On the comparatively verdant, eastern facing slopes of Table Mountain lies one of South Africa’s most under rated, but nonetheless superb attractions. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a world renowned destination, covering five of South Africa’s six biomes, and underwritten by a commitment to the preservation of the natural plant heritage of South Africa, but particularly that in and around the Cape itself, recognized as a bio-diversity hotspot. I do not intend to articulate the peculiarities of the Fynbos biome in this article, here instead is a link to the Wikipedia page on the subject, which details the technical attributes of the flora of the Western Cape region.
As a botanical garden Kirstenbosch is the equal of any in the world, and it probably enjoys a most salubrious location inasmuch as the unadulterated natural beauty of the area compliments very much the accent and tone of this minutely manicured and superbly maintained facility. This is one of those national heritage structures that cannot by its nature me self sustaining, and which requires much unpaid input from a lot of people, as well as a great deal of technical expertise paid for by grants and funding from many sources. As is the case with many such projects in South Africa, there is a most un-African flavor about it all. Reference my earlier article on the Harare Botanical Gardens.
Interestingly, the first thing to greet a visitor to Kirtsenbosch National Botanical Garden is a small collection of Zimbabwean Shona Sculpture, also a feature of the Harare Botanical Gardens, which is a monumental style of sculpture that tends to lend itself to gardens and outdoor displays. The work of famous South African sculptor Dylan Lewis is also on display.
The gardens include a large conservatory (The Botanical Society Conservatory) wherein plants from a number of different regions are exhibit, including savanna, fynbos, karoo among others. Outdoors, the focus moves to plants native to the Cape region, highlighted by the spectacular collections of proteas. Kirstenbosch enjoys great popularity with residents and visitors. From the gardens several trails lead off along and up the mountain slopes and these are much used by walkers and mountaineers. One of the trails, up a ravine called Skeleton Gorge, is an easy and popular route to the summit of Table Mountain. This route is also known as Smuts’ Track after Prime Minister Jan Smuts who used this route regularly. On the slopes above the cultivated parts of the garden a contour path leads through forests to Constantia Nek to the south. The same contour path can be followed to the north for many kilometres and it will take the hiker past the Rhodes Memorial to the slopes of Devil’s Peak and beyond.
There are daily guided walks conducted by local botanists and experts, although even if you are not deeply interested in botany, or gardens in general, Kirstenbosch is a fantastic park for the purpose of repose, meditation or walking. It also features summer weekend concerts, ranging from classical to pop, which also adds to the substance of this wonderful place. It is also a jump-off point for a handful of trails lading to the summit of Table Mountain.
For anyone visiting Cape Town, Kirstenbosch is one to remember. It may not feature large among the many attractions of this multifaceted city, but it is certainly one of the most unique and interesting places among the many places to visit here.