The Western Cape
The Western Cape (Afrikaans: Wes-Kaap, Xhosa: Ntshona Koloni) is a province of South Africa, situated in the south-western part of the country. It is the fourth largest of the nine provinces in terms of both area and population, with an area of 129,449 square kilometres (49,981 sq mi) and 6.2 million inhabitants. About two-thirds of these inhabitants live in the metropolitan area of Cape Town, which is also the provincial capital. The Western Cape was created in 1994 from part of the former Cape Province.
The province is topographically exceptionally diverse. Most of the province falls within the Cape Fold Belt, a set of nearly parallel ranges of sandstone folded mountains of Cambrian-Ordovician age (from 510 to about 330-350 million years ago), that vary in height from 1000m to 2300m. The valleys between ranges are generally very fertile as they contain the weathered loamy soils of the Bokkeveld mustones (see the diagrams on the left).
The far interior forms part of the Karoo. This region of the Province is generally arid and hilly with a prominent escarpment that runs close to the Province’s most inland boundary.
The Escarpment marks the southwestern edge of South Africa’s central plateau (see the middle and bottom diagrams on the left). It runs parallel to the entire South African coastline except in the very far northeast, where it is interrupted by the Limpopo River valley, and the far northwest, where it is interrupted by the Orange River valley. The 1000 km-long northeastern stretch of the escarpment is called the Drakensberg, which is geographically and geologically quite distinct from the Cape Fold Mountains, which originated much earlier and totally independently of the origin of the escarpment.
The principal rivers of the province are the Berg and Olifants which drain into the Atlantic Ocean, and the Breede and Gourits which drain into the Indian Ocean.
The vegetation is also extremely diverse, with one of the world’s seven floral kingdoms almost exclusively endemic to the province, namely the Cape Floral Kingdom, most of which is covered by Fynbos (from the Afrikaans meaning “Fine Bush” (Dutch: Fijnbosch), though precisely how it came to be referred to as such, is uncertain.). These evergreen heathlands are extremely rich in species diversity, with at least as many plant species occurring on Table Mountain as in the entire United Kingdom. It is characterised by various types of shrubs, thousands of flowering plant species and some grasses. With the exception of the Silver tree, Leucadendron argenteum, which only grows on the granite and clay soils of the Cape Peninsula,open fynbos is generally treeless except in the wetter mountain ravines where patches of Afromontane forest persist.
The arid interior is dominated by Karoo drought-resistant shrubbery. The West Coast and Little Karoo are semi-arid regions and are typified by many species of succulents and drought-resistant shrubs and acacia trees. The Garden Route on the south coast (between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Southern Indian Ocean) is extremely lush, with temperate rainforest (or Afromontane Forest) covering many areas adjacent to the coast, in the deep river valleys and along the southern slopes of the Outeniqua mountain range. Typical species are hardwoods of exceptional height, such as Yellowwood, Stinkwood and Ironwood trees.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “The Western Cape”, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0