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  • Jamie Thom

Cape West Coast - Flower explosion

The West Coast National Park is much loved by bikers, hikers, birders, whale-watchers, plant-lovers, kite-boarders, kayakers and anglers. But if you’re not into all that action, just spend a little time following a tortoise around. Or sit and gaze at the antelope picking their way through spring flowers.

There are times at the West Coast National Park when you may feel a case of sensory overload coming on. For photographers, that's usually in the first flush of spring. The waters of the Langebaan lagoon are a delicious turquoise fading to white at the shoreline. The wild flowers have turned the land orange, purple, yellow and pink all the way to the horizon. And then, entering stage left, a herd of eland and bontebok, striding over the flowers as if they were pacing out the world's biggest and most colourful Persian carpet.

Spring flower season in the Cape Region runs from the beginning of August to the end of September; though the best viewing period is from the last two weeks of August until mid-September. Also, keep in mind that the flowers only throw back their delicate heads on sunny days. So, don’t go bloom hunting on a cloudy afternoon, and wait until the sun’s high in the sky (between 10:30am and 3:30pm is best) to take in the exquisite flora. Though, if making a mission to the West Coast National Park, it’s not a bad idea to arrive early in anticipation of potential queues. If unsure about whether the blooms are still on show, give the park offices a call (West Coast National Park: +27 (0) 22 772 2144

If you're also a birder, that's when you might just slip over into ecstasy. Around 200 species can be seen here, just around the lagoon. Many are from far afield. The curlew sandpiper, for example, makes a pilgrimage to the West Coast National Park all the way from the Arctic every year.

Flamingoes, knots, whimbrels, sanderlings, godwits and gulls all come to feed in the life-giving waters.

Apart from eland, you could also see springbok, kudu, gemsbok and the rare mountain zebra. In summer hundreds of tortoises patrol the flowering land.

It comes as no great surprise that people have been drawn to this area for hundreds of thousands of years. As proof, a geologist found the famous footprints of Eve on a rock in 1995. Palaeoanthropologists calculate that 117 000 years ago, an ancient woman about 1.5 metres tall left the imprints while walking up a steep, damp dune. The indentations were preserved by blowing sand that later hardened.

The rock has been removed to Iziko Museums' South African Museum in Cape Town for safekeeping from erosion.

You can't help but wonder what 'Eve' would have made of this colourful park - and the modern humans kite-boarding, kayaking, cycling and whale-watching near the dunes she once walked.

Interestingly, the Langebaan lagoon was used as a runway for giant Catalina flying boats during World War II.

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