The Blue Train guests are cordially invited to disembark, take a tour through the streets of modern day Kimberly to visit the Kimberly Mine Museum and the 'Big Hole'. The Blue Train luxury coach is used to transport guests, alternatively they can be taken on a historic electric tram when it is available.

Step back into a world of pioneers and adventurers-circa 1880.  Marvel at the sheer magnitude of the "Big Hole",  the largest hole in the world excavated by hand. At a replica of an alluvial-diamond diggers, try your luck at panning and possibly finding a diamond of your very own!

Board The Blue Train once more and continue on to a South bound journey into the heartland of the Great Karoo. 

Awaken to the sight of vineyards and orchards as you descend through mysterious and beautiful valleys and mountains, such as Drakenstein, Slanghoek and Elandskloof - towards Cape Town's imposing and instantly recognizable Table Mountain, sentinel and gateway to the African continent.

The city of Cape Town has a lot to offer a discerning tourist.

Among places of interest, you can visit pearl-white beaches washed by the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, watch colorful, old-style fishing boats in Kalk Bay, explore the old Malay slave quarters, enjoy the finest seafood in the world, wander through Greenmarket Square's famous flea market and enjoy a sundowner at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

 

CAPE TOWN TO PRETORIA

Board The Blue Train on the return leg, follow on the northbound tracks of Cecil John Rhodes, who dreamed of a railroad from Cape to Cairo.  

Pass through the wine lands of the fertile Hex River valley, in the shadow of imposing mountains, up and inland to the endless sweeping landscapes of the Karoo.

Here, between high-road and rail-road, is the tiny hamlet of Matjiesfontein.

The Blue Train guests are invited for a short ride back in time, on a historical London double decker bus.  Stop a while   and savor the vastness and the silence of the surrounding plains.  The Victorian buildings and original nineteenth century London lamp posts impart to the traveler, the uncanny sense of entering a colonial timewarp - an oasis suspended in a different age.

Stretch your legs, breathe in the dry clear air and walk in the footsteps of those who over the years have been enchanted by this place.  Among them, Lord Randolph Churchill, Cecil Rhodes, Olive Schriener and the Sultan of Zanzibar. 

Enjoy a drink at the renowned Lord Milner Hotel - refurbished in the 1970's by the visionary hotelier and designer David Rawdon, who bought the entire village.

Board The Blue Train once more for the  journey northward into the interior.

After an exciting interlude guests are welcome to refresh themselves and enjoy pre-dinner drinks at any one of our lounges. 

First sitting for dinner starts at 19:00.   Remember dinner is an elegant affair and men are requested to wear a jacket and tie or dress in traditional attire and ladies are requested to wear elegant evening or traditional wear.

Before you drift to sleep, glance through the window at a sky filled with a trillion stars.  And when you awake, you will be approaching the mining centers on the Gold Reef, and will soon end your journey in the jacaranda city - Pretoria.

 

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ROMANCING THE WILD