Things to do in Cape Town – Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Bird on pincushion protea

Nature lovers who come to Cape Town must pay a visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Kirstenbosch is beautifully located at the foot of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain creating an amazing backdrop.

You can come here for the flora that grows here, for a picnic as many locals do, or in summer for the concerts. There is a good restaurant and a tea house for those who like chairs and a table better instead of picnicking sitting on the grass.

Pin cushion proteas with the eastern side of Table Mountain on the background
Pin cushion proteas with the eastern side of Table Mountain on the background

Where does the name come from?

Long before to become a botanical garden the area was used to harvest wood. In the eighteenth century the area was managed by a certain Kirsten and together with the Dutch word for forest, ‘bosch’, the name is believed to have originated from here.

The canopy walk takes you to the top of the trees offering you an amazing view over the park.

When did it become a botanical garden?

The English created the botanical gardens in 1913 as part of the predecessor of the University of Cape Town. The first director, Pearson, found himself an area that was overgrown with weeds, full of wild pigs, and planted with orchards. Considering that most of the landscaping was done without machines in the beginning of the 20th century, it was hard work, but over time the gardens have constantly improved upon and it is now seen as an important botanical garden in the world.

The gardens are only planted with indigenous plants and trees to South Africa and especially from the Cape floral kingdom. There are six floral kingdoms and the Cape floral kingdom is the smallest and only covers the south west corner of South Africa. It covers less than 0.04% of the Earth’s land surface, but it has 0.7% of the world’s plant species. Here we can find 8600 species of which 5800 are found only in this area. This makes Kirstenbosch is truly special place.

The signature flower

It’s a pleasure walking through these beautiful gardens that show so many species in such a small area. One flower that most people look for is the King Protea. This is the national flower of South Africa and flowers from June to October.

King protea in Kirstenbosch botanical gardens
Close up of a king protea, South Africa’s national flower

Photographing Kirstenbosch

Taking photographs in Kirstenbosch is always fun. There are many ways to take photos of the trees and flowers and I usually try to get as close as possible. Most close-ups use a wide aperture (low f-number), so the background is nicely blurred. This way all the attention is on the flower that is the main subject of the photo.

purple flower with pin cushion proteas on the background
This little purple flower with yellow pin cushion proteas on the background. These are so blurred that it’s hard to recognise them.
Strelizia reginae
The strelizia reginae is a well know flower originating from South Africa. It looks like a crowned crane bird.

There are time when it’s better to use a high f-number for the aperture, like in the photo below. Closing the aperture to f/16 creates the sun star when it’s almost hidden behind the trunk of this beautiful tree.

star trees with sun burst
The sun star or sun burst was created closing the aperture to f/16. The tree are now a silhouette, which looks beautiful against the clouds and the sky.

Kirstenbosch is high on our list of things to do in Cape Town. You can admire the special vegetation that grows in this small area of the world. You can take beautiful photos here. We always offer this to be part of your tailor made Cape Town photo tour.


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