Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a jewel of Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. It’s so much more than just a flower garden. The gardens contain plants, trees, shrubs, bushes, water features, and much more. The flowers are actually a small part of what Kirstenbosch has to offer. This is what makes it such a wonderful place to visit and spend time.
Nestled into the side of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch offers a peek into the present and the past of the flora of South Africa. The garden was officially established in 1913, but the area has been occupied and utilized in some form or another since the Stone Age (artifacts found there corroborate this). The name Kirstenbosch means “Kirsten’s Forest,” and is thought to be named for an associate with a family with the surname Kirsten, though that’s just a guess. No one really knows exactly how Kirstenbosch earned its name, which was first used officially in 1795 in a property inventory document during British occupation.
Walking through Kirstenbosch is a lovely experience. As you walk through the canopied walkways, you can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of a forest. As those tree-covered walkways open up into bright vistas, you feel the sunlight streaming down. These wide open spaces branch off into quite different parts of the garden. One path leads to another then another, which leads to more greenery and interesting plants and trees. This garden truly is an explorer’s paradise. There’s so much to see and experience around each corner.
While Kirstenbosch has numerous impressive features, below are three of most interesting and unique:
Garden of Extinction – The name sounds a bit dire but that’s because the situation for some of these plants is dire. For a few species of plants, the ones planted here are the last to be known in existence. Others are species under serious threat. The small garden serves as a visual reminder of how important it is to be mindful of the plants and organisms threatened by man’s continuing need to dominate the landscape. Stepping into this garden offers perspective and serves to remind visitors that we must practice conservation now. If we put it off any longer, it’ll be too late for many fragile plant species.
The Colonel’s Birdbath – This stone bird-shaped bath was built around 1811 by Colonel William Bird. The bath is built around a natural ice-cold pool that’s fed by four underwater springs. This water used to be piped into the colonel’s home, back when such a thing existed on the garden’s present day grounds. As you can see below, the spring is tucked way under a tree canopy, in a section of the garden called The Dell. The stonework of the bath is lovely and the environment provides a peaceful resting spot during the trek through the gardens.
Tree Canopy Walkway – We visited Kirstenbosch and the Cape Peninsula in 2012, back before the tree canopy walkway was installed, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Presently, this walkway is a major feature of the gardens. It allows visitors to experience the gardens from among and above the tree canopy. This walkway allows visitors to see the park in ways only dreamed about before its construction. The walkway is 130 meters (426 feet) long and is situated between the Protea Garden, Cycad Amphitheatre, the Dell, Mathews Rockery, and the Concert Lawn. I’d love to actually see this!
If you visit Cape Town, visit Kirstenbosch. It’s a great way to spend a half day or more experiencing the more natural side of this world-famous city. Kirstenbosch has a lovely gift shop (and several other retail outlets) plus three different restaurants so there’s plenty to keep you busy should some rain come or if it’s perhaps too hot mid-day. The admission price is reasonable and totally worth the entry. This botanical garden experience is none you’ll not forget. For us, it’s three years later, and we still recall our visit fondly and quite vividly.