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Namaqualand - AfricaŽs Desert Garden

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Billions of flowers vie for attention with flamboyant colours and spectacular shapes, attracting insects, mammals and birds alike. Every year a barren stretch of land on South Africa’s west coast turns into the largest natural flower show on the planet. But the miracle only lasts a few precious weeks. This film chronicles the magical transformation of a landscape: from fantasy fields of flowers to the drama of the desert, and back again.

Writer: Lynne & Philip Richardson, Martin Mészáros
Director: Lynne Richardson , Philip Richardson
Camera: Philip Richardson
Edit: Jörg Achatz
Sound Edit: Cornelius Wildner
Dubbing Mixer: Cornelius Wildner
Music: Kurt Adametz

A Co-production of ORF, Africa Wildlife Film, BBC, DDE,

Massive fields of flowers stretch 100 km inland from the west coast of South Africa. The amazing scale and variety of this spectacle is caused by a race against time. The flowers have to make use of a very narrow window of opportunity, when moisture and warmth are in a perfect balance.

Billions of flowers, from thousands of species need to be pollinated within two to three weeks - before the heat and winds of summer shrivel them up and return them to desert dust. Each flower tries to seduce pollinating insects to court it rather than its million neighbors.

This competition has created an awe-inspiring variety of colors, shapes and evolutionary strategies within this brilliant kaleidoscope of flowers unmatched anywhere else on earth.

Some plants though like to keep very exclusive company. They entice only a select few with a rich but hidden reward. Oil collecting bees need specialized long hairy legs to collect thousands of tiny oil droplets from within the goatshorn flower.

Only flies with tongues four times their wing span can suck up nectar from the extravagantly shaped Lapeirousia. There are many larger animals also sharing the brief bounty of spring. Meerkats, ostriches and even sheep, herded by Namas who have been following the rains with their flocks for centuries, all feed to their fill.

The Namaqualand spring is as short as it is brilliant. The spring sun quickly turns into a summer sorceress withering everything that lies beneath her. Most plants spend the last of their energy producing billions of seeds - their only insurance for the future.

Others plants save their precious water by storing it underground. Bulbs are safe from the desiccating sun, but not from long toothed molerats who attack plants from below.

At the height of summer the simmering land is baked dry and barren, and is deadly quiet save for the wind driving dust devils across the endless plains. Yet even now some residents are still eking out an existence.

Meerkats dig and squabble over meager rewards, ostriches stand seemingly impervious to the heat, while at ground level tiny stone plants hide amongst the quartz pebbles, their hardened silvery skins reflecting the sun’s relentless rays.

Meerkats, molerats, ostriches, even the Nama people struggle to survive as Namaqualand shows its true nature. Some flee, others retreat underground into burrows or bulbs, some fall into the deep sleep of dormancy, only re-awakening to the soft touch of winter rain.

The only relief is down at the coast, where icy but nutrient rich Atlantic waters rise up against the shores of Namaqualand. Now as warm summer winds blow ashore over the freezing waters, moisture in the air condenses into life giving mists.

It is the perfect time for marine animals to breed. Half a million Cape fur seals and even more Cape gannets have settled on the barren beaches and rocks to have their young. There is food aplenty for jackals roaming the long beaches, and even the seals are not above preying on the chicks of their neighbors.

After seven months of scorching heat and searing winds, the weather finally turns. Great Antarctic storms sweep north and hit the west coast of Africa, bringing their fiercesome winds but also the secret driving force of Namaqualand: Winter rains - the key to unlocking the wonders of Namaqualand.

Through the cold passage of winter the desert slowly turns green again. Then, when the warm spring sun adds its magic ingredient to the saturated soils, the miracle of Namaqualand unfolds. And once again, for a few days billions of flowers turn South Africa’s desert into the greatest garden on earth.

Fotos: Copyright by African Wildlife Film