A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

Western KwaZulu Natal (Mountains)

Route: Howick - Underberg - Winterton – Bergville - Johannesburg- Nelspruit

sunny 22 °C

JUNE 2019

After a long drive along the southern coast, we turned north and headed into the Drakensberg area of western Kwazulu Natal. Our first stop was the small town of Howick, an overnight stop before heading into the Drakensberg Mountains. Howick’s claim to fame is that it was the place Nelson Mandala was arrested in 1962 and from which he began his long incarceration. At that time he was on the run from the police, known as the Black Pimpernel and disguised as a driver for a white friend of his.
The next day we travelled west into the southern section of the Drakensberg Mountains and to our base for the next three nights, the little town of Underberg. As is the norm we didn’t go directly there, we sought out a couple of highlights on route.
The first was easy to find, as it was Howick Falls, just on the outskirts of town. Here the Umgeni River falls over 90 meters into a pool below. Legend has it that a massive serpent lurks in that pool, ready to devour any one who gets too close. However, like the Loch Ness monster, no proof of its existence has ever been found and it is believed that it was just a very large river eel that had been spotted. It does have a rather morbid reputation though, as it seems to be a popular place for suicides.

Howick Falls

Howick Falls

Howick Falls plaque

Howick Falls plaque

Full of enthusiasm after our Howick Falls experience we sought out another falls a bit further away, Albert Falls. This turned out to be not such a success, as we drove round the town of Albert Falls several times before locating the site and then couldn’t go to the actual falls themselves as a traditional ceremony was taking place, well you can’t win them all.
Underberg is a small town at the foot of the Southern Drakensberg Mountains and was an ideal location for us to explore the area. However, it wasn’t the surrounding that caught our attention when we first arrived it was the cold. We had been used to lovely warm weather over in the east, but now at the foot of the mountains it was a different matter. At night the temperature dropped to close on freezing, so a roaring fire was needed in the cottage to keep us warm. By day, once the sun was up, it was pleasantly warm, but it took several hours for the frost to go and for us to venture out from under our bed blankets. Both days we ventured into the foothills, for a short walk on the first day and longer hike on the second. Both days provided stunning scenery and a perfect temperature for hiking.

View over the Drakensberg in Underberg area

View over the Drakensberg in Underberg area

View of part of the Drakensberg

View of part of the Drakensberg

Drakensberg Scenery at dusk

Drakensberg Scenery at dusk

Huge herd of cattle going for milking blocking the road. You can see the line going on and on in the back ground

Huge herd of cattle going for milking blocking the road. You can see the line going on and on in the back ground

Drakensberg walk near Underberg

Drakensberg walk near Underberg

Walk in the Drakensberg near Underberg

Walk in the Drakensberg near Underberg

Hike in the Drakensberg

Hike in the Drakensberg

Our next location was further north and in the Central Drakensberg Mountains. Our base here was a beautiful cottage in the Champagne Valley, about 20km outside the nearest town of Winterton. From the cottage grounds there was a great view across the rolling hills to the Drakensberg Mountains in the distance.

View from the cottage in Central Drakensberg

View from the cottage in Central Drakensberg

Our main aim whilst here was to do another mountain hike, and the route to Nandi Falls looked particularly attractive, but first we thought we would have a touristy day. There were lots of things that intrigued us, and all were situated along the Champagne Valley road leading to the mountain. They also didn’t seem to be in keeping with the surroundings, which made them even more interesting.
First stop was Ardmore, the makers of very detailed and colourful ceramics. But not their posh upmarket gallery, that sells items for thousands of pounds to customers all round the world, but to a cottage industry run by some of the original founders (hence still going by the name Ardmore). This famous ceramic’s business started in Winterton, very close to where we are staying, and a few of the original crafts persons still produce items locally. The premises may not be so fancy and the items may not have quite the same finery, but are still very good and are sold at a fraction of the price. We started by looking around the museum then progressed to gallery and finally each made a purchase.

Ardmore Ceramic

Ardmore Ceramic

Next stop was the Negosie Museum, not well known outside the area, but very interesting none the less. The museum is an old shop displaying items from a bygone era, which brought back many childhood memories.

Inside the Negosie Museum

Inside the Negosie Museum

Negosie Museum in the Champagne Valley

Negosie Museum in the Champagne Valley

By now we were getting a bit hungry so we moved on to the Village Bakery. Now this is not the small establishment that the name may suggest, but a big building with plenty of parking, a shop, a restaurant and children’s play area. However, we were here just for the bread, which has a very good reputation in the area, but as usual left with more, biscuits and jam this time.
This visit made us even more hungry, but we restrained ourselves and moved on to find our lunch elsewhere. Our next location was a converted aircraft hanger complex with a number of small businesses operating out of the site. Food came first, followed by beer tasting at a local microbrewery, and then finishing off with a bit of shopping for local produce.

Beer tasting in the Champagne Valley

Beer tasting in the Champagne Valley

Next day was the more serious, and healthier, business of a hike up into the mountains. We stuck with our plan to hike to Nandi Falls and weren’t disappointed. The start was a descent through woodland, before emerging to great views of Cathedral Peak. We then gradually climbed up a gorge following a river until we reached Nandi Falls. A fine ribbon of water fell from a plateau above us into a pool with a rainbow at its base, a truly beautiful spot. The return journey took us along the bottom of a rock face with nice views across the valley below.

Nandi Falls Walk

Nandi Falls Walk

Nandi Falls

Nandi Falls

Nandi Falls

Nandi Falls

Nandi Falls walk

Nandi Falls walk

We decided that after all that exercise we deserved a treat, so called in at the Valley Bakery on our way back for tea and cake.

Continuing north along the Drakensberg Mountain range our final destination was another beautiful cottage just outside the town of Bergville and just inside the Royal Natal National Park protected area. Our cottage sat overlooking a small valley where we regularly spotted Eland (Africa’s largest antelope) on the opposite hilltop. The plan was for two days of hiking and with perfect weather conditions that is exactly what we did.

Our cottage in Northern Drakensberg

Our cottage in Northern Drakensberg

During our drive north on the previous day we had encountered a lot of smoke. This was the result of firebreaks being created, and our hope was that this wouldn’t impact on our enjoyment of the area. Fortunately on our first day’s hike the fires were in the distance and not likely to effect us in any way.

Fire break

Fire break

The mountains seemed to have got more spectacular as we travelled north and as we entered the Royal Natal National Park, the location for our hike, this was even more evident.
Today we had decided to explore the northern section of the park. Our route first took us through forest, following the Mahai River, before emerging at some cascades. It now got much steeper as we continued on to a lookout high up on the mountain slopes. The views from here were magnificent and the flat rock formation was a good place to sit and get our breath back. The hike now levelled out as we passed through more forest, eventually arriving at Tiger Falls. The hiking pamphlet we were following spoke of a magical curtain of water failing from the cliff edge, but today it was more like a dripping tap due to the season and reduced rainfall in the area.

Tiger Falls Walk in the Royal Natal NP

Tiger Falls Walk in the Royal Natal NP

Tiger Falls Walk in the Royal Natal NP

Tiger Falls Walk in the Royal Natal NP

Tiger Falls (not much of a fall)

Tiger Falls (not much of a fall)

Baboon encounter on the Tiger Falls Walk in the Royal Natal NP

Baboon encounter on the Tiger Falls Walk in the Royal Natal NP

Our route now began to descend the mountain slope and eventually arrived back at the start. At which time we realised that our timing had been perfect, as smoke from the firebreaks had now engulfed the area we had enjoyed only a few hours earlier.
The hike for the following day was in the southern section and the most iconic part of the park. Iconic because it affords the best views of the incredible amphitheatre, a concave wall of rock that sits on top of the mountain face some 3,000 meters above us.

The Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre

We started with a gentle but long climb up the Thukela (also known as Tugela) gorge with the amphitheatre becoming ever closer. Our target was not to complete the whole hike, that would take over 6 hours, but to get the best views possible and maybe even see the Thukela (also known as Tugela) Falls. We knew that seeing the falls was a bit of a big ask, as water levels are low this time of year and at best it would just be a dark line down the mountain face. However, it was worth a try as the falls are the second highest in the world, at 948 metres. From our final vantage point and with the use of binoculars we thought we could see them, but with Anne and I pinpointing a different spot on the mountain face we couldn’t be sure. Having enjoyed the fantastic scenery, got a good view of the amphitheatre and maybe seen the falls, we turned around and retraced our steps back to the start.

Ampitheatre walk in Royal Natal NP

Ampitheatre walk in Royal Natal NP

View during the Amphitheatre walk in Royal Natal NP

View during the Amphitheatre walk in Royal Natal NP

We were now at the end of our first three weeks in South Africa and had to say good-bye to Rob. As unlike us retirees, he had to return to work in the UK, whilst we continued our travels. Therefore we left the Drakensberg Mountains and drove to Johannesburg airport to drop him off, and then overnighted before continuing our journey.

Craft sellers outside the Royal Natal NP

Craft sellers outside the Royal Natal NP

Now just the two of us, our southern Africa journey continued east towards the Mozambique border. Our destination was the town of Nelspruit, the capital town of the Mpumalanga Province. Nelspruit is a busy and relatively prosperous town, due to its administrative functions, farming and magnesium industries, and we were staying just on the outskirts. Our home for the next four days was a one-bedroom cottage set in the most amazing grounds. The property had what is best described, as its own botanical gardens. These spread for several acres over a hill side and provided great views of the valley below and mountains in the distance. The cottage was small but very well fitted; and with the weather so nice we were able to make full use of the outside furniture.

Our accommodation in Nelspruit

Our accommodation in Nelspruit

Back garden of our accommodation in Nelspruit

Back garden of our accommodation in Nelspruit

Double Collared Sunbird taken from the garden in our Nelspruit Accommodation

Double Collared Sunbird taken from the garden in our Nelspruit Accommodation

Having got behind with our planning and travel admin, this was a great place to catch up. It was also so comfortable that some days we didn’t even go out, just relaxed in the beautiful surrounds. However, we did explore the area a bit, but only a couple of forays to check out the town and a visit to its botanical gardens. With our own botanical gardens on our doorstep we almost didn’t bother with the official one, but were glad we did. The Low Veld Botanical Gardens is located to the north of the town and are dissected by the Crocodile River. Containing most of the local flora it is also home to a wide variety of bird life. We spent a few hours there, exploring the trails and admiring the nature all around us.

Lowveld Botanical Garden in Nelspruit

Lowveld Botanical Garden in Nelspruit

Purple Turaco in the Lowveld Botanical Garden

Purple Turaco in the Lowveld Botanical Garden

Refreshed after our relaxing stay in Nelspruit, we were ready for adventures new, a different country in fact.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Drakensberg Mountains
The Drakensberg Mountains run south to north across eastern South Africa, starting close to the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Cape and ending right up in the north of the Limpopo Province. The range runs for more than 1,000 kilometres, with its highest peaks in the south (several over 3,000 meters) were it forms the border between South Africa and Lesotho. Amongst it’s many amazing features is the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world and the highest in Africa, which tumbles of the Lesotho escarpment down into South Africa and eventually forms the Orange River.
However, there is now some debate as to whether the Tugela Falls may actually be the highest in the world. At 948 metres they are only around 30 metres lower than that recorded for the Angel Falls in Venezuela, currently the highest in the world. Due to a potential flaw in the original measurement of the Angel Falls a Dutch geologist believes their true height is in the region of 930 metres, which would make Tugela the highest. For the moment though, the debate continues and it may be some while before it is settled. In fact, such is the effect of climate change; both may dry up before that.

Tagula Falls (courtesy of the internet)

Tagula Falls (courtesy of the internet)

Posted by MAd4travel 04:27 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Eastern Kwazulu-Natal (Wildlife Adventure)

Route: London – Johannesburg – Piet Retief – St Lucia - Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

sunny 22 °C

JUNE 2019

After a slow and congested drive from home we finally arrived at Heathrow for our trip to South Africa. Having secured good seats on the plane, the 11-hour flight was reasonably painless. Then with a smooth route through customs and a swift rental car pick-up, we soon found ourselves heading east out of Johannesburg with our destination of Piet Retief only three and a half hours away.
Piet Retief was only an overnighter, to break the journey to St Lucia in the southeast corner of Kwazulu Natal. We (Malc, Anne & Rob) had a comfortable room and had a nice meal in “Munch”, which was all we needed to refresh us for the onward journey the next day. The journey from Johannesburg to Piet Retief was through fairly flat mining and agricultural land, but the route on to St Lucia was much more interesting. The land was more undulating now, as we travelled south through the Zulu heartland with the country border of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) not far to the east. Finally we arrived at the massive iSimangaliso wetlands (see below) and its entrance town of St Lucia. St Lucia, and a very pleasant river front apartment, was the base for our six nights and five-day stay, enough time to fully explore the area.
Most days were spent in the iSimangaliso Park sampling its incredible diverse landscape and watching its varied wildlife. But this wasn’t all game drives, there were short hikes to view points, long sandy beaches and rock pools to discover, plus we got on the water for a lake cruise. The lake cruise was primarily to get up and close to some of the 800 Hippo’s that live in the area but also to spot other lake residents, which include massive Nile Crocodiles, African Fish Eagles, etc.

Cape Vidal Beach

Cape Vidal Beach

Grey headed gull

Grey headed gull

A few Cape Buffalo

A few Cape Buffalo

Walking along Cape Vidal beach

Walking along Cape Vidal beach

Mission Beach at high tide

Mission Beach at high tide

iSimangaliso Wetland Park road network

iSimangaliso Wetland Park road network

Red Duiker

Red Duiker

Male Kudu

Male Kudu

Herd of Zebra in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Herd of Zebra in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

A tower of Giraffes in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

A tower of Giraffes in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Trumpeter Hornbill

Trumpeter Hornbill

Crowned Hornbill

Crowned Hornbill

Zebras

Zebras

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Caution signs

Caution signs

View of Lake St Lucia

View of Lake St Lucia

View from top of viewing tower in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

View from top of viewing tower in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

White Rhino in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

White Rhino in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

One of many Rock pools on Mission Beach

One of many Rock pools on Mission Beach

Mission Rock Beach at low tide

Mission Rock Beach at low tide

Warthog greeting

Warthog greeting

View over iSimangaliso Wetland Park

View over iSimangaliso Wetland Park

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

Cruise boat in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Cruise boat in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

happy Hippo

happy Hippo

Hidding Hippo

Hidding Hippo

Alpha male of the hippo pool yawning

Alpha male of the hippo pool yawning

Sunset and Hippo pool

Sunset and Hippo pool

Hippo taking to the water

Hippo taking to the water

Our next location was just a one-hour drive from St Lucia. Our route took us past small towns and villages and required a high degree of concentration to avoid the goats and cattle that wondered into the road without warning. All successfully negotiated we arrived at our next destination; South Africa’s oldest protected area, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Covering an area of almost 100,000 hectares, the park is home to some of Africa’s most endangered and iconic wildlife, which was immediately obvious as we were greeted by a couple of Elephants at the entrance gate.

First sighting of Elephant at iMfolozi entrance gate

First sighting of Elephant at iMfolozi entrance gate

The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park was once two parks but is now joined by a wildlife corridor to create its current form. We had four nights in the park, first staying in the iMfolozi section then moving to Hluhluwe. Our stay in iMfolozi was at a bush camp called Mpila and in a nice self-catering cottage with views over the surrounding landscape.

View over iMfolozi

View over iMfolozi

Blue Wax Bill

Blue Wax Bill

Colourful lizard

Colourful lizard

Being a bush camp meant there were no fences so we had to be mindful of what could walk through the camp at any time. During our stay we only had Impala, Warthog and Vervet Monkeys for company, but some guests had encountered Hyena’s trying to steal meat from their Braai (BBQ). Our two days in iMfolozi was spent doing self-guided game drives along the gravel tracks that provided access to some parts of the park. The weather was great, albeit a bit nippy early in the morning; the scenery stunning and the wildlife sightings pretty good. It was nice to spend time with some of our favourite African creatures and especially good when an African Painted Dog (formally African Wild Dog) tolerated our company for about 20 minutes whilst he selected his dinner for that evening. African Painted Dogs are a rare sighting (they are on the critically endangered list) and normally found in packs, but this one was on its own, so we assumed he was acting as a scout for the rest.

Giraffe

Giraffe

Glossy Starling

Glossy Starling

Male Impala

Male Impala

Female Impala

Female Impala

White Rhino

White Rhino

Sleeping White Rhino

Sleeping White Rhino

White Rhino relaxing by a mud hole in iMfolozi Park

White Rhino relaxing by a mud hole in iMfolozi Park

Male Babboon

Male Babboon

Mouse Birds

Mouse Birds

Blue Wildebeast

Blue Wildebeast

View of the river iMfolozi

View of the river iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Painted Dog in iMfolozi

Our two days flashed by and we were on the move again, but only into the other side of the park. Our next two nights were at the Hilltop Camp in the Hluhluwe section. Hilltop is a fenced camp with more facilities, restaurant, etc., and our accommodation was in a split-level house with magnificent views from our windows and terrace. Although fenced, Nyala, Impala, Baboon, and Vervet Monkeys still seemed to find their way into the compound.

Vervet Monkey on our balcony

Vervet Monkey on our balcony

Sunset from our balcony in Hluhluwe Park

Sunset from our balcony in Hluhluwe Park

Our accommodation (third chalet on the right) in Hluhluwe park

Our accommodation (third chalet on the right) in Hluhluwe park

View over Hluhluwe

View over Hluhluwe

Activities here were pretty similar to iMfolozi, with plenty of game drives amongst the beautiful wildlife and in more amazing scenery. Again the gravel roads gave us access to a reasonable amount of the park, but we were glad we had hired a high clearance vehicle, as some sections were quite tough to negotiate. All in all it was a very enjoyable stay, but especially memorable for a 24hour period right near the end (see below).

White Rhino at water hole

White Rhino at water hole

White Rhino scratching an hitch on a log

White Rhino scratching an hitch on a log

Red Billed Oxpecker

Red Billed Oxpecker

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo

Blue Wildebeest

Blue Wildebeest

Hluhluwe View

Hluhluwe View

Black-Tip Mangose

Black-Tip Mangose

Elephant at water hole

Elephant at water hole

Giraffe on the road in Hluhluwe

Giraffe on the road in Hluhluwe

Elephant drinking at water hole in Hluhluwe

Elephant drinking at water hole in Hluhluwe

White Backed Vulture

White Backed Vulture

Sadly our time in the park was now over and we were off on fresh and very different adventures. We now travelled right across to the other side of the state and to the Drakensberg Mountains (see Western Kwazulu Natal Blog).

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

South Africa and the State of Kwazulu Natal
The Province of Kwazulu Natal sits on the eastern side of South Africa and is about the size of Portugal. Kwazulu means the place of the Zulu people and Natal is the name of the old province that once occupied part of the area. To the south the land falls away into the Indian Ocean and is the location of its biggest city, that of Durban. To the west it buffs up against the Drakensberg Mountains, with peaks of over 3,000 meters. To the east it borders the countries of Eswatini and Mozambique and to the north can be found South Africa’s largest city Johannesburg.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park
The park is situated on the east coast of Kwazulu Natal and runs almost from the Mozambique border in the north to the St Lucia estuary in the south. It is South Africa’s third largest protected area, covering 3,280km2, and became its first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, because of its rich biodiversity. The area combines lakes, rivers, open plains, forest, dunes and the Indian Ocean coast, to provided a home for a great variety of flora and fauna.

Rhino Crisis
The population of the African Rhino species, along with their Asian cousins, has plummeted by over 90% in the last century. Now, with the exception of the African White Rhino, all are on the verge of extinction. A few decades ago the population of African White (but not the northern sub-species) and Black Rhino’s had stabilised and was beginning to increase. But in recent years this trend has taken a massive turn for the worse. Today, approximately three Rhino’s a day are poached to feed the insatiable Chinese and Vietnamese appetite for Rhino horn. And this is even with the vast increase in Anti-Poaching units that now patrol African parks. With Rhino horn more valuable than gold the poaching operations are very well funded and heavily armed. This makes the job of the Anti-Poaching units very dangerous with many individuals losing their lives.
So what can be done? Most importantly, change the mind of the consumer. Buyers in China and Vietnam believe that Rhino horn is the cure for many ailments, none of which have any scientific proof. In fact, the demand is so great at the moment; most of the Rhino horn in circulation isn’t Rhino at all, its ground Water Buffalo horn sold as Rhino, further disproving the medicinal claims. But until the consumers see sense, interim measures are being put in place to deter the poachers. These deterrents come in many forms; the one chosen by the iSimangaliso Park is de-horning, whilst the Hluhluwe- iMfolozi Park with its more sophisticated Anti-Poaching operation, was able to avoid this. These are amongst many drastic actions being taken throughout South Africa to ward off the extinction of Rhino in the wild, but all have their drawbacks and none are considered ideal.
To understand the plight of the Rhino more fully, the film documentary “Stoop” is a must watch.

White Rhino de-horned in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

White Rhino de-horned in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

White Rhino with his horns in iMfolozi

White Rhino with his horns in iMfolozi

Beautiful White Rhino with Horn in iMfolozi

Beautiful White Rhino with Horn in iMfolozi

White Rhino in iMfolozi

White Rhino in iMfolozi

A very memorable 24 hours
It all started with a night drive, this time organised by the camp and with a driver/guide (you are not allowed to self-drive in the park after dark), and it was only Malc and Rob, as Anne didn’t fancy the cold, which is guaranteed in the back of an open 4x4 when the sun goes down. The drive was fantastic, with some great sighting of nocturnal activity, that was until an incident right near the end and with the camp in sight.
We had just passed a very large single tusked bull Elephant walking along the edge of the road in the opposite direction, when we realised another large bull (with both tusks) was coming down the road towards us, The guide soon realised that these two were in the process of having a fight, and when the first bull turned around, knew we were now in the middle of it. With an aggressive Elephant in front of us and one behind, it looked like we would be squashed in the middle. The guide decided that the only course of action was to get off the road into the bush, but not too far as the ground fell away steeply, and hope that the Elephants would ignore us. This worked to an extent, but neither bulls were happy with our presence, both in turn getting very close to the Land Cruiser, with their tusks almost touching the roof, ears flapping aggressively and their breath wafting all around us. We thought any minute now we are going to be tipped over or crushed. At this stage the guide radioed the camp for help, and in a few minutes another Land Cruiser arrived on the scene. After a bit of a stand off, a lot of engine revving and Elephant trumpeting, the Elephants were persuaded to leave the area and disaster was averted. Back at the camp, shaken but not stirred, we relayed the story to Anne, who had heard the commotion form our terrace but couldn’t see the action because of the dark.
The following morning started in a similar fashion to the ones that had gone before, an early morning game drive followed by a late breakfast. But what was not normal was the smoke that started to appear from the hillside woodland about 200 meters below our house. That smoke then began to spread across the hillside with flames becoming very visible. We considered preparing for evacuation, but because the staff attending the fire seemed pretty relaxed by the whole situation, we decided it wasn’t anything to be concerned about. We watched men in yellow jackets with water tanks on their back spraying the burnt ground (a very similar arrangement to a weed killer unit used in Europe) and assumed the fire was under control. Fortunately by early afternoon the flames and smoke had disappeared and all was back to normal. This was our queue to go out for the second game drive of the day.

Fire in front of chalet

Fire in front of chalet

A few hours later we were back, very pleased with our sightings and ready to relax before dinner. However, it wasn’t long before we heard rumblings and tree branches breaking just outside the house. Then, low and behold two young bull Elephants appeared, in what was effectively, our back garden. They progressed to eat the tall grass and young trees right outside our bedroom window and provided us with a great view from our terrace. It was a wonderful and rare experience to see wild Elephants at such close range and with the safety of a solid elevated viewpoint.

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

Elephant in our "back garden"

But our wildlife close up encounters hadn’t finished yet. Whilst viewing the Elephants from our terrace we were joined by a couple of inquisitive Vervet Monkeys, never getting too close just looking for food. What was more of an issue was the large male Baboon who wanted to also get in on the action. So we had to chase them all away before going back into the house, the Elephants had now moved on. But that wasn’t the end of it, the Vervet Monkeys were soon back and looking in through our glass door. This we ignored, until they started to pull on the door handle. Fortunately we had locked the door, otherwise we would have had two unwanted guests running riot inside the house.

Vervet Monkey at our window

Vervet Monkey at our window

From then on things returned to normality, but left us with a very memorable 24 hours.

Posted by MAd4travel 05:09 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

South Africa - Part 5 - Winelands to Cape Town

Route: Tulbagh – Montagu – Swellendam – Franschhoek – Betty’s Bay – Cape Town

sunny 30 °C

OCTOBER 2017 – JANUARY 2018

From the Cederberg Mountains we headed south and back into the northerly section of South Africa’s Western Cape wine region. Our destination was the historic town of Tulbagh and our accommodation was in a farm cottage just outside of town. With the exception of our first day, our stay in Tulbagh was pretty relaxed. A gentle hike through an apricot orchard in the foothills of the Witzenberg Mountains occupied one day, exploring Tulbagh’s historic Church Street another and a day doing nothing completed the local activities.

Tullbagh Mountain

Tullbagh Mountain

Hiking in Tullbagh Mountain via Apricot Orchard

Hiking in Tullbagh Mountain via Apricot Orchard

Tullbagh Historical main street

Tullbagh Historical main street

Drying apricot in Tullbagh area

Drying apricot in Tullbagh area

Looking for shade in really hot place Tullbagh

Looking for shade in really hot place Tullbagh

So back to that busy first day. You may recall from the previous blog, that Anne’s camera had stopped working and that Olympus Customer Services were looking for a solution. Well, part of that solution was to deliver the camera to an Olympus agent in Cape Town, for them to send it off for repair. So our busy first day was a trip to Cape Town and back, almost 300km and 4hrs driving. We had the address and it was in central Cape Town, this first meant negotiating the traffic congestion then finding a parking space. This achieved, we made our way to the shop, only to find that customs issues would prevent them helping us. So, disappointed we retraced our steps back to Tulbagh and contacted Olympus again to find another solution.

From Tulbagh it was a shortish drive southeast to our next destination of Montagu. Tucked away in a valley amongst the Langeberg Mountains, Montagu is an attractive town full of historic buildings. Our accommodation for the 5-night stay was in one such building, a small but beautifully presented thatched cottage, not dissimilar to the one we had in McGregor. Montagu was ideal for us, the cottage was comfortable and allowed us to self-cater, the town had good amenities and the Montagu Mountain Reserve was 1km away, which offered plenty of hiking opportunities. Needless to say we hiked almost every day, once through a river gorge, once into the heart of the Montagu Mountains and once to a viewpoint overlooking the town. Because of the heat, all these hikes were done in the early morning, leaving the rest of the day to relax or do some of those admin jobs that are essential for this kind of lifestyle. I had to do my online tax return one afternoon, a simple exercise, once you manage to acquire all the various codes needed to access the forms.

Badskloof Trail in Montegu

Badskloof Trail in Montegu

large_SA_Cape_759.jpgView of Montegu from Nature Garden

View of Montegu from Nature Garden

Hiking in Montagu mountains

Hiking in Montagu mountains

Blue House Montegu

Blue House Montegu

Very steep walk worth the effort for this pretty waterfall

Very steep walk worth the effort for this pretty waterfall

Montagu Mountain Reserve

Montagu Mountain Reserve

Five nights was just about right for Montagu, we loved every minute, but it was time to move on. So we did, next stop Swellendam. A little house on the outskirts of town would be home over the Christmas period; the hosts even put a Christmas tree in it for us. Our time in the area followed a common pattern for us, a couple of visits to the Bontebok National Park (one hike, one drive) and a hike in the Marloth Nature Reserve kept us amused. We did however follow tradition on Christmas Day, eating and drinking too much, and watching a lot of TV.

Our lovely accommodation in Swellendam

Our lovely accommodation in Swellendam

Local Wildlife

Local Wildlife

Bontebok NP

Bontebok NP

Still in the winelands, we next headed west back towards Cape Town to the village of Franschhoek. An enjoyable drive, avoiding the N1, took in some spectacular scenery, cumulating in the accent and decent over the Franschhoek Pass. Franschhoek is a very smart and a moneyed type of place. It was definitely the most touristy we had been in since we left Hermanus, at the start of the trip. Our accommodation for the first few nights was about 10km out of the village, at the Bellingham Homestead. We had a room in a converted period manor house, dating back to the 18th century, with a two century old Sumatran four-poster bed to sleep in. The manor house was set in 5.5 acres of manicured gardens, which would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the flies, which in turn was within the grounds of the posh Anthonij Rupert Wine Estate. We had to go through the estate security gate to get in and out each day.

Bellhingham Homestead

Bellhingham Homestead

Bellingham Homestead Wineyard

Bellingham Homestead Wineyard

Franschhoek Lavender field

Franschhoek Lavender field

Our bed, a 18th Century from Sumatra a gift to the King from France supposedly

Our bed, a 18th Century from Sumatra a gift to the King from France supposedly

Apart from a shopping trip to Somerset West (Anne’s iPad had died on us so we went to try and get a replacement – no luck unfortunately) our activities were as usual, hiking in the surrounding countryside. Now I am sure everyone reading this will say not another hike he is raving about, but this one does deserve a mention. It was in the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, just outside Franschhoek, about 10km long and called the Uitkyk Trail. The trail started at the Reserve office, already spectacular as it is situated at the top of the Franschhoek Pass, then winds up into the Franschhoek Mountains. At about one third distance it branches off into a hidden valley full of Fynbos (flora endemic to the area), at which point the only sounds we could hear were the birds above our head, the baboons on the hill side and the gravel beneath our boots. We continued to climb up into the valley (very hot now, as we were sheltered from the wind), following the Perdekloof Stream until we reached the Uitkyk summit. And the summit view was the icing on the cake; incredible views of the secluded Wemmershoek Valley lay before us. And what made it even better was that we had it to ourselves, the early start paid dividends.

Uitkyk Trail Mt Rochelle Nature Reserve

Uitkyk Trail Mt Rochelle Nature Reserve

Hiking on the Uitkyk trail in Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve

Hiking on the Uitkyk trail in Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve

Meeting with local on the Uitkyk Trail

Meeting with local on the Uitkyk Trail

Uitkyk Trail end at a magnificent view point

Uitkyk Trail end at a magnificent view point

Uitkyk Trail end

Uitkyk Trail end

SA_Cape_788.jpgSA_Cape_792.jpgSA_Cape_794.jpgOn our way back from the Uitkyk Trail

On our way back from the Uitkyk Trail

SA_Cape_796.jpgSA_Cape_797.jpgSA_Cape_798.jpgSA_Cape_799.jpgVista Trail Mt Rochelle Nature Reserve

Vista Trail Mt Rochelle Nature Reserve

Early View of Franschhoek Valley from Mt Rochelle

Early View of Franschhoek Valley from Mt Rochelle

After leaving the Bellingham Homestead we remained in Franschhoek, but this time in the village. Some friends we had met almost a year ago in Chile, Neil and Nikki, had invited us to go and stay with them for a few days, an offer we gladly accepted. They were at the end of an incredible one-year journey that had taken them from Cape Horn (at the bottom of South America) to the Cape of Good Hope (at the bottom of Africa). A journey that they had done by land mostly, through South America, North America, Asia (mainly Russia), North to South Europe and then North to South Africa (missing some of the dodgy parts). To celebrate that achievement they had rented a villa in Franschhoek and invited friends and family to join them, luckily for us not everyone could make it so there was room for us to. What then followed was five very enjoyable days socialising and having fun with 11 people we had never met before (we had only met Neil and Nikki briefly in Chile), but were good friends by the time we left. Our stay with them coincided with New Year, so that was a good occasion to get to know each other and celebrate together. We also hiked together, explored the wine estates together and were all there to see Neil and Nikki cross the finishing line at the Cape of Good Hope.

King (or Giant Protea) the South Africa official Flower

King (or Giant Protea) the South Africa official Flower

Hottentot Holland Nature Reserve

Hottentot Holland Nature Reserve

Hiking in the Hottentot Holland Nature Reserve

Hiking in the Hottentot Holland Nature Reserve

Posh Place where we had a great time with Friends in Franschhoek

Posh Place where we had a great time with Friends in Franschhoek

Preparing for the Festin du Nouvel An

Preparing for the Festin du Nouvel An

Time to eat all the food

Time to eat all the food

CapetoCape at Cape of Good Hope their final destination

CapetoCape at Cape of Good Hope their final destination

Our journey continued from Franschhoek on to the sleepy coastal village of Betty’s Bay. Here we had rented a house up in the hills, with views of the ocean from the front and the mountains from the back. It seemed very quiet after the villa, just the two of us, not thirteen. Although we both agreed that, as much as we love just being the two of us, being with other people did us good and was very enjoyable. Maybe we were also lucky that they were such a good crowd.
We had a week in Betty’s Bays, to the surprise of many locals, but it had been planned to be one of our chill-out stops, and that what is was. Most of the time we spent relaxing on the balcony admiring the view, as well as getting a few admin jobs out the way. But it wasn’t all down time; we did get out and explore the area on foot and by car. One such occasion turned out to be very memorable.
The day was cool, after the previous day’s rain, so we decided to go for a hike. Our location choice was the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and the route was the Palmiet River Trail. It was a beautiful hike alongside the Palmiet River with mountains towering above us on all sides. The outwards section of the hike took us along the river edge with the return section along a jeep track about 100m above the river. It was along the jeep track that we had an encounter that will stay with us forever. Unbeknown to us, just on the edge of the track lay a Cape Cobra. It wasn’t until it reared up, with hood spread wide and hissing that we knew of its presence. It was on my side, so I jumped away quickly shouting “Oh my goodness”, or something similar, whilst the snake returned to the ground and slide of into the undergrowth. In the end it was quite an amazing experience, as none of us got hurt and we got a very good sighting of a Cape Cobra in the wild. Another one to add to our dangerous snake encounters list (more of that & Cape Cobra facts below).

View from our accommodation in Bettys Bay

View from our accommodation in Bettys Bay

Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Protea

Protea

Palmiet River

Palmiet River

SA_Cape_879.jpgDragonfly Gold

Dragonfly Gold

Dragonfly Red

Dragonfly Red

Dragonfly Yellow

Dragonfly Yellow


hiking in Bettys Bay Area

hiking in Bettys Bay Area

View of Bettys Bay

View of Bettys Bay


Cape Cobra - as seen on our hike in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Cape Cobra - as seen on our hike in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Our final stop before returning home was in the heart of Cape Town. Here we had a small but comfortable loft apartment, with panoramic views over the V&A Waterfront out the front and Table Mountain out the side windows. The first thing we noticed, although not intrusive, was the noise. We had been in quiet remote places for most of our stay in South Africa, so it was a change to hear city noise.
Although we were in the city centre, it was relatively easy to get out of town to the attractions on the city boundaries. This meant that we had a mix of activities, in and out of town. A visit to the V&A Waterfront one day.

Unusual advertising in Cape Town, the Q is do you think it is in order of importance?

Unusual advertising in Cape Town, the Q is do you think it is in order of importance?

Waterfront Cape Town

Waterfront Cape Town

Street Musicians in Cape Town

Street Musicians in Cape Town


Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

A hike in the Cape of Good Hope National Park the next.

Olifantsbos Bay - Table Mountain National Park (Cape of Good Hope Region)

Olifantsbos Bay - Table Mountain National Park (Cape of Good Hope Region)

Chacma Baboons feeding on shellfish (a behaviour believed unusual in primates) at Olifantsbos Bay

Chacma Baboons feeding on shellfish (a behaviour believed unusual in primates) at Olifantsbos Bay

Chacma Baboon feeding on shellfish at Olifantsbos Bay

Chacma Baboon feeding on shellfish at Olifantsbos Bay

Female Chacma Baboon with baby

Female Chacma Baboon with baby

Bontebok feeding near the oceans edge

Bontebok feeding near the oceans edge

Rock arch on the Olifantsbos circular hike

Rock arch on the Olifantsbos circular hike

Followed by a plateau walk on Table Mountain

Table Mountain Cable Car

Table Mountain Cable Car

View from the Table Mountain plateau - circa 1000m above sea level

View from the Table Mountain plateau - circa 1000m above sea level

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

Rock Hyrax on Table Mountain plateau

Rock Hyrax on Table Mountain plateau

Table Mountain plateau flora

Table Mountain plateau flora

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau

View from the Table Mountain plateau


Table Mountain from Bloubergstrand

Table Mountain from Bloubergstrand

and a finally few self guided city walks to explore Cape Town’s hidden secrets.
Prestwich Memorial, the bones of Cape Town's forgotten dead

Prestwich Memorial, the bones of Cape Town's forgotten dead

Historic Tram Tracks the remainder of an almost forgotten transport network started running in 1863 and used until 1930

Historic Tram Tracks the remainder of an almost forgotten transport network started running in 1863 and used until 1930

The Slave Church Museum South Africa oldest mission church were missionaries came to educate not preach religion to the black community

The Slave Church Museum South Africa oldest mission church were missionaries came to educate not preach religion to the black community

Mullets Optometrists South Africa first Optometrist housed in a beautiful Art Deco building

Mullets Optometrists South Africa first Optometrist housed in a beautiful Art Deco building

We are still here memorial to destitute children

We are still here memorial to destitute children

Each plaque contains the destitute child details and a request from family to reclaim the child within 6 weeks of the add. If not the child future didn't look bright (semi enslavement)

Each plaque contains the destitute child details and a request from family to reclaim the child within 6 weeks of the add. If not the child future didn't look bright (semi enslavement)

We Are Still Here memorial A mosaic memorial to destitute children of Cape Town

We Are Still Here memorial A mosaic memorial to destitute children of Cape Town

Wooden Cobbles dating back more than 150 years

Wooden Cobbles dating back more than 150 years


Jetty 1

Jetty 1


For 30 years everyone travelling to and from Robben Island (whether prisoners, visitors, wardens or staff) passed through theses premises. An intense reminder of a heart rending apartheid experience

Breakwater Prison Treadmil

Breakwater Prison Treadmil


A cruel hamster wheel for humans. For 55mn of every hour a convict would hang onto an overhead bar while his feet kept the treadmill turning at a steady pace. Should the prisoner slack off the wooden tread would crack him on the shin until they bled.

Then this amazing journey was over and we caught our flight back to the UK, to start the next adventure.

V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain backdrop

V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain backdrop

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Supermarkets
During our stay in the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa, we have found the supermarkets to be not dissimilar to those in the UK. However, one thing that did stand out as a difference was their product display policy. In the UK, and throughout most of Europe, complementary products are displayed together. This is not necessary the case in South Africa. Shelf space is at a premium so every gap must be filled. This results in some unusual combinations, we have found pasta with the toiletries and hair products with the tinned fruit. At least this makes you visit all the aisles, not just where you might expect to find the product you want.

Christmas
Christmas is celebrated in South Africa just the same as in the UK, but not with the commercial overkill. You see a few Christmas promotions in the supermarket, but more as a reminder than a ploy to make you buy more than you need. There are no Christmas trees or lights in public places, which would probably seem out of place anyway. And there is no Christmas orientated advertisements on TV, this is especially noticeable by the lack of advertisements targeted at children. It’s all quite refreshing really; back to the old values of Christmas dare I say? (Especially as I am one of the least Christmassy people you can meet). Oh, but there still is Christmas music playing everywhere, so they haven’t got it totally right yet.

Hitch Hiking
Hitch Hiking is illegal on major roads in South Africa, and there is a road sign to indicate this. However, on minor hitching a lift is allowed. The usual method is to stand by the side of the road, extend one arm with a hand displaying a thumb whilst using the other to display a 20 rand note (just over one pound sterling).

TV Bleeps
The use of the word “God” is taken very seriously in South Africa (“thaw shall not take the lords name in vein”, sort of thing). This is followed through on TV programs aired. For example, you will hear “Oh my bleep” or “For bleep sake” or “Bleep only knows”, which on some occasions can become a bit annoying.

Water Shortage
The Western Cape, and in particular the Cape Town area, have a severe water shortage. Poor winter rains for the past three years have left the reservoirs very low and with demand rising all the time, the situation has got serious. We passed one of the major Cape reservoirs in the area, on our way to Franschhoek, and it was only 22% full. There is a possibility that water will have to be tankered into Cape Town by February 2018 if the imposed restrictions don’t work.

Reservoir almost empty

Reservoir almost empty

The Cape Cobra and Dangerous snake encounters
The Cape Cobra is a large venomous snake with frontal fangs and can grow to a length of about 1.5m. It lives predominately in the Western Cape but can be found much further afield in South Africa. It is active during the day and generally preys on rodents.
Only about 10% of the 151 snake species found in Southern Africa are dangerous to humans. Very few human deaths from snakebite are recorded annually in Southern Africa, with a figure of around 10 fatalities per annum usually quoted. Most of these deaths are caused by bites from Cape Cobras and Black Mambas.

During our many years of travelling, we have encountered dangerous snakes on three occasions.
The first was in Swaziland, where we inadvertently crossed the path of a Black Mamba. It reared up, looked very displeased, but fortunately went on its way.
The second occasion was in the Amazon Jungle where we were staying with a local tribe. This time it was a Fer de Lance (the most venomous South American snake), which had come into our shower through the floorboards. Unfortunately our hosts had to kill it, otherwise it would keep returning.
The third occasion was of course today, with our Cape Cobra encounter.

Table Mountain
This iconic backdrop to Cape Town was voted one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” in 2011, a title it truly deserves. Table Mountain was formed by igneous and glacier action about 520 million years ago, making 6 times older than the Himalayas and one the oldest mountains in the world. The Khoi/San, the original inhabitants of the region, named it “Hoerikwaggo” meaning “Mountain of the Sea”, but its modern name originates from its flat top.
The mountain’s famous tablecloth is a meteorological phenomenon that causes cloud to tumble down the mountain slopes like billowing fabric. The Khoi/San thought this to be the mantis god pulling an animal pelt down to extinguish mountain fires.
At its highest point, it is 1,085m above sea level (Maclear’s Beacon – the focus of our recent hike). The flattish top is accessed, either by a step climb up its side or by a cable car. The cable car was installed in 1929 and an estimated 26 million people have used it to date.
At the top, provided there is no tablecloth, you have magnificent 360-degree views over Cape Town and the surrounding area. A must for anyone visiting Cape Town.

Posted by MAd4travel 01:25 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

South Africa -Part 4- West to the Atlantic Coast & Cederberg

Route: McGregor – Simons Town – Langebaan – Lamberts Bay - Clanwilliam

sunny 32 °C

Having become quite accustomed to the barren, hot and dry environment of the Karoo, it was quite a shock when we emerged from the mountains into the lush greenery of the Langberge valleys. We had been driving all day from Graaff Reinet to our first location back in the Western Cape, a delightful village called McGregor. McGregor is a small village of thatched cottage, and looks more like the Cotswolds (England) than South Africa. Its in the Breede River valley and surrounded by mountains and vineyards. Home for the next four days would be our own thatched cottage, beautifully equipped and with views of the mountains from our back patio.

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The main aim of our stay was to sample some local wines, which we achieved with visits to the McGregor, Lords and Bemind (pronounced Bement) wineries.
Wine tasting is such good fun, finding out about the process, sampling the goods and finally purchasing some of the products (in our case – 5 reds, 4 whites and a sparkling). However, our stay in McGregor was not all about wine. The village is home to some very talented artists and excellent restaurants, so we also amused ourselves shopping and eating. But it wasn’t all eating and drinking; we did get a bit of exercise with a hike in the local Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve.

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Keeping with the drinking theme, a very enjoyable evening was spent at the old post office. Now, we weren’t there to buy stamps as that function ceased many years ago, it is now a pub. The Old Post Office pub is only open between 6pm and 8pm, Monday to Saturday and when there is a suitable sport event airing on DSTV. We were there for the Italy v South Africa and England v Samoa autumn rugby union internationals. For the first match, Italy v South Africa, the pub was packed, but for the second, England v Samoa, Rob and I had it to ourselves. The landlord (formerly from Manchester) announced to us that he had around one hundred whiskies and only good ones. But it was the craft beers that he served that impressed us, together with a good win for England.

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Our next stop was the attractive and historic navel town of Simons Town. Positioned half way along the Cape Peninsula it provided easy access to Cape Town and the peninsula attraction. Being Rob’s last location with us, we had pushed the boat out and rented a nice big apartment with great views over False Bay.

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We had six full days to explore the area and made the most of it.
Day one was a visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. We had all been to botanical gardens before, including places like Kew & Montreal, but agreed that this was one of the best. Beautifully laid out, stacked with flora and with Table Mountain as a backdrop, truly stunning. We even found time to include a hike up Skeleton Gorge in an attempt to reach the Plateau of Table Mountain, the hard way (most people take the cable car). I say attempt, because the older members of our party expired just before the top, which caused us to turn back. Very enjoyable all the same, and some great views. However, our legs for the next few days reminded us of our stupidity.

large_SA_Cape_558.jpglarge_SA_Cape_565.jpgSA_Cape_564.jpgSA_Cape_568.jpgSA_Cape_571.jpgSA_Cape_572.jpgSA_Cape_574.jpgBotanical Garden on the way up to Table Mountain via the Skeleton Gorge

Botanical Garden on the way up to Table Mountain via the Skeleton Gorge

Day two was a breath-taking drive around the Cape Peninsula, including the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. Lunch at Hout Bay, short walks at a couple of pretty bays and photo stops was the order of the day, as our legs would not allow much more. We did stop at the Table Mountain cable car in an attempt to finish what started the day before, but the wind was to strong so it wasn’t operating.

False Bay Beach

False Bay Beach

Hout Bay

Hout Bay

Chapmans Peak Drive

Chapmans Peak Drive

Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles

Table Mountain from the cable car station

Table Mountain from the cable car station

On day three we remained more local. Our legs had now recovered enough to allow us to explore some the towns on the False Bay side of the Peninsula. Our first and last stop, unsurprisingly, was Simons Town and in particular the African Jackass Penguin Colony (see below for more details) just outside at Boulder Beach. The penguin colony is protected by fences and walkways, and is managed by Cape Nature. The set up is quite simple but affective, and allows tourist viewing without disturbing the penguins. We visited both in the morning and afternoon, to make the most of our location. As well as looking around Simons Town was also spent time in Kalk Bay, where we had lunch.

African Jackass Pinguins

African Jackass Pinguins

Boulder Bay - African Jackass Penguins

Boulder Bay - African Jackass Penguins

Day four was a day in Cape Town, with the main focus being on a visit to the Zeitz MOCAA gallery. The gallery is Cape Town’s newest attraction and is housed in an old silo next to the V&A Waterfront (more than a passing resemblance to London’s Tate Modern). With displays from mostly African artists, we spent a very enjoyable three hours there. Lunch in the V&A Waterfront then followed, and as the Table Mountain Cable Car was still not running (strong winds), we went to the aquarium instead.

Cape Town

Cape Town

Zeitz MOCAA gallery

Zeitz MOCAA gallery

Zeitz MOCAA gallery

Zeitz MOCAA gallery

Zeitz MOCAA gallery in Cape Town

Zeitz MOCAA gallery in Cape Town

Day five took us just down the road to the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park. A park that never fails to impress; with its stunning coastal scenery, deserted beaches and unique moorland. We spent the morning walking to cape point (with the help from the now operating funicular railway, for part of the way), visiting the Cape of Good Hope (the most south-westerly point in Africa) and soaking up the scenery.

Cape of Good Hope in the background

Cape of Good Hope in the background

Carpet of Flowers - Cape of Good Hope

Carpet of Flowers - Cape of Good Hope

View of Cape Point

View of Cape Point

The afternoon was less enjoyable, as we had to say goodbye to Rob. He was flying back to the UK that evening, as he had work on the following Monday, unlike us retirees. After dropping him off at the airport it just didn’t seem right when we got back to the apartment without him. We obviously weren’t functioning properly, as we first managed to set the house alarm off and were soon greeted by an armed security guard to check everything was OK, and then the TV stopped working.
For our last day in Simons Town, we did very little. A morning coffee and cake in “The Sweetest Thing”, our favourite place in Simons Town, was followed by an afternoon watching rugby on the TV (which was now working again). The weather wasn’t very good anyway, so we didn’t feel guilty.

Our time on the Cape Peninsula was now up and it was time to move on. Our next location was 170km north up the west coast and the town of Langebaan. We had three nights and two days in Langebaan, with the sole aim to explore the West Coast National Park. We spent both days in this very pleasant park, doing a bit of hiking and some wildlife watching (especially the abundant Ostrich and Angulate Tortoise population). However, what makes this park special, is the turquoise waters of its sheltered lagoon, it population of visiting Greater & Lesser flamingos and the number of Black Harriers that are constantly flying over head.

West Coast National Park - Bird Hide

West Coast National Park - Bird Hide

West Coast National Park - Wagtail

West Coast National Park - Wagtail

West Coast National Park - Greater Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Greater Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Greater Flamingos

West Coast National Park - Greater Flamingos

West Coast National Park - Lesser Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Lesser Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Greater and Lesser Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Greater and Lesser Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Greater Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Greater Flamingo

West Coast National Park - Sand Dune

West Coast National Park - Sand Dune

West Coast National Park - Beach

West Coast National Park - Beach

West Coast National Park Lagoon

West Coast National Park Lagoon

From Langebaan we ventured further up the west coast to the seaside town of Lamberts Bay. Although not so smart as Langebaan, Lamberts Bay seemed to have more life and character. We rented an apartment right on the waters edge, with a living area that provided great views out into the Atlantic Ocean. The main reason for us to visit Lamberts Bay is Bird Island and its colony of Cape Gannets (see below for more details). Gannets are beautiful birds and possibly Anne’s favourite, so it was a must while we were in the area. Bird Island is technically no longer an island, as a walkway now connects it to the mainland. The Gannets, as well as Cape Fur Seals, can be seen quite close up from a viewing hide, and it was here that we spent a couple of hours one morning and again before we left.

Sunset over the Atlantic in Lambert's Bay

Sunset over the Atlantic in Lambert's Bay

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Recycle man

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Recycle man

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet Colony

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet Colony

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet

Lambert's Bay Port

Lambert's Bay Port

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet Colony

Bird Island, Lambert's Bay - Cape Gannet Colony

Our other activity of note during our stay in Lamberts Bay was a lunch at Muisbosskerm. Muisbosskerm is a beach side restaurant just outside Lamberts Bay, and has been voted by National Geographic and one of the top ten beach dining experiences in the world. I am not sure it lived up to this grand title, but was certainly an interesting and very enjoyable dining experience. Muisbosskerm has evolved from a beach BBQ (or Braai in South Africa) for mates to a beach BBQ for the paying public. Set in a rustic beach building with basic seating, your meal is cooked in front of you on an enormous braai. The meal is buffet style and the food was mainly from the sea, very fresh (usually caught that day) and the choice was incredible. I tried to have a small piece of everything, but even that was too much for me. We were served: Dried Mullet & Pickled Herring for starters; that was followed by fish from the braai – Yellowtail, White Stumpnose, Snoek, Hottentots Fish, Tuna, Cob, Angelfish, Kingklip and Hake; which was accompanied by Seafood Paella, Crayfish and Sweet Potatoes. In addition to this, there was a leg of Lamb and a Bean Stew. And that is what I can remember. The food was served on paper and eaten using an empty mussel shell or your fingers. They also had a licenced bar, so a few Savannah’s were purchased to wash it all down. All this came with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean with a deserted white beach in the foreground. A highly recommended experience if you are in the area.

Muissborkem Experience

Muissborkem Experience

Muissbosskerm Restaurant

Muissbosskerm Restaurant

View from Muisbosskerm Restaurant

View from Muisbosskerm Restaurant

Our last destination before heading back in to the wine region was Clanwilliam in the Cederberg Mountains. The reason for visiting the Cederberg was to do some hiking, and our guidebook said that between July and December was a good time. Unfortunately, the guidebook seems to have been a bit out of date, as global warming has made December too hot to hike comfortably. With shade temperatures in the mid to high 30’s each day, it meant our hikes needed to be short and early in the day.

Clanwilliam Reservoir

Clanwilliam Reservoir

Early morning walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Early morning walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Early morning walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Early morning walk in the Cederberg Mountains

However, we did manage to get out each day and had a couple of very interesting and enjoyable walks. In particular the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, which takes you across private land (you need a permit) and leads you to some amazing rock art. The rock paintings, some dating back thousands of years, are mostly on protected rock faces and were put there by the San people who lived in the area for thousands of years, before eventually being pushed out by foreign settlers. The San are an incredible race of people, that have suffered a great deal of persecution in more recent times, their story is very interesting and if you have the time an inclination, worth investigating. Or, a least watch the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy”.

Rock Art Walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art Walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Life in the Cederberg Mountains

Life in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art Walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art Walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art San Hunter

Rock Art San Hunter

Dancing Ladies Rock People (San People)

Dancing Ladies Rock People (San People)

Rock Art Walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Rock Art Walk in the Cederberg Mountains

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Anne’s Camera
To Anne’s extreme annoyance, and for no apparent reason, her camera stopped working during our stay in McGregor. After trying everything she could think of the camera remained dead. Trawling the Internet revealed that this was a known problem and the only solution was to send it back to the manufacturer. She then corresponded with Olympus customer services, and a plan was hatched, that she would deliver the camera to a Cape Town agent who would send it away for a fast track repair. Once repaired it would be forwarded to a UK address. This would mean she would have it back before we leave for Asia at the end of January. In the meantime, Rob generously left his camera for Anne to use when he returned to England, plus she still had the camera on the iPhone. But she was still far from happy.

African Jackass Penguins
The African Jackass Penguin is Africa’s only resident Penguin, and only two colonies’ bred on the mainland (Boulders Beach & Betty’s Bay in South Africa’s Western Cape). At one time both colonies were endangered due to over fishing in the area. But now fishing restrictions have been imposed, both colonies have made a strong recovery. The Penguins dig holes in the sand bank just behind the beach to lay and incubate their eggs. The young then stay around the nests or on the beach, where they are fed. Once old enough they join the adults fishing in the local waters.

Which are smarter Humans or Baboons?
The answer you would think is humans. But maybe not, if you watch the events that unfolded in the coach park at Cape Point. There are signs everywhere saying “Baboons are Dangerous”, “A fed Baboon is a dead Baboon”, “Be Baboon aware”, “Do not feed the Baboons”, etc. But as soon as the tourists get off the coach their brains shut down. Within minutes, a baguette is stolen, then a bag of sweets and almost a camera as well, all through a lack of care or stupidity. So disappointing, and very annoying to see. Human wildlife interaction is inevitable, handled correctly it is a pleasure for the human and not a threat to the wildlife. But too often it doesn’t go well, hence this whinge.

Gannets around the World
Our visit to the Gannet colony on Bird Island meant that we had now seen all of the world’s three species. We visited an Atlantic Gannet colony in eastern Canada (amongst other places), an Australian Gannet colony in New Zealand and now a Cape Gannet colony in South Africa. The Gannet is not a big as an Albatross but bigger than a Gull, has a 2m wingspan and is very graceful in flight, but not so when landing.

Robots
South African refer to traffic lights as Robots. Something that confused us a bit when we first visited South Africa, many moons ago.

Posted by MAd4travel 07:29 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

South Africa - Part 3 - Addo Elephant, Mountain Zebra, Karoo

Route: Addo Elephant National Park – Mountain Zebra National Park – Graaff Reinet

semi-overcast 23 °C

It was now time for a change of scenery and we left the Garden Route and headed northeast to the Addo Elephant National Park. This is South Africa’s third largest national park (more details below) and was our home for the next five nights. We stayed at two locations in the park, one in the south and one in the north of the area available to the public. The park is well stocked with wildlife and our aim was to see as much of it as possible. We are seasoned safari goers and feel we are pretty knowledgeable about Africa’s animal and bird species. It is for this reason that, where possible, we self drive our game drives. For Addo our aim was to get out for a game drive, at least twice a day. However, heavy rain on three of the days restricted us a bit, but we got out when ever the sun shone and saw some amazing sights.

2 young elephant bulls greeting each other

2 young elephant bulls greeting each other

Warthog and oxpecker

Warthog and oxpecker

Elephants gathering

Elephants gathering

Elephant Family at water hole

Elephant Family at water hole

Plains Zebra at Addo Elephant NP

Plains Zebra at Addo Elephant NP

Elephants at water hole

Elephants at water hole

Elephants

Elephants

Black Back Jackal at Addo Elephant NP

Black Back Jackal at Addo Elephant NP

Cape Buffalo at Addo Elephant NP

Cape Buffalo at Addo Elephant NP

Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo

Male Lion in case you didn't know it

Male Lion in case you didn't know it

King of the beasts

King of the beasts

Hartebeast

Hartebeast

Glossy Starling

Glossy Starling

Weaver

Weaver

Cuckoo with lunch

Cuckoo with lunch

Forked Tailed Drone

Forked Tailed Drone

Mousebirds

Mousebirds

Male Kudu

Male Kudu

Plains Zebra at Addo Elephant NP

Plains Zebra at Addo Elephant NP

Hartebeast with young

Hartebeast with young

Mud is good

Mud is good

Mum and calf

Mum and calf

Elephant causes traffic jam

Elephant causes traffic jam

Elephant in the bush

Elephant in the bush

Bat eared fox

Bat eared fox

Addo Elephant NP

Addo Elephant NP

Dung beetle

Dung beetle

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk

Plains Zebra and young at Addo Elephant NP

Plains Zebra and young at Addo Elephant NP

From Addo in was north and into the Karoo. The Karoo is a semi desert and provides completely different scenery to what we had experienced so far. Our first stop was the Mountain Zebra National Park (more details below) for a bit more wildlife watching before moving onto the attractive town of Graaff Reinet. We had a short but great time in Mountain Zebra, stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife and very pleasant accommodation. No rain this time, just hot and sunny, 41 degrees on one day which was quite a change from what had been experiencing.

Good Advice

Good Advice

Mountain Zebra NP

Mountain Zebra NP

Male Ostrich

Male Ostrich

Black wildebeast

Black wildebeast

Blesbok

Blesbok

Springbok

Springbok

Baboon

Baboon

Mountain Zebra in Mountain Zebra NP (Different from Plains Zebra. Look closely at the stripes and nose)

Mountain Zebra in Mountain Zebra NP (Different from Plains Zebra. Look closely at the stripes and nose)

Pride of Lions Mountain Zebra NP

Pride of Lions Mountain Zebra NP

Pride of Lions Mountain Zebra NP

Pride of Lions Mountain Zebra NP

Mountain Zebra NP

Mountain Zebra NP

Mountain Zebra

Mountain Zebra

Mountain Zebra

Mountain Zebra

Swallow

Swallow

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel

Yellow Mongoose with Snake

Yellow Mongoose with Snake

Oryx or Gemsbok

Oryx or Gemsbok

Secretary bird (named because of the head quills feather)

Secretary bird (named because of the head quills feather)

We then had two nights in a brightly coloured cottage in the centre of Graaff Reinet. Our aim was to explore the town and the Camdeboo National Park, which was close by. Therefore our one full day was pretty busy. An early start was required for the park visit, and to avoid the heat, so we found ourselves in the Valley of Desolation soon after 06:00am. It was worth it, the Karoo landscape was at its most magnificent that time of the morning. The early start also gave us plenty of time to explore Graff Reinet as well. The town was particularly attractive with period buildings lining many of the streets each fronted by the colourful bloom of flowering tree. Town activities included visits to two small be very interesting museums, lunch at a quaint restaurant and a bit of shopping to finish the day. Anne in particular appreciated being out of the car, after a week of game driving.

Graaff-Reinet Dutch Reform Church

Graaff-Reinet Dutch Reform Church

Graaff-Reinet Museum

Graaff-Reinet Museum

Graaff-Reinet

Graaff-Reinet

Graaff-Reinet

Graaff-Reinet

Street Sellers, Graaff-Reinet

Street Sellers, Graaff-Reinet

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

View of Graaff-Reinet

View of Graaff-Reinet

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Cactus

Cactus

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo NP, Karoo

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Addo Elephant National Park
In the early centuries, when great herds of wild animals roamed the Addo region, the Khoesan of the Iqua, Damasqua and Gonaqua clans lived in the area. They hunted and kept cattle but tragically were largely wiped out in the 1700s by the smallpox epidemic. Nomadic Xhosa tribes also had kraals in the area, including Chief Cungwa of the Gqunukhwebe (near the Sundays River mouth and inland) and Chief Habana of the Dange (near the Wit River). Wildlife was plentiful and the Xhosa lived in harmony with it.
That all changed when the Europeans arrived. The great herds of elephant and other animal species were all but decimated by hunters over the 1700s and 1800s. In the late 1800s, farmers began to colonise the area around what is now the park, also taking their toll on the remaining elephant population, due to competition for water and crops.
This conflict reached a head in 1919 when farmers called on the government to exterminate the elephants. The government even appointed a Major Pretorius to shoot the remaining elephants - who killed 114 elephant between 1919 and 1920. By 1931 only 11 elephants remained in the Addo area, and the Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) was proclaimed to protect them.
The original size of the park was just over 2 000 hectares and conflicts between elephants and farmers continued after proclamation as no adequate fence enclosed the park. Finally in 1954, Graham Armstrong (the park manager at the time) developed an elephant-proof fence constructed using tram rails and lift cables and an area of 2 270 hectares was fenced in. There were 22 elephant in the park at the time. This Armstrong fence, named after its developer, is still used around the park today. Although the park was originally proclaimed to protect a single species, priorities changed to also include the conservation of the rich biological diversity found in the area and to re-introduce the other wildlife that once roamed the region.
Today the park covers almost 300,000 hectares and stretches from the coast to the mountains. Most of the original wildlife has been reintroduced, including Elephant, Black Rhino, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and a large range of antelope.

Elephants Trunk
The elephant’s trunk has 60,000 muscles. This is why the limb is so versatile and has multiple functions. It also means that it takes a long time for young elephants to learn how to use it properly. Hence you often see the trunk of a young elephant swaying around apparently out of control.

Mountain Zebra National Park
The region that the Mountain Zebra National Park now occupies was once full of wildlife, as indicated by San cave painting that are found in the area. A familiar story surrounds the park, farmers move in from the 1830’s and the wildlife disappears. However, in this case it was also local farmers that came to the rescue. In 1937 a group of local farmers gave up some of their land to try and protect the remaining endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, which at the time only numbered 11. Initially 1,712 hectares was set aside and the Zebra population began to recover. But as time went by it was clear that more space was need for the growing Zebra population. In steps an artist by the name of David Shepherd, who donates money from the sale of his prints to purchase more land. Soon local businesses and individual joined in the money raising followed by the SAN Parks trust that pledged to match all moneys raised. Soon the park expanded to 6,536 hectares, and eventually to the 28,412 hectares it is today. Today there are estimated to be around 750 Cape Mountain Zebra in the park plus a healthy population of re-introduced animals. Antelopes, such as Black Wildebeest (considered endangered), Hartebeest, Besbok and Kudo have healthy population in the park. Together with recent additions of Buffalo, Cheetah and Lion, all of which once roamed the area, and in the later cases, there to help regulate the non-predator population growth.
The history of this area does not only revolve around its wildlife. During the Anglo-Boar war British soldiers were stationed in the area. And during times of non-action they amused themselves by playing chess with other soldiers stationed in Fort Cradock (about 10klm away). They achieved this by marking out a chessboard on top of Salpeterskop (1,514m) and transmitting their moves by the way of mirror signals.

Posted by MAd4travel 09:04 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari Comments (0)

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