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A Riot of Colour

 
09 January 2017 by Katy Louise Johnson

Traditionally September is the month for flower enthusiasts to pack-up their bakkies and 4x4 trailers and head to Namaqualand in time to be dazzled by the daisies.  For the real diehard fans, this is then followed by a trip to the West Coast for the fynbos flowers in October.

Main image credit: Frans Krige

 

Traditionally September is the month for flower enthusiasts to pack-up their bakkies and 4x4 trailers and head to Namaqualand in time to be dazzled by the daisies.  For the real diehard fans, this is then followed by a trip to the West Coast for the fynbos flowers in October.

But what if you missed it?

Never fear, there is an equally spectacular floral showcase that only starts in November but extends all the way through to March and the best bit? For Mpumalanga residents it is right on their doorstep!

 

Image credit: Elsa Pooley

Few people realise that over half of South Africa’s 10,000 wild flower species can be found in our country’s grasslands and savannahs. With a large proportion of our province covered in grasslands Mpumalanga is one of the best places to see this spring and summertime spectacle!

Dullstroom and eMakhazeni (Belfast) might be more famed for their bitter cold mornings and fantastic fly-fishing opportunities, but to those in the know during the summer months they are brought to life with more than just a splash of colour.

 

Image credit: Frans Krige

Spring heralds the awakening of literally hundreds of wild flowers that come out of winter dormancy, spurred on by veld fires and the warm spring air. Painting the landscape with vivid purples, deep reds and an array of yellows and oranges too, they transform the soft green grasslands of the Highlands Meander into a multi-coloured canvas.

The plant life in this area is visually magnificent and is also exceptionally important in terms of its conservation value as many of the area’s wild flowers. Many of the area’s wildflowers are endemic to the high-altitude subalpine climate. The Highlands Meander is famed for its rare and endangered plant species. Like the incredibly rare Disa zuluensis and Disperis oxyglossa terrestrial orchid species, that was found here by Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency amateur botanist Frans Krige.

The hope is to start promoting the area for its flowers, alongside the fishing, fireplaces, food and feathered friends the region, and in particular Dullstroom, is renowned for and the plan seems to be working!

 

Image credit: Frans Krige

Thanks to the growing interest in Mpumalanga’s floral richness more and more landowners in the area are having their properties earmarked to be proclaimed as Protected Areas on the basis of the wild flowers found there.  If this comes to pass these protected areas will shield huge swaths of this landscape in National Legislation, saving it from the ever present threat of development and mining.

Verloren Valei Nature Reserve is proof that protected status works and just so happens to be at the epicentre of the regions floral wealth. Initially two separate farms, joined thanks to funds raised by the South African Nature Foundation, WWF and Rupert family. This  5 895 ha reserve is one of only a handful of protected high-altitude grasslands, with the lowest point in the reserve still over 2000m above sea level. So as well as being a RAMSAR wetland site of international importance, thanks to the 39 clustered and interlinked  wetlands , the nature reserve also protects one of South Africa’s most threatened ecosystems – Mountain Grasslands.

 

Image credit: Elsa Pooley

Rich in birdlife and other wildlife, it is the annual wildflower blooms that have become the reserves biggest tourist attraction. When the treeless landscape is transformed into a patchwork of floral infusion, spanning hectares and painting the area in vivid hues.

Found within this floral treasure trove there are over 55 orchid species. Many of which have only reappeared thanks to the reserve’s protected status, which has prevented cattle grazing and ensured a proper fire management regime. It not just orchids that have got the floral world excited, aloes, gladiolas, arum lilies, proteas, daisies and a host of other wildflower species make a spring or summer time trip to this wonderful reserve a feast for the eyes!

 

Image credit: Frans Krige

So how do you get to enjoy the splender of the Highlands Meander in bloom? There are a number of different ways.

You can take a scenic drive through the Highlands Meander, winding your way along the escarpment, while enjoying the history, vistas and interesting attraction along route as you go in search of wild flowers.

 

Image credit: Frans Krige  |  Image credit: Ronel

But probably the best option is to visit one of the many reserves and protected areas that have remained untouched and in pristine condition. My suggestion would be booking yourself on a guided flower tour of Verloren Valei with wildflower experts like Frans and Gerrit. They will show you the reserves most spectacular settings and its best hidden floral gems. So be prepared to see over 20 different orchid species in just one day! Be warned you will need to book in advance as the guided tours fill up fast and comfortable walking shoes are a must! You will also need to make sure you pack your wildflower guide, camera, plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen too.

So prepared to be dazzled, inspired and overawed as you witness the grasslands of the Highlands Meander come alive in a riot of colour.

 

Image credit: Frans Krige

MORE INFORMATION:

To book a flower excursion to Verloren Valei, contact Elsa: wildflowersdullstroom@gmail.com or vermeulen.elsa@gmail.com | 072 593 7587

Excursions normally start at Millys shop opposite the Petrol Station at 9 am, where you will meet your guide. Guests then drive in convoy to the site, before enjoying a 4 hour flower hunt to discover all the wonderful jewels Verloren Valei has to offer. The tour ends at 3 pm, so make sure you bring enough food and drinks to keep your energy up during the excursion!