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22 Karoo parks • garden route • kruger trails • mapungubwe flowers • eland • whiskers • augrabies lizards • umlalazi • tankwa 4x4
Winner of 3 pica awards 2012
PLAN YOUR TRIP
follow our tracks to ADVENTURE
10 Stellar hikes in Kruger
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Alone, no crowds Garden Route tips & trips
Explore TANKWA 4x4 our pick of Amazing trails backcountry you’ve never campsites heard of
Mapungubwe in bloom Wildlife: How whiskers work
Eland magic | Why birds groom
explore | conserve | enjoy
www.wildcard.co.za AUTUMN 2013
Wild AUTUMN 2013
“Our walk is accompanied by gulls and the sea’s roar.” – Melissa Siebert
WILD BITES 2 Letters 4 Inside track 7 2013 Wild Family Year 9 Get the Wild Card 10 Birding beat 96 Competition
Adventure 66 Wilderness walks Hike deep into the untamed heart of Kruger
flora 56 Mapungubwe in bloom A surprising wildflower display
82 Offroad in Tankwa We test the tricky new Watervlei 4x4 route
Kids 76 Undercover The clever ways animals blend into the bush
Parks 12 Karoo circuit Take a road trip to the country’s heartland
WILDLIFE 28 Impressive eland Africa’s largest antelope is full of surprises
94 Twilight time Discover the creatures that come out after sunset
34 Sea and splendour Discover the Garden Route’s secret spots and hideaways
48 How whiskers work The sensitive hairs that help animals read their world
75 A stand of your own Our pick of campsites away from the crowds
62 Showy jumpers Augrabies flat lizards display their hunting skills
Photography 86 Albert Falls in focus Unique photo opportunities in Notuli Game Park
78 Family fun in KZN Find laid-back charm at Umlalazi and Amatigulu
90 Creature comforts Why birds spend so much time on grooming
COVER IMAGE Olifants River Backpack Trail, Kruger National Park By Scott Ramsay
“Travellers escape into the enormity of the Karoo.” scott ramsay page 12
88 Shoot like a pro How to capture star trails
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From the editor EDITORIAL BOARD GLENN PHILLIPS, SANParks sheraaz ismail, CapeNature gwynne howells, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Ray NAGURAN, Msinsi Resorts MIKE RICHARDSON, Swazi Big Game Parks HEIN GROBLER, Wild Card EDITOR Romi Boom | firstname.lastname@example.org DEPUTY EDITOR Magriet Kruger | email@example.com ART DIRECTOR Riaan Vermeulen | firstname.lastname@example.org DESIGNER Candice Acheson JOURNALIST Kate Collins TEXT EDITOR Marion Boddy-Evans PROOFREADER Margy Beves-Gibson EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Joan Kruger CREATIVE DIRECTOR Petro du Toit MAGAZINE ENQUIRIES
CONTRIBUTORS Emma Bryce, Peter Chadwick, Stephen Cunliffe, Megan Emmett, Albert Froneman, Patricia McCracken, Scott Ramsay, Peter Ryan, Melissa Siebert, Fran Siebrits, Andreas Späth, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Ingrid van den Berg, Rita van den Heever, Albie Venter, Marion Whitehead PHOTOGRAPHY/ART Africaimagery.com / Roger and Pat de la Harpe, Afripics.com, Peter Chadwick, Kate Collins, Marius Coetzee, John Conrad / Corbis / Greatstock, Stephen Cunliffe, Kate de Pinna, Stephan de Klerk, Andreas Doppelmayr, Morkel Erasmus, Albert Froneman, HPH Publishing: Heinrich, Phillip and Ingrid van den Berg, Istockphoto, Jacques Marais, Mario Moreno, Scott Ramsay, Peter Ryan, Karin Schermbrucker, Lee Slabber, Jean Tresfon, uMlalazi Tourism Association, Rudi van Aarde, Rita van den Heever, Retha van der Walt, Riaan Vermeulen, Woods Wheatcroft / Getty images / Gallo images, Stan Whitfield, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Marion Whitehead
PUBLISHED BY Tip Africa Publishing PO Box 13022, Woodstock, 7915 T: (+27) 021-447-6094 | F: (+27) 021-447-0312 email@example.com Editorial queries 021-448-5425
hat an exciting issue of Wild this is for us! We’re bringing you a thicker magazine, packed with even more wildlife and travel stories to inspire your trips to our wild spaces. You’ll notice the magazine is now slightly smaller in size, a clever change that will help us save almost a ton of paper. That’s as much as a black rhino in weight! We’re always looking to improve your experience of the great outdoors and with our Road Trip feature in the summer issue of Wild, we struck a chord. Judging from countless readers’ letters, many of you are nostalgic about a similar journey, while just as many are planning their own memorable holiday, using the national parks and reserves as a respite while travelling through our beautiful country. The overwhelming reaction has prompted us to put together another exceptional trip that will remain etched in your mind for a long, long time: the Karoo circuit, as an alternative to the great Kruger trek in winter. In Wild’s Karoo (page 12) the spotlight is on four great parks and reserves, but there are more gems, such as the vast expanse of emptiness at Tankwa and Gamkaberg, the secluded star of the Klein Karoo, also dubbed an isolationist’s dream. An All Parks Wild Card gives you free access to all of these, and many more spots where you will feel a million miles from anywhere. Don’t miss our feature about Kruger’s wilderness trail guides who know how to make a hike a life-changing experience (page 66). The future of tourism sees an increasing craving for adventure, from adrenalin junkies to lovers of culture who want to see rock art up close. With this issue you’ll find a SANParks booklet that looks at plans for the next decade. Delve into it for a fascinating glimpse at what’s in store and how responsible tourism will show the way. Happy travelling.
BUSINESS Jaco Scholtz firstname.lastname@example.org | C: 083-303-0453 ADVERTISING Danie Momberg email@example.com, | C: 084-511-8824 PUBLISHER Theo Pauw firstname.lastname@example.org | C: 082-558-5730
Reproduction Resolution Colour Printing Paarlmedia Cape
WINNING LETTER Katrin Ludynia and Gerard van Weele win a Savin sleeping bag (R499) from Hi-Tec. Write to us and you could win a great prize. This lightweight sleeping bag will take you from summer into autumn. With a cotton inner and polyester outer layer, it weighs in at just 0.8 kilograms.
Winner Wild Summer 2012/2013 Camdeboo tented camp: Clarissa Hughes The FSC logo indentifies products which contain wood from well-managed forests certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.
Wild® magazine and Wild Card® are registered trademarks of SANParks. Opinions expressed in this magazine do not reflect those of the Wild Card or any of the Wild Card programme partners. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, but Wild magazine cannot be held liable for inadvertent mistakes. Prices correct at the time of going to print.
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People behind the stories
HANDHELD BLISS I just wanted to tell you how much my wife and I enjoy Wild magazine when it arrives. Having converted to iPad for most of my other reading, it makes a pleasant change to have a magazine that is tactile, full of interesting articles and with great photos. We are already looking forward to the next issue. David Bullard, email
MARRIED at BONTEBOK
We considered getting married in the Bontebok National Park and were welcomed with open arms. The park staff arranged activities to match our needs, while Bontebok Park provided the rest: fynbos, a mountain backdrop and sunshine at all the right times. The day will never fade from our memories. Katrin Ludynia and Gerard van Weele
July 2012 was my first Kruger experience. In the lower Sabie River, I noticed movement on a hippo’s back and took a snapshot of this baby hippo enjoying the morning sun from his mother’s back. Fanny Chevallereau, Cape Town What a heartwarming picture! - Ed.
ROAD TRIPPERS I would love to take up the challenge of your road trip and do my own journey all over again. We started our trip around South Africa from Cape Town on 31 March 2011 and got home again on 9 July 2011. The final tally amounted to 102 days, 15 766 kilometres, 2 103 litres of diesel, and thousands of photos and wonderful memories. Richard ‘Dick’ Randall, off-road guide Your Cape to Kruger Road Trip brought back many wonderful memories for us. We did our own version of the road trip in September 2012. We travelled from Cape Town to these national parks: Karoo, Mokala, Marakele, Kruger, Golden Gate and Mountain Zebra. We travel to the Kruger Park annually but we have always chosen the quick route of flying to Nelspruit and hiring a car. Driving up was an absolute highlight for us and something I would do again tomorrow. Cynthia Vemer, Durbanville www.wildcard.co.za
Donavan Terblanche, acting Activities Co-ordinator for Northern Kruger, came to Wild photojournalist Stephen Cunliffe’s aid when our contributor was marooned at Olifants Wilderness Trails base camp during his recent assignment to the Kruger National Park (page 66). Following widespread flooding and a memorable helicopter evacuation to Letaba, courtesy of SANParks, Donavan made sure Steve was accommodated, fed and on a flight home the next day. Many thanks Don!
It was magical to receive the summer issue of Wild in the dark, damp depths of the UK winter! Sunshine and warmth when we most need it. We’ve visited 10 of the 18 parks/ camps on the Cape to Kruger circuit and can’t wait to get back. When in the Camdeboo, isn’t it worth including the beautiful Mountain Zebra National Park? It’s only one-and-a-half hours away, a wonderful, quiet place where we’ve seen cheetah, black rhino, eland, majestic kudu and lots more, and it’s still on a direct route to Addo. Ann and Stewart Richards, email I cannot agree with you more about the attractions of Mountain Zebra. The only reason it did not make the lineup is because we recently featured it prominently in Wild. There are so many fantastic parks that we wanted to include and that had to be omitted because of space restrictions. – Ed.
From the very first issue of Wild, birding expert Prof. Phil Hockey contributed to the magazine. Through his eyes we got to see the fascinating behaviour and adaptations of birds: their tantalising courtships, long distance flights, power struggles and diverse solutions to finding food and shelter. His quirky comparisons and quick wit enthralled even non-birders. Phil’s death on 24 January 2012 is an immense loss for science. Wild salutes a great nature lover and brilliant teacher. AUTUMN 2013 WILD 3
RO UT E
DESERT The Richtersveld landscape, a hiking destination? It’s not a joke. Explore the park’s southern wilderness on the four-day Venstervalle Trail. By Fran Siebrits
ecause of the intense heat in summer, the Richtersveld’s Venstervalle Trail is open only in the (relatively) cooler months, from April to September. Even so, day temperatures can still be uncomfortably hot, though the nights are guaranteed to be cold and often moist from heavy coastal mist rolling inland. Still interested? You’ll be amply rewarded by the scenery, which offers wild and grand distant views in all directions. The 40-kilometre circular trail starts and ends at Hakiesdoring Trails Base Camp, where the foothills of the Vandersterreberg and Rosyntjieberg meet. It is accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles only. The first day covers an array of terrains including jeep-track, rock-hopping a dry river bed, zebra paths and finally the quartzite gorges of the Gannakouriep. But the excitement doesn’t end when you reach the overnight spot in the Oemsberg
4 WILD AUTUMN 2013
Amphitheatre. Entering through a narrow incised gorge you find yourself inside a circular area of about 50 metres across, with vertical walls rising 100 metres, home to a magical waterfall which sees the sun only after midday. The second day begins with a strenuous five-kilometre climb, but is worth the effort to arrive at Venstervalle, where a large quartzite arch has been sculpted from the mountain by water erosion. The original stream still runs under the arch, home to the rare and endemic paradise toad. These mountains carry the highest plant diversity in the park, noticeable from this point forwards. The third day passes Botterboom Forest and traverses the edge of the mountain, leading to fresh fountain water at Armanshoek before the final night below the spectacular steep crags of the Tswaies Mountains. The last day links back into the quartzite ridges of the Gannakouriep
ON THE WEB Dramatic mountain scenery awaits on the Venstervalle Trail.
BEST wildlife videos
STEPHAN DE KLERK
Hikers must carry their own water.
You’ll be transported to your favourite places with these videos by the South African Natural History Unit (SANHU). Editor’s pick
STEPHAN DE KLERK
and the path from day one back to camp. When it comes to the weather in such isolated areas, it’s best to prepare for all extremes. This includes rain, as this corner of the park receives the highest of its winter rainfall. An average of 100 millimetres annually falls on the high peaks of the Vandersterreberg. Know before you go The Venstervalle Trail is a 40 km, four-day trail, designed for fit hikers who are self-sufficient. Apart from the huts at Hakiesdoring, there is no accommodation or ablution facilities on the route. Currently hikers must be accompanied by a guide familiar with the route, but the park is in the process of marking the trail. Bookings As this is a new activity, permission to tackle the trail must be obtained from park manager Nick de Goede. Contact him on 027-831-1506 or email email@example.com
One of the most beautiful parts of Kruger, Crooks’ Corner is home to lazy hippos. Animal behaviour
Do elephants mourn their dead? The SANHU team has an interesting encounter. Most popular
A tenacious honey badger goes hunting for prey in broad daylight.
Go to www.wildcard.co.za and click on BLOGS, then VIDEOS. AUTUMN 2013 WILD 5
Leave the crowds behind and head for De Mond Nature Reserve. It’s readily accessible from Cape Town, and there’s plenty to keep you enthralled. By Kate Collins
Fascinating Flora at de MOND Milkwood forests and dune fynbos Teeming saltmarshes Limestone fynbos heathlands
Situated between Struisbaai and Arniston, De Mond is a twoand-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town. 6 WILD AUTUMN 2013
Cape hare with large soft eyes welcomed me to De Mond Nature Reserve. The hare soon disappeared into surrounding fynbos, a special reminder of inhabitants that roam protected areas. While not as well known as other seaside destinations nearby, for example Arniston, Struisbaai and Agulhas, De Mond offers magnificent scenery and a variety of activities. The reserve, though small and cosy, comprises a complete estuarine bionetwork. The Heuningnes changes from a freshwater river to a briny river ecosystem until it finally flows into the open ocean. Here you’ll find turquoise waters, snowwhite sand and, in winter and spring, whales in abundance as they arrive to breed and nurse their calves. For many De Mond is known primarily for angling. With a bridge across the estuary it’s easy to access either riverbank. Boats are not allowed, which has kept the estuary pristine. Fish to seek include mullet, grunter, round herring and leervis (garrick). Swimming is also popular in the estuary or the ocean. On foot there’s no end to the sights, sounds and smells to take in as you begin exploring. The seven-kilometre Sterna Trail
takes you through limestone fynbos towards the beach. In spring the trail comes alive with wildflowers but, once at the beach, the real show begins. I visited the reserve during whale season and there was something wonderfully intimate about watching whales without anyone else around. Bird-watchers should bring binoculars and look out for the African black oystercatcher, as well as breeding colonies of the threatened Damara and Caspian terns. The reserve recently had white-breasted cormorants breeding in the area for the first time. If you simply want to marvel at your surroundings, head straight for the viewpoint. Walk across the bridge and up a small hill towards the reserve bench. From here you’ll have 360-degree views of the dunes, azure waters and an untamed sea. On the reserve there is only one cottage, which sleeps six people, but future plans include the addition of more accommodation. I would highly recommend taking friends, family or a special person along. Cost R40 an adult a day, R20 a day for children under 12, Wild Card members free. Contact CapeNature 021-483-0190 www.capenature.co.za
WILD FAMILY YEAR 2013
Our website www.wildcard.co.za is the place to find special offers and events throughout the year. We’re here to help you plan your family’s best wildlife year yet. Remember to pack your Wild Card for family fun this season.
Family Year 2013
TOP AUTUMN ACTIVITIES Autumn is a great time to get out and enjoy nature’s seasonal sights. The air is crisp, with a slight chill and blue skies. For you and your children it’s a chance to get back to nature and revel in the freedom of the great outdoors. Why not try one of these wildlife activities? Out in the wilds you’ll create memories your children will treasure forever.
DID YOU KNOW? A family Wild Card is valid for two adults and up to five children or one adult and up to six children.
Around the campfire
Autumn is the busiest time of year for many species. Whether you enjoy a family hike or explore by bicycle, you’ll observe plenty of action.
Once the sun sets in your favourite rest camp and everyone gathers around the braai, you encounter a different side of the bush. Trying to predict what will turn up next is a brilliant biology lesson in nature’s classroom! Night-time creatures are ultra alert, using sound and sharpened sight to make their way around. Teach your children to be entranced by night music and shimmering eyes. (Read more about the creatures of darkness on p. 94.)
Plants Note how seeds are dispersed so that they can grow in spring. Look for the lightweight ones resembling helicopters travelling by air. Birds Falling temperatures trigger mass migrations as birds seek sunnier climes. Spot insect-eaters such as swallows and bee-eaters on their way to Central Africa and Europe. Provisions Watch how squirrels bury acorns to eat in winter. Hedgehogs gorge on fruit and bats on insects to build up body fat for hibernation. Shuteye Observe insects such as butterflies and ladybirds, which seek hot spots where they can sleep through the colder months. Romance Many antelopes seek mates and for larger mammals it can be a dramatic affair. Jousting impala present unmissable autumn spectacles. Stay a good distance from the action so you don’t disturb them.
Go tracking for spoor Get the kids close to the ground to understand the signs of the wild. Take a good field guide and try to identify spoor. See if you can work out which way the animal was going. Other signs to look for are droppings, scrapings and rubbing posts, as well as cropped grass, torn leaves and broken branches, which are sure signs of feeding. AUTUMN 2013 WILD 7
G O L D E N G AT E
Heavens above Fairy gardens spring up in the paving blocks along some trails.
breathtaking seasonal views summer’s shades of green rich hues of autumn snowy wonderland in winter
The park is an easy three-and-a-halfhours’ drive from Gauteng, Durban and Bloemfontein
Contact Central Reservations 012-428-9111, goldengate@ sanparks.org
olden Gate Highlands National Park takes your breath away. There is simply no other way of describing it. Although the landscape changes colour along with the seasons, there are always the towering sandstone cliffs in their gloriously rich golden tones. For bird lovers it is a paradise with 177 species listed, while photographers are in for a special treat since the opening last year of the vulture hide. It provides the chance to get up close with the endangered bearded vulture (lammergeyer) and Cape vulture.
children, to the industrial strength where you need to be hiking fit. A good guide to the trails is available in the park. You’ll find a hiking pole comes in very handy on the steep and uneven terrain. If you have bad knees, some of the trails are best left alone. Remember, the weather can change very quickly in these mountains. Be prepared, especially on the longer hikes. The park also offers horseback riding, canoeing and abseiling. Pre-booking these is essential and can be done at the hotel or on 058-255-1000. On hot days, I recommend a swim in the natural rock pool in the hills behind the hotel.
Activities If you simply want to enjoy the beauty of the magnificent scenery, you do not need to leave your accommodation. Just sit and look, let the tranquillity overwhelm you. But for the actively minded Golden Gate is heaven. The hiking trails are well marked and maintained. In certain areas the trails are paved with a concrete strip or blocks. Take time to look at the fairy gardens that have sprung up in the cavities of the blocks. Trails range from the easy, which can be tackled with small
Accommodation Visitors are spoilt for choice, from beautiful camping grounds and rondavels at Glen Reenen Rest Camp (from R165 a night for a campsite) to the luxury of the Golden Gate Hotel (from R910 a night for two). For visitors who crave solitude, there is the option to stay high up in the clouds at the Highlands Mountain Retreat (from R1 110 a night for two). For the culturally minded, the Basotho Cultural Village with its selfcatering traditional huts is a welcoming spot (from R650 a night for two).
Highlands Mountain Retreat offers a bird’s eye view. 08 WILD AUTUMN 2013
RITA VAN DEN HEEVER
With pure mountain air, endless views and several hiking trails, Golden Gate is a weekend destination to revitalise body and soul. By Rita van den Heever
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*Couple: Two adults or one adult and one child. *Family: Up to two adults and their five children under the age of 18 years, both South Africans and international visitors. Proof of identity, nationality and residency will be required when entering any park, reserve or resort. Prices subject to change without notice. PRICES VALID FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2012 TO 31 OCTOBER 2013
AUTUMN 2013 WILD 9
DADDY DAY CARE A male jacana carries a chick under his wing. Look at the little claws sticking out.
B I R D I N G B E AT
Walking on water Autumn is a good time of year to be on the lookout for African jacanas at a nearby wetland. Having just finished breeding, adults and juveniles should be easily spotted. By Albert Froneman
the male. What makes their breeding bealways watch in fascination as Afrihaviour really interesting is that the father can jacanas effortlessly tiptoe across is responsible for incubating and raising water lilies. These waders seem to have perfected the art of walking on the chicks. The male jacana is an excellent father to water. Their exceptionally long toes and his brood. When danger threatens he will claws enable them to spread their weight evenly across floating vegetation. You can call them all together and then proceed to scoop them up under his wings and find these elegant birds on water bodies carry them away to safety. I remember the and wetlands where there are lots of wafirst time that I saw and photographed ter lilies and other floating plants. Their this phenomenon. I was amazed by all the diet consists of insects and other inverâ€˜extraâ€™ feet hanging out from underneath tebrates picked from vegetation or the the dadâ€™s belly feathers. water surface. I have seen African jacanas practiTheir extraordinary ability to virtually cally throughout Southern Africa in walk on water has earned them the folk suitable wetland habitat. However, they name of lily trotters or sometimes even are quite rare along the southern Cape Jesus birds. The African jacana measures coastal regions and almost absent from about 25 centimetres long and their remarkably large foot span is more than half the drier western areas. Nonetheless, they are highly mobile and nomadic and will their body length, which just shows how move vast distances to reach favourable well distributed their weight is. habitat. I recall once spotMales and females look ting a very lost and lonely alike, although the female jacana shortly after a heavy is larger. The female will rainfall in the dry Kgalamate with several males gadi Transfrontier Park. It during the breeding seagraced us with its presence son and usually lays four for a day or two before well camouflaged eggs on disappearing again, hopea flimsy floating platform Jacana eggs blend in well with fully in search of wetter that has been built from floating plants. On warm days the eggs may be left unattended. pastures. aquatic plant stems by
AUTUMN 2013 WILD 11
Karoo National Park
Big, bovine and boring? Not quite. Africa’s largest antelope, the eland, is a powerhouse of surprises. By Andreas Späth
incredible OPEN WIDE! From a rocky outcrop you can look out over endless plains.
Camdeboo National Park 137 KM
Mountain Zebra National Park
Anysberg WILDLIFE: ELAND Nature Reserve
LESS THAN 1 000 KM
heaven Where Earth meets
The thirstland of the Karoo, which covers two-
thirds of South Africa, is our country’s defining landscape. To discover the best of it, just follow
RUDI VAN AARDE
our tracks. By Scott Ramsay
Il ipsamet labor sum imusand ucitium dione velendus autem. Dam et voles que sa dis 2013 dent. AUTUMN AUTUMN 2013WILD WILDXX 13
he sky is faded pale blue by the fire in the heavens; the land of rock and dust is boundless. Rare summer thunderstorms roll like angry gods across the horizon, sometimes hurling water onto a parched earth before the sun steals it back again. In winter snowflakes fall from above, an apology for the harshness of summer. In the cool stillness of morning the eyes can see forever, the view punctuated here and there by koppies and plateaux. At night starlight drips down from the galaxies, illuminating the land and our souls. Like pilgrims and prophets of yesteryear who ventured into deserts, travellers today escape into the enormity of the Karoo to return to the essentials of existence. Earth, water, food and fire. People come here to seek the innocence that was lost in the name of progress. This autumn and winter, instead of heading for the bush, why not discover the heartland?
Karoo National Park
Best for Space, Sky and Lions Red bishops nest around the waterhole at the bird hide.
The Karoo is a semi-desert area in the southwest of South Africa.
If the Karoo is the heart of South Africa, then this national park a few kilometres northwest of Beaufort West is its quintessential protected area. An immense land devoid of humans, where the elements rule and the silence of a thousand empty cathedrals is interrupted now and again only by the roar of lions. Lions? Yes, for the first time since the early 1800s, Africa’s biggest predators are once again claiming the Karoo as their own. Seven were reintroduced in 2010, and two more males joined them in February this year. “We had only jackal and caracal as predators, so we introduced the lions to bring back the large carnivore component,” ecologist Angela Gaylard said. “Over the next few years, we hope to introduce other predators such as cheetah.” Two hundred years ago, this region would teem with wildlife after the rain. The park’s interpretive centre gives insight into the “trekbokken” – springbok, wildebeest, blesbok and eland – which migrated in their thousands past the town of Beaufort West, following the new grass. One report, by Sir John Fraser, recorded how “we were awakened one morning by a sound as of a strong wind before a thunder-
14 WILD AUTUMN 2013
storm,” the sounds of thousands of migrating antelope, “which filled the streets and gardens and, as far as one could see, covered the whole country.” This particular herd took three days to pass by, but not before the people had shot and killed many of them. Today, sadly, these herds no longer occur, as hunting, sheep farming and proliferation of fences have stopped their movement. After two centuries, the wildlife is returning. The park, originally merely 7 209 hectares in 1977, is today close to 100 000 hectares in size, and although the great escarpment of the Nuweveld Mountains dominates the scene, most of the park lies below in a vast undulating plain. From the rest camp, drive up the spectacular Klipspringer Pass, up onto the middle plateau, then look west over the vast plains, and you’re bound to see small herds of kudu, red hartebeest, blesbok, gemsbok, springbok and eland. The gemsbok and eland herds can swell to over 200 during breeding season, according to senior section ranger Johan de Klerk. The central region of the park is also the best place to see the lions. Other predators
The Karoo National Park protects more than 860 plant species, making it one of the most diverse arid areas in the world.
Hilique pariant, quis dent voluptatiis asped este con re, omnihil modi asit etus, officip sandis net veliandaecus millaut doloribus.
Fossils of animals that predate dinosaurs are displayed in the park.
AUTUMN AUTUMN2013 2013WILD WILDXX 15
KAROO CIRCUIT Two hundred years ago, Beaufort West would teem with wildlife after the rain. One herd took three days to pass by.
The sense of freedom you experience here is exhilarating.
Lions once again roam the Karoo.
Karoo National Park 023-415-2828, SANParks bookings 012-428-9111. Free entry for Wild Card members. Campsites R190 for 1 to 2 people, cottages from R945 a night. www.sanparks.org/ karoo 16 WILD AUTUMN
include four brown hyena, also recently released, caracal and black-backed jackal. Although leopard have never been seen, Johan believes they must be present. In the sky, watch out for about 20 pairs of Verreaux’s eagles that soar like dark angels on the thermals, swooping low to scythe unsuspecting dassies off the cliffs. Birders should also check out the bird hide near camp, where weavers and red bishops build their nests, making for great photography. There are two short walking trails within the fenced camp, the Bossie and Fossil. Visitors who bemoan the seemingly monotonous shrubland are often surprised to learn that the Karoo National Park protects more than 860 plant species, making it one of the most diverse arid areas in the world. The Bossie Trail gives an introduction to this wonderland.
The Fossil Trail offers an overview of the Karoo’s unparalleled fossil record, dating back 250 million years when this part of the world was a vast floodplain, surrounded by mountains the size of the Himalayas. More than eight kilometres of sediment were laid down, in which thousands of therapsids, the precursors to dinosaurs and mammals, were trapped and fossilised, some of which are on display. Although most visitors stay at the large main rest camp and campsite, a spectacular place to experience the Karoo is Embizweni Cottage, a remote outpost in the northwest of the park, at the base of the escarpment, reached with a high ground-clearance vehicle. Except for a few gemsbok or hartebeest and the sunset howl of a jackal, you’ll be all alone, at one with the Karoo in all its wisdom and wonder.
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CAMDEBOO National Park
Best for HISTORY and scenery Admire tiny treasures within this vast landscape.
If you’ve got only one day to enjoy the Karoo, then Camdeboo National Park contains the concentrated essence of this vast region. Here you’ll find history, scenery, wildlife and a beautiful dorp, all rolled into one easily digestible bite. The town of Graaff-Reinet is entirely surrounded by 19 000 hectares of the park’s plains and koppies. Like Table Mountain and
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Garden Route National Parks, Camdeboo National Park is closely intertwined with its neighbouring urban area. Go straight to the lookout point at the Valley of Desolation to get a sense of this special bond between town and park. Head north out of Graaff-Reinet on the R63 to Murraysburg for about five kilometres, then turn left at the park’s gate. Follow the narrow, wind-
The 1,5 km Crag Lizard Trail gives the best views of the Valley of Desolation and surrounding Karoo landscape.
ing tarred road to the top of the 1 400-metre koppie that looms over the town. The eight-kilometre drive itself offers superb views, but the best is kept for last where the road ends. A series of precipitous dolerite columns, about 100 metres high, stands across a narrow valley from the lookout point. Around 180 million years ago, volcanic eruptions forced molten rock through the sediwww.wildcard.co.za
ment rock and cooled into hard towers. No wonder it was declared a scenic national monument in 1935. (Graaff-Reinet has the most national monuments in the country.) While ogling the views and the resident Verreaux’s eagles, remember to hold onto your kids, because there are no fences and it’s a long way down! The short Crag Lizard Trail (1,5 km) is a
Views that go on forever are characteristic of the Karoo.
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must-do activity, giving the best views of the valley and surrounding Karoo landscape. From the trail you’ll see how the town is sheltered in a horse-shoe bend of the Sundays River, which is forced to flow between the high hills. Camdeboo is an old Khoi word meaning ‘green valley’, a possible reference to the verdant vein of Acacia karroo trees which line the banks of the river. Just two kilometres northeast of town on the R61 to Middelburg is the park’s fenced-off game-viewing area, which lies alongside the town’s dam. You’ll see buffalo, kudu, springbok, black wildebeest and red hartebeest. Kudu and springbok can also be seen in the other unfenced areas of the park that surround town. Camdeboo really is a very accessible urban wildlife destination. Like the local farmers, the wildlife also seems to enjoy popping into town now and again to run their errands. Park manager Peter Burdett was once phoned by a receptionist, who was greeted by a kudu bull on the second floor of an office building in town. “There was a parquet floor, and the kudu kept slipping,” Peter laughed. “We had to carry it down the stairs, out of the building and back into the veld!” There is plenty of accommodation in the town itself, but the park offers 15 campsites and four two-bed safari tents at Lakeview Tented Camp on Nqweba Dam in the game-viewing area, with fully equipped communal kitchen and ablutions. Three different 4x4 routes are on offer, including Kroonvale, Driekoppe and Koekoeskloof, while the Eerstefontein day walk in the southwest of the park offers three routes of different lengths to stretch the legs.
Savour the view over the Valley of Desolation.
Camdeboo National Park 049-892-3453, SANParks bookings 012-428-9111. Free entry for Wild Card members. Campsites R190 for 1 to 2 people, safari tents R540 a night. 4x4 routes free. www.sanparks.org/parks/camdeboo 20 WILD AUTUMN 2013
Mountain Zebra National park
Best for wildlife and photography One of the first national parks, Mountain Zebra near Cradock in the Eastern Cape was proclaimed in 1937 to protect one of the last remaining herds of this rare species. By the AUTUMN WILD XX early 1900s, hunters had killed 2013 thousands of these endemic South African animals, which are restricted to high-lying areas.
Drive the Kranskop loop just before sunset if possible, and admire the dreamy hues of dusk.
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The open plains of Mountain Zebra are home to gemsbok (top) and springbok (above).
From small beginnings, the park has grown considerably in both size and stature. Originally 1 712 hectares, the park protected only six animals, which were supplemented with an additional 11 after several died. From there, the population has blossomed and today numbers over 700, one of the country’s great conservation success stories, while the park is now over 28 000 hectares. Compared to other national parks, Mountain Zebra is relatively small, but hectare for hectare it is one of the most beautiful. Rolling grasslands and high plateaux provide a three-dimensional Pierneef tapestry for zebra, black wildebeest, gemsbok, red hartebeest, eland and blesbok. Buffalo tend to hang out in the drainage lines of the Wilge River which flows near the rest camp. Surely there aren’t supposed to be so many
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wild animals here? Yet there are, and it’s because the park is located in the eastern part of the Great Karoo, so it receives 25 per cent more rainfall. The vegetation can therefore support a higher density of herbivores. “There are few parks where you can see so much wildlife so quickly,” remarked field guide Michael Paxton, who worked for several years as a trails guide in Kruger. Even if this park lacks true wildness, “it’s an easy place to get your wildlife fix.” The only major predator for the past few years has been cheetah. These cats were reintroduced in 2007, and from just four animals, the population rocketed to 31, before some were translocated. “They did really well, because there were no other major predators, and the open grasslands suit their hunting style,” Michael explained.
“There are few parks where you can see so much wildlife so quickly.” – Field guide Michael Paxton
Today there are nine, some fitted with GPS units. Visitors should definitely sign up for the morning cheetah-tracking walks, which allow close encounters with these cats. Up to now, Michael explained, they have been the apex predator, pulling down large animals like kudu bulls. Other predators include brown hyena and black-backed jackal. The best scenery is in the east, where cloud often billows over the high dolerite ridges of Bakenkop Peak. A spectacular road, the Kranskop Loop, takes in the best of this landscape. Drive it just before sunset if possible, and admire the dreamy hues of dusk. For wildlife sightings head to the Rooiplaat Loop on the lower plateaux, as this is where the animals tend to congregate. Active types will enjoy the challenge of the two-night Impofu Hiking Trail, or the day www.wildcard.co.za
walk to the top of Salpeterskop in the west of the park, a steep, strenuous climb of the 1 514-metre koppie. Here you’ll find a chess board carved into a boulder, where English soldiers from the Coldstream Guards passed time during the Anglo-Boer War. More easily accessible are some good examples of Bushmen rock paintings, estimated to be about 300 years old. Back at camp, there are 19 fully equipped cottages for self-catering, all with great views, as well as one of the best restaurants in the national park network. A campsite with 20 sites set among Acacia karroo trees has good shade. The all-round service of Mountain Zebra has also been recognised, winning it Park of the Year for the region the last four years running and consistently earning praise from visitors.
Mountain Zebra National Park 048-881-2427, SANParks bookings 012-428-9111. Free entry for Wild Card members. Campsites R190 for 1 to 2 people, cottages from R790 a night. Cheetah tracking R265 a person, no under16s. Rock art R132 a person. www.sanparks.org/ mountain_zebra
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Anysberg NATURE RESERVE
Best for Spectacular stargazing
A warning to those who think the Karoo is a place to catch up on your sleep. At Anysberg Nature Reserve, either the moon is so bright or the stars are so numerous that itâ€™s impossible to close your eyelids, no matter how heavy they are. The night sky is just too spectacular.
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Thereâ€™s absolutely no light pollution, but with so many stars, you wonâ€™t be able to sleep.
A DAZZLING SKY Visit Anysberg during new moon so that you can experience the stars in all their glory.
This little-known, yet relatively large nature reserve southwest of Laingsburg lies in a wide valley between two low mountain ranges, one of which gives the reserve its name. More than 1 000 square kilometres, and away from the main tourist routes, Anys berg is one of the biggest and most difficult to reach of all the Karoo conservation areas. “This means there’s absolutely no light pollution,” reserve manager Marius Brand explained. “You have to be here to see the stars. You won’t be able to sleep!” I took Marius up on the claim, travelling to Anysberg over a new moon weekend. Sure enough, as the sun disappeared a billion more took its place. With a darkening sky it became increasingly tricky to find even the famous constellations, such as Gemini, Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross, because thousands of other stars jostled for position in the heavens, crowding out the usual suspects. One evening field guide Willem Fullard brought out the telescope and showed me Jupiter’s moons, as well as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. They appeared as numinous fuzz in the night sky, each containing a trillion more stars. It was a truly eye-opening night. During the day, Anysberg is famous for its horse trails. The two-day overnight trail leads into the northern part of the reserve. Guests overnight at Tapfontein, where there are several small yet comfortable wooden 26 WILD AUTUMN 2013
huts and an inviting swimming reservoir. The shorter two-hour version leaves from the main camp at Vrede, and from horseback you’ll spot more wildlife than you’d expect. There are about 160 gemsbok, 150 red hartebeest, 80 springbok and 200 eland, as well as 20 Cape mountain zebra. “And there are plenty of black-backed jackal, and leopard,” Marius said proudly. “We often get photos of these predators on our camera traps.” Anysberg is perfect leopard territory as it’s remote and it’s rough. Of all the Karoo parks I visited, this one imparted the greatest sense of wilderness. There are few farms in the area as the climate is too dry and the earth baked too hard by the sun. “Most of the farmers have moved away. Wild animals do best here.” Other activities include kayaking on the old farm dams, and an easy 4x4 route to the top of Anysberg, which takes about six hours. Alternatively, take some water, a hat and some snacks, and simply walk into the veld or into one of the kloofs that incise Anysberg. The most accessible is Land se Kloof, a short drive from the main camp of Vrede, where there are four small fully equipped self-catering cottages and a campsite, as well as a huge swimming reservoir and sunbathing deck. A word of warning: visit Anysberg before too many others discover it and this lovely reserve becomes popular.
Cool off in the swimming reservoir at the main camp of Vrede.
Anysberg Nature Reserve 023-5511922, CapeNature Bookings 021 483 0190. Free entry for Wild Card members. Campsites R250, cottages R420 a night. Overnight horse trail R750 a person (bring your sleeping bag and food). Twohour horse trail R200 a person. Stargazing free. www.capenature. co.za/reserves. htm
Conserve. Explore. Experience.
Big, bovine and boring? Not quite. Africa’s largest antelope, the eland, is a powerhouse of surprises. By Andreas Späth
SHEER POWER For their size eland are remarkably agile and have been seen leaping three metres high.
Eland are able to maintain a steady 22â€‰km/h trot almost indefinitely.
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C “With some 7 500 individuals, according to the latest census, it has the largest free-ranging eland population in the country.”
atching them is always a challenge in the Kalahari,” says Dr Michael H Knight, the SANParks’ expert who knows eland better than most, having studied and worked with them for many years, mostly in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. “I remember successfully darting an eland from my vehicle once while pursuing a group through the veld at considerable speed. One of the others kicked back so forcefully it dented the fender on my Land Cruiser.” It’s a feat that impresses, even when you’re a seasoned game ranger. Not only do their muscular hind legs and hard hooves pack a lethal wallop, but eland have been observed to jump as high as three metres from a standing start. Once you’ve come face to face with one in the wild, your opinion is guaranteed to change. It is extremely impressive to be confronted by massive bulls that can reach a shoulder-height of 1,8 metres; even more impressive is their graceful movement and surprising agility. Easily identified by their massive cow-like torso, eland have a smooth, tan to bluishgrey coat, a rough, dark mane and dorsal stripe down the back, and a long, thin tail that ends in a tuft of black hair. Young animals and males sometimes display a series of vertical white stripes on their flanks. European settlers gave them their name, eland meaning elk or moose in Dutch. Adult bulls are substantially larger than their female counterparts and are further distinguished by a dense patch of dark hair on the forehead. Both sexes have a floppy dewlap on the throat and backward-slanting horns with a spiralling ridge of one or two twists. Females tend to have horns that are thinner, longer and more widely set than those of males. Where to find them Africa is home to two distinct species of eland. The common or southern eland Taurotragus oryx is widespread in Southern and
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East Africa, occurring from Namibia to Mozambique and from the Cape to Ethiopia. The giant eland Taurotragus derbianus , also known as the Lord Derby eland, is listed as an endangered and near-threatened animal in its relatively small home ranges in West and Central Africa. Despite its name, it’s similar in size to the common eland, but has longer legs and horns. It is also darker, more reddish in colour, with more pronounced white vertical stripes along its sides. Knight recommends the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as the best place to observe eland in South Africa. “With some 7 500 individuals, according to the latest census, it has the largest free-ranging eland population in the country,” he explains. “The Kalahari animals are best seen in the winter months, especially during drier years. In above-average rainfall years they often remain in Botswana throughout the year, not crossing over to our side of the park in large numbers. Another great place to spot eland is Mokala National Park near Kimberley.” Adaptable nomads Eland lead a migratory and relatively flexible social life. They are commonly seen in groups of 30 to 80 individuals, but also gather in larger herds of several hundred animals. They frequently break up into separate social groups for females, juveniles and males, while older, dominant males often spend much of their time on their own. After a nine-month gestation period, females give birth to single calves and join their young in a nursery group for three to six months until they are weaned. The calves themselves remain in the nursery until they are about two years old. Since young are born throughout the year, some adult females are always present in the nursery, ready to fight off predators with their dangerous horns, including lions, wild dogs, cheetahs and spotted hyenas. Besides their size, Knight thinks one of the attributes that makes eland so special
ROGER DE LA HARPE / AFRICAIMAGERY
San rock art at Game Pass Shelter in Kamberg Nature Reserve shows an eland hunt.
moves, but most experts believe it’s produced by a tendon snapping while slipping over the animal’s knee joint. Knight suggests the clicks alert individual animals that the herd is on the move, allowing them to stay together in a group that provides protection against predators. In an intriguing study conducted in Kenya, a pair of Danish scientists argued the clicks represent part of a process by which eland bulls communicate hierarchy and dominance to each other. Older and larger bulls have longer knee tendons that give rise to lower frequency clicks. Similarly, the size of a bull’s dewlap indicates his age, while the darkness of his hair reflects levels of male hormones and aggressiveness. The researchers believe eland males have evolved to use these visual and auditory signals to assess the strength of potential opponents in a group’s social hierarchy without the need for energy-sapping and life-threatening physical duels. Indeed, while they are seen to neck-wrestle on occasion, eland bulls are hardly ever observed to use their horns to fight each other.
Clickety-click Next time you pull up alongside a moving eland herd, be sure to wind down your car windows and listen out for a distinctive castanet-like clicking sound, which can be heard over several hundred metres. The origin of this noise is still somewhat mysterious. Some people think it’s the result of the two halves of the hooves clapping together after being splayed apart when an eland
Mystical powers The eland plays a central role in the belief system of Southern Africa’s earliest human inhabitants, the San, which explains why it is depicted in a variety of postures and in great detail in so many rock paintings and engravings. Nomadic as the huntergatherers themselves, eland represent not only a valuable source of tasty meat and abundant fat, but being the first animal to
is their amazing set of survival strategies, which allows them to cover large distances quickly and live in a wide variety of habitats. Since they are able to maintain a steady 22 km/h trot almost indefinitely, he explains, they have enormous home ranges of between 8 500 and nearly 12 000 square kilometres in the Kalahari. Eating mostly during dusk and dawn, eland are mixed feeders that browse during the winter months, but are well adapted to grazing on periodic succulents in the rainy season. They are also known to consume certain tuberous roots, fruits and bulbs. Because they obtain most of their water requirements from food and are able to restrict perspiration by allowing their body temperature to rise by as much as seven degrees Celsius on hot days, they can exist without drinking water for extended periods of time. According to Knight these adaptations put eland among “the most ubiquitous species in South Africa, ranging from the savanna to the Drakensberg highlands and from the arid Kalahari and the dry Karoo to the moister Eastern Cape”.
THE HORNS HAVE IT Females (left) have horns that are thinner, longer and more widely set than those of males (far left). The horns are potent weapons in protecting their offspring from lions and other predators.
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be created by the San trickster deity /Kaggen, they are thought to be richly endowed with n/om, a supernatural potency permeating the cosmos. In the course of the trance dance, the most important San religious ritual, shamans pass into the spiritual world in an altered state of consciousness, behaving like an eland dying at the end of a successful hunt. Trembling, sweating, bleeding from the nose and eventually passing out. Shamans are sometimes depicted next to a dying eland, absorbing its n/om and even turning into so-called therianthropes, representations of humans with animal features, possessing eland powers to be used in their supernatural journey to bring rain, heal people, promote social harmony and battle malevolent spirits.
To read about the impact of large eland herds, with over 3 000 individuals, which crossed over to the South African side of the Kgalagadi, go to www.wildcard.co.za and type “eland Kgalagadi” in the search box. 32 WILD AUTUMN 2013
RUDI VAN AARDE
Conservation success The history and distribution of eland in KwaZulu-Natal provides a wonderful illustration of the value and effectiveness of designated wildlife conservation areas. While originally widespread, eland had all but disappeared from the region by the end of the 19th century. The only viable population remained in the Drakensberg. When the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve was established in 1903, it contained about 250 eland, but numbers grew quickly and soon stabilised at around 700 individuals. In more recent times, eland have spread from Giant’s Castle, leading to a seven per cent annual increase in numbers in the southern Drakensberg, which today hosts about 1 800 individuals. Clear evidence of a conservation area helping endangered animals to recover and expand their range.
HERD INSTINCT Eland form large groups, sometimes in their hundreds or thousands.
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Garden Route National Park
Ancient forest or rugged coast, restful contemplation or pulse-racing activity, the Garden Route National Park offers it all. By Melissa Siebert | Photos: Karin Schermbrucker
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PADDLE AWAY Kayaking up the Storms River Mouth at Tsitsikamma is a must-do.
Garden Route National Park
L Among the ferns of Knysna forest bright flowers can be found.
ike most people, we drive into the Knysna forest hoping to see an elephant. With their stories of these elusive creatures, Dalene Matthee, Lyall Watson and Gareth Patterson have us primed. Rain muddies the long road to Diepwalle, heart of the forest, where elephants once roamed by the thousands. Strangefoot, a 25-year-old bull, may now be the only one left. Waiting at the forest station are Nico Oosthuizen, Harkerville section ranger, and Wilfred Oraai, a ranger nearly as legendary as the elephants themselves. As the mists close in, we treat ourselves to tea and Annie’s famous vanilla cake in the Diepwalle Tea Garden, a charming 19th-century stone dwelling, once a forester’s home and now offering accommodation upstairs. The perpetual question arises: “So how many elephants are there?” “I saw Strangefoot just three weeks ago,” Wilfred says, tucking in. “Down the road nearby. But he’s the only elephant I’ve seen with my eyes in 10 years.” “And the three ‘Elephant Walks’ one can take from here?” I ask.
Elephant rumbling and trumpeting would have kept company with the saws and shouts of woodcutters felling the forest.
Garden Route National Park lies on the N2 along the South Coast.
Wilfred smiles ruefully, obviously saturated by visitors’ insistence on seeing a grey giant, not wanting to disappoint. “It’s just a name,” he says. The rain postpones the walk with Wilfred and instead we head to the camping deck where Nico has already pitched a tent among the yellowwoods, Cape pear and alders, facing the interminable indigenous
forest. Before, in this section of what is now the 1 210 square-kilometre Garden Route National Park, elephant rumbling and trumpeting would have kept company with the saws and shouts of woodcutters felling the forest. Now we sleep with the rain obliterating all other sound. Into the shadows The next day is devoted to Harkerville, the section of the park east and south of Diepwalle, renowned for its hikes and mountainbiking trails. The affable Nico has us up at seven to start the Kranshoek coastal hike, one of the area’s star attractions. We do the ‘shortcut’, 4,5 kilometres instead of the full nine, and do it backwards, beginning at the viewpoint with its startling view of the Indian Ocean and rocky headlands, the iconic Grootkop protruding. We descend the steep, natural sandstone steps to the pebble beach, accompanied by gulls and the sea’s roar. You could spend hours examining the stones here, each with its own distinct markings and perfectly smoothed by the churning of wind and waves. A wild shore, once home to strandlopers whose middens still stack two to three metres deep in local caves. Nico gives us a botany lesson as we hike up along the Kranshoek River and gorge, through the jungley coastal forest slashed by rays of sunlight piercing the tall yellowwood, candlewood, saffron, alder and milkwood trees and hanging ape vines. No apes here though, mostly vervet monkeys and baboons, boomslang and blue duiker. We see none of them, and only two other humans. “This is how we experience the forest,” Nico says, as he usually does to young hikers. “We listen to the forest. All the creatures, the loeries and other birds, the wind. We smell the forest, the ferns, the damp earth. It’s
1. The pebbles of Kranshoek beach are shaped by wind and waves. 2. Wilfred Oraai, the Elephant Man, is Diepwalle’s legendary ranger with much heart for the species. 3. An old Elephant Walk sign, painted by Wilfred years ago. 4. The rocky shore at Kranshoek is lovely for picnics, but swimming is safer in the river nearby. 5. Ranger Nico Oosthuizen leads the way in experiencing the local coastal forest. 36 WILD AUTUMN 2013
“I saw Strangefoot just three weeks ago. Down the road nearby.” 3
Garden Route National Park
A forest walk is ideal for zooming in on the little things.
Mountain biking is hugely popular along Harkerville Forest’s four circular trails.
almost stinky in places but sometimes, like with the forest elder, the scent is sweet. We can smell the honey. “We feel the forest. Like the coolness of some trees. The redwood stays icy cold even in the heat. And we can taste the forest. Like the kamassie tree, which has very bitter leaves, but is good for the stomach, and for babelas.” Back at the top we take a quick drive to the Garden of Eden, an 800-metre boardwalk stroll through indigenous forest just off the N2, and the start of Harkerville’s four circular mountain-bike trails. The 24-kilometre singletrack red route is a favourite among mountain bikers, Nico says, taking them through the densest part of the forest. “All of these trails,” he adds, “were formerly slip-offs. Paths the woodcutters used to get the logs and sleepers from the forest to the ships offshore.” A sign reminds visitors of the forest’s interconnected energy, its cycle of nutrients from canopy to forest floor and back again. A “powerhouse”, as Dalene Matthee phrased it, “that radiates its energy far beyond the limits of its margins.” Back in Diepwalle the next morning at dawn, we ascend the gravel road to Spitzkop. At 830 metres it’s the highest point around, offering a 360-degree view of forests, moun-
tains and sea. The Outeniqua mountains roll like deep blue waves to the east and, below, hills and valleys overgrown with thick vegetation make it clear that elephants could easily hide there. Creatures could easily get lost, as did some of the woodcutters’ children back in the 1800s. There’s a fog bank over the sea, but the sun breaks through, deep orange turning the peaks pale pink, casting a golden light over the fynbos garden around us. Scarlet lilies, purple agapanthus, spiky aloes. Magic. That afternoon we join Wilfred for an Elephant Walk, the eight-kilometre one he says is most beautiful. We drive past the local Big Tree, an ancient Outeniqua yellowwood, to Askoekheuwel, a site in the forest where the woodcutters once prepared their spartan meals: roasted sweet potatoes, ashbread, occasionally bush meat. Before we disappear into the forest, Wilfred points out some muddied spoor amidst ferns and grasses just off the road. “Strangefoot’s. From three weeks ago.” Spine-tingling, this sign of him. Nimbly leading the way on the forest path, covered in roots and damp leaves and suddenly surrounded by two-metre-tall tree ferns, Wilfred tells of a memorable encoun-
ter with Strangefoot, so named due to weird depressions in his feet. “I was walking on the road from Diepwalle to Knysna two years ago. The moon was shining. Up ahead in the road I saw four poles. It was the legs of the elephant. ‘He’s going to kill me,’ I thought. Then I thought that I must speak to him. So I said: ‘My name is Wilfred, and I’m okay.’ And Strangefoot walked off into the forest.” These days this man with a telepathic intimacy with elephants is training younger rangers to track them higher up into the mountains. Wilfred believes Strangefoot is not alone. “Some places in the forest we www.wildcard.co.za
didn’t get to before,” he says. “They could have gone up there.” Like most people, we hope he’s right.
The camping decks at Diepwalle plunge you into the magical indigenous forest.
Out to the light Next stop is Storms River Mouth, an hour’s drive east on the N2 but far away in terms of experience. From forest darkness to the stark, unsheltered light of the coast. From primeval silence to the buzz of dozens of adventure activities. There’s a dizzying amount to choose from in Tsitsikamma, ‘the place of many waters’. Hiking, biking or horse riding. Bungee jumping, canopy tours and blackwater tubing. AUTUMN 2013 WILD 39
FOREST GIANT This Outeniqua yellowwood at Tsitsikamma is roughly 1â€‰000 years old.
Garden Route National Park
The sun breaks through, deep orange turning the peaks pale pink, casting a golden light over the fynbos garden around us. Magic.
The Knysna lily surprises with its colour in the forest greens. www.wildcard.co.za
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Kranshoek coastal hike at Harkerville, the section of the park just east and south of Diepwalle, is one of the areaâ€™s star attractions.
FOOTWORK The Kranshoek hiking trail winds deep through the forest.
Garden Route National Park
Floating on lilos through the Storms River gorge is a unique experience. www.wildcard.co.za
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Garden Route National Park
Diving, snorkelling and kayaking. Swimming, of course, with the local otters, oystercatchers, seals, dolphins and in September/October, southern right whales. Home base is the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, a collection of log cabins of all sizes and one of the best campsites around, fronting the rocks overlooking the sea. My chosen activity is the ‘kayak and lilo excursion’ run by Untouched Adventures, a concessionaire in the park, based below the rest camp restaurant. About a dozen of us and two guides set out in candy-red kayaks, crossing the thankfully flat ocean in 15 minutes or so, entering the mouth of the Storms River under the spidery suspension bridge. Kayaking in a river gorge is reverential – the damp, grey Table Mountain sandstone walls rising like those of a place of prayer, silence prevailing. Paddling from sun to shade as we go up the river, the colour of a strong cup of tea. Guides Marcello and Oelof break the silence with just enough information. Which plants growing out of the cliffs are used medicinally: malva for earache, red wattle to improve libido. How many bats in the ammonia-rich batcave: 1 500. How many fish species underwater: 202, including the poisonous puffer fish. We transfer to lilos and drift peacefully along for 40 minutes or so, then back to the kayaks, across the ocean again. A three-hour journey, but it still ends too fast. Back onshore at sunset, sharing some chilled rosé outside our new friends’ caravan overlooking the rocky shores, we watch a ritual commonly performed by much larger creatures. Two dozen or so dassies, in abundance at Storms River, are having a dust bath. “You know they’re related to elephants?” asks Justin, a visitor from England. I thought of their lone brother in the Knysna forest, the giant Strangefoot, and hoped he was sharing dust baths with at least one of his kind. CONTACT Garden Route National Park 044-302-5606, Central Reservations 012-428-9111. Go to www.wildcard.co.za and type “Garden Route” in the search box for a full trip planner. 44 WILD AUTUMN 2013
ABOVE: The bumpy back roads were a breeze in the Nissan X-Trail. Take the gravel road up to Spitzkop for spectacular views. BELOW: Tsitsikamma is an adventurer’s paradise.
Venues that inspire
Host your wedding or conference in a national park
When it comes to your next big event, count on nature for that little extra. A breathtaking backdrop to lift the mood. The soundtrack of birdsong to soothe away stress. Exciting activities to make the most of downtime. Whether you’re planning a special celebration or a high-powered conference, our professional co-ordinators will make sure your event is hassle-free. Our venues can handle small and large groups, and are situated around the country. Conferencing facilities are available at these national parks:
Augrabies Falls • Garden Route Golden Gate • Kruger Karoo • Mountain Zebra visit www.sanparks.org or www.sanparks.mobi
Travel Trade tel (012) 426 5025 fax (012) 343 2006 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Hunting hairs Animals use senses so finely honed to read their environment that the signals they detect escape our perception. Mammals, in particular, use touch to communicate with one another, avoid danger or find their way around. A mammalâ€™s skin is richly embedded with nerve-endings that render the whole pelt a sensory organ. When walking on all fours, the limbs are unavailable for tactile functions, so sensitive skin is useful. Even more helpful is having whiskers, a set of air-current and solid-object detecting aerials positioned right where you want to go next. Fur seals, which feed in the dark, use their stiff whiskers to detect tiny vibrations made by swimming fish. Seal whiskers have up to 1â€‰500 nerve cells each. Talk about sensitive!
Cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus
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WHiskers Where am I? Where are my mates? Where is the enemy?
Where can I find food? Whiskers help animals answer such
questions and discern their surroundings, with various
species using them in different ways. By Megan Emmett
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CATS’ Whiskers Felis silvestris
african Wild cat
The eyesight of most large predators is adapted to low light, nocturnal conditions but, to stalk unseen, they cannot necessarily see exactly where they are going at every given second. This is where the senses of touch and hearing merge. Wild cats have about a dozen whiskers on either side of the face, stiffer and thicker than normal hair. Each is deeply embedded in a modified hair follicle, sealed in a capsule of blood and well supplied with sensory nerves. They provide cats with exceptionally detailed information, perceiving the smallest of air currents and pressure changes or responding to contact with objects.
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While hunting, air movements around objects cause a cat’s whiskers to vibrate and it is these vibrations that relay clues to the cat about its surroundings without it having to see or touch things. Moving stealthily also requires fitting through unpredictable spaces and the whiskers protruding widely on either side of a cat’s face allow it to determine whether its head and shoulders will clear the gap.
It affects a cat’s hunting skill if its whiskers are broken off.
LEOPARD The tactile hairs above a leopardâ€™s eyes are known as superciliary whiskers.
Spotted! The dark spots on a lion or leopardâ€™s face from where the whiskers originate are unique to each individual. These patterns are frequently used by researchers to identify specific animals. www.wildcard.co.za
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Tunnel vision A ground squirrel spends its life digging and tunnelling in the sand. Its whiskers perform a vital role when scurrying along in the dark. Another species reliant on tactile assistance underground is the mole-rat, which spends so much time underground its eyes are virtually non-functional. By contrast, the stiff sensory hairs on its tail pick up draughts that warn if its burrow network has been breached. Theyâ€™re also used to pick up the drumming vibrations made by other members of the colony as they communicate long distance.
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Prickly pear Itâ€™s not only where you live that matters when it comes to whiskers, but what you eat. A giraffe has long eyelashes to protect its eyes when it pushes its face amid thorny branches in search of tasty leaves. With its narrow, elongated muzzle it can squeeze in among the branches, but itâ€™s the whiskers on the tip of that muzzle that help it to navigate successfully between thorns, prick-free.
Touchy feely A rodent or shrew has up to 200 nerve cells a whisker and a potential 30 whiskers a cheek. The long, waggling nose of an elephant shrew probing for insects in crevices holds thousands of sensory nerve cells servicing its whiskers. The stiff hairs are ordered in a grid pattern. Shorter whiskers sit towards the front while longer ones occupy the back rows.
GIRAFFE Rock Elephant Shrew Elephantulus myurus
Philip van den Berg / Africa Imagery
Many antelope species are jittery because of sensory overload. Each whisker follicle has hundreds of nerve cells, making them exquisitely sensitive to touch.
ISTOCKPHOTO MARIO MORENO
Sensitive steering Whisker-assisted navigation is essential when special diversion manoeuvres are required. Take a scrub hare, which to elude a pursuer must duck and dive in all directions. Allowing the unwitting predator to gain on it, the scrub hare lures it into a false sense of success then, at the right moment, executes a speedy change of direction, causing the pursuer to overshoot.
Tastebuds Other animals have apparatus that look like whiskers and perform a similar role. A catfish has long protrusions called barbels around its mouth region, which look much like cat’s whiskers, hence its name. They help the fish to sort through its muddy habitat to find food. Unlike conventional whiskers, they are equipped with chemoreceptors, which help the barbel detect chemicals in the water and also taste what it touches, useful in the process of finding food.
Whiskers are helping researchers to study sea otters. The chemical content of the whiskers reflects the animals’ diet. Aonyx capensis
clawless otter Bristly muzzle While hippos feed, they enjoy peripheral vision necessary to spot danger, but cannot see the ground where their mouths are active. The spiky whiskers on a hippo’s face help it to seek out soft patches of grass to channel into its mouth and avoid rocky or other undesirable turf. Hippopotamus amphibius
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RUDI VAN AARDE
Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Africa Imagery
Catch of the day Otters are deft hunters and whiskers help them to navigate in their murky underwater homes. The Cape clawless otter hunts crab and octopus by feeling around with its forepaws. Its whiskers help it detect movements in the water and pinpoint the location of a target. The spotted-necked otter takes things one step further, catching its prey directly in its mouth, for which whiskers are indispensable.
True whiskers are a feature of hairy mammals.
Brush stroke Zebra prefer short grass, therefore their mouths get much closer to the ground and the danger of mouthfuls of dirt than long-grass feeders. Stubby whiskers on their muzzles direct their feeding efforts. Being social animals, bonding activity includes allogrooming where whiskers play an important role in relaying sensory cues at such close proximity. www.wildcard.co.za
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During the heat of the day, large numbers of these lizards gather to feed on the swarms of black flies that cloud along the river banks. Most lizards rush around snatching at the flies as they come low enough, but some males maximise their chances of catching a crunchy, juicy fly by leaping high into the air.
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Large numbers of Augrabies flat lizards hang out at the falls viewpoint.
Thereâ€™s ample drama where the Orange River plunges over a number of waterfalls at Augrabies Falls National Park. The view of the narrow gorge is mesmerising, but also look out for the dazzling lizards that hang out there. By Peter Chadwick
he endemic and colourful male Augrabies flat lizard Platysaurus broadleyi is worth more than a quick glance. Time spent with these social, alert and ever-active lizards reveals a complex social structure and fascinating feeding habits. Female Augrabies flat lizards are a drab brownish grey with white speckling and stripping, while the males are far more spectacular. They have a bright blue head and waistcoat with yellow forelegs, orange
hindlegs and belly, and a speckled brownish back. The more dominant males are the most brightly coloured and use this to their advantage, scaring off rivals by flashing their underbellies. If the offending rival does not retreat, aggressive fights may break out, with much biting and shaking taking place. But the most impressive display of their physical prowess occurs when it comes to finding food, as the lizards leap into the air to catch black flies in flight. Just take a look at the pictures here and overleaf.
Male lizards intimidate rivals by flashing their brightly coloured underbellies. The brighter their colours, the more dominant the males tend to be. www.wildcard.co.za
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The tail is often used as a stabilising rudder.
Males carefully watch approaching prey and try to time their leap to be in range of the hovering flies. In many cases the lizards will use their tails as a stabilising rudder, resting it on the ground, while on other occasions the entire body is thrown high into the air. Some lizards seem to be better than others at using this tactic. Those that have refined the art will catch a fly on almost every leap, chomping their prey with much satisfaction on landing.
Go See For Yourself Augrabies Falls National Park is in the Northern Cape, 120â€‰km from Upington. Contact Park 054-452-9200 Reservations 012-428-9111 http://sanparks.org/ parks/augrabies/
Males time their leaps carefully and some are almost always successful.
One of the Northern Cape’s awe-inspiring sights – brought to you by Orange River Cellars.
he magnificent canyon to the west of the Augrabies Falls has to be one of the finest wine-tasting venues in the world. Especially at day’s end when the setting sun casts an orange-pink glow on the sheer, daunting rock face. More often than not, this spectacular scenery will be made even more dramatic by the appearance of a pair of black objects floating gracefully in the blue sky. These are Verreaux’s eagles Aquila verreauxii, a splendid and fortunately rather common sight in the Northern Cape. Here these magnificent raptors frequent the valleys, koppies and rock ledges in search of prey and ride the thermals hundreds of feet above the ground, confirming their position as masters of the northern skies. Formerly known as the black eagle, this dark bird with its white back and distinctive V on its shoulders is one of the larger eagles of Southern Africa, averaging a length of 90 centimetres and weighing between four and five kilograms. But seen from below, it is the wingspan of over two metres and the perfect symmetry of its body that is so breathtakingly impressive. Majestic. Regal. In the region of Augrabies, the birds prey mainly on
the ubiquitous dassie, their keen eyesight spotting the mammals from high above, after which they swoop down in graceful silence onto the unsuspecting animals. Their deadliness as hunters is complemented by the fact that these eagles hunt in pairs; since the birds mate for life, each pair forms a close bond. The sight of these eagles has an intoxicating effect on the viewer. Their effortless grace, the joyous and almost showy manner with which they cross between different thermal levels and the long gliding period that doesn’t employ a single wing-beat is almost hypnotic – one of the world’s great ornithological sights. In a world where wine and nature come together, Orange River Cellars is honoured to call the Verreaux’s eagle a part of our natural heritage. This fine creature confirms the unique wilderness status of the land from where the grapes for our wines originate and as custodians of the environment we are proud to partner with nature at its purest. That’s why in every glass of wine from Orange River Cellars you are bound to hear the call of the wild from the Kings of the Sky.
Orange River Cellars lies in one of the world’s most unique wine-making regions. Based in the Northern Cape town of Upington, the winery makes wine from grapes grown on a 300-kilometre stretch on the banks of the mighty Orange River. Satellite wineries in Keimoes and Kakamas to the west of Upington and Groblershoop and Grootdrink to the east invite visitors to add a taste of the local wine culture to their voyage through this vast region of natural splendour. With the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Augrabies Falls National Park on its doorstep, Orange River Cellars is proud to be a part of one of South Africa’s great wilderness areas.
Not for sale to persons under 18
More than 350 wildflower species occur in Mapungubwe and the surrounding Limpopo Valley.
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flowers it’s raining
After the first summer rains, the usually dry bushveld is infused with colour. Finding around 70 different species of flower on a day trip to Mapungubwe National Park between December and February is entirely possible. By Dianne Tipping-Woods
Yellow mouse-whiskers Cleome angustifolia subsp petersiana www.wildcard.co.za
Retha van der Walt
he initial outbreaks of wildflowers in Mapungubwe generally occur after the area receives the first of its annual rainfall of about 350 millimetres. [During the floods in January 2013, the park received more than half that volume, 212 millimetres of rain, in just two days. - Ed.] By February, the park’s colourful summer plumage is only tied to its austere winter landscape by its distinctive sandstone outcrops and dolerite dykes. The area around Leokwe Camp is wonderfully diverse, as is the area around the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers. Many species are clearly visible from the road or on a guided walk. I’m with guru Retha van der Walt, author of Wild Flowers of the Limpopo Valley. In just over an hour, in an area of about 50 square metres, we have identified dozens of species in bloom. Some shy and subtle like Boerhavia repens subsp repens (creeping spiderling), others exquisitely bold, like the bright yellow Cleome angustifolia subsp. petersiana (yellow mousewhiskers), which is common throughout the park. Then there’s Lindernia monroi (Dongola snapdragon), like tiny orchids. As she spots a type of peultjiesbos nestled against a sandstone outcrop, Retha’s eyes AUTUMN 2013 WILD 57
LOCAL BEAUTY Cleome oxyphylla var. robusta is endemic to the Limpopo Ridge XXBushveld. WILD AUTUMN 2013
Mapungubweâ€™s flora was first documented by botanist Illtyd PoleEvans in the 1920s. The work of Retha van der Walt and Johannes Masalesa follows in his footsteps.
Wild hibiscus Hibiscus engleri in bloom.
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1. Guide Johannes Masalesa showing the fruit of the northern lala-palm. 2. Dongola snapdragon Lindernia monroi 3. The rugged Mapungubwe landscape. 4. Johannes and author Retha van der Walt share a keen interest in the wild flowers of Mapungubwe. 5. Cat’s tail Hermbstaedtia odorata var. fleckii 6. Devil’s claw Harpagophytum procumbens cf. subsp. transvaalense 7. Blue carpet Craterostigma plantagineum 8. Common thorn apple Datura stramonium
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PICTURES 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 – Dianne Tipping-woods / PICTURES 2, 6, 7 – Retha van der Walt
gone tomorrow While the diversity of flowers in the park is amazing, so too are the lives of the flowers themselves. Their beauty is often fleeting. The Pancratium tenuifolium (aandblommetjie) is there early in the morning and hours later, it’s gone. The rare Orbea carnosa subsp keithii (fleshy orbea) has been observed in flower just once during the last seven years, while the Drimia indica (secret lily) comes out only after the rain and is gone within 24 hours.
WIN We have two copies of Wild Flowers of the Limpopo Valley (R250) to be won. Send your answer, along with your contact details and Wild Card number to competition@ tipafrica.co.za. Closing date 15 May 2013. Email ludwigslust@ xnets.co.za to order. Q: Who wrote Wild Flowers of the Limpopo Valley?
light up. The Cleome oxyphylla var. robusta is endemic to the Limpopo Ridge bushveld and occurs only in Mapungubwe National Park and a few other spots in Limpopo Province. It is a small pink flower with distinctive blue and yellow markings on two of its four petals. SANParks guide Johannes Masalesa knows the plant too and the pair is soon engrossed in discussion about the rare endemic bloom. Retha lives on a farm nearby and her enthusiasm is contagious. “I can’t walk to the washing line without stumbling on something, so the park is paradise.” Although she only now realises the extent of it, the diversity caught Retha’s eye soon after she and her husband Tuba moved to the area in 2000. “There were only 38 species indicated for an area [SANBI 2229 BB} that we already thought was much more diverse,” says Retha. So she contacted the South African National Biodiversity Institute and discovered the area from Malala Drift to Pontdrift and the 20 kilometres south of the Limpopo River was in need of a thorough survey. Some of the plant species had only been found and recorded once, forming a small dot on the distribution map. Some species were mistakenly classified as very rare simply because of a lack of knowledge about their distribution. Many of the specimens in the national herbarium were extremely old, dating from when the species was first recorded for the area. Retha soon came to an arrangement with SANBI. She would collect specimens for the institute and it would help her with the identification. Her approach followed the SANBI-specified guidelines for botanical research and was registered as a research project with SANParks. “It’s a good feeling to be collecting for the national herbarium, especially for an area that’s understudied.” Johannes shares Retha’s love of flowers and has his own unique store of indi
genous knowledge about them, including almost 200 pages of history gleaned from a relative who recently died at the age of 102. Pointing to the delicate curve of tiny white blooms of the Helio tropium species commonly known as a string of stars, he explains: “You take these leaves, crush them and soak them in water for three or four days, and that water is used to bathe a newborn child, to ensure it grows well.” Over the course of the morning walk, Retha and Johannes find specimen after specimen to discuss, such as wild sage Pechuel-Loeschea leubnitziae, known as sweat or stink bush. “This is another reason why the flower-identification book is important, it allows people from different cultures and languages to talk about things in a mutually comprehensible way,” says Retha. She quotes the line from Linnaeus that she keeps pinned to her desk: “If the names of things are neglected, then the knowledge of them will also perish.” While Retha hasn’t discovered any unknown species, her field work has yielded lots of valuable new data about distribution. Beautiful endemics such as Cleome oxyphylla var. robusta and Pavonia dentata (silky pavonia) coexist with Adenium oleifolium, a plant related to the famous impala lily, but normally associated with the Kalahari. Two of the area’s most threatened plants are Peristrophe gillilandiorum and Peristrophe cliffordii, the latter recorded only once in 1948 and then in 1985. “I have also found about 30 species not in the book because I didn’t have either photos or a definite identification due to genera being under revision,” Retha explained. Later on in our walk, we find a wild grape species Cyphostemma omburense and a Talinum species, first records of both plants for the park. “The book is just a foundation,” said Retha, “there is always more research to do, more species to add.” AUTUMN 2013 WILD 61
KRUGERâ€™s WILDERNESS TRAILS
PARADISE FOUND Looking out over the confluence of the Olifants and Letaba rivers on the Olifants Wilderness Trail.
Wise With more and more Kruger visitors lacing up their hiking boots, trail guides are rising to the challenge to share not only their vast guiding expertise, but inspire a profound understanding of the wilderness. By Stephen Cunliffe
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KRUGER’s WILDERNESS TRAILS
Walking trails offer a much-needed escape from ‘the real world’.
truly effective trail guide should not only display ‘hard skills’ such as rifle proficiency, dangerous-game competency and near-encyclopaedic bush knowledge, but also ‘soft skills’ such as understanding and communicating the importance of wilderness. Because trail guides are essentially ambassadors and facilitators of true and meaningful wilderness experiences.” It is the annual Kruger Park Backpack Trail Guides workshop. The speaker is Brenden Pienaar. Part of a dedicated team of passionate backpack trail guides actively driving the revival of a wilderness philosophy on Kruger trails, the insights Brenden is sharing will make the difference between a mediocre and a lifechanging trail. Wilderness appreciation is a personal journey, with the ultimate outcome being a deeper awareness of our emotional and spiritual dependence on natural areas. The spiritual element of the wilderness has the power to transcend all faiths and religions, enabling Kruger’s hiking trails to bind nature lovers together in awe and respect of the Earth’s wild places.
“Because trail guides are essentially ambassadors and facilitators of true and meaningful wilderness experiences.” Increasing numbers of tourists want to connect intimately with the wilderness and Kruger trail guides are well aware that walking trails offer a much-needed escape from ‘the real world’. They offer a reconnection with nature, a rejuvenation of body and soul far from the nearest tourist road. Of the varied portfolio of trails on offer, it’s definitely the primitive backpack trails that steal the show. These four-day trails where you carry your own food and equip68 WILD AUTUMN 2013
Guides on the backpack trails also have to prove their skills at night. A participant on the workshop takes aim at a target.
ment, camping wild on the riverbank, offer the ultimate in wilderness connection and appreciation. If hiking in the wilderness is new to you, you might start out gently, with a morning walk from one of the rest camps or embark on a multi-day base camp trail such as the Olifants Wilderness Trail. In the Tracks of Giants “Look how the grains of sand are still plastered to the grass stalks within these tracks. Soon the sun will dry them out and they’ll drop off. And can you see the difference in colour between the imprints and the surrounding earth?” enquired Sean Pattrick, experienced wilderness trail guide on the Olifants Wilderness Trail. To the well-trained eye, the fresh spoor scribbled a detailed story across the wet mud before us. Our skilled guides scrutinised the dinner plate-sized tracks as we walked. Twenty minutes later they halted and whispered: “It won’t be long now. We’re getting close.” The words had barely tumbled off Sean’s tongue when the tell-tale flap of an elephant’s ear alerted us to its presence not far ahead. Co-guide Aron Mkansi motioned for absolute silence as we crept slowly forward. Sneaking stealthily around a white-berry bush, the first grey giants popped into view, scattered along the Hlahleni watercourse. The breeding herd was relaxed. I counted over 30 of the behemoths across the shallow stream. Some drank in long draughts, while others devoured trunkfuls of fresh green grass. Carefree calves cavorted around their mothers completing an idyllic wilderness scene. Suddenly the wind swirled and a couple of trunks shot up to sniff the breeze. When the periscopes lowered, a low rumble emanated from the matriarch and the herd regrouped and rambled off in unison. “Let’s leave them be,” whispered our ever-alert trail leader before adding with a knowing smile, “after all, we’re privileged guests in their wilderness realm.” www.wildcard.co.za
Best of the Best Kruger’s trail guides undergo rigorous, long-term training before qualifying to lead nature enthusiasts on foot through the bush. Aside from being required to sit exams and undertake practical assessments to ensure their book knowledge and bush-lore are up to scratch, candidates need to log at least 200 hours walking in dangerous-game areas, obtain a Viewing Potentially Dangerous Animals qualification and participate in a Wilderness Workshop. They must also pass a stringent Advanced Rifle Handling assessment and complete a Level 2 First Aid course, qualifications which must be retaken every two years. Once aspiring Kruger trail guides have all these under their belt, they walk ‘back up’ under a fully qualified and well-practised lead guide, who will mentor them over no less than 10 multi-day walking trails. But it is not just the onerous qualifications requirements that make Kruger’s well-trained trail guides so special. It is their ability to sum up each new group and flexibly deliver a tailor-made wilderness trail to perfectly match the group’s aspirations.
During an Advanced Rifle Handling assessment, trail guides are required to lead ‘guests’ through the bush while remaining alert to the presence of dangerous animals. In this simulation a lion had popped up and the guide immediately raised his rifle. AUTUMN 2013 WILD 69
POWERHOUSE Natureâ€™s pristine places, like this cliff on the Olifants River, allow you to recharge your batteries.
KRUGER’s WILDERNESS TRAILS
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KRUGER’s WILDERNESS TRAILS
A palpable energy and excitement radiated from the group as we retreated. There was no denying the power of nature and its charismatic creatures to rejuvenate the flagging human spirit. After a refreshing shower back at the rustic trail base-camp, we hungrily tucked into another of Shadrack Nobela’s delectable meals, a delicious brunch of fresh bread, eggs, bacon and savoury mince to restore our strength. With full bellies we retired to our A-frame huts for a siesta to ensure we’d be recharged for the afternoon hiking session. The walk began with everyone, even our usually sure-footed guides, slip-sliding down mud-slick riverbanks and sloshing through shallow streams before the route veered off to slowly ascend along a rocky rhyolite ridge. After a couple of hours of sweaty toil, the game trail we were following petered out at a cliff-top viewpoint and we found ourselves perched above the confluence of two of Kruger’s premier rivers. Below us the dark chocolate water of the swollen Letaba mixed with the milky brown Olifants. Hippos bobbed in the shallows while crocodiles lined the riverside sandbanks like two columns of ancient sentries. It was an inspiring sight that demanded we drop our packs and take a time-out to savour the sprawling, wild landscape below. Aron checked the area was safe while Sean selected a well-positioned rock, overlooking this vast tract of pristine wildland, for each of us. For the next half-hour we were left to reflect on the beauty of nature and imbibe the wilderness spirit on our own. The vista was nothing short of sensational. To be alone with your thoughts in the wilderness, almost sacred. Stephen Cunliffe qualified as a FGASA Level 3 SKS DA guide, the highest walking qualification in South Africa. 72 WILD AUTUMN 2013
Trailists tread where few other tourists go.
Need to know Wilderness and backpack trails last three nights and depart Sundays and Wednesdays in season. Maximum of eight guests per trail, no persons under 12. Hikers should be reasonably fit as up to 20 kilometres may be covered in a day. Pack good hiking boots and clothing in neutral colours. Binoculars, field guides and sunscreen won’t go amiss. Camera batteries should be fully charged as there is no access to electricity on the trail. Cellphones and other electronic devices should be switched off. BOOKINGS Bridget Bagley on 012-426-5111 and email@example.com Hesther van den Berg on 012-426-5117 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Olifants Wilderness Trail Departure Point Letaba. Unique Attractions Varied terrain, plentiful raptors and good general game on the open plains away from the river. The confluence of the Letaba and Olifants rivers as well as spectacular Bangu Gorge in the Lebombo Mountains are favourite spots. Iconic Species Elephant, hippo, crocodile, lion, Pel’s fishing owl. Habitat Rugged veld with open, mixed acacia woodland. Facilities Rustic trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. Cost R3 900 per person.
Level of difficulty
Easy to moderate
Moderate to strenuous
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KRUGER’s WILDERNESS TRAILS
On backpack trails you may set up camp in a different place every night.
Easy to moderate
Moderate to strenuous
Lonely Bull Backpack Trail Departure Point Shimuwini. Unique Attractions A very flexible backpack trail exploring a diverse wilderness area and pachyderm paradise along the Letaba River. By taking advantage of the area’s prolific hippo highways, trailists can access tranquil tributaries, inland springs and elevated vantage points away from the river. Iconic Species Elephant, buffalo, Sharpe’s grysbok, collared pratincole. Habitat Riparian and rugged mopani veld. Facilities Primitive wild camping. Operational 1 Feb. to 31 Oct. Cost R2 050 per person.
Bushmans Wilderness Trail Departure Point Berg-en-Dal. Unique Attractions The Bushman’s Wilderness Area boasts a cache of well-preserved San rock art, deep gullies, serene gorges and rocky outcrops to discover. The ubiquitous koppies provide breathtaking vantage points from which to spot wildlife and appreciate the magnitude of the surrounding wilderness. Iconic Species White rhino, mountain reedbuck, klipspringer, redthroated wryneck. Habitat Mixed combretum woodland interspersed with granite outcrops. Facilities Rustic trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. Cost R3 900 per person.
Metsi-Metsi Wilderness Trail Departure Point Skukuza. Unique Attractions A geologically diverse and prolific wildlife-viewing area with high densities of general game, and their attendant predators, concentrated on the productive Lindanda Plains. The scenic N’waswitsonto Gorge exudes a strong sense of wilderness, while the river attracts hordes of thirsty animals. Iconic Species Black and white rhino, cheetah, lion, black coucal. Habitat Open basalt plains and knobthorn savanna. Facilities Rustic trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. Cost R3 900 per person. 74 WILD AUTUMN 2013
Level of difficulty
Mphongolo Backpack Trail Departure Point Mopani (as long as Shingwedzi is closed) Unique Attractions The largest, wildest and most remote of Kruger’s 10 wilderness zones boasting high concentrations of big game and hot springs. Hiking routes are flexible and you can experience a completely new area whenever you visit. Iconic Species Elephant, buffalo, sable, eland, Arnott’s chat. Habitat Varied (riparian to mopani) alluvial floodplains. Facilities Primitive wild camping. Operational 1 Feb. to 30 Nov. Cost R2 050 per person.
Napi Wilderness Trail Departure Point Pretoriuskop. Unique Attractions The Biyamiti and Napi rivers, along with a host of seasonal rhino-frequented pans, provide ample opportunity for scenic walks through a productive game-viewing area. Napi highlights include regular rare antelope sightings and periodic wild dog encounters on foot. Iconic Species Black and white rhino, Lichenstein’s hartebeest, sable, wild dog, narina trogon. Habitat Undulating broadleaf woodland and sourveld with granite inselbergs. Facilities New tented trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. Cost R3 900 per person.
Sweni Wilderness Trail Departure Point Satara. Unique Attractions Sweni is home to the highest game and predator densities of any wilderness area in Kruger. The Sweni River gives way to expansive, flat plains covered in large herds of buffalo and general game with prides of lions ranging in close attendance. Iconic Species Buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, lion, pallid harrier. Habitat Open basalt plains and thorntree savanna. Facilities Rustic trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. Cost R3 900 per person.
Olifants River Backpack Trail Departure Point Olifants Camp. Unique Attractions Covering a challenging 42 km along the Olifants River, this backpack trail is ideally suited to fit, goal-oriented people who enjoy hiking. Camping on sandy beaches or hippo-manicured lawns, wallowing in the river shallows and wilderness siestas are highlights. Iconic Species Elephant, hippo, leopard, Cape clawless otter, Pel’s fishing owl. Habitat Olifants River rugged veld surrounded by mopani veld. Facilities Primitive wild camping. Operational 1 April to 31 Oct. Cost R2 050 per person.
Nyalaland Wilderness Trail Departure Point Punda Maria. Unique Attractions The diverse sandstone terrain, baobab forests, dinosaur fossils and Makahane cultural site make this one of Kruger’s most soughtafter trails. Dramatic Lanner Gorge is well worth the trek. Iconic Species Elephant, eland, nyala, leopard, Pel’s fishing owl, Böhm’s spinetail. Habitat Diverse sandveld with baobab forests. Facilities Rustic trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. important Closed until 30 June 2013 due to flood damage. Cost R3 900 per person.
Wolhuter Wilderness Trail Departure Point Berg-en-Dal. Unique Attractions Kruger’s first wilderness trail takes place in a scenically spectacular, undulating landscape peppered with towering granite koppies and cut by deep valleys. Trailists are drawn by attractions as diverse as Bushman paintings, archaeological sites and prolific plains game. Iconic Species Black and white rhino, sable, wild dog, freckled nightjar. Habitat High rainfall sourveld with granite intrusions. Facilities Rustic trails base camp. Operational 16 Jan. to 15 Dec. Cost R3 900 per person.
OWN Feel closer to nature, not your neighbours, at one of these campsites with limited stands.
Cederberg Wilderness Area
At this remote campsite it’s not simply about privacy, it’s also about solitude. There might be eight designated stands, but there’s every chance you could be the only one camping here. This is a destination for the well equipped. You need a 4x4 to reach the site and there’s no water, wood or electricity. But you’ll be rewarded with an abundance of space, striking quiver trees and masses of stars.
The stretch of coast between the Groen and Spoeg rivers is seamed in pretty little bays where wilderness camping is possible. Forget about sharing your sea view with a horde of holidaymakers as there are just a few sites in each bay. This is the West Coast, so there are windbreak walls to protect the tents, but the sites do not have water or ablutions. They do, however, have uninterrupted views, fresh air and quiet.
Is this SANParks’ best new campsite? With only halfa-dozen stands arranged around a waterhole, Motswedi offers privacy, comfort and game-viewing opportunities. Each stand has its own neatly arranged bathroom, toilet and kitchen. Solar power provides hot showers, while gas is used for the hobs and fridge. Set up your camping chair with a view of the waterhole and wait for the buffalo to come calling.
For the chance to camp alone among ancient rock formations, shoulder your pack and set off into the Cederberg wilderness. Hikers are free to sleep under the stars wherever they like, so you can pick a spot all to yourself. The number of hikers allowed in a day is limited and you have to get an overnight hiking permit. Take a gas stove as fires are not allowed and be prepared for changeable weather. The mountains can deliver sudden storms, but also deep silence and stunning beauty.
Rates R180 base rate for 1 or 2 people, R62 an extra adult, R31 an extra child, max. six. Contact 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
Rates R75 or R105 base rate for 1 to 6 people depending on the site, max. six. Contact 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
Rates R290 base rate for 1 or 2 people, R94 an extra adult, R47 an extra child, max. six. Contact 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
Rates R90 a person a night. Hiking permits must be obtained in advance. Contact 021-483-0190, www.capenature.co.za
Kokerboomkloof |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Groen Spoeg Namaqua National Park
Motswedi Mokala National Park
Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve Oribi Gorge is a place of sheer sandstone cliffs, dense forest and open grassland. You can descend right to the base of the gorge, where there’s a picnic spot and a delightful riverside walk. The camp overlooks the gorge and is peaceful and intimate with just five spacious, shady sites, each with an electrical power point. You’ll feel smug about your select spot when the time comes for the day visitors to go home. Rates R70 a person a night. Contact 039-679-1644 or 072-042-9390, www.kznwildlife.com
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The feathers of scops owls have colouring similar to tree bark, making them virtually invisible.
Under cover M
any species apart from chameleons use camouflage to hide their presence. Camouflage works in two ways: hunters disguise themselves for a surprise attack while the hunted hide from predators by concealing themselves.
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Some animals have a secret weapon to avoid becoming a predatorâ€™s next takeout meal. Blending in with the scenery is a really cool trick. By Romi Boom
Fashion sense Disruptive coloration Mammals use spots, stripes or other patterns on their coats to disrupt or break up their body outline. The overall shape blends so well into the background that they literally disappear in front of our eyes.
Loud and clear
Leopard cubs have spots that are very close together, giving a mottled appearance that hides them from enemies. The rosettes of adult leopards’ coats make them difficult to spot in the dappled light of undergrowth or when they rest on a branch in a leafy tree. That’s why we often look right at these big cats without noticing them.
To a lion, a herd of zebras looks like a striped mass, because the stripes all seem to run together. The stripes don’t hide the zebras, they simply make it difficult for predators to be sure of what they’re seeing. From far away the light areas between the dark stripes look like patches of light between trees, helping zebras to blend into the bush.
Colour coding Concealing coloration The most common form of camouflage is when the body colour of the animal is the same as the surroundings, for example, the soil and grass. Lion are masters of disguise because they look like the grass or bush surroundings.
Vanishing act Disguise Some creatures copy other natural objects in shape and colour, for example, stick insects look like twigs while a grasshopper can be mistaken for a leaf or a stone. www.wildcard.co.za
Warning coloration In many places, smaller poisonous animals develop bright hues which warn predators that they will get a mouthful of venom unless they avoid these colours. The idea is the opposite of camouflage: if you can see me, you should be afraid of me, and steer clear. The Argus reed frog is one creature that uses colours with strong contrast, such as black with yellow, orange or red, to scare off predators. In some cases non-poisonous species have developed the same colours to cash in on the nasty reputation of brightly coloured creatures, a strategy known as mimicry. For great pretenders such as the monarch butterfly, the intention is to send a danger message to predators by using bright shades that say ‘Beware!’.
Argus reed frog
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UMLALAZI / AMATIGULU
TIME Umlalazi and Amatigulu may be small nature reserves, but they offer big opportunities for family fun and memories. By Patricia McCracken
SUNSET CRUISE The sound of the trumpeter hornbills flying back to their roosts is the signal for an early sundowner.
uMlalazi Tourism Association
KATE DE PINNA
The Lagoon Trail is a fascinating look at Umlalazi’s mangrove forest.
uMlalazi Tourism Association
ast night’s rain has swept the air clean and the sky gleams the paintbox blue of holiday dreams. As we glimpse the stands of raffia palms on Mtunzini’s sandy hills far ahead, the cry goes up in our vehicle: “First person to spot the palm-nut vulture wins the prize!” Arriving back at a favourite family holiday destination is always a mixture of excitedly anticipating new discoveries and sweetly remembering past delights. “How was Anna the Mudwoman after she fell out of that canoe!” “Will we see the beautiful mangrove kingfisher again?” “What about all those mullet Bill tried to chase!” The Umlalazi Nature Reserve was created 65 years ago. It may be only 1 200 hectares, but it packs an awesome punch. In laidback, Zululand style, of course. Accordingly, we start by chilling on the deck of our log cabin, amiably debating both the position of the Southern Cross above us and what to do tomorrow. Canoeing on the Umlalazi River, fishing in the lagoon or the Indian Ocean surf, concentrated birding in the coastal forest where the lofty dunes reach 30 metres or following a trail through the mangroves? Umlalazi has one the best surviving mangrove swamps in South Africa, says renowned botanist Professor Pat Berjak of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In the ideal conditions of lagoon and tides, black and white mangrove Bruguiera gymnorrhiza and Avicennia marina thrive. Though you’ll be lucky to spot the locally scarce red mangrove Rizophora mucronata, she says. Beneath the deck, undisturbed by our chat-
Amatigulu’s placid waters invite you to go paddling or fishing.
ter, a red duiker pauses for a nibble. In the dune forest, we’ve sometimes spotted blue and grey duiker, as well as bushbuck, briefly motionless in a sun-dappled glade. But there’s still an outstanding family prize awaiting the first to see one of Umlalazi’s elusive, nocturnal bushpigs. Even without a big tick like that, there have been plenty of unforgettable moments. “Remember turning the corner and there was the green twinspot on the forest floor, spotlit by sunlight coming through the canopy?” Travelling with a pack of kids, other memories haven’t always been so quiet. There are the squeals of excitement and curiosity as we discover mudskippers in the mangroves, the fiddler crabs with their extended claw and the intriguing tree-climbing whelks. Or simply gasp and giggle at the mud squelching between toes. Ephraim Sokhulu has been resort manager here for about two years, after more than 10 years at Ndumo Game Reserve. “It’s been great showing my family this new environment,” he grins. “They particularly love the lagoon and the beach.” Born and brought up in Mtunzini, Bruce Hopwood relishes his own memories of fishing and canoeing on the lagoon, dodging crocs and the occasional hippo, even rarer now. The whole town of Mtunzini was declared a conservancy in 1995 and today he’s on the committee. “The reserve’s very popular with locals as well as visitors,” he says. “And there’s give and take. Four zebra recently broke away from the reserve herd and decided to urbanise themselves! You could see them grazing up the road in town under the flamboyants.” AUTUMN 2013 WILD 79
UMLALAZI / AMATIGULU
KATE DE PINNA
Mangroves are specially adapted to deal with salt water.
Amatigulu’s walking trails are particularly exciting for the tree and flower fundis.
Umlalazi and Amatigulu lie around 90 minutes’ drive north of Durban.
RIGHT: Birding is a popular activity. FAR RIGHT: Kids can explore the mangroves.
Home for the Umlalazi zebra is usually the river’s grassy bank. You can watch them mooching around as you keep an eye on kids intrigued by the nursery shoals of mullet, listen to the fish eagle out hunting or think about setting out your own picnic. As with many regulars, we have a favourite picnic tree and outcrop of bank. In the late afternoons, you’ll probably find us by the lagoon or emerging from the dune-forest trail onto one of the few South African beaches that actually expands by the year. Wherever we are, the sound of the trumpeter hornbills flying over the area back to their roosts is our signal for an early sundowner. It’s a holiday, after all. Checking out the day’s weather on the deck over early-morning tea is another treasured ritual, as our bleary eyes are greeted by lovely wakeup calls. That’s how I met my first real, live white-eared barbet, a local special that justified the hours I’d spent paging through the field guide in the hope of one day putting names to intriguing feathered strangers. Into Amatigulu Sooner or later we’ll book the river cruise and also add a short break at Amatigulu Nature Reserve, only 25 kilometres south. Here the Amatigulu estuary meets the Nyoni River, which runs about eight kilometres parallel to the coast here. A woolly necked stork stands sentinel on a sandbar, mirrored invitingly in the glassy waters of the lagoon for photographers. It seems an invitation to paddle, but the river’s been known to harbour crocs. “Canoeing, fishing and bird-watching are very popular here,” says amiable office manager Obed Ngcobo. “We have only six tents, so it’s quite easy for one or two families or a group to book the whole camp.” The camp, which also falls under Ephraim’s wing, is “very rustic”, he says. While it’s not
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for those demanding creature comforts, it is an easy walk to the estuary’s southern bank. The 1 500-hectare reserve wasn’t established until 1987. Before that, says Albert van Jaarsveld, a guru on the history of the Mtunzini area, a leper colony occupied the area, from 1904 to 1977. He believes that helped preserve treasures such as the rare lala palm bushveld, studded in early summer by the blooms of a range of coastal grassland plants. It’s always good to take a serene moment during the challenging 4x4 trail to watch the giraffe loping up the hillside above Matshangulo Pan. But Amatigulu’s walking trails are particularly exciting for the tree and flower fundis, getting you up close with local specials. This is part of the Siyayi Coastal Park, which runs for about 45 kilometres from the Tugela to Umlalazi. As well as the grassland, there’s excellent swamp forest, coastal dune forest, beach and dune vegetation. If you visit regularly, you can see fascinating changes, for example, how much the acacia woodland has spread. Our earliest memories of the Amatigulu tented camp about 15 years ago don’t feature many trees and the tents seemed to have clear views down to the river. Now we spot wildplum skins and powder-puff flowers on the campsite boardwalk as the trees’ branches intertwine overhead with acacia, shading the tents from the heat of the day. “The conservancy helped the process along at Umlalazi,” muses Bruce. “Twenty years ago, we started rehabilitating the swamp forest and also extended the raffia grove. Now you’d never tell it was once gum plantation and sugarcane. Shortly the municipality will give this rehabilitated land over to the reserve.” More than a century ago, the local magistrate, Charles Foxon, fell in love with raffias, the world’s largest palms. He gathered seed
KATE DE PINNA
at Kosi Bay and planted them here, 300 kilo metres south and beyond their natural habitat, making them technically alien. But Mtunzini and South Africa have taken the raffia grove to their hearts and it was declared a national monument in 1986. It might seem an obvious place to look for the regionally rare palmnut vulture, but you still need a few spotting smarts. Raffias flower and fruit only towards the end of their 25-year lifespan, so watch out for trees of the right age and check their cycle. Palmnut vultures are often perched on raffia trees, feasting on the fruit in full view of the highway at Mtunzini. It’s one of our favourite welcomes as we head towards Umlalazi and a memory we never tire of remaking.
At Umlalazi you’ll find 12 four-bed log-cabins (R1 030 a night for three people) and 50 campsites (R270 a night for three). The resort has a swimming pool, tennis wall, trampolines, swings and jungle gym. In Amatigulu there are five basic campsites (R160 a night) plus the Zangozolo Tented Camp. This has six two-bedded tents on wooden platforms (R270 a night for two) with a communal ablution and kitchen. Free entry to Wild Card members at both reserves. The Umlalazi reserve gates close at 22h00, so you can dine out if you wish. Fishing licences are available at both Umlalazi and Amatigulu. Canoes can also be hired at both. Reservations Book on 033-845-1000 or www.kznwildlife.com Birding Mtunzini Conservancy’s Birding Weekend, 27–30 June 2013, includes Umlalazi and Amatigulu. Contact Daff Untiedt 081-2703064, email@example.com. For birding tours, contact Zululand Birding Route, www.zululandbirdingroute.co.za Recommended reading In the Mangroves of South Africa by Patricia Berjak and Norman Pammenter (R60) can be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org
4x4 in TANKWA
A brimming Oudebaaskraal Dam is a surprise in this arid park.
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Soul-expanding space, soothing silence and now a 4x4 route to add a little adrenalin to the mix, at Tankwa Karoo National Park you’ll find yourself between a rock and the deep blue sky. By Marion Whitehead
shrill screeching from three greater kestrels interrupted our picnic lunch. We lifted our gaze from the view yawning below our feet as we sat on the very edge of the Roggeveld Mountain escarpment overlooking the vastness of the Tankwa Karoo National Park. To our left the rugged range marched south, while in the distance, Skoorsteenberg poked its chimney of rock into a cobalt blue sky. All
the tributaries of the dry Rhenoster River were visible by the fringing of green thrown up on its way to Oudebaaskraal Dam shimmering far across the plain. The Cederberg on the horizon was smudged by a summer heat haze as the small raptors duelled above us. It’s at times like this that a great contentment creeps up on you. The kestrels’ display at the second breathtaking viewpoint on the newly launched Watervlei 4x4 route of 25 kilometres in the park was just additional
NATURAL HIGH The 4x4 routes in Tankwa Karoo National Park include dramatic viewpoints.
entertainment at which to marvel after a morning of adventure. As SANParks’ closest arid park to Cape Town, Tankwa is a place sought out by connoisseurs of nature. Sightings of the game that live in this harsh environment are a bonus. Some of the newest arrivals, a herd of eland translocated from the West Coast National Park, grazed beside the first small dam on the Watervlei route. We watched them, spellbound, as they carried on the timeless www.wildcard.co.za
business of being eland. It was the first thrill of the trail. There were many more to come. Warm up The previous day, I’d done a warm up on the shorter Leeuberg 4x4 Eco Trail with Garret de Vries, Tankwa’s ranger sergeant. The 17-kilometre trail is in a remote northwestern part of the park where the lunar landscape makes you wonder how anything survives. Yet springbok and gemsbok
Tankwa Karoo National Park lies between Ceres and Calvinia in the Northern Cape.
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4x4 in TANKWA
A paintbrush lily adds a touch of colour to the brown tones of the veld.
The lunar landscape makes you wonder how anything survives. You can drive the whole day and not see another vehicle.
and the Roggeveld Mountains to the east. popped up and a lone bat-eared fox ambled The last edge we tipped off was so steep I off, dragging its bushy tail as we approached thought we were going over a cliff. Honorary the beginning of the route near VarschfonRanger Willie Engelbrecht, who compiled tein Cottage. The trail quickly got tricky. Soft sand stud- the route info, swears it’s only a 25-degree descent, but it felt more like 70! There’s a ded with cruel ironstone boulders on the side route so you can double back and do it first steep section left me wondering where to put the wheels. Gaining height, Bokkeveld again, for an extra helping of adrenalin. We topped off the morning’s outing with shale took over, the soft mudstone sitting another high. The ironstone-strewn 4x4 loose on the steep slopes. Topping out on track to the Elandsberg viewpoint, from the first hillock, we were elated at the views across the plain all the way to the Cederberg. where we surveyed the dark inselbergs dotting the blonde grass This is the oldof the Springbok est part of the Flats. park, declared in 1986 as a scienNew challenge tific park. Today The Watervlei 4x4 Tankwa Karoo route starts at the National Park top of Gannaga Pass has expanded to in one of the newer 143 600 hectares Gazing across the Springbok Flats from the top of sections of the park. and has accepted the Elandsberg 4x4 Trail. Old farm tracks have visitors since 2007. The experience here is very different to been linked into a 25-kilometre trail that offers scenic thrills along the edge of the places such as Kruger and you can drive the Roggeveld escarpment and some tricky whole day and not see another vehicle. challenges for drivers that leave you wonA series of challenges took us straight up dering at the difficulty rating of just three. and down the pointy foothills of Leeuberg We set off early in our Isuzu KB300 like a desert rollercoaster. The almost vertidouble cab to beat the heat and found the cal descents took my breath away and I was temperature several degrees cooler than in glad I’d handed over the wheel of the Isuzu the Tankwa Basin below. The drive across to Garret so I could take photos. “Keep it the high plateau is dotted with bright flowslow in low range,” he advises readers. ers in spring. By summer, the grass waves Markers along the route have been set up silvery seed heads. After some clay patches by Honorary Rangers from the Boland and where vehicles had left deep gouges battling correspond to an informative leaflet availthrough in the wet, we reached the edge of able at reception. The only reason the steep the escarpment and peeped into Langkloof track doesn’t cause erosion, explained park Canyon. The Rhenoster River has carved manager Conrad Strauss later, is that there through the hard capping of Table Mountain is so little rain, just 30 millimetres a year in sandstone over aeons, exposing magnificent this part of the park, and the shale is quite rocky buttresses. We felt like eagles surveyresistant, provided there’s not too much ing the landscape below, where little trace of wheelspinning. This is where the driver’s human habitation remains apart from an old skill comes in. stone kraal. From the highest point of the route, From here, the route bumps between 360-degree views revealed the nearest peaks and over hard rock, staying close to the of Pramberg and Potklysberg to the south
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San rock art at
Extra adrenalin kicked inGame edging Pass Shelter down a particularly steep rocky Nature in Kamberg Reserve shows staircase with a sharp right turn an eland hunt. at the bottom. edge most of the time, often on bedrock. At times I had to get out and scout the route for Tankwa ranger Wallace Nasson, my codriver for the day, as the Honorary Rangers hadn’t yet marked it. Finally, we got to the point where the Langkloof Canyon opens out into the Tankwa Karoo Basin and stopped for lunch. The park office at Roodewerf below was no bigger than a piece of Lego and the occasional vehicles looked like ants amid the browns, greys and oranges of the arid landscape. The route continued along the edge of the escarpment, alternately traversing hard rocky ridges and grassy sections. I was out of the vehicle more than in it, guiding Wallace as he wrestled between and over mean rocks. Extra adrenalin kicked in edging down a particularly steep rocky staircase with a sharp right turn at the bottom. Miss it and your tyres are kissing fresh air hundreds of metres above the Tankwa Basin. It was with a sense of accomplishment that we reached the end of the route. We’d been where eagles dare and kestrels quarrel, with only eland for an audience. A very special kind of high.
SANParks Honorary rangers
Cost There is no charge for Leeuberg. Permits for Watervlei cost R150 a vehicle from park reception. contact Park 027-341-1927 or email@example.com www.wildcard.co.za
PICTURES: MARION Whitehead
The 17 km Leeuberg Eco Trail has a difficulty rating of 2.5 and starts near Varschfontein Cottage, about 42 km from park reception. The circular, 25 km Watervlei route is rated three and traverses the high plateau at the top of Gannaga Pass on the road to Middelpos. It takes about six hours to complete, with stops at viewpoints and to picnic, so an early start is advised. Collect maps at park reception. Both trails are one-way and require a 4x4 with low range.
Honorary Rangers offer a vital voluntary service in all SANParks’ national parks, supplementing scarce resources and skills, as well as fundraising for conservation. The Boland section has adopted Tankwa Karoo National Park and helps out in various capacities, from research and manning reception at busy times to mapping 4x4 trails and building picnic sites. For information about joining, visit www.sanparks.org AUTUMN 2013 WILD 85
PHOTO HOT SPOT
Ambling along the network of tracks at Albert Falls, you’ll be steeped in peace. At the same time, be prepared for the unexpected. By Philip and Ingrid van den Berg
Most visitors to the reserve are anglers, urprising as it may seem, the Notuli a great advantage because it leaves the Game Park at the Albert Falls Regame area open for photographers. No source Reserve, 20 kilometres from irritating traffic jams to share a sightPietermaritzburg, is world famous. ing. Within three hours of our last visit, Not because it is a mega park, nor because we had casually counted 40 bird speit has the Big Five. It doesn’t. It hit the spotlight because of an incident cies, mostly savanna dwellers, but also that illustrates why mountain bikers should water birds. This in spite of avoiding the people-crowded shoreline wear helmets. A reason to The savanna and reed beds where most take your camera with you at is beautiful and water birds hang out when all times and never to shun offers unique the anglers are absent. a seemingly unpretentious While the conditions in game park. With almost 15 opportunities the park are challenging for million hits, the YouTube for the wildlife wildlife photographers, the video shows a mountainphotographer. open savanna is beautiful bike race at the park taking and offers unique opportunities. Although an unexpected turn when a red hartebeest many animals are skittish, some are excharges a mountain-biker (see below). ceptionally tolerant of photographers with At Albert Falls there are no fences betheir intrusive lenses. In one morning we tween the game park and the visitors’ area, photographed giraffe, zebra, kudu, nyala, which means you can lie in bed and watch impala and vervet monkey, with a high impala graze, or you can go on an early success rate. What more does a photogragame drive in your pyjamas. You could pher want? even go mountain biking. Whether you Amazing moments in nature never take the route through the paperbark sarepeat themselves. It is therefore not survanna, where the unprecedented meeting prising that we never encountered Harry, was videoed, or along the track winding the famous red hartebeest that nailed the through thorn tree thickets, you may just mountain-biker. Nor were we intercepted take your own prize-winning shot. by any other wild animal. Instead we enDon’t give up when you can’t find the animals right away. There may not be lions, joyed a lovely morning photographing to our hearts’ content, to the sounds of birdbut who cares about predators if you can song and silence. get to see fearless man-attacking antelope?
Watch the video and read about the further escapades of Harry the hartebeest by typing “Harry hartebeest” in the search box on our website www.wildcard.co.za. 86 WILD AUTUMN 2013
A steppe buzzard scanning the savanna from its perch.
TRIP PLANNER Coming from Durban or Johannesburg along the N3, take the turnoff to Greytown when reaching Pietermaritzburg. Drive about 20 km towards Greytown and find the turn-off to Albert Falls on your left. Use your Wild Card to enter and drive along the shore road to the entrance of Notuli Game Park. Contact 033569-1202/3
• Use your own vehicle and leave restless companions behind. • Medium to long lenses are recommended for all wildlife. • Use a window support for long lenses. • When using a long lens, big aperture counteracts busy backgrounds. • For animal groups you need depth of field and smaller apertures. • For any subject on the water, bright sunshine is best. • For game, light overcast conditions are best. • Patience is required when photographing nesting weavers and bishops. Watch out for perches often used by the displaying males.
PHOTO SEASONS A huge section of the game area is picturesque paperbark-thorn tree savanna with grassland. In winter when the grass is short, the game is more visible but the environment lacks the vibrancy of summer.
In spring wildflowers offer opportunities for macro photography, while sprouting thorn trees and grasses offer a pleasing backdrop to landscape photographs. In summer and autumn the long grass may be a distraction, but summer is lambing and breeding season for antelope and birds, while in autumn the rutting season starts. When planning to photograph waterbirds, choose quiet days when visitors don’t crowd the water’s edge. It is possible to get close and position your vehicle to best advantage. 1. Burchell’s zebra 2. Village weaver 3. Giraffe 4. Southern red bishop
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Atmospheric nocturnal shots are easier to capture than you think. The most difficult part involves the times at which youâ€™ll be shooting, usually around midnight or in the early morning hours. By Hougaard Malan
CAPTURE the night sky
Vertorama of three landscape images combined into a single vertical image. Canon EOS 5D Mark II 20 seconds, f1.8, ISO6400, lens EF24â€‰mm f1.4L II USM 88 WILD AUTUMN 2013
apidly progressing camera technology has opened up the night skies to amateur photographers around the world. The camera’s light-gathering ability allows it to capture more detail in the stars than we can see with our eyes and getting the images is a lot easier than most people think. All you need is a DSLR with ISO3200 and a wide lens with an aperture of f2.8 to f4. And, of course, crystal clear night skies, which are in abundance in national parks and nature reserves across South Africa. To get the brightest stars you need to shoot at the darkest times, which is when
SHOOT LIKE A PRO the moon is at least a few days from being full. You also have to shoot when the moon is on the other side of our planet. The first step is finding a composition in daylight that is safely accessible and close to your chalet or campsite. Try to look for a tree or a striking rock and find the composition you want to shoot. Your composition will most likely have to be adapted according to how the Milky Way is lying in the sky. It always works well to have the Milky Way diagonally across the frame. Remember to shoot from as low as possible to get as much sky as you can. Repeat the process until you are happy!
The Easy Part Exposing for the sky 1 Set up your camera on a tripod and to manual mode, ramping up the ISO to 3200. 2 Open your lens as far as you can, f2.8 is ideal. 3 Set the shutter speed: 30 seconds for an ultra-wide lens (10 mm on aps-c cameras, 14–17 mm on full frame cameras) and 20 seconds for a wide lens (18 mm on aps-c cameras, 24 mm on full frame cameras). With longer lenses, you start picking up the rotation of the Earth if the exposure is too long and the stars start looking like rice grains. The longer the lens, the faster this effect sets in. To test this, put a long lens on, take a 30- second exposure and see how much rotation you get.
The Tricky Part Exposing for the foreground 1 Your foreground subject will be pitch black unless you paint the necessary detail into the tree or rock with a torch to get a balanced exposure against the night sky. This is very much a trial and error process. The trick is painting the tree evenly so that one part isn’t brighter than the rest. The light shouldn’t be too strong. If it is, focus the torch beam nice and wide so the light is softer. TRIAL and Error Left: The tree is totally dark. Middle: Using a torch to paint in detail. The light trail is caused by the torch being left on. Right: Success! Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 25 seconds, f2.8, ISO3200, lens EF16–35 mm L II USM
2 Never use an unfiltered LED torch, the light is too white and will make your camel thorn look like an African Christmas tree. Either use one of your old torches with a normal bulb or use any type of transparent orange plastic to filter the LED light. You can buy flash filters at the camera store, or just cut a piece of those transparent plastic document folders you get in any store’s stationery section. The orange contrasts very well with the white and blue tones of the Milky Way in the sky. Hougaard Malan takes a special interest in landscape photo graphy.
3 As with any photography, side lighting is always the best, so paint from the side and not from where you are shooting. This is where it gets tricky because you have to trigger the camera, then run around in the dark to paint the tree from the side. Then you have to get back down to your camera to see the result and improve on it. This process is a lot easier if you’re with another person. AUTUMN 2013 WILD 89
Comforts Birds are devoted to grooming. It’s
what they do most, after feeding and roosting. The reason? It’s crucial for their health. By Peter Ryan
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BEAUTY FIX A great egret spreads its feathers, which need careful tending to stay in shape.
John Conrad / Corbis / Greatstock
Preening The most obvious of these comfort beha viours is preening, where a bird uses its bill to groom its feathers and skin. Typically, the bill nibbles along the length of each feather from base to tip. This has several functions. First, it cleans feathers of dust and external parasites. Second, coupled with stretching and shaking, preening en sures feathers are aligned correctly. And thirdly, it repairs any breaks in a feather’s vane by reconnecting its inter-locking hooks, like sealing a zip-lock bag. In most birds, preening also serves to spread the oil from the uropygial or ‘preen’ glands over the feathers, skin, legs and bill. A preening bird repeatedly rubs its bill and head over these glands, located at the base of the tail. This coats the bill and head with a thin film of oil, which is then transferred to the rest of the body. Preen oil helps to maintain feather integrity and flexibility, as well as enhancing waterproofing. As a result, preen glands are well developed in most waterbirds. But not cormorants and darters, which have partially or fully wettable feathers to reduce their buoyancy when diving. Preen oil might also help to deter lice, mites and other feather parasites. Birds that have a large diversity of parasites tend to have large preen glands. In a few groups, such as hoopoes and wood-hoopoes, symbi otic bacteria live in the preen gland, making the preen oil particularly pungent. Their presence gives the oil anti-bacterial proper ties, which help slow feather degradation. They also make the birds distasteful to mam mals such as genets, which probably helps to www.wildcard.co.za
reduce the risk of predation while roosting in tree cavities. Dusting All birds have preen glands as chicks, but they cease functioning as birds develop in groups such as the ratites [walking birds – Ed.] and bustards. These birds typically use dust to help keep their feathers clean, although this behaviour is by no-means con fined to birds without preen glands. Dust ing is common in ground-dwelling birds, especially in arid areas where water is scarce, limiting the options to bathe. Among South ern African birds, it is particularly common in gamebirds, larks and sparrows. Dusting appears to help with feather care by dislodging ectoparasites and absorbing excess preen oil. Birds often visit favoured hollows to dust their plumage, squatting in the fine dirt while fluttering their wings and ruffling their feathers with actions similar to those used when bathing. A more sophisticated approach is to grow your own ‘dust’. Herons and some parrots have special powder down feathers that are unique in continuing to grow year round. The barbules of these feathers wear down at their tips, releasing fine, dust-like particles into the bird’s plumage that appear to serve the same function as dust-bathing. Anting Some birds supplement their preen gland secretions with other organic substances. The best known of these is obtained from ants, which are encouraged to secrete formic acid (ants from the subfamily Formicinae) or anal gland secretions (Dolichoderinae ants) onto the bird’s feathers. This is either done indirectly, by lying with wings and tail spread where ants are active and quiver ing to encourage them to ‘attack’ the bird, or directly, by rubbing ants over the flight feathers. In most instances of direct anting, the ants are discarded after being wiped over the plumage, but some birds do eat them. The purpose of anting remains largely speculative, but the ants’ secretions have
Preening repairs breaks in a feather's vane by reconnecting its inter-locking hooks, like sealing a ziplock bag.
o care for their plumage, birds undertake a range of activities. Feathers are dead structures that need constant attention to function effectively for flight and insulation. Birds replace their feathers regularly, but this is a costly process, so they spend consider able effort to ensure their feathers remain in good shape for as long as possible.
Submitting to allopreening is a way to ease social tensions among purple swamphens.
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Did you know? Herons have a special comblike toenail designed to rake through their feathers.
These young Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses are forming a pair bond through preening.
By fluttering its feathers this lesser sheathbill manages to wet the rest of its body.
insecticidal properties and so might help to reduce parasites. They might also help to dissolve accumulations of old preen oil. Ant ing is confined to the passerines [songbirds – Ed.], and sometimes involves animals other than ants, such as millipedes and cer tain caterpillars. It is rare in African birds, but has been recorded from some weavers, crows, drongos, starlings and waxbills.
panied by vigorous shaking and ruffling of the feathers, and typically is followed by a period of extended preening.
Scratching Birds can’t reach all parts of their bodies with their bills, so inaccessible parts such as the head, throat and bill are groomed with the feet in ritualised scratching behaviour. In the extreme case of the sword-billed hummingbird Ensifera ensifera, its bill is longer than its body, rendering it virtually useless for preening, so all grooming is done by the feet. When scratching their heads, some birds habitually lift their legs over their wings, so-called indirect or overwing scratching, whereas others habitually scratch directly, with the foot under the wing.
GURU Peter Ryan is associate professor at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.
Bathing Preening may occur at any time, but it is often associated with bathing. The actual process of bathing varies among birds, from wetting their bills while preening (for exam ple waders), through standing in water (rap tors, passerines), to swimming (cormorants, ducks, gulls and terns), and even plunging into the water from the air (swallows, swifts, kingfishers and gannets). Some birds also bathe in the rain, or use dew on leaves and other vegetation. Bathing usually is accom
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Sunning To care for their plumage, birds expose themselves to the heat of the sun on hot days, fluffing up their body feathers and spreading their wings. In vultures, this has been shown to help restore flight feathers to their original shape if they become stressed in flight. It might also help the flow of preen oil over the plumage, or encourage feather parasites to shift location into areas where they can be more readily removed by preen ing or scratching. Socialising From a human perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect of comfort beha viours is their use in social contexts. Birds often preen each other, recalling human couples canoodling. This allopreening does indeed serve to help establish and maintain pair bonds, or social cohesion among groupliving birds. It is concentrated on the head area, where birds can’t preen themselves with their bills. Birds also preen or stretch when threat ened, in so-called displacement activities. When conflicts arise, the situation can be defused by adopting a submissive pos ture that invites an aggressor to preen the subordinate bird. So next time you see a bird preening, check out the context. There might be more going on than simple feather care.
MAPUNGUBWE is calling
Take a journey through the past to a time when an ancient civilisation lived on Mapungubwe Hill. You’ll find giant baobabs and weathered sandstone cliffs; a timeless backdrop to the variety of big game. Delve into the history of the Golden Rhino at the interpretive centre, then enjoy the view from the restaurant. Go Wild.
New restaurant with great views Book your escape now! Accommodation from R885 per night for two people. Camping from R185 per night for two people.
New interpretive centre and restaurant Leokwe Camp • Limpopo Forest Tented Camp Mazhou Camping Site • Tshugulu Lodge Vhembe Wilderness Camp
Reservations (012) 428 9111 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
visit www.sanparks.org or www.sanparks.mobi
Woods WHeatcroft / Getty images / Gallo images
Around the campfire
As night falls in the camp, you see a different side of the bush, one bristling with alert creatures that use sound and sharpened sight to make their way around. By Emma Bryce
When day fades into dark, many creatures are drawn to the lights in the camp.
Tussock moth and caterpillar
Scorpions feed at night, using the firelight to catch the beetles, moths and other insects that gather there. Despite having several eyes, scorpions can’t see well, but they have tiny hairs on their pincers to help them sense movement. Moths use light sources like the moon to help them navigate, so firelight can confuse them. The insects might mistake a bright fire for the moon and end up flying in spirals
towards the light. Scientists still aren’t sure why they behave this way. Bats take advantage of the lights around a camp to target insects, like moths, that are drawn to the glare. They’ll swoop over the campsite, using sonar to find their prey. Bushbabies might peer out at you from the trees if you’re at a bush camp. Look out for their enormous orange eyes glinting in the firelight.
Bugs on the move When you toss wood on the campfire, look out for the woodborers, beetles and termites that come out to escape the heat. These insects often burrow into firewood – until they are smoked out.
ROGER DE LA HARPE / AFRICAIMAGRY.COM
Night music The night’s dark cloak means that sound becomes vital. Above the buzz of crickets, you might hear a male lion roar outside, a sound that can travel almost 10 km on a still night. Hyena put on a vocal show of long, eerie whoops that help them find each other. The call of a bushbaby sounds like a human baby crying. You might also hear the unmistakable, warbling call of the fierynecked nightjar. Listen carefully, can you hear any of these animals? www.wildcard.co.za
Scented evenings Some trees and plants around the campsite release special scents at night, designed to attract evening pollinators. One of these is the potato bush: in the twilight hours it smells just like freshly mashed potatoes!
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E x cl u sive c o mpetiti o n f o r wil d ca r d mem b e r s
a holiday at Karoo National Park
Enjoy a revitalising break in big sky country.
The rest camp at Karoo National Park offers peace and quiet in a spectacular setting.
he vast landscape of the Great Karoo unfolds in front of you, home to gemsbok, springbok, kudu and eland. It’s heaven for birders, with Ludwig’s bustard strutting across the plains and Verreaux’s eagle circling above the cliffs. Your first drive should be along the scenic Klipspringer Pass, for views deep into the heartland. Stop at the top of the pass and listen to the deep silence, punctuated only by birdsong. For those who enjoy travelling off the beaten track, the park offers two 4x4 eco trails.
How to enter A party of four will enjoy a two-night stay at Karoo National Park. For the chance to win, email the answer to the question along with your name and valid Wild Card number to email@example.com (subject line: Karoo). Question: What is the name of the mountain pass in Karoo National Park? Competition rules The competition is open to valid Wild Card members only. The prize is two nights’ accommodation in a family cottage, meals excluded. The prize is valid until 30 November 2013, excluding school holidays and public holidays. SANParks reserves the right to accept and award a booking at its sole discretion. Competition closes 15 May 2013. 96 WILD AUTUMN 2013
A NATIONAL PARK. A WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
A GAME RESERVE. ENJOY SWAZILAND
AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN
Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrated with world-class photogr...
Published on Feb 22, 2013
Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrated with world-class photogr...