In January, if you had asked me what I expected my favorite Semester at Sea field program to be, I think I might have answered my trek in Sapa or perhaps my Fez & Blue City tour; but after traveling through 10 countries on 22 different SAS field programs, my favorite travel experience was a botanical safari In South Africa’s Fynbos.
Yes, looking at plants was my favorite memory from 4 months of travel with Semester at Sea.
Before you close out your browser window in boredom with my plant talk, hear me out about why I loved my botanic safari so much. There aren’t that many places that really surprise me anymore, but this was one of them.
What is special about South Africa’s floral kingdom? Well, it is that it is the smallest kingdom (by a lot) but it is also the densest. There are over 9,000 species of endemic (native) plants in this area, and new species are still being discovered every year. What that means by comparison is that there is more biodiversity in the tiny tip of South Africa than the entire island of Great Britain.
I had no expectations going in and was completely blown away by the incredible natural scenery of the Fynbos landscape. Looking at the Fynbos from a distance, it just looks like a barren, arid landscape, like what you might see in the Mediterranean. But as you get closer and really start looking, you see that it is a complex network of shrubs, flowers, plants and trees that are all intertwined to create a blanket of vegetation over the landscape.
The Fynbos is truly stunning up-close. There are so many different colors and textures, all coexisting together in a harmonious dependent ecosystem — and all of them are probably plants you’ve never seen or heard of before. It’s incredible. The guides for our botanic safari were resident botanists and entomologists who had such a breadth and depth of knowledge about the Fynbos. There were so many species to learn about and new species are still being discovered every year. For example, it is thought that for each known plant, there are 7 unknown species of insect that depend on this plant to thrive.
The resort itself is one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World and sits on a stunning piece of land overlooking Walker Bay, which is home to one of the largest communities of Western Right Whales. You’ll pay a pretty penny to stay there but I can imagine it would be a magical few days. Our visit was coordinated through the foundation’s volunteering and internship program, so we actually stayed in their volunteer lodge on a different part of the property. In my opinion, it was a luxe volunteer center with its own private lake and trails to explore the Fynbos.
Although a botanic safari might not be as exciting as searching for the Big 5 on a game reserve, I think it is a meaningful and worthwhile experience to have while traveling in South Africa. It will open your eyes to a pristine corner of the world that is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever seen and hopefully, will give you a new appreciation for the importance of local conservation.
Have you ever visited the Fynbos? What was your experience like? Comment below!