One of the world’s most enchanting botanical gardens – 528 hectares (36 cultivated, the remainder protected forest), trails blazing through luxurious vegetation, flowers, plants, trees and the remnants of a wild almond border (planted in 1660 by Jan van Riebeek to demarcate the extent of Dutch territory) – the magnificence of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is such that it was named a World Heritage Site in 2004 by UNESCO. It was created in 1913 by Henry Harold Pearson – an academic out of Cambridge University and professor of botany at the South African College – as the first garden in the world specifically designed to protect the country’s native flora.
In Pearson’s time, it was little more than rugged agricultural land visited by pigs and other alien plants brought to the continent over the centuries. The early days saw the biodiversity of the garden returned to its original state, and the designing of the basic characteristics of the place, which remain visible to this day. But in this modern world of social media, what has given new-found fame to Kirstenbosch is the construction of the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, a serpentine bridge in steel and wood that takes its inspiration from a local poisonous snake (the Boomslang) and winds its way at various heights among the trees. This winding 130-metre long suspended walkway makes the very best of the sloping land, twice reaching down to touch the ground within the forest before rising to some 12 m high over the treetops to provide some spectacular panoramic views of the nearby mountains (definitely one for instagram).
Kirstenbosch is run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and is home to a variety of settings and sections: from a hanging garden filled with aromatic plants to a tour with details in braille, to an area with fynbos (a singular types of bush found in South Africa) and proteas (age-old local flowers), not to mention a whole section devoted to plants used in traditional medicine. Yet in the midst of all this, you can find sculptures and works of art, rest areas, a shop selling plants for your garden, and an area that is home to entertaining concerts of a Sunday evening in summer. It could hardly be clearer as to why it has become one of the key attractions in Cape Town for residents and visitors alike.
Photo Mark David Alunni