Visit Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens for a Top Family Outing


Our National flower, the proteaCredit: Sue Visser

South African sportsmen are known as the Proteas and Kirstenbosch is home to dozens of varieties of  protea. Kirstenbosch is one of the main attractions for anybody who visits Cape Town for many good reasons. It has something for everyone and especially if you are a lover of plants and all things organic you will be bombed out by the experience. You need to choose a nice sunny day, ideally in spring to see the garden at its best. Not everybody can plan a trip to be there from September to October and it does not really matter because there are plenty of colourful surprises throughout the year. But a rainy day is better spent in a shopping mall, a museum or at a health spa.

If ye seek his monument look around

A tribute to a great botanist, William Pearson who laid out and established the Botannical gardens. He died in 1916 and here lie his remains under a huge Atlas Cedar tree that was a gift from the Kew Gardens of England. He left his legacy and personally gathered, planned and planted out most of original older part of the garden. So - "if ye seek his monument look around" is what we read on his gravestone. This garden is the peaceful home to many birds and small reptiles that we can enjoy, especially when visiting the new Tree Canopy Walk. Let's go!

The grave of Pearson 1926Credit: Sue Visser

We live in Cape Town in South Africa at the southernmost tip of Africa. We have a greater variety of plant species per square kilometer than any other place on earth. Many of your favourite plants originally came from here and you can visit over 2500 different species that grow wild - indigenously in the Cape Peninsula with the famous Protea, our national flower. From all around the world the local plants of this Mediterranean region are joined by other trees, shrubs, bulbs and ferns to make a total of more than 7000 species of plants that spread out for over 1300 acres at the foot of Table Mountain. Just imagine how much time dedicated plant researchers and garden enthusiasts can spend here!

Groups of plants are also presented in special theme gardens that deserve special attention if, like me, you need to know everything about plants that are useful to man. Who knew, for instance, that Africans use certain twigs for cleaning their teeth? The wild olive tree is a favourite for toothpicks and toothbrushes because the leaves and twigs are rich in antimicrobial chemicals. They chew other leaves to freshen their breath. These gardens are user-friendly and include hothouses and a medicinal as well as a fragrant garden where you can touch and smell the leaves and learn how they are used in the home as well as the medicine chest. A special nursery propagates indigenous plants where you can buy them and learn how to make a water wise garden with a few of these hardy plants. Here we see the wild African olive trees.

African subspecies of olive treeCredit: Sue Visser

Our  Kirstenbosch botanical gardens offer generous facilities for all members of the family, even if plants and botany fail to float your boat. There are art galleries, restaurants, luscious lawns, water features and sculpture gardens to enjoy. All the facilities are pram and wheelchair friendly. For intrepid hikers there are contour paths and well defined routes that go right to the top of Table Mountain. During the summer there are a variety of concerts laid on and you can enjoy traditional African music, Jazz, or Classical music.

Enjoy restaurant food as a picinicCredit: Sue Visser

Book for the concerts at Computicket. Bring your own picnic basket along and join the happy crowds on the vast lawn where the audience gathers to enjoy both the scenery and the music. Our summer sunsets are late, so there is plenty of light, even after 8pm. If you come to the gardens a few hours earlier there is ample time to take a good walk around and see Kirstenbosch before the sun goes down.

Plenty to do and seeCredit: Sue Visser

Even if you are blind or visually impaired you are able to follow a special braille trail and wind your way along a path that has a rope you can hold onto so you get the sense of being in the middle of a natural forest. The fragrant garden is a popular attraction, especially for people who like to touch things. The guide rail winds its way around waist high flower beds that have a variety of scented plants. Here one can read the descriptions or the brail notices that are attached behind them and then touch, squeeze or pick leaves to savour their unique aromas. Get a map of the area if you intend coming here often. As South Africans aged 60 and above, we enjoyed free access to the gardens! Younger SA citizens (in prams) are also allowed to enter at no charge.  The normal fee is R 45 and is good value for anybody's pocket.

The fragrance gardenCredit: Sue Visser

The Medicinal Garden shows how some of the diverse medicinal plants found in South Africa are used by the local inhabitants. For them, the plants have special powers that go beyond their phytochemicals, antimicrobial and anti inflammatory effects - they have magical qualities! Wander around their traditional medicines and see how they are propagated and used to this day by over 60% of the indigenous people. They are often taken in preference to patent drugs and scheduled medicines because the plants can also break wicked spells, they believe. Impepho is a variety of sage with strong smelling leaves that are used  for earache and dressing septic woulds. Tea made from the leaves is used for coughs, colds and flu. They also believe it can chase evil spirits away. It is interesting that scientifically speaking, the smoke from members of the sage family generate negative (healing) ions - just like a Himalayan salt lamp.

African incence - ImpephoCredit: Sue Visser

Don't miss the Water-wise Garden, where you can learn how to grow and maintain a garden with less water than is conventionally required. In the Botanical Society Conservatory you will see species from the dry or semi-desert regions of South Africa. In the centre you will see the giant baobab tree surrounded by myriads of succulent plants, aloes and plants that can thrive in barren, dry rocky areas.

ConservatoryCredit: Sue Visser

Also featured at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is the Peninsula Garden, which has most of the 2 500 plant species found on the Cape Peninsula growing together in attractive terraces and shrubberies. In springtime it explodes with colour and is best seen from mid-August to late October. For an unforgettable experience, take a picture of the huge king protea, South Africa's national flower. You must also try to visit the Protea Garden, especially in spring when they are flowering. Here we see examples of the unique pincushion proteas.

Pincushion proteaCredit: Sue Visser

Another pincushion proteaCredit: Sue Visser

The latest attraction is the tree canopy walkway

The new tree canopy walkCredit: Sue Visser

This walkway starts at the top of a hill and then extends out so visitors can walk across the tops of trees, 12 metres above the ground. The 130 metres of wood and metal have been constructed on top of slender pillars to give one the sensation of floating above a huge sweep of greenery.

Walk and talk to the treesCredit: Sue Visser

It winds and dips around to touch the forest floor in two places and resembles the body of a snake due to its structure of metal ribs topped with a wire cage and wooden slats. It even wobbles and sways. The experience is rather like being in the belly of a large snake - but with a stunning view of the gardens below and the Cape Flats in the distance.

The walkway is wheelchair and pram friendlyCredit: Sue Visser

It was built in 2013-14 to celebrate the centenary of Kirstenbosch in 2013. It took less than a year to build and is the brainchild of architect Henry Fagan and his Partners. He brought this fascinating structure to life, as it were with the help of Mark Thomas Architects and Engineers. It was pre-fabricated in 6 m lengths that were hoisted by crane and bolted together on site with the least of fuss or damage to the green kingdom below. It spans above a section of the original wild almond hedge that Jan Van Riebeeck, our founder of the Cape planted in 1660. The roots seem to be eternal and the trees still bare their bitter wild almonds, but they are not edible - sorry!

The almond hedgeCredit: Sue Visser

The cycad garden is cool and shady

Wander along one of the winding stone paved paths towards the southern side of the gardens and soon you will be in a shady dell, a private place called the Bath. It is said that Lady Anne Barnard, the wife of a Cape Governor used to bathe here a few centuries ago. The pristine mountain stream that flows through the valley is icy cold, so one doubts if that ever happened.

The bathCredit: Sue Visser

Now the pool is surrounded by tree ferns that are evidently prehistoric - plants that dinosaurs used to live among. So too, the variety of cycads we see in this area are also forms of primitive plants with strange fruits that resemble pineapples. Cycads are protected and nobody is allowed to grow them or even move them from their property without a permit.


CycadsCredit: Sue Visser

Kirstenbosch is 13 km from Cape Town

The garden is on the Eastern side of Table Mountain

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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town

The Coffee Table guide to Kirstenbosch

All the history, stats and species

Kirstenbosch: The Most Beautiful Garden in Africa
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Keep this book at home to enjoy before and after your visit to Kirstenbosch

Other things to do in Cape Town

Choose a sunny day to visit Kirstenbosch

Cape Town (City Travel Guide)
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Plan ahead and keep a paperback guide bood with you. Plan for the weather and make the most of the sunny days. Enjoy!