An Augmented Reality Art Exhibition and 9 Other Reasons to Visit Kirstenbosch

by - June 08, 2022

If you’re looking for a way to discover some of Cape Town’s natural beauty, you have come to the right place!

Woman interacts with AR rock levitating in a real garden

And if you're looking for a way to discover one of Cape Town’s not-so-natural augmented reality experiences, you've also come to the right place!
 
Kirstenbosch is a national botanical garden covering 528 hectares. It was founded in 1913 to preserve native flora. The land is also internationally acclaimed as one of the seven most magnificent botanical gardens in the world (according to their own Facebook page, anyway) and is considered one of Cape Town’s Big Six tourist attractions. Not only do the gardens play a critical role in the preservation of numerous plant and animal species but it also has a dinosaur exhibit! (That got your attention, right?)

I have travelled quite extensively internationally and I do like to frolic so I am the type of tourist who often visits this kind of attraction. I have to say, as far as botanical gardens go, Kirstenbosch is a goodie!  While there are many reasons to visit these botanical gardens, here is my guide to Kirstenbosch, including the top 10 things to do:


10 Reasons to visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens:

1. The Boomslang Walkway

This is an elevated wooden sculptural walkway that is a favourite among influencers. FYI: For my international readers, a ‘boomslang’ is a type of local tree snake. They are highly venomous so I’m going to assume that the walkway is named after these creatures for the way it looks like a boomslang snaking its way through the ‘booms’ (trees) and not because you are likely to encounter any of them here.  It is also known as the 'Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway' as it was built to honour the centenary of the gardens. 

The platform winds its way through and over the trees of the arboretum, offering some beautiful views. (It’s been a while since I visited this part of the garden and, as you can probably tell, I didn’t even have an Instagram account at the time, so I was unaware of the overly posed Instagram cliches that I was supposed to be attempting here.)

People walk on the Boomslang Walkway Kirstenbosch

2. The Wildlife

Apart from the dinosaurs, there are some living creatures here too. In the time I have spent at Kirstenbosch, I have seen guinea fowl, a snake or two and some really incredible owls. The owls are often quite disguised but pay attention when wandering past trees. The caracals recently had a litter of kittens which was quite exciting. 

3. The Dinosaurs

The powers that be decided to draw attention to the plight of prehistoric cycad plants on the brink of extinction by surrounding them with life-size sculptures of properly extinct dinosaurs. The Zimbabwean artist David Huni did a great job of designing the dinosaurs so much so that I didn’t realise that the exhibition was supposed to be about the plants. 
And kids love them! 
Who knew an exhibition acknowledging endangered plant species could be so fun?

Travel Toy with dinosaur at Kirstenbosch
Rodrigo making friends 

4. The Plants

If you are fascinated by unusual flora, this is the place for you! There are loads of local fynbos species to be spotted, as well as flowers like the protea (South Africa’s national flower). 90-minute tours are available for people who want more in-depth info on just how impressive it all is. 

5. The Views

Situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain with large open spaces, Kirstenbosch is scenic AF. You don’t even have to walk the Boomslang to see spectacular sights.

Scenic walk in Cape Town's botanical gardens

6. The Sculptures

Apart from the dinosaurs and the augmented reality art (I’m still getting to that one), there are some other literal artworks sprinkled around the garden. Much of it is condensed into the Sculpture Garden which features a permanent but ever-changing outdoor exhibition, while other pieces are scattered throughout high traffic areas. 


7. The Restaurants

While Kirstenbosch is the ideal picnic area, there are also restaurants if you don’t want to bring your own food. From the tea room that greatly discourages people from playing with technology (or at least tries to) to the Moyo restaurant, (the official African cuisine restaurant of local white people who are entertaining foreign visitors to our country), everything you really need can be found on site. 

Moyo at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

8. The Frolicking

These lawns are ideal for frolicking. Ideal!

Frolicking on the lawns at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

9. The Movies and Events

An outdoor amphitheatre is the setting for a number of summer evening concerts and a well-known carols by candlelight service at Christmas time, while another area is the location of picnic big-screen movie nights under the stars. One day I’ll get a boyfriend and we can do stuff like that!

Christmas carols at Kirstenbosch

10. The Virtual Art: Seeing the Invisible

Seeing the Invisible is the title of an augmented reality art exhibition. If you have a relatively recent smartphone, you can download this app. It comes with a map. Using GPS, you make your way to the locations on the map and when you find the location of the ‘art’, you launch it on your screen and you can see the 3D art through your phone screen. (I'm guessing a bit like Pokemon Go but I never got into that so I'm not entirely sure.) 

The art is three-dimensional and moves with your movements so you can walk around it and, in some cases, through it, into it or interact with it. 

Screenshot of Seeing the Invisible app map



Technically, you are supposed to be able to take pictures of the art through your phone screen but the app was a little glitchy and we found that screenshotting what was visible on the screen seemed to work better. 

Here’s some of the art we saw: 

Most of the images had a soundtrack to accompany them (sometimes music, sometimes just sound effects).

Augmented reality piano in public garden


The piano was more fun when the app started glitching and it was suddenly suspended in the air.

glitchy AR art of a piano suspended above a garden


Oversized AR Art in Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

And no, that guy on the left had no idea what we were trying to photograph here. 

AR Tree Branch in real garden

Me trying not to look disappointed at this green stick, considering this was only the third piece of art we came across. 

Woman interacts with AR art in public garden

Woman mimics AR dancing man

This guy was dancing. 

Woman admires AR art work suspended in the air

Oversized AR art an large open lawn

This one was really big. I'm not sure what it was supposed to be, I just know I had to walk far to get it all in shot.

Woman pretending to be levitating a holographic rock

See, evidence of my levitation powers.

Woman reacts to AR Art depicting exploding flowers

This one's title has something to do with forget-me-nots. It's aptly named considering the people who walked past had no idea that they were in proximity to virtual art and will definitely forget me not. 


Augmented reality cave

This was an interactive one that you could walk into.

Augmented reality portal

This is some of what was inside the cave. 

Oversized augmented reality ring in botanical garden

Some suggestions for any curators of future augmented reality art exhibitions: 

While we had a fun experience, we do have one or two suggestions of how it could be improved for next time (and we do hope there is a next time). 
  • If people could take selfies through the app, that would be a good place to start. Currently, you can only take photos through the rear camera (sort of) which is not ideal if you are a solo traveller. 
  • Also, based on how social media is going, images aren’t really good enough anymore, people want to take videos so we don’t have to stop frame animate our dramatic reactions to exploding flower arrangements that we cannot see, under the direction of our very patient Instagram husbands (who, in my case, was my friend Bronwyn. Thanks, Bronwyn.)

Some ideas for the subject matter for future augmented reality art:

While we appreciated the art, we felt that the medium could have been better utilised.
 
Why escape into the metaverse to see this:

Augmented reality branch in real garden

when you’re surrounded by sights like this: 

Beautiful tree at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens


This is the type of thing I believe people want to see: 

  • Aliens and fetuses (These two things are all anyone wanted to paint in my high school art class in the late nineties / early 2000s and it is all we were discouraged from painting. In this context, it would totally work - separately or together ...or even alien fetuses!)
  • More dinosaurs but this time of the variety that moves.
  • Ghosts
  • Fairies
  • Oversized things, ideally oversized moving things
  • Fish swimming through the air …or giant squid!
  • A portal to the upside-down through a tree that looks just like one of the others growing in Kirstenbosch …and perhaps with a demogorgon running around. (Although that ‘dancer’ did look a bit like he was having his bones broken by Vecna.)
  • And giant robots
Definitely no more sticks that look just like sticks except green and pianos that look like pianos! 

(Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment section below)


The exhibition runs until August, so get there before then.  You can find out more about the Seeing the Invisible virtual art exhibition here and download the app here.

Travel mascot looking out over Kirstenbosch

Other questions you may have about Kirstenbosch:

Can you take food to Kirstenbosch?

Yes, you can take food and picnic baskets to Kirstenbosch but there are intentionally no dustbins (I'm assuming this is to avoid the creation of bad habits with animals scavenging for food) so you have to take your rubbish away with you.

Can you take alcohol with you to Kirstenbosch?

Technically, no. 

Can you play music? 

Seriously? Don't be that guy!

Are dogs allowed in Kirstenbosch? 

Kirstenbosch is not pet friendly. We can't have Zara digging up an endangered cycad and Mitsy being eaten by a caracal, now can we? That would be such a downer. 

Can you run in Kirstenbosch?

This you can. 

Is Kirstenbosch wheelchair accessible?  

Kirstenbosch is a great way to experience nature, whoever you are. There are a lot of paved walkways connecting the different parts of the park. If you are going to see the virtual art, some of the exhibits are located on lawns and may be challenging to reach in a wheelchair. 

How much does it cost to get into Kirstenbosch?  

  • Non-South African adults 18 years and older: R200.
  • South African adults 18 years and older: R80.
  • Students from a South African institute: R45.
  • Scholars/Learners (6 – 17 years): R25.
  • Children under 6 years: Free.
  • And pensioners get in for free on Tuesdays
(Correct at time of posting)

The Seeing the Invisible art exhibition is included in the entrance fee and the app is free to download.

Kirstenbosch Opening Hours

Monday - Sunday: 8:30am–5:30pm (Except Thursday is 8:00am–5:00pm)

How to get to Kirstenbosch

If you're wondering how far Kirstenbosch is from the Cape Town city centre, it's a 15-minute car ride or 12km. 
You can find it on Google maps here.
If you are a visitor to the city, you can get there by rental car, ride share services like Lyft and Uber or the City Sightseeing Hop-on-hop-off bus

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A map of Kirstenbosch can be found here




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