Exploring South Africa's beautiful Garden Route
27th May 2022
The fleeting explosion of colour and life brought by a carpet of wild flowers is an uplifting sight that is good for the soul. Here are some of the world’s finest places to experience a floral blaze of glory, whether a brief springtime burst or a year-round, tropical display.
Spring falls from mid-March to May in the high valleys of the Himalaya, and brings abundant growth as flowering plants erupt into bloom. Bhutan is particularly famous for its rhododendrons; more than 40 species grow wild here, as well as around 600 varieties of wild orchids. Similarly, as the snow melts on the high meadows in Nepal, flowers quickly emerge. Vivid blue primula carpet the newly revealed ground underfoot, and magnolia and rhododendrons fill the valleys with impressive bursts of colour. The rhododendron is Nepal’s national flower and is called ‘laliguras’ locally. Kopra ridge, Poon Hill and Makalu base camp are the best areas to see the wild blooms covering the Nepalese slopes.
Almost overnight, the arid landscape of the west coast of South Africa is transformed into a vibrant, multicoloured flower fest. It's an unforgettable metamorphosis brought about by the winter rains, which coax the usually dull-looking shrubs into bloom. Vivid purples, oranges, pinks and whites pepper the impressively expansive scenery, and the overall effect is spellbinding. The blooms begin in the northern cape, Namaqualand, around late July or early August and advance south from here. Cederberg is usually best from mid to late August and late August to early September for the West Coast. The exact timing and longevity of the wildflower bloom is obviously dependent on many factors, but this is most definitely a sight worth making an effort to see.
The tropical jungles of Sabah in Borneo hide a huge number of intriguing species of wild flowers, including the largest flower in existence, the rafflesia. Certain species of these amazing ‘corpse flowers’ can grow to over a metre and weigh more than 10 kilos. The reason these giant flowers are named as such is because they give off a scent of rotting flesh which attracts insects to act as pollinators. Also present in Sabah are carnivorous plants which entrap insects in their vessels and absorb them for nutrients. Orchids are commonplace, though some varieties are quite rare and exceptionally beautiful. You can visit Sabah year round and always find a great array of tropical flora; though be sure to ask about the likelihood of finding rafflesia. The rafflesia flower can take nine months to get from bud to bloom but only flowers for a few days. This can occur at any time of year.
Meadows brimming with tall-stemmed yellow, white and pinky-purple primula are a feast for the eyes up in the high altitude plateaus of Tibet. The main month for blooms at this lofty elevation is June and often also July, but this depends on the speed and timing of the spring snowmelt. There are plenty of orchids in the area, as well as rhododendrons, iris and peonies. Yunnan is a large and diverse province in the south west of China, butting up against the Himalaya in the cooler north and extending right down into the steamy tropical jungles and rice terraces in the far south, near the border with Laos and Vietnam. A similarly varied flora is a hallmark of this scenic area of China.
A real treat for the botanist, Costa Rica is a riot of colour and unique plant life all year round. The primordial rainforests host innumerable species of immense variety, many of which are highly adapted to the precise conditions of their local ecosystem. Epiphytes seem to survive on thin air, but in fact are adept at absorbing moisture from the air and can photosynthesise their food. Orchids are common in Costa Rica, as are heliconia, ferns and flowering trees. Many species of flower have developed features that encourage pollination by unusual means, some even adapting to the anatomy of bats or hummingbirds to encourage them to drink their nectar and therefore pollinate them. March is the best time for flowering trees, but there are many plants that bloom all year round, with the green season (May to November) heralding particularly lush and abundant flora.
To find out more about these divine destinations or to quiz our knowledgeable local experts on the best floral experiences in their region, click on the links above.