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29 September 2017

Jane Horgan recently journeyed to the Western Cape of South Africa with botanist John Parker and a group of intrepid ACE travellers.


On tour with John Parker in South Africa: Flowers of the Fairest Cape

From time to time, those of us who usually work behind a desk in the ACE office, planning tours for the future, are privileged to accompany a tour. Jane Horgan recently journeyed to the Western Cape of South Africa with botanist John Parker and a group of intrepid ACE travellers.

Watch Jane's video slideshow of her South Africa tour highlights

Our path meandered gently towards the sea, hugged on both sides by green carpets full of flowers.

The air was warm and tasted of salt and pollen; while in the near distance, southern right whales launched themselves out of the Indian Ocean and came crashing back into the waves.

Our view was both immense and multi-layered. The next stop across the sea would be Antarctica, while behind us stretched one of the most physically stunning and botanically diverse landscapes in the world.

The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

It was our first full day at the De Hoop Nature Reserve, and we’d driven to Koppie Alleen, the reserve’s beautiful coastline, for lunch and an afternoon of whale watching.

We’d spent that morning delving into the spectacular fynbos (or ‘fine scrub’) of the reserve, building an ever-deepening impression of the Cape’s staggering biodiversity.

Later, we would drive back to our De Hoop accommodation past clusters of zebras, bontebok, ostrich and eland.

The following morning, taking a post-breakfast walk beside the reserve’s vlei, I would pause to watch flamingos soaring in jewel-like formation above the water and beneath the rising sun.

Our September tour to South African’s Western Cape, led by botanist Professor John Parker, had at its heart the world famous biodiversity of this geographically tiny, yet botanically unique, floral kingdom.

There is rarely, however, just one way to perceive a landscape, and our core subject was richly blended with geology, history, culture, and the breath-taking fauna of the Cape from the moment we landed in Cape Town to our final drive back to the airport.

From the singing of pre-school children at the Flower Valley Conservation Trust, to a Cederberg Mountain trail uncovering dramatic indigenous rock art, to the candlelit braai (barbecue) provided by the owners of our characterful accommodation in Citrusdal – every experience added to our understanding of the region.

Yet as our journey continued – each new location a striking contrast to the last – we came away with a much grander impression of what we did not know, and would probably soon forget. Like the vast number of floral species on the Cape, there was simply too much to discover!

Penguins at Boulder's Beach, South Africa

This, of course, was exactly what I was hoping for. An ACE nature tour strives to offer much more than a single perspective on a destination.

It aims to build layer upon layer so that travellers come away with a rich, increasingly holistic view of their environment. While John Parker took us on a journey through the incredible botany of the Cape, he also introduced us to the bird and other animal life that thrives in this unique part of the world, and provided a crucial window onto the connections between flora, fauna, geology and society.

Robbie, our charismatic local guide, added another dimension: born in Cape Town, he illuminated the social, economic and political nuances of South Africa (as well as keeping us constantly entertained!).

Often these talking points struck very close to home. We’d travelled to the Cape in South Africa’s springtime, when the rains of winter give rise to a stunning array of wildflowers.

At the time we arrived, however, the anticipated rains had yet to materialise, and Cape Town was in the midst of a severe drought.

Fortunately, the water levels had increased by the time we returned to Cape Town at the end of our tour, however the impact of the drought on human, plant and animal life was always on our minds – a sobering reminder of the fragility of this beautiful, dynamic environment.

I have many wonderful memories of ACE’s tour to South Africa: watching Cape zebra graze in wildflower meadows at the Postberg Flower Reserve, eating deliciously meaty cold water fish at the Cape of Good Hope, and photographing the stunning Protea species nurtured in Hermanus’s Fernkloof Reserve.

I could not have asked to spend two weeks with a warmer or more engaging group of ACE travellers, or to be shown so much about a part of the world I had never visited before. I am particularly delighted that John Parker will be leading this adventure again in 2018 – and hopefully for years to come!


Jane Horgan

Jane is the head of ACE's product team and joined botanist John Parker in September 2017 on tour to South Africa.



John Parker gets up close to some lesser known species

Beautiful wild flowers at Potsberg Reserve

View ACE's departure to South Africa in 2018 here >>