Most of the year the sandveld region north of the Olifants River, a vast semiarid area known as Namaqualand, sees very few visitors. But come the rains in August or September, the seeds that lie dormant under these dusky plains explode into vivid bloom and 4,000 species deck the ground in a magnificent, multicolored carpet. Because of the huge distances to cover to get to Namaqualand (Springbok is some 544km/337 miles from Cape Town), you might want to make sure that the season has begun before you set off on a driving tour (though you'll struggle to find accommodations if you haven't booked well in advance) -- note that the season starts on the coast and moves inland. Getting there is pretty straightforward: The area is reached via the N7 highway, which connects Cape Town with Namibia. If you find the distances daunting, note that Signature Flight Support (tel. 021/934-0350) will fly you by private charter to Springbok Airport.
The seasonal flower displays start quite close to Cape Town, but you enter the more remote and more spectacular flower region soon after the N7 bypasses Vanrhynsdorp, 283km (175 miles) north of Cape Town. This marks the halfway point between Cape Town and Namaqualand's "capital," Springbok, and while it's strictly still part of the Western Cape, it's well worth planning an overnight stop in the region. To do this, ascend the African plateau by taking the R27 via Van Rhyn's Pass to charming Nieuwoudtville, touted as "the bulb capital of the world" and famed for its white sandstone architecture, or travel farther east to Calvinia. If you're traveling in late August, note that the biggest braai (barbecue) in the country -- the annual Hantam Meat Festival -- is held in Calvinia at this time, offering rare tastings of such native delicacies as kaiings (salted crackling) and skilpadjies (liver in caul fat). To overnight in Nieuwoudtville during flower season, you'll have to reserve long in advance: Try booking Ystervark Cottage (tel. 027/218-1522 or 083/675-1825), a converted stone barn that sleeps two. Contact the Nieuwoudtville Publicity Association (tel. 027/218-1336) for more accommodations options.
For the best tours in this region, conducted in a fantastic old Bedford bus from the 1950s, contact Neil MacGregor (tel. 027/218-1200; bookings essential), a third-generation farmer who has hosted the likes of David Attenborough and his BBC team when they were filming The Private Life of Plants at his farm, Glenlyon. Having traversed the Knersvlakte (literally "Plains of Grinding Teeth"), the first important stop north of Vanrhynsdorp is Kamieskroon (174km/109 miles farther on the N7), the last town before Springbok, which lies some 67km (42 miles) farther north on the N7. Kamieskroon is literally a one-horse town, but its claim to fame is the nearby Skilpad (Tortoise) Wildflower Reserve (tel. 027/672-1948; daily 8am-5pm in season only, entrance fee R30/$4/£2). Created by the World Wildlife Fund, and part of the Namaqua National Park, the reserve (18km/11 miles west of town on the Wolwepoort Rd.) catches what little rain blows in off the sea, and is always magnificent during the flower season. The other reason to stop here is the Kamieskroon Hotel (tel. 027/672-1614; firstname.lastname@example.org). The hotel charges R300 ($42/£21) per person during the flower season, and also cohosts the annual Namaqualand Photographic Workshops (www.kamieskroonhotel.com). Cofounded by local photographer Colla Swart and the internationally renowned Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson (the latter was involved in the 2006 workshop; for 2007 Maurice Henri will be leading the group), the spring workshop usually runs for 7 days and costs around R7,800 ($1,083/£557) per person; look at the website for exact dates and prices (and do it soon; there is usually a waiting list). Note: Try to get your hands on a copy of Freeman Patterson's Garden of the Gods (Human & Rousseau), which features the beauty of Namaqualand in full bloom, to whet your appetite for a trip north.
The best place to stay (and eat) in Springbok is the Springbok Lodge & Restaurant, on the corner of Voortrekker and Keerom roads (tel. 027/712-1321; email@example.com; R260/$36/£19 double without air-conditioning and fridge, or R280/$39/£20 double with air-conditioning and fridge). The lodge is clean, but it's far from luxurious. Owner Jopie Kotze, who calls his lodge "a living museum," is a mine of information, and his restaurant walls are lined with photographs and artifacts relating to the area. You can also overnight in self-catering chalets at the top attraction, the Goegap Nature Reserve (tel. 027/718-9906), 15km (9 1/4 miles) southeast of Springbok. The reserve is open daily from 8am to 6pm, though the office closes at 4pm. Admission is R10 ($1.40/70p) for adults, R5 (70¢/35p) for children.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.