It’s dusk. A bright full moon is already hovering on the horizon – so bright we don’t even need our headlamps and torches to see the path ahead. The night is warm and still, and there’s a gentle sort of excitement in the group at being allowed to wander about in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden after dark.

We don’t have to walk far to find what we’re looking for. Dusk fades imperceptibly to darkness, and suddenly the foliage on either side of the path lights up like so many Christmas trees.

We’ve found the Kirstenbosch fireflies!

It’s been three years since I first heard about these night-time excursions to see one of Mother Nature’s little miracles, and it’s taken me that long to get to them. The thing is, there’s a window of only about two to three weeks a year that you can see them, and conditions have to be perfect – warm night, no wind – lest you spend the evening staring into a clump of shadowy bushes.

Our friendly guide, Andrew, informs me that, more than the weather, the setting is important. Since Luciola capensis lie dormant in the leaf litter for nearly a year before coming out to mate and put on their light show, you won’t find them anywhere the soil’s been worked or the beds cleared out.

So they’re tricky critters to find, but when you do, the wait proves worthwhile. The females fly low or settle on leaves while the males hover around at head-height, trying to find a mate whose light signature is in tune with their own – and you thought the human singles scene was tough in Cape Town?

On a good night, everywhere you look you see tiny pulsing lights floating through the air, and it’s almost enough to make you believe in magic again. It’s also refreshing to know that, while scientists know which hormones and chemicals create the light, they’re stumped as to how these little guys control the intermittent flashing. I like a little mystery with my nature sometimes.

Thirty minutes to an hour later, the lights begin to fade as the Kirstenbosch fireflies couple up. But it’s not time to amble back to the parking lot just yet. Instead, Andrew takes us on a meandering uphill stroll to the Boomslang, the treetop canopy walkway that was officially named the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa earlier this year.

From this lofty spot the view is all city lights and that big, bright moon; the stillness broken only by the sound of night birds calling through the darkness.

You know, just another perfect night in Cape Town.

OF NOTE
Where Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Rhodes Drive, Newlands
Need to know Since dates for the firefly walk are extremely dependent on the weather and the mating habits of the fireflies, we’d recommend contacting Kirstenbosch any time from mid-October each year to check on availability.
When Meet at the Visitors’ Centre at Gate 1 between 7:15 and 7:30 pm on confirmed days.
Cost R40 per person
Contact Call +27 21 799 8783 after 4 pm to confirm that a walk is taking place that evening.

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