Travel Black Book With Chad Davis

Full bloom in South Africa

Its vast and diverse landscape is prettiest in spring, when skies are blue and wildflowers blossom

Who: Mr Chad Davis, 41, assistant director of conservatory operations at Gardens by the Bay. The American is married and has a daughter, Isabel, 12. His research in South Africa informed much of the Tribal Tempo Flower Field Display of South African flowers taking place in the Flower Dome from Sept 9 to Oct 30.

Favourite destination: Western and Northern Cape, South Africa

Why: I've been to South Africa thrice and have discovered something new each time. It is a beautiful country. I enjoyed the vastness and diversity of the landscapes, from the rugged and undeveloped arid Richtersveld region in the north- western part to the vivid colours of wildflowers throughout the semi- desert region of the Karoo. Its orange sunsets are the most beautiful I've ever seen.

The stunning landscapes of the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve, the quiver tree forest just outside Nieuwoudtville and the tranquil Papkuilsfontein farming region are perfect for spending some quiet time.

Most memorable trip

On my second trip to South Africa, I joined a tour that had us on the road for 10 days. We started in Windhoek, Namibia, and ended up in the quaint little town of Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo.

The journey took us along the Atlantic coast, Namib Desert, the Sperrgebiet diamond mines, the Unesco World Heritage Site Richtersveld National Park and lovely towns such as Springbok.

We also took side trips to lesser- known locations, such as an eerie forest of quiver trees and Knersvlakte, a region of Namaqualand covered with quartz gravel and home to what looked like hundreds of species of miniature succulents.

We continued the tour over the Cederberg Mountain Range and into the Fynbos floral region, driving through the main fruit production regions near Citrusdal and Ceres Valley, before turning east to our final destination in Calitzdorp, the port wine capital of the country.

It is located on Route 62, which seemed to me like the iconic Route 66 of America. However, one thing you are not likely to see in the United States are ostriches racing alongside your car on the highway.

Favourite place to stay

Stay on a sheep farm such as Papkuilsfontein De Lande Guesthouse (www.papkuilsfontein.com). You will spend a good amount of time chatting with local farm owners.

Book a farmstay through websites such as Farmstay (www.farmstay.co.za) and SA Venues (www.sa-venues.com/guest_farms.htm) or stay at the Mountain View Guest House in Springbok (www.mountview.co.za).

Favourite restaurant

Die Waenhuis Restaurant at the Papkuilsfontein De Lande Guest Farm (www.papkuilsfontein.com). It's just outside Nieuwoudtville town, which is about 31/2 hours by car north of Cape Town. It serves simple but healthy breakfast and lunch along with beautiful views.

My favourite thing to eat here is the lamb burger with a salad. It also serves great homemade cakes. An average meal here costs about 100 rand or S$10 a person.

If you have time, stop by Paternoster, a town on the Western Cape about two hours' drive north of Cape Town, for a night. When there, have a meal at The Noisy Oyster Restaurant (www.facebook.com/The-Noisy-Oyster-138532086205531) which, in my opinion, is one of the best seafood restaurants around.

Must-try

A typical South African dish, especially on the Western Coast, is bobotie, a baked dish of spiced minced beef, peach chutney and a topping of milk and egg. It has been around since the 17th century and is thought to have its roots in Malay or Indonesian culture.

Biltong is a favourite local snack. A seasoned, dried meat, it is similar to beef jerky, but is typically made with game animal meat. It comes in many flavours. Kudu (a type of long-horned antelope) was my personal favourite, but I tried and enjoyed everything from oryx to ostrich to springbok.

For a sweet treat, try a koeksister, which is dough that is fried and covered with syrup. You will find them at cafes and farm stalls along the road.

Best hidden find

If you want to splurge, stay at Bushmans Kloof (www.bushmanskloof.co.za) near Clanwilliam. This five- star, award-winning wilderness reserve and retreat is a South African National Heritage Site and the custodian of more than a hundred ancient rock art sites. Join its rock art excursion to learn more about the culture of the Bushman tribe and their ancestral home.

The all-inclusive resort costs 12,520 rand a night, including food, accommodation and activities for two people.

Recommended reading

Because of my background in horticulture, my favourite books are Field Guide To Fynbos by John Manning, about the unique belt of shrubland found along the Western Cape, and South African Wildflower Guide 9: Nieuwoudtville - Bokkeveld Plateau And Hantam by John Manning and Peter Goldblatt.

For fiction, I enjoyed Karoo Boy by Troy Blacklaws that gave me some perspective on life under apartheid. Also, I think anything chronicling the life of former South African president Nelson Mandela is worthwhile to read for someone planning a South African tour.

Event to bookmark

In spring, from mid-August to mid- September, visit the annual Clanwilliam Wildflower Show (www.clanwilliamwildflowerfestival.co.za), which showcases the blooms of the Western Cape.

While there, go to the town's Rooibos Tea Museum (www.rooibosteahouse.co.za/rooibos-museum.php), which delves into the history and production of rooibos, a red tea native to South Africa.

Ideal length of stay

Spend at least four to five nights in different areas around Namaqualand, an arid region crossing parts of Namibia and South Africa, especially if you are staying in the Namaqua National Park around Skilpad Nature Reserve.

Getting around the Namaqualand region will involve hours in a car. Tourists going to see wildflowers often pick a home base and travel to different areas to find the perfect spot at the perfect time.

Traveller's advice

Spring is the best time to visit. Find a farmstay and get to know the locals, who will tell you the best areas to view the spring flowers.

Take side roads and drive slowly to take in the views. If you can, drive with the sun behind you because flowers tend to face the sun.

Also take a side trip to Tankwa Karoo National Park (www.sanparks.org/parks/tankwa/) to gaze at some of the brightest stars in Africa. On the way back to Cape Town, drive down the more scenic coastal road.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Full bloom in South Africa'. Print Edition | Subscribe