Touted as the most scenic self drive tour option in the world, most travellers to the western Cape depart eastwards from Cape Town through the Garden Route, thereby missing out on the gradual transformation of geological features that render a northern detour a photographic adventure.
To most, driving up the west coast and into the Northern Cape is relegated to 4×4 enthusiasts seeking the off-road challenges in the Richtersveld. But for informed nature lovers, this northern journey becomes an annual global destination for a few weeks towards the end of the austral winter.
Here, following the regional winter rains, a stretch of 900 km transforms into a carpet of flowers. From beach to the Eastern horizon, fields of flowers enriched by the orange, yellow and mauve spectrum of the rainbow dwarf the landscape and imagination.
However, this phenomenon poses a few challenges for aspirant and experienced photographers alike. Without a doubt the greatest challenge is being present when the flowers are in bloom. Succumbing to the vagaries of natural cycles, flowering predictions are limited to the broad window of opportunity between the end of July to September.
When in bloom, there are two restrictions to confound every photographer touring on a limited time budget. Firstly, following onset of flowering in a region, there is roughly a duration of three weeks before the flowers simply disappear, seemingly overnight.
If, through good fortune you have managed to plan your arrival correctly, the next phase of surrendering yourself to the simplicity of nature is hoping that the sun shines. A quirk of evolution has pre disposed the floral diversity of the region to restrict petal deployment to dazzling bright sunshine.
A crucial reproduction requirement for pollination are insects, all of which are enticed into their fertility role by the lure of nectar. But being winter flowering, the insects only become active as the day temperatures increase, normally from mid morning onwards. As an energy-saving metabolic mechanism, the plants limit nectar production to the same time that insects are active. Obviously, another consequence is that it is redundant for plants to open their petals any earlier. So, should it be a cloudy day, the plants keep their flowers closed to conserve energy. There can be nothing more frustrating than a week of overcast conditions if you are seeking that winning image of a floral tapestry receding across the landscape.
Once you have resigned yourself to these sutleties of nature, there are a few more daunting tasks ahead of which composition, lighting and white balance are crucial which fortunately modern technology is a secret assistant. Without a doubt the largest debate is simply, which section of this display to attempt to digitize for prosperity. The winding track bisecting the fields of bloom? Or the intricate detail of a macro?
We exist in a world of infinite opportunities, and being present during the West Coast flowers is to be participant to an infinite range of compositions, all of which will leave you dreaming in the bright spectrum of the Photoshop pallet. If a visit to the flowers does not inspire your creativity, then maybe it is time to visit a pawn shop, trade your camera in and research a new hobby.