I am personally not a massive flower fan. I can appreciate their beauty when they are cut at the stalk and decorating the middle of a table. Some of them smell pretty nice. I can also appreciate their importance for the environment. But I am not so daisy-crazy that I would opt to drive six hours from Cape Town to the Namaqua National Park to lounge around all day gawking at a handful of pretty flowers. That being said, when the opportunity became available for me to visit the flowers with Old School Group and Old School Tours (a more activity-focused, bespoke travel company) I figured, eh, why not?
A few hours into our trip, I realised just how short-sighted I had been…
There is a reason people go on and on about the spring wildflowers that, between the months of August and September, turn the seemingly lifeless ‘desert-land’ into a dreamy, technicoloured carpet. The seasonal winter rains trigger the flowers to bloom and the warmth of the sun on clear mornings prompts the flowers to uncurl and show off their hues.
It’s almost like nature puts on a bit of a show.
Cruising up to the flower camps in our Old School Group Defender, I was in awe. The drive was simply majestic. It was just nature – raw, wild, untouched, doing her own thing – and we were merely passengers on a journey. As minutes flew by, we were shown reels and reels of colourful footage that drew our eyes away from the road. From the burnt sienna of intricate rock formations, to the fiery floral reds, oranges, yellows and, depending where we were, splashes of blues, purples and pinks – there was a blur of colour everywhere we cast our eyes.
I was so lost in it all that I was completely unprepared for the right turn at the sign Namaqua Flower Camps that indicated we had arrived at our destination.
Our thirsty Land Rover, caked in a layer of rust-coloured dust from the road, pulled up outside reception. With wide eyes and uncontrollable grins, the three of us were welcomed to the Skilpad Flower Camp by a warm, friendly Kurt and a glass of much-appreciated Amarula. The SA Experiences staff really know how to welcome their tired guests. Once the formalities were complete and we were given a quick tour, we were dying to get outside to explore before dark.
While the luxury tents and peaceful surrounds make it tempting to relax and do absolutely nothing, I am unfortunately not wired that way. So I was stoked when our small group was taken for a run around the 5km circular route just a few kilometers from camp. My mind was so far away meandering through the vast wilderness. We were warned that the drought had had an impact on the abundance of flowers this season, but we were NOT disappointed.
The website describes it so perfectly – the flowers truly are nature’s confetti.
It was amazing to stretch our legs after a long drive – especially running through the seemingly endless vistas splashed with colour. When the sun eventually disappeared behind the hills, the bonfire called us to her warmth and we gathered around with a few of the other guests, sharing stories and a few laughs before settling down for our three-course meal in the Daisy Lounge. Without going into much detail about what we ate, all I can say is WOW! The food was so delicious and flavourful, but most importantly, so lovingly prepared!
Dinner stretched into after-dinner drinks and more stories by the campfire under the breath-taking star-studded sky. But my word, you don’t see stars like this in the city. It’s like there is a separate sky with it’s own constellations out here.
While it was hard to bid them good night, the long drive and evening run had eventually caught up with us and cuddling up in a warm bed, in our own luxury tents sounded too good to resist. With plans set for the morning, I passed out the second my head hit the pillow.
I can’t remember the last time I woke up without my first reaction being rolling over, reaching down for my phone and checking what the latest is on Instagram and Facebook. But the beauty about the Skilpad Flower Camp in the heart of the Namaqualand National Park is you have no choice but to disconnect – and in the same breath completely connect with nature and you’re surroundings.
The wind whistled through the open flap in my luxury, canvas tent and gently ushered me from my slumber. My eyes opened lazily and the thought entered my mind – I have absolutely nowhere to rush off to, no messages to respond to, no emails to send and nothing to do but exactly what I want to. How many times can we say all those things these days? As I was contemplating this, I looked out through the mesh entrance to my little haven, onto the mountains that encircled me, with an all-encompassing sense of absolute calm. In a world that is moving at such a rapid pace, it becomes easy for us to forget to stop and be present. But not here. Every opening flower that follows the direction of the sun in this paradise is a glaring reminder to pause and take it all in. I love that about this place.
Like clockwork, 7:29 ticked over to 7:30, and tea, coffee and rusks suddenly arrived on the table and chairs outside the tent.
The aromas of hot coffee – I discovered a bit later – had the purpose of luring guests out of bed just in time for Mother Nature’s little trick…
The sun slowly creeps up over the mountains and casts a bit of light on the awakening landscape. Individual sun rays land on each flower bud and, without fail, the buds slowly but surely start to uncurl. As time goes on, and the petals draw heat from the rays, the flowers transform the green/brown canvas from which they sprung into a myriad of colour and life. Yellows, oranges, whites, reds and combinations of all suddenly appear on the scene and continue to pop open in waves as the sun rises higher. It’s miraculous.
You almost feel like nature is performing this show just for you.
After breakfast and a slow morning, Old School Tours had some more activities on offer for us – so, without hesitation, we jumped into the Defender (well, more like on top of it) to do some serious exploring of the park.
On our 4×4 adventure, we discovered very quickly that it is completely possible to tailor your Namaqualand experience to be exactly what you want it to be.
Consider yourself a petrol head? Take your 4×4 off-roading on the challenging demarcated routes in the park. Seeking adventure? Bring some trail shoes, a swimming costume, your mountain bike and just explore the number of trails that wind through carpets of flowers. Bit of a birdie? Meander through the park with your binos and keep your eyes and ears open for the variety of bird and animal species. Craving quiet? Peel on your comfiest fat-pants, grab your book, melt into the chair outside your luxury tent and allow the gently breeze to caress you while you cradle a glass of wine. Or just wanting to be spoilt? Well that one is your own. The luxury tents have everything you need, the bars are fully stocked, the Daisy lounge is the perfect place to sit and relax and the food that exits the kitchen and lands on your plate is just to die for!
Being adventurers, we were grateful for Old School Tours taking initiative and planing cool activities for us. We took a drive up to a few of the viewpoints in the park and after a pop into the restaurant for a cheeky milkshake we decided to go for an evening run around the floral-dotted paths and then back to our campsite. As we ran, the setting sun enflamed the last flowers that were settling down for the night and curling back into themselves. It was an absolute treat to be a part of.
We made it back to the campsite as the last few minutes of daylight clung to the hillside, just as the friendly staff were prepping our warm showers and lighting the lanterns that illuminate the footpaths.
Then it was time to wind-down again. We slumped into the camping chairs surrounding the fire and appreciated the last drops of sunlight with some cheese, crackers, wine and stories from the days’ adventures. There is something so mesmerising about gazing into open flames under a black sky dotted with specks of silvery stars. You don’t need to speak. You don’t need to think. Just observe and you’re filled up. So lost in the stars and the fire we almost jumped at the call for dinner.
As the last two groups in the whole campsite – the four of us from Old School Group and two American men we befriended the day before – we decided to end off our Skilpad stay with a “family” dinner. That’s the other thing about these adventures: The sense of community. People from all walks of life finding themselves in the same place, coming together, sharing stories, sharing different cultures, and allowing our minds to be positively shaped and molded by our differences.
After dinner and music by the campfire, we were treated to a mobile star-gazing session with a night drive around the camp. Topped up with sweet wine from a small shop we passed on the way up to the camp, and cuddling under blankets on top of the roof of the car, our minds were lost swimming in the sky.
It was the perfect way to end another magical day in Namaqualand.
While we were sad to say goodbye to the Skilpad camp, we had heard amazing things about the Groenrivier Beach Camp, and were looking forward to exploring the coastal section of the park.
Photos from Threshold Photography