The Namaqua West Coast region is world renowned for its spectacular bio-diversity. A vast number of plant species - many endemic - are represented in the region's fynbos, salt marshes, vygieveld, gannabosveld, renosterveld and strandveld.

This unique heritage is conserved in three protected areas: the Moedverloren Nature Reserve, the Kapel Conservation Area and the Lutzville Conservation Area.

The Knersvlakte north of Vanrhynsdorp is one of the richest and most diverse succulent regions in the world, and home to a third of the world's dwarf succulents. It also has one of the largest concentrations of endangered plant species in the world. The miniature succulents come in all shapes and sizes, and are known locally by descriptive names like baba-boudtjies, krapogies and vingers en duimpies.

Every spring tourists flock to the southern Namaqualand when veld bursts into flower after the winter rains. Vygies are the dominant succulent family, and create dramatic mass displays of oranges and purples. The flower season usually starts at the end of July and comes to an end early in October. Winter rainfall patterns have a direct impact on the quality and duration of the Flower Season. Hot easterly winds can also shorten the lifespan of the flowers.

Soil lichen - delicate fungal and algae structures that function as a single plant - are easily overlooked in a landscape of towering mountains and vast plains, but here too the southern Namaqualand has a unique heritage. Soil lichens form a delicate layer of plant material on the soil's surface and help to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Thirty-five different lichens have been recorded in Namaqualand, and more than half are endemic to the region.

Namaqua Trading Post (known as Kokerboom Nursery in the past) in Vanrhynsdorp has a valuable selection of more than 700 succulent species, and also well worth a visit. The nursery was started by Buys Wiese as a way of rescuing the thousands of rare succulents that would otherwise have been destroyed during the construction of the N7 between Cape Town and Namibia.



 

Millions of years ago the Knersvlakte was covered in water, a vast delta created by the prehistoric Gariep River. Today millions of small quartz pebbles and tiny marine fossils are all that has remained of this ancient riverbed.

Archeologists have found Stone Age tools and rock shelters near the Varsche River north of Vanrhynsdorp, and a large number shell middens along the coast. Some of the middens are at least 5 000 years old and suggest early inhabitants subsisted on a diet of fish, shellfish, seals, tortoises, waterfowl, antelope, bulbs and berries.

San rock art sites can also be found in the Gifberg, Koebee and Matzikamma Mountains. These cultural heritage sites are protected by law and the drawings may not be touched or vandalised.

The area around Vanrhynsdorp and Vredendal was once the traditional grazing ground of the Grigriqua, a nomadic tribe of Khoi pastoralists. Today their descendants are known as the Griqua. Ratelgat - a cultural heritage centre near Vanrhynsdorp - serves as the Griqua nation's spiritual home.

Many towns in the southern Namaqualand were originally founded as mission stations. The oldest mission station, the Troe-Troe Zending in Vanrhynsdorp was established by the Moravian Missionary Society in 1751. The Rhenish Missionary Society founded a mission station at Ebenhaezer in 1834. Two Catholic mission stations were established during the early 20th century: the Catholic Mission of the Little Flower in Vanrhynsdorp and Vergenoeg in Vredendal.

During the SA War (1899-1902) the British built five forts in the southern Namaqualand. The fort on the farm Aties near Vanrhynsdorp has survived and has been declared a national monument. A famous battle took place in February 1902 on the farm Windhoek, 15 km south of Vanrhynsdorp, when the British forces ambushed the Cape Rebels. Despite suffering heavy losses the heavily out-numbered Boer forces won and captured 90 British soldiers, 100 horses and 25 wagons of provisions. General Bouwer and his troop of 115 Boers were eventually defeated on the farm Aties in June 1902.



 

The Flamingo Birding Route is one of the region's best kept secrets and introduces enthusiasts to a number of excellent birding sites in mountain, coastal, sandveld and estuarine habitats.

The greatest concentration of birds can be found within the Olifants River estuary, an important habitat for thousands of migratory birds. More than 200 bird species have been recorded in the estuary, and in summer the estuary's bird population can swell to 15 000 and more.( individuals.) The inter tidal habitats near the mouth of the estuary supports 80% of the bird population, while the sandbanks of the lower estuary serve as important roosting areas for terns and gulls. Waterfowl occupy the fresh and less brackish habitats further upstream.

Lesser and greater flamingos, African marsh harriers, African black oystercatchers, Caspian and swift terns, Hartlaub's gull and Curlew sandpipers can all be seen in significant numbers. While rare migratory waders such as common redshank, pectoral and broad-billed sandpipers, red-necked phalarope and dunlin also frequent the estuary.

River walks along the Olifants River provide the best birding opportunities. There are also bird hides near Papendorp.

The Succulent Karoo vegetation of the Knersvlakte supports a large number of endemic bird species. The Varsch River, 14 km north of Vanrhynsdorp, is a good birding area with frequent recordings of Namaqua sandgrouse, various lark species, mousebirds, chats and warblers. Farm dams are also good for spotting maccoa and yellow-billed duck, SA shelduck, and Cape shovelers.

Ludwig's bustard, secretary birds, blue crane and korhaan have often spotted on the Knersvlakte, as well as raptors such as the jackal buzzard, Verreaux's eagle and the African harrier hawk. Black eagles are sometimes seen in the mountains east of Vanrhynsdorp.

ROOIBOS TEA
Rooibos (Aspalanthus linear) is used to make one of South Africa's most famous herbal teas. The plant is endemic to the Cederberg, Bokkeveld and Matzikamma Mountains.
RARE DAISY
Leucoptera Nodosa is a rare succulent shrub that belongs to the daisy family. It has been obesrved in only seven locations in the Strandveld between Hondeklipbaai and Lamberts Bay.
FROGS & REPTILES
Sixteen frog species are found in the Matzikama - including the Namaqua rain frog and the Namaqua caco or dainty frog. The region has 44 reptile species, among the most threatened are the Lomi's blinked legless skink, the Armadillo girdled lizard and the Namaqua dwarf adder.



NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Animals like Cape honey badger, black-backed jackal, Cape silver fox, aardwolf and bat-eared foxes are sometimes spotted on game drives at night.



LUDWIG'S BUSTARDS
Ludwig's bustards are endemic to southern Africa and have been on the endangered species list since 2010. Every year many bustards are killed in collisions with power lines and wind turbines. Lines within the bustards' migratory flight patterns are now marked to make them more visible and reduce mortality rates.