Even though the Western Cape comprises only 0.04% of the earth's land, it contains one of the six accepted floral kingdoms of the world! Although the smallest of them all, the Western Cape floral kingdom, locally called fynbos (fine bush), contains about 8 500 species (more plant species than the whole of Europe). To put this in perspective, the Boreal Kingdom encompasses the whole of North America and most of Europe and Asia. In order to adapt to the windy dry conditions in the summer, most of the fynbos are low-growing and hardy.
On the Cape Peninsula itself there are some 2 600 species. These include the world-famous proteas, more than 600 varieties of erica, orchids, lilies, disas and red-hot pokers.
The Knysna-Tsitsikamma region has the country's biggest indigenous
forests. This is a fairyland of age-old forest giants, ferns and
colourful birdlife. Products of the forest include furniture made from
the indigenous yellowwood, stinkwood and white pear, which are
sought-after pieces. The forest can be seen:
- by foot
- black-water tubing
- tree canopy tours
Deep in the Knysna Forest one finds Millwood Goldfields, an area where gold was mined from 1876 to 1910. There were two geologists on board when the Queen of the Thames ran aground near Struisbaai on her maiden voyage in 1871. The geologists noticed similarities between the Outeniqua mountains and a mountain range in Victoria, Australia (where gold was being mined). The area experienced a gold rush in 1886 and at its peak was home to 1100 prospectors.
The Goukamma Nature Reserve is close to Sedgefield, and is one of only a few protected marine area along South Africa's coastline. It has been demarcated and proclaimed in order to protect fish, invertebrates and marine animals.
On the banks of the Knysna lagoon, one finds Featherbed Nature Reserve (which has been in the Smith family for 60 years). The original section of Featherbed Nature Reserve was bought by JLB Smith (an ichthyologist) from the proceeds of a book he wrote after identifying the prehistoric coelacanth. JLB Smith's granddaughter, 25 year-old Helen Smith, today guides sunset cruises on the Knysna estuary.
At Langbos farm (8km northwest of Stilbaai) one can view the largest milkwood tree (Sideroxylon inerme) in South Africa, estimated to be about 1000 years old. In Mossel Bay, there is a milkwood known as the "Post office tree", that is believed to have been the tree in which an old shoe was placed for exchange of messages by Portuguese seafarers in the sixteenth century.