A guide to South Africa's Botanical Gardens – SANBI

more than a year ago
South Africa has rich and varied flora and fauna. In fact, the country is considered one of the most biodiverse places on earth. From favourites within Johannesburg such as the magnificent Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Cape Town's ever-popular Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens or the Victorian-era KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg, there's plenty to explore. 

With regular domestic travel deals, Joburgers can find an affordable flight to experience one of these destinations, or simply schedule a visit to a local botanical garden.

SANBI was established in 2004, and the institute leads and co-ordinates research, as well as monitors and reports on the state of biodiversity in South Africa. 

Here's a guide to South Africa's extraordinary SANBI parks (in alpabetical order). Keep it handy for your travels. 

Free State National Botanical Garden

The Free State National Botanical Garden. Photo: SANBI. 

Not too far from Gauteng, on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, lies the Free State National Botanical Garden. Spanning a valley of dolerite koppies, the garden is split into two areas: the first is a smaller, developed garden and the second a large, natural area filled with walking paths. Bring along your picnic basket for the former and your walking shoes for the latter. If you visit, check out the medicinal and water-wise gardens; they're incredibly informative and feature some rare plant species.

Experiences: Guided tours, hiking trails.
Facilities: Lapa with braai facilities (for hire), marquee lawn (for hire), hall (for hire).
​Physical address: Rayton Road, off Dan Pienaar Drive, R702, Bloemfontein.
Garden hours: 08:00-17:00, including public holidays.
Entrance fee: See website

Hantam National Botanical Garden, Northern Cape 

The Hantam National Botanical Garden in the Northern Cape. Photo: SANBI. 

This sprawling 6000-hectare garden is situated on the Bokkeveld Plateau, outside the town Nieuwoudtville – a place of hidden botanic treasures in the Northern Cape. Nieuwoudtville has a rich diversity and density of bulbs, making it a botanical hotspot of global significance and earning it the accolade 'bulb capital of the world'. The garden is SANBI's first wild flower garden and specialises in the conservation of plants from the Renosterveld and the Hantam Succulent Karoo regions. The Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld is an endangered vegetation type in South Africa.​

Experiences: Walking trails, cycling routes, safari-vehicle tours (Aug-Oct).
Facilities: Picnic tables, biodiversity reference library.
Physical address: Oorlogskloof Road, Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape. 
Garden hours: Aug-Oct (flower season): Mon-Sun, 08:00-17:00;​ Nov-Jul: Mon-Fri, 07:30–16:30.
Entrance fee: See website

Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in Betty's Bay, Western Cape 

Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in the Western Cape. Photo: SANBI. 

This tranquil garden in Betty’s Bay is located within the magnificent Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a floral hotspot in the heart of the fynbos region. The area is dominated by the high sandstone peaks of the 900-metre Kogelberg Range, with the Atlantic Ocean swirling below. The Harold Porter National Botanical Garden plays a vital role in the conservation of fynbos. It contains collections of plants used for display, scientific research and education. A large area, attached to the cultivated section, acts as a haven for several plants and animals in their natural environment. 

Experiences: Guided tours, fynbos and zigzag trails.
Facilities: Marquee lawn (for hire), conference venue (for hire).
Physical address: Corner of Clarence Drive (R44) and Broadwith Road, ​Betty’s Bay, Western Cape.
Garden hours: Mon-Fri, 08:00-16:30​; weekends and public holidays, 08:00-17:00​.
Entrance fee: See website

Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, Western Cape

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden. Photo: SANBI.

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden was established in 1921 at Whitehill near Matjiesfontein. In 1945, the garden moved to the current site in Worcester due to the re-routing of the N1 and a lack of water.​ Today the garden conserves and displays plants from the arid and semi-arid regions of southern Africa, with the main focus on succulents (contact the office to pre-arrange a guided tour if you want to see the large succulent collection). 

The 154-hectare garden lies at the foot of the Hex River Mountain range, 120km north of Cape Town. It has three hiking trails: the Shale-, Grysbokkie-, and Heuweltjie trails. It also has a heritage garden that focuses on plants used by the Khoisan. 

Experiences: Guided tours, adventure trail, hiking trails. 
Facilities: Restaurant.
Physical address: Roux Road, Panorama, Worcester, Western Cape.
Garden hours: Mon-Fri, 08:00-16:30​; weekends and public holidays, 08:00-17:00​.
Entrance fee: See website

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Cape Town's Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Photo: SANBI. 

Probably one of the most visited parks in South Africa, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was established in 1913 and was the first botanical garden in the world devoted to a country's indigenous flora. Set against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, its lawns, sweeping views and first-rate visitor facilities, as well as the diversity of the flora it displays, makes it one of Cape Town's most popular sights.

With over 7 000 species in cultivation, including proteas, fynbos, cycads, ferns, aloes and other arid-adapted plants, the garden spans 36 hectares in a 528-hectare estate that includes protected mountainside. In 2004 the Cape Floristic Region (or Cape Floral Kingdom), including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.​ One of only six floral kingdoms in the world, the region is home to 9 000 plant species, 70% of which are found nowhere else in the world. Be sure to experience the Botanic Society Conservatory, a desert house displaying rare southern African succulents, as well as cliff plants, bulbs, and ferns. It's a glorious space to visit with many attractions. Take a virtual tour here.

Experiences: Tree canopy walkway, trails, walks, guided tours, events.
Facilities: Wedding, function and conference venue (for hire), marquee lawn (for hire), restaurants, coffee shop, garden centre, gift shop, bookshop. 
Physical address: Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town.
Garden hours: Sep-Mar (summer): 08:00-19:00; ​Apr-Aug: 08:00-18:00​; conservatory: 09:00-17:00.
Entrance fee: See website

KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden

KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg. Photo: SANBI.

The KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden was established in 1874 in response to the growing demand for tree seedlings in the Natal Midlands. The Grand Old Trees were planted in the late 1800s during a period when the lower parts of the garden were laid out in a geometric form. This garden, with its grandeur and charm, flowers every season of the year. 

A breeding pair of crowned eagles nest in the garden that's also home to more than 150 bird species, and the Clivia Dam has marsh terrapins. The gigantic London plane trees are a point of interest; planted in the early 1900s, they are expected to live for up to 400 years. 

Experiences: Trails, guided tours, weekly Farmer's Market.
Facilities: Braai area, children's play area, hall (for hire), lapa, wedding venue (for hire), garden centre.
Physical address: 2 Zwartkop Road, Prestbury, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.
Garden hours: 08:00-18:00​.
Entrance fee: See website

Kwelera National Botanical GardenEastern Cape

The Kwelera National Botanical Garden in East London is South Africa's 10th national botanical garden and the first to be established in the Eastern Cape.​ It encompasses the Kwelera Nature Reserve, a important biodiversity corridor. 

Parts are being developed and not yet open to the public, however the garden reflects the natural beauty that the Wild Coast has to offer. The reserve site and beach can be easily accessed.

Physical address: Kwelera National Botanical Garden, Kwelera, Eastern Cape.
Garden hours: ​05:00-19:00 ​(summer); 06:00-18:00 (winter).
Entrance fee: See website.  

Lowveld National Botanical Garden, Mpumalanga

The Lowveld National Botanical Garden. Photo: SANBI.

Although it was established in 1969, the garden's history dates back to prehistoric times, making it an interesting archaeological site. Hominids once roamed the area and carved tools from stones, many of which were found in the garden, as well as rock paintings in the surrounding area. 

The garden is home to an impressive cycad collection, as well as an equitorial African rainforest and South African forest that visitors can take a stroll through. The garden has plenty of picnic spots, and visitors can also marvel at the Crocodile River, which makes up the garden's western border, as well as view the spectacular Cascades Waterfall​. The garden boasts a Braille trail, and for some quiet introspection, try out the unusual triple-spiral labyrinth​. 

Experiences: Guided tours, aerial boardwalk, viewpoints, trails.
Facilities: Restaurant, children's play area, venues (for hire).
Physical address: Off White River Road, Riverside Junction Intersection, Mbombela, Mpumalanga. 
Garden hours: Sep-Mar, 08:00-18:00; Apr-Aug, 08:00-17:15.
Entrance fee: See website.  

Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre, Limpopo

The Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre was established in 1979. It covers 1 395 hectares of bushveld savanna on the northern outskirts of Mokopane, Limpopo, where it forms part of the Makapan Valley, a World Heritage Site. 

Visitors can enjoy over 350 plant species and learn about wildlife in both enclosures and in a nature reserve. Guided tours within the reserve can also be booked. Overnight visitors can stay in a self-catering guesthouse or in camping sites. If you come in a 4x4, take in the two panoramic viewpoints, Percy Fyfe and Maibashoek. 

Experiences: Game drives, morning animal feeding trips.
Facilities: Guest house (serviced and self-catering with braai stands), camping.
Physical address: 2 Thabo Mbeki Drive, Mokopane, Limpopo. 
Centre hours: 08:00-18:00, ​including public holidays ​(no entry after 16:30).
Entrance fee: See website.  ​

The National Zoological Garden (Pretoria Zoo)

The National Zoological Garden is centrally located in Pretoria and is one of the most visited attractions in the Jacaranda City. At 80 hectares, it's the eighth-largest zoo in the world and the largest in South Africa. The Pretoria Zoo is also the only zoo in the country with national status, received in 1916.​

With five kilometres of pathways, ramps and roads, get to know the garden's reptile park, gorillas, carnivores, komodo dragons, and the Big Five, as well as endangered species like Knysna seahorses and the pygmy hippopotamus. 

Experiences: Sunset safaris, zoo camp. 
Facilities: Venues (for hire), restaurant, picnic area, braai facilities, children's pushcarts (for rent), golf carts (for rent).
Physical address: 232 Boom Street, Pretoria, Gauteng.
Garden hours: 08:30-17:30, including public holidays.
Entrance fee: See website.   

Pretoria National Botanical Garden

The Pretoria National Botanical Garden. Photo: SANBI. 

The Pretoria National Botanical Garden was established in 1946. It's home to 390 different species, and 35-metre-high quartzite outcrop divides the garden in two sections. Visitors can experience different biomes such as savanna and forest, and a paved nature trail gives access to natural vegetation on the outcrop's ridge, which boasts a diversity of indigenous fauna and flora.

The National Herbarium houses a collection of 1.2 million dried plant specimens, mostly from southern Africa, the continent, and surrounding islands, as well as a small collection from outside of Africa. Tours are offered by prior arrangement. The garden's Mary Gunn Library is one of the most important botanical and biodiversity resources in Africa, and the Enabling Garden focuses on gardening for disabled persons and for those who can't physically garden with ease. It is specially adapted for people in wheelchairs and has Braille signs for visually impaired visitors.

Experiences: Guided tours, self-guided route, arboretum. 
Facilities: Restaurant, conference and function venue (for hire), events cafe (for hire), tea garden, bookshop, braai area, lapa (pre-booking needed). 
Physical address: 2 Cussonia Avenue, Brummeria, Pretoria, Gauteng. 
Garden hours: 08:00-18:00, including public holidays (no entry after 17:00).
Entrance fee: See website

Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden, Limpopo

The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden in Limpopo. Photo: SANBI.  

The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden is the first national botanical garden established in Limpopo, making it the country's 11th national botanical garden. Thohoyandou means 'head of the elephant' in Venda, and the garden is rich in tree- and plant biodiversity that forms part of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is part of a network of 727 global UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, and it's one of the largest biosphere reserves in South Africa. 

Physical address: 451 Garden Route, Thohoyandou Unit D, Thohoyandou, Limpopo. 
Garden hours: 08:00-17:00 (winter); 08:00-18:00 (summer).
Entrance fee: See website

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Gauteng

The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in Gauteng. Photo: SANBI.

Last but not least, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is a firm favourite with Joburgers. The garden was opened to the public in 1987 and has three main natural vegetation types: forest, grassland and bushveld. All the theme and display gardens feature plants indigenous to South Africa. The garden is also home to an abundance of wildlife, including red-listed species.

A top attraction at the graden is the 70 metre-high Witpoortjie Waterfall, cascading down the quartzite and shale rock cliff face. When you visit, try spot the Verreaux's eagles that have been nesting on the cliff face for decades. The garden also has a succulent rockery (that shows off with a winter floral display), and the Sisulu Circle, an open courtyard with a zero-depth water feature, fish pond and unusual indigenous plants, all designed around the bust of the struggle hero. 

Experiences: Waterfall and eagle viewing, walks and trails, bird hide.
Facilities: Hall and events space (for hire), lapa (for hire), restaurant.
Physical address: End of Malcolm Road, Poortview, Roodepoort, Gauteng. 
Garden hours: Mon-Sun, 08:00-18:00 (no entry after 17:00).
Entrance fee: See website


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