While it’s true that most set their sights on the wilds of South Africa for a chance to sleep under the stars of the Kalahari or search for the Big Five in Timbavati Game Reserve—and who doesn’t want to have a close encounter with a giraffe or hippo?—there are sights and scenery equally as beautiful awaiting in the renowned Cape Floral Kingdom. A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the country’s southwest corner, it is one of only six floral kingdoms in the world (doesn’t that just sound dreamy?), and home to a stunning array of South African plants.
Nature lovers flock to the eight protected areas of the Cape Floral Region for its status as one of the richest areas for plant life in the world. In fact, you’ll find almost 20 percent of the continent’s flora in this area, including the unique fynbos vegetation, meaning “fine bush.” This distinctive South African plant stretches as far as your eye—or binoculars—can see. It’s a natural shrubland vegetation that has adapted to the Mediterranean-esque climate of the region, as well as periodic fires—you’ll notice evergreen hard-leaved shrubs and very few trees in the landscape. It grows abundantly in the area, despite the sandy, shallow soil.
What’s particularly incredible about the fynbos is that it has more diversity of species than even a tropical rainforest—here in the Cape area, there are 9,000 species of fynbos—with more than 2,000 of those occurring on Table Mountain alone. To put this in perspective, that’s more plant species than one would find in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Tea fans will be interested to know that rooibos is part of the fynbos family, and an increasingly popular herbal tea. Proteas is another member of the fynbos clan, as well as staking its claim as South Africa’s national flower and the name of its beloved cricket team.
You’ll want to take in as many of the eight protected areas of the Cape Floral Region as possible, boasting rich South African plant life not seen elsewhere in the world. If you’re making a list—and we hope you are!—consider visiting Cape Peninsula National Park, Cederberg Wilderness Area, Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Boland Mountain Complex, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Swartberg Complex, and Baviaanskloof. The most renowned of these areas is the Cape Peninsula; though it’s the second smallest, it’s easily accessible as you make your way down to the Cape of Good Hope. For Strandveld or coastal fynbos, head to West Coast National Park and Postberg Nature Reserve; and to stroll about in the fynbos, set your sights on Cape Point, Table Mountain, the Silvermine nature reserve, and the Harold Porter Botanical Garden.
And, while the Cape Floral Region is certainly the most well-known for its vegetation, there is ample wildlife here as well—11,000 marine animal species and 560 vertebrate species, including 142 reptile species all call this region home.