Wild MEMBERS ONLY
ROBBERG • KGALAGADI • WHALE TRAIL • ANYSBERG • KRUGER 4X4 ROUTES • CARACAL • WATER PORTFOLIO • LANDSCAPE PICTURES • GOLDEN GATE HIKE
CARACAL THE SIGHTING EVERYONE WANTS TO TICK
PORTFOLIOS Watery wonders Get the perfect landscape shot OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
4X4 IN KRUGER (just you and the bush) RHEBOK TRAIL
GOLDEN GATE’S HIGHEST HIKE
FAMILY BIG 5 THRILLS 13 PLAYGROUNDS FOR YOUNG EXPLORERS
ISSN 1993-7903 01023
9 771993 790001
9 771993 790001
KGALAGADI WHO’S BUDDIES WITH MEERKATS?
MASTERS OF FLIGHT HOW THEY SOAR NEW RETREATS AT MARAKELE, AGULHAS
explore | conserve | enjoy
ENJOY EPIC BOULDERING IN THE CEDERBERG Rocklands, in the northern Cederberg, is the worldâ€™s premier bouldering destination. Here a timeless landscape of rugged rock invites outdoor adventurers to explore. Test your skills on the boulders, rope up for sport climbing or go for an invigorating walk. Then let the spectacular views and deep quiet of Rocklands wash over you.
Just over three hours from Cape Town, the newly reopened Kliphuis Camp on Pakhuis Pass puts you at the heart of the action. There are 14 well-shaded campsites along the river and three renovated cottages, all within reach of hundreds of first-rate boulders. Come experience natural thrills in this one-of-a-kind wilderness.
Book to stay at any self-catering accommodation or campsite before 30 September 2013 and receive a 20% discount. Terms and conditions apply. Rates advertised are off-peak rates.
The Easy P
EXPOS FOR THE S
Campsite: R200 (6 people per site) Cottages: R750 for 6 people per cottage per night (R80 per person additional, sleeps max 8) Permits: R60/day per person or R270/week per person Standard conservation fees apply. Free access for Wild Card members. Be responsible and put your fires out before retiring for the night. FOR BOOKINGS CALL 021 483 0190 / 0861 227 362 8873 | www.capenature.co.za firstname.lastname@example.org
“Soetanysberg alone harbours seven different heathland types. Proteas, ericas, daisy-type Asteraceae and restios abound.” ROMI BOOM PAGE 7
“This school holiday my family and I disappeared into the Little Karoo.” – BONGANI MGAYI
4 7 8 9 10 11 96
WILD BITES Letters Inside track Agulhas New Marakele hideaway Birding beat 2013 Wild Family Year Get the Wild Card Competition
PHOTOGRAPHY Hyenas at play Surprising swimming shots Landscape master class Capture breathtaking vistas
2 WILD SPRING 2013
PARKS 15 The Great Family Escape 16 Robberg sleepover View whales from this quaint fisherman’s cottage 22 Family trip to Anysberg Lots to do in the Little Karoo 28 My first safari Best game reserves for kids 34 Small fry on the Whale Trail SA’s top slackpacking route 39 Young explorers Start a journey of discovery at these parks
ADVENTURE 40 Weekend fun for all Pack your picnic hamper, grab your bike and go! 62 Kruger 4x4 trails Go off-road at Pretoriuskop and Satara 78 Hiking in Golden Gate Tackle the Rhebok Trail PEOPLE IN PARKS 88 West Coast community How the Duinepos chalets enrich lives
Wild SPRING 2013
82 NATURE 50 Miracle of water Awe-inspiring photos of this elemental force 68 Knob-thorn in spring A source of life
WILDLIFE 44 Elusive caracal Tracking down the Scarlet Pimpernel of the bush 60 Butterflies The season’s messengers 70 On the wing The secrets of flight 74 Kgalagadi commune Meerkats and ground squirrels KIDS 92 What’s in the hole? Animals of all sorts!
COVER IMAGE Caracal by Ignacio Palacios Gallo Images/Getty Images SPRING 2013 WILD 3
INSIDE TRACK WILD CARD PARTNERS
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
WILD CARD ENQUIRIES 0861 GO WILD (46 9453) email@example.com International Wild Card members call +27-12-428-9112 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 Bridgena Barnard, Emma Bryce, Harriet Burke, Trevor Carnaby, Peter Chadwick, Lizya-Beth du Plessis, Magda Farinha, Albert Froneman, Bongani Mgayi, Dale Morris, Joël Roerig, Peter Ryan, Karin Schermbrucker, Ron Swilling, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Steve and Ann Toon, Marion Whitehead, Steve Woodhall PHOTOGRAPHY/ART Africaimagery, Afripics, Bridgena & Johan Barnard, Harriet Burke, Romi Boom, Peter Chadwick, Marius Coetzee, Stephen Cunliffe, Aphelele Diniso, Morkel Erasmus, Magda Farinha, Albert & Marietjie Froneman, Greatstock/Corbis, Samantha Hartshorne, iStockphoto, Russell Maclaughlin, Jacques Marais, Wayne Matthews, Dale Morris, Tony Phelps, Scott Ramsay, Eric Reisinger, Marthinus & Lenore Retief, Joël Roerig, Daleen Roodt, Peter Ryan, Karin Schermbrucker, L. Shyamal, Paul Souders, Ron Swilling, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Steve & Ann Toon, Albie Venter, Riaan & Eileen Vermeulen, VMS Images, Marion Whitehead, Johan Wilke, Steve Woodhall
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 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 CTP PRINTERS CAPE TOWN
Wild® magazine and Wild Card® are registered trademarks of SANParks. Opinions expressed in this magazine do not reflect 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.
4 WILD SPRING 2013
FROM THE EDITOR
he Great Family Escape is our theme this spring. A holiday in nature is one of the world’s best classrooms. What can be more exciting than a family safari in a national park or nature reserve? Apart from big thrills, it also has plenty of life lessons, whether you put a premium on action, culture or wildlife. When you combine fact with fun, boredom simply is not an option. Planning a safari with children does pose challenges, but the formula for success is variety and flexibility. flexibility. Look beyond the Big Five! We’ve compiled a roundup of destinations and activities for teens and tots we know they’ll enjoy. Equally important, you’ll have downtime, too. The The season’s new life is celebrated with visual highlights: hyenas frolic, caracal stalk, meerkats befriend ground squirrels, and butterflies flies thrive on parched land. Our portrayal of exquisite watery scenes is especially relevant as Wild Card parks and reserves lead the way in protecting our water resources. A portfolio of stunning landscapes, with tips for shooting your own, is our special treat for photographers of all ages. For the time of your life, go natural, go wild!
evergreen EVERGREEN Wildisisprinted printed paper certifiby edthe byForest the Forest StewWild onon paper certified Stewardship TM (FSCTM), (FSC), a non-profit organisation ardshipTM Council a non-profi t organisation that Council that promotes TM promotes responsible management of TM forests. The responsible management of forests. The FSC label shows paper comes from trees harvested FSC label showscomes that the paper comes from trees that the paper from trees harvested from harWell Forests.and No natural forests are harmed and vested sustainably. No natural forests are harmed Managed Forests other controlled sources. wildlife and living in forests are are protected. wildlife andpeople people living in forests protected.
PEOPLE BEHIND THE STORIES
OTTER DELIGHT In preparation for the Otter Trail recently, I scoured the web for good photographs but was surprised to find very few special images. I therefore decided to lug my photographic equipment (6 kg of camera body, lenses and tripod) on the trail. Although I returned
with only a handful of keepers, I felt justified in taking the extra strain over the five days for a few good images. One of the unique opportunities was photographing a family of three otters in shallow water. Rob Smith, email
WINNING LETTER Rob Smith wins an Alder Springs soft shell (R799) from Hi-Tec. Send us your letter for the chance to win a great prize.
The expert behind Wild’s birding features is associate professor Peter Ryan of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Peter has birded on all seven continents and conducts much of his research at subantarctic islands and Tristan da Cunha. His research interests include the evolutionary ecology of birds. For this issue, he writes about the adaptations that enable flight (page 70).
This lightweight breathable jacket is ideal for spring’s in-between weather. It has two roomy zippered side pockets and an adjustable hem draw cord.
WILD PARKS THE BEST
SCORING A SIX In June I spent two days in Kruger and was lucky enough to spot all the birds mentioned in your article “Meet Kruger’s Big Six” (Winter 2013). But the best were our numerous sightings of groups of ground hornbills. How exciting! Astrid Meng Read Astrid’s full report on www.wildcard.co.za. Type ‘Big Six’ into the search box. – Ed. www.wildcard.co.za
Thank you for our winter issue of Wild that arrived in the mail today. Having a Wild Card makes it possible to visit our beautiful country’s national parks and reserves without breaking the bank! We have been fortunate enough to visit the Kruger National Park 12 times. It’s my husband’s favourite park. Each time we have had new experiences of animal behaviour that we’d never seen before. We’ve also been to Addo Elephant National Park, Augrabies Falls, Gou kamma Nature Reserve and Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland, plus spur-of-the-moment Sunday drives to Silvermine, Cape Point, West Coast and Walker Bay. Our travels encouraged our daughter to become a nature conservationist. Shahnaz Howa, Cape Town
Daleen Roodt is a botanical artist who uses watercolour, oil and etching to make her detailed artworks. She has created scientific illustrations for the South African National Biodiversity Institute and in 2010 won a bronze medal at the Kirstenbosch Biennale. See her exquisite illustrations of the knob-thorn tree on page 68. They show some of the often overlooked creatures whose lives are intertwined with the tree. SPRING 2013 WILD 5
INSIDE TRACK LETTERS
The winter issue of Wild is a most enjoyable read and so well compiled that you can immediately start planning your next trip. This is a magazine that will go onto the shelf for reference purposes. Johan Nicol, Wilderness
Ek het pas my winteruitgawe ontvang en soos al die voriges is dit vol pragtige leesstof, goed geskryf, gebalanseerd en baie aanskoulik! Ek geniet elke uitgawe van hoek tot kant. Chris Kapp, e-pos
Where’s the wildest place you’ve camped? Pauline Matt: In Kruger, on the banks of the Olifants River while on the Olifants Trail.
Nico van der Westhuizen: Lebombo Eco-Trail in Kruger, ongelooflike ervaring.
Our Facebook fans loved this picture by Peet van Schalkwyk. He photographed the pack of banded mongoose in the Kruger National Park, about 20 kilometres south of Skukuza. Don’t they look inquisitive!
CARIBBEAN FAN Wild magazine has so much to read, I would like to come to South Africa again to explore nature. It is always a long trip from Trinidad, but well worth it. I hope to go to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for the first time this year. This is one of my images taken near Satara in Kruger in February 2013. Fred Hoogervorst, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
WILD COMES ALIVE ONLINE
Learn how to make the most of your trips to the great outdoors. This season we have spring flowers and new arrivals on our mind.
Tiny but not timid at all. These serval kittens posed near Balule in Kruger. See more images on our website.
Won’t have a chance to see the wild flowers? Visit our gallery for floral photos that will charm and delight. WEST COAST BIRDING
YOUR BEST FLOWER BOOK 6 WILD SPRING 2013
The next time you head out into the field, make sure you have an excellent flower guide. We review a range of field guides online.
Langebaan Lagoon is a magnet for migrant shorebirds that arrive in late spring. Find out what the hides in the park have to offer.
A C C O M M O DAT I O N
In the heart of Agulhas National Park, truly isolated and remote, Rietfontein Guest Cottages wait to be discovered. By Romi Boom
A FEAST OF FYNBOS Pink everlastings flourish on the rocky sandstone flats of Agulhas.
Agulhas National Park lies just under 200 km from Cape Town.
RESERVATIONS R615 a night for 1–2 people until 31 October 2013. Book with the park on 028-435-6222.
flamboyant Cape sugarbird male ignores my presence and lands with aplomb on a bright orange pincushion. I’m a lone witness to the blissful sucking of nectar from this jewel of the veld. What gorgeous creatures! Having quenched his thirst, the sugarbird flits off. A few seconds later a female arrives. She is drab but equally comfortable in my company. I get a few shots of the thirsty bird with the Rietfontein farmstead in the background. An ancient stone ring wall is all that separates the accommodation from the splendour of protea and heath shrubland. Rietfontein, one of the original and oldest Strandveld farms, is situated 63 km from the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse. A stock post was established here in the late 1700s, against the southern slope of Soetanysberg, from which the coast can be viewed. The historic homestead was built as a “langhuis” (long house) and has been carefully reconstructed after its destruction by veld fires. It offers
the best of both worlds: modern comforts and a far-off retreat from the hustle and bustle of civilisation. The Langhuis’ three two-bed units, each with its own bathroom, kitchen and braai facilities, are cosy and homely. The old barn houses another twobed unit and a function room, making the venue ideal for small groups. The plant diversity in this part of the park is amazing. The Agulhas Plain has some of the largest surviving lowland heathland and renosterveld in the country. Soetanysberg alone harbours seven different heathland types on its slopes and ridge. Proteas, ericas, daisy-type Asteraceae and restios abound. From Rietfontein to the coast is a short 4 km hike or drive past inland saltpans and freshwater wetlands. Near one of these, I enjoyed a memorable sighting of a black harrier in flight with a small snake that it had caught moments before. It had me in raptures, just one more highlight in a weekend of glorious solitude.
A C C O M M O DAT I O N
Marakele National Park has new accommodation for families who want to unwind away from it all.
Marakele National Park lies around 250â€‰km from Johannesburg.
or wildlife fans with young children, Marakele National Park is a welcome destination. It takes around three-and-a-half hours from Gauteng, a short enough trip with little ones and convenient for a weekend escape. The park also falls outside the malaria area! With the opening of Motswere Guest Cottage, families now have a spacious home-away-from-home in which to stay. The converted farmhouse sleeps eight people in four bedrooms. Crisp white linen, soft couches and modern appliances make for a comfortable stay. There is a fully equipped kitchen, but you may well prefer to braai as the garden has a splendid view of the Waterberg. The area around the cot-
RATES R1â€‰595 base rate for one to four people, R186 an extra adult, R93 an extra child. CONTACT Central Reservations 012-428-9111 8 WILD SPRING 2013
The cute elephant shrew, one of the Little Five.
tage is fenced so kids are free to run around. Motswere, the Tswana name for the leadwood tree, lies off the beaten track and you need a 4x4 or high-clearance vehicle to get there. Since the cottage is removed from the main camps, a stay here gives you the chance to really recharge your batteries. A visit to Marakele should definitely include a drive to the towers at the top of the Waterberg Massif for a view of the Cape vulture colony. When the vultures ride the thermals it is like watching a team of fighter pilots perform an aerial display. The best game viewing is in the Kwaggasvlakte area, where a hide at Bollonoto Dam offers closer looks at wildlife and birds.
The magnificent Waterberg
B I R D I N G B E AT
FRIENDS Spring is in the air and the migrant birds are returning. It’s your chance to add some new ticks to your lifelist. By Albert Froneman A European roller tucks into a tiny scorpion.
hile September heralds longer days and warmer weather in Southern Africa, it’s a sign for northern hemisphere birds to make their escape. When autumn sets in up north, numerous species undertake the remarkable long journey to the south, ranging from the tiny willow warbler to the much larger white stork. It can take up to six weeks and they typically arrive in Southern Africa during late spring or early summer. To ornithologists these longdistance migrant birds that breed in Europe and over-winter in sub-Saharan Africa are collectively known as Afro-Palearctic migrants. (There are also birds that come to Southern Africa for the summer from elsewhere in Africa. These are known as intra-African migrants.)
SPOT SPRING VISITORS AND WIN! www.wildcard.co.za www.wildcard.co.za
I have often witnessed the seemingly overnight arrival of colourful European rollers in the Kruger National Park. The first few make their appearance during late October and by early November they are almost everywhere. Lesser kestrels and amur falcons are two of my favourite small raptor species and I always enjoy seeing them hunting over the highveld grasslands and in the Karoo during the summer months. They too arrive during late October, but their numbers peak during January and February. The waders which almost take over the vast mudflats of the West Coast National Park during the late spring and summer months are indeed a sight to see. Many birdwatchers flock there, too, in search of a rarity amongst the thousands of birds of more common species.
Every time I see them I am fascinated by their ability to travel such vast distances. Most breed in excess of 15 000 km away in the northern parts of Europe and Asia. Long-term studies conducted in Europe have highlighted an alarming 40 per cent decrease in population trends of Afro-Palearctic species. They face a combination of threats ranging from habitat degradation where they breed, hunting activities in northern Africa and southern Europe, and reduced survival in sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change may also have a severely harmful impact as it can upset the timing of migration. Wherever you go bird watching this spring, be on the lookout for the Afro-Palearctic migrants and spare a special thought for the vast distances they travel twice a year.
Send us your first sighting of the season’s migrants and stand to win a birding calendar. SMS Migrant: type of bird, location, date, time and your Wild Card number to 33929 or email email@example.com (subject line: Migrant). Closing date: 30 November 2013. It costs R1.50 an SMS. Three winners will be selected by lucky draw. SPRING 2013 WILD 9
WILD FAMILY YEAR
In the Tokai section of Table Mountain National Park you can go for a forest walk.
Spring is fresh and crisp, with green shoots everywhere. Time to take your own young sprouts into the wilds. A Family Wild Card is your clan’s passport to all our national parks and dozens of nature reserves, so pack the essentials and some treats, then head out.
P 3 TO G SPRIN S
1 2 3 UIT PURS
Discover the joys of wildflowers
TUNE INTO BUSH SOUNDS
Seek out the forest
10 WILD SPRING 2013
Get lost in patches of colour. The best place to spot some of South Africa’s 19 000 different wildflower species is in veld preserved from overgrazing or disturbance, such as in national parks and nature reserves. If you’ve missed out on the floral carpets of Namaqualand’s annual display, don’t despair. You can catch the show elsewhere. In the Drakensberg, grassland wildflowers
bloom from early summer onwards. More than 10 000 species occur in grasslands and savannas. Look for agapanthus, pelargoniums, geraniums, gladioli and arum lilies. In Kruger’s Lowveld savanna, you’ll find members of the daisy family. The high grasslands of Golden Gate Highlands National Park are especially rewarding, with alpine wildflowers, everlastings, bellflowers and wild violets.
Have hours of nature-related fun with Sounds of the African Bush, a new CD and book by Doug Newman and Gordon King (Struik Nature, R90). It features 76 animal calls plus numerous birds, full-colour photographs, maps and species descriptions, as well as various nature-watching tips. For a chance to win this book and other children’s nature titles, visit www.wildcard.co.za and click on the Competitions tab.
Get to know enchanted forests by wandering under shaded canopies along secret paths. Kids of all ages are guaranteed to fall under the magical spell of the Afromontane forests of Garden Route National Park. The Tsitsikamma section of the park has several half-anhour routes. With older children, explore one of the routes
along the forested slopes of Table Mountain National Park. Remember to look out for waterfalls following the winter rains. In coastal dune forests such as Goukamma, you may be lucky with a chance sighting of forest antelope, perhaps blue, red and grey duiker or bushbuck. While you’re ambling along, try to identify trees and butterflies.
Family Year 2013
Go Wild! Join the
club JOHAN WILKE
Join our community today
Wild Card® members are passionate about our protected areas. To enjoy a year’s access to the Wild Card parks and reserves, plus receive your complimentary copies of WildTM magazine, purchase your Wild Card now. ALL PARKS CLUSTER
Individual R360 Couple* R595 Family* R745
Individual R345 Couple* R570 Family* R680
Individual R310 Couple* R505 Family* R600
EKZN WILDLIFE CLUSTER
SWAZILAND BIG GAME PARKS CLUSTER
Individual R345 Couple* R570 Family* R680
Individual R325 Couple* R535 Family* R640
Individual R285 Couple* R460 Family* R560
NEW MEMBERS Update your postal details online to get your Wild Card and magazine in the post.
ALL PARKS CLUSTER: Individual R1 400 | Couple* R2 330 Family* R2 785 *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 UNTIL 31 OCTOBER 2013
SPRING 2013 WILD 11
FUN A smallish dam in the Sabi Sands
area of the Greater Kruger National Park turned out to be the setting for an impromptu game of water polo. Magda Farinha witnessed the rough and tumble.
12 WILD SPRING 2013
It was winter, and the early morning light quite dull. We were following a clan of hyenas, thinking they were probably thirsty. Arriving at the dam, all eight plunged into the water. One of them broke off a stick and started fooling around with it. The next moment another hyena dived down and pulled out a tuft of grass. The others tried to wrest this toy from
him, dunking him under the water. Their next move was to scramble to the edge of the dam, dash around a tree and dive right back into the water. This game went on and on, it was incredible. Thirty minutes and more than 500 photos later, they all stormed out of the water and disappeared into the bush.
PICTURE INFO NIKON D4 | 300 MM F2.8 1/1 600 SEC | F4 | ISO 2 500
SPRING 2013 WILD 13
A picnic at the waterâ€™s edge, campfire stories and sleeping under a starry sky ... this is the stuff of family memories. Add more special moments to your tribeâ€™s history with our guide to the best parks for kids.
Robberg Where seals and whales put on a show Whale Trail A multi-day hike youngsters will love
Anysberg Take time out to bond in the Little Karoo Young explorers Let them loose in these familyfriendly parks
Y MIL YEA
Story time in the Tsitsikamma Section of Garden Route National Park
On safari Make their first trip to the wilds unforgettable Adventure Nature is the best playground of them all
SPRING 2013 WILD 15
Y MIL YEA
Sightings of dolphins, whales, seals and a great white shark ensured the
WHALE OF A
Robberg Nature Reserve lies just under six hours’ drive from Cape Town. 16 WILD SPRING 2013
IGHT KILOMETRES OUT OF PLETTENBERG BAY IN THE WESTERN CAPE, a pretty peninsula called Robberg points like a finger for 3,5 kilometres out into the Indian Ocean. It’s a nature reserve, a marine protected area and also a cultural heritage site due to the presence of prehistoric shell middens and Strandloper caves. CapeNature is the custodian of this remarkable little reserve, maintaining some 15 kilometres of hiking trails, many wooden walkways, lovely secluded beaches, a converted fisherman’s shack, viewing decks and braai areas. That’s merely the public facilities. The conservation obligations consist of the protection of rare succulent and fynbos habitats, a marine reserve that extends for one nautical mile all around the peninsula and, of course, the 3 500-plus seals that call this place their home. On the western flanks waves pound like fists against jagged cliffs, while on the eastern side the sea is subdued and calm, shadowed by the protective buttress that is Robberg Peninsula. It’s like yin to yang or chalk and cheese. One side is wild, the other is chilled. >
kids were in heaven after a sleepover at Fountain Shack, the fisherman’s cottage on Robberg Peninsula’s wild and windy side. By Dale Morris
A SHORE THING Fountain Shack looks out onto white-capped breakers and jagged rocks.
Y MIL YEA
Southern right, humpback and Bryde’s whales like to hang out in the marine reserve component, as do dolphins, seagulls, seals and sharks. Keep an eye out for otters scurrying among the rock pools. The hiking on Robberg is superb, and the fishing is too, I’ve been told, but you must remember to bring your own bait, because collecting it there is illegal. To stand atop the Robberg escarpment and peer down upon dozens of dolphins surfing in the surge is always a lovely sight. To be there with a whale or two thrown in for good measure, is nothing short of awesome. Those blessed with serious luck may even catch a glimpse of a great white shark as it patrols in search of seals. That’s precisely what I saw when I last visited. “Doesn’t bode well for tomorrow’s snorkel session with the seals,” muttered Don, one of the friends who had joined me on this trip. My two kids, four and seven, were jumping up and down with excitement as the big carnivorous fish slowly swam on by. “Won’t we look a little like an injured seal in our wetsuits?” said Don. He had a point, but I was still looking forward to the experience and, besides, the Plett-based Offshore Adventures company has been taking visitors to swim with the seals of Robberg for nigh on two years. So far, no one has been nibbled. “No need to worry,” I said, only half believing my own words. “I’m sure a shark would rather eat a seal than a wrinkly old bit of leather like us.” That night we stayed in the basic but beautifully situated Fountain Shack, a historical and recently restored fisherman’s cottage that overlooks a craggy island on the 18 WILD SPRING 2013
peninsula’s wild and windy side. There isn’t much there, which is the appeal of the place. Provided you don’t mind carrying in your own bedding and taking cold showers, when water is available, it is one of the most stunning ‘lodges’ in the whole of South Africa. A modest deck and braai area overlooks a scene of crashing waves and misty cliffs where cormorants gather and whales leap like overweight ballet dancers. It’s a fantastic base from which to explore the peninsula’s looping trails and coastal paths.
Although CapeNature has done a superb job in maintaining the routes, many of which have been cut into sheer cliffs and along difficult terrain, there are still some sections that are a little too precarious for very young children or those who doubt their fitness or balance. However, despite having my family along, we managed to safely circumnavigate the peninsula and enjoy more or less all it has to offer. We ascended steep sand dunes and wound our way through milkwood groves, rock hopped along stony bays and peered over cliffs to watch seals at play below. We also visited a Strandloper cave where piles of shells lay in testimony of our ancestors and sat on the rocky point and watched huge waves offering a challenge to a trio of humpback whales. It was magic. If you aren’t up to the challenge of a rigorous hike, will you forever be denied the joys of visiting such a beautiful little nature reserve as this? Fortunately not, for although there’s no way of getting a car onto Robberg, there’s still plenty of scope to see it by sea. There are a number of >
Snorkelling with seals is one of the thrilling activities that can be done at Robberg.
1. Boat-based tours offer a closer look at Robberg’s 3 500plus seals. 2. On a calm day, why not explore the peninsula by kayak? 3. The secluded beaches must rank among South Africa’s most beautiful holiday spots.
“I’m sure a shark would rather eat a seal than a wrinkly old bit of leather like us.” 2
SPRING 2013 WILD 19
Y MIL YEA
oceanic operators in Plettenberg Bay, and all of them boast a visit to the peninsula as part of their itineraries. You can jump aboard a whalewatching vessel and go meet the leviathans of the ocean or you can get into a kayak and mingle with both the resident seals and the pods of dolphins that are commonly encountered. But the best treat must surely be to don a mask and flippers and then slip into the water with thousands of curious seals. They do not swim away when you enter their realm, but rather come close to see what you are, and perhaps to play a while. On the morning of our scheduled seal dive, an unexpected berg wind blew in from the east and turned the usually placid waters of Plettenberg Bay into a herd of white horses. We paused a while on a wooden deck overlooking the bay and, once again, a seven-foot spectre of a shark glided by beneath the choppy surface. “Looks like the seal snorkel will have to be cancelled because of the weather,” said Don, looking not altogether disappointed. “Suppose so,” I agreed. “Maybe next time.” As we swore to come back, the graceful shark swam away. Learn about Robberg’s inhabitants during the Middle and Late Stone Age at Nelson Bay Cave.
Fountain Shack is a rustic hide away where kids don’t have to be on their best behaviour.
Ocean Tours offer boat-based whale watching and kayaking trips. 044-533-5083, www.oceanadventures.co.za Seal snorkelling (ages six and up) is limited to half an hour in the water so as not to disturb the seals too much. Although sharks have never come near snorkellers along Robberg, an electrical shark deterrent is put into the water for extra safety. 082 829 0809, www.offshoreadventures.co.za
On the Robberg Peninsula you can still find deserted beaches.
Explore the peninsula’s looping trails and coastal paths.
TRIP PLANNER The Robberg Peninsula is about 8 km south of Plettenberg Bay, on the Garden Route. Follow the airport road from town and look for the turn-off to the left. The Robberg Info Centre teaches young explorers about whales, dolphins, the seal colony and seagull nursery. The hikes are suitable for all ages, ideally over four or five years. For a glimpse of life in the Stone Ages, it’s a 20-minute walk to Nelson Bay Cave. BOOKINGS 021-483-0190, firstname.lastname@example.org www.wildcard.co.za
Whales are a common sight around Robberg Peninsula during winter and spring. SPRING 2013 WILD 21
Y MIL YEA
1. Ntando Mgayi smiles for the camera as the rest of the crew drink from a mountain stream. 2. The kids gather to celebrate mom Pamâ€™s birthday. From left are Lihle, Ntando, Lungi, Cumi and Unathi. 3. The author enjoys the quiet. 4. Ranger Nkosinathi Moyo leads the kids through the veld. 5. The way to paradise.
The Karoo has a way of slowing down your pace.
22 WILD SPRING 2013
THRILLS A family escape to Anysberg in the Little Karoo is a chance to reconnect with nature and each other. By Bongani Mgayi
SPRING 2013 WILD 23
Y MIL YEA
HIS SCHOOL reserve’s bush camera traps, our eyes HOLIDAY MY were committed to spotting one. But FAMILY AND I this was not to be the day. DISAPPEARED Nkosinathi did have another prize into the Little Karoo, for us, however. The bakkie took us far away from the as far as it could into the gorge and lights of the city, submitting ourfrom there we jumped off to see selves to the mountains, veld and some rock paintings. Once the kids wild things of Anysberg Nature got over the excitement of a dassie Reserve. We arrived at twilight, the fleeing up the rocks, it was time to old symbol of the Karoo, the windinspect these rare paintings. Looking mill, ushering us in as we swung at the rock art made the experience open the main gate real for the kids, that One of my into the reserve. A people actually walked favourite things and lived here. curious jackal and a was that there herd of kudu joined there we traced was no cellphone theFrom the welcome party, route of the stream reception. immediately lifting the flowing down the gorge. spirits of my kids after the four-hour The kids were determined to find drive from Cape Town. the source of the water they drank There is much to do for adults in our cottage. Three-year-old and children alike, but don’t bother Lungi, kneeling over the water bank to keep a to-do list as the Karoo has to slurp water from his tiny hands, a way of slowing down your pace. was priceless. Right there he was A few hours there and you will find inducted into the bush. yourself easily ambling from one Back at the camp we got ready thing to the other. For a few days we for a bit of horse riding. There had the whole reserve to ourselves, were mixed feelings of excitement, lots of veld to cross and lots of kopnervousness and the appeal of compies to climb. manding a horse. The mounts Bejan Mid-morning we left for Land se and Zoe patiently tolerated the kids Kloof with the intention to get an getting on and off, exchanging places elevated view of the reserve and to on their backs. Our next venture see the waterfall. We began this trip was to see the dam and go kayaking. in the back of a 4x4 bakkie, driven by We picked up mountain bikes at the the reserve’s field rangers, Nkosinathi reserve office and pedalled our way Moyo and Ishmael Wambi. The kids down the rocky road, including a enjoyed the bumpy ride, which made bit of bundu bashing through some them imagine how previous generathickets. From the dam we had a tions travelled on ox wagon through panoramic view of the reserve. the valleys of the Karoo. Along this What were the kids’ favourite route we saw some proteas and things at Anysberg? For Cumi (6) watched the vegetation switch from it was the horse riding, long walks, Karoo veld to mountain fynbos. bakkie ride and drinking from the We were secretly hoping to come river. Unathi (8) said the horse ridacross the coy Cape leopard. Though ing, mountain biking and soft beds. our field rangers mentioned they had Ntando (10) liked the horse riding spotted a leopard only through the and mountain biking, while for Lihle >
24 WILD SPRING 2013
Renosterbos, apparently so called because black rhino fed on it when they were still found in the Cape.
1. The reserve has mountain bikes for hire. 2. Kayaking on the dam is an adventure. 3. Investigating rock art. 4. Vrede (‘peace’) is an appropriate name for the rest camp. 5. Field rangers Ishmail Wambi and Nkosinathi Moyo were a hit with the kids. 6. The VW Caravelle transported the family in comfort.
We had the whole reserve to ourselves, lots of veld to cross and lots of koppies to climb.
4 5 6
(12) it was the horse riding, river, mountains, walks and the cottage we stayed in. One of my favourite things was that there was no cellphone reception. Though this was a shock to my system at first, days without being able to make or receive phone calls proved to be just what I needed to clear the mind and rejuvenate the body. In his inaugural address, president Lyndon Baines Johnson said this about America: “It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge.” He could have been describing Anysberg. Leaving this place we felt there was still plenty to see and do. We were sent on our way by two red hartebeest, browsing a stone’s throw away from our cottage. Ntando spotted them as we were getting into the vehicle. Now and again they lifted up their heads to look at us, almost to say, “This is what you could see if you stayed longer.” But our time was over. We decided to take the road towards Montagu and the R62 as our route leaving the reserve. The deserted dirt road, meandering up and down the pass, made us feel like we were runaways, heading for the bright lights through the back streets.
Bongani and his family travelled to Anysberg in a VW Caravelle, made available by Unitrans. Unite Against Poaching, the company’s joint initiative with the SANParks Honorary Rangers, pledges R500 to combat rhino poaching for every VW sold. For more information, go to www.uniteagainstpoaching.com 26 WILD SPRING 2013
It was just what I needed to clear the mind and rejuvenate the body.
Anysberg Nature Reserve is a fourhour drive from Cape Town.
TRIP PLANNER Anysberg lies in the Little Karoo between Montagu, Touws River, Ladismith and Laingsburg. Remember to fill up with petrol in one of these towns as the reserve is “in the middle of nowhere”.
It’s a proper holiday when Mom also has time to unwind. Pam Mgayi has lots to smile about.
ACCOMMODATION There are shaded camping and caravan sites on the lawn near the office at Vrede. These are due to re-open at the end of November. Five small, fully equipped cottages sleep between two and six people. At Tapfontein there are four two-bed rustic units; the site is booked in its entirety. ACTIVITIES Kayaks and mountain bikes can be hired from the camp office at a nominal fee. Horse lovers can choose between a two-hour outride or the two-day Planet Trek horse trail (minimum four people). CONTACT 021-483-0190, reservation.alert@ capenature.co.za
PHOTOS: EILEEN & RIAAN VERMEULEN
Y MIL YEA
â€œIt is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge.â€? American president Lyndon Johnson could have been describing Anysberg.
LAND SE KLOOF One of the ruggedly beautiful areas visitors can explore on foot.
Y MIL YEA
Little Aphelele Diniso poses in front of the gemsbok statue at Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS Aphelele takes a picture during his first visit to a national park.
“I am in the Kalahari,
I am in the
A CHILD’S FIRST-EVER VISIT TO A GAME PARK WILL BECOME A LIFETIME’S MEMORY.
SAFARI As promised, when he turned five, wildlife photographers Bridgena and Johan Barnard took Aphelele Diniso, the son of one of their employees, to the Kgalagadi. Bridgena shares their experiences.
EING PART OF A HOUSEHOLD WHERE someone is either on a safari, planning the next trip or processing nature photographs, Aphelele was able to identify most wild animals before the age of three. Every time we started packing the vehicle for a trip to the parks, he would ask to join us. We promised that when he turned five he could. Building up to the day, he reminded us of our promise and we started showing him how to take photographs with one of our extra cameras. Arriving at Twee Rivieren, he immediately recognised the camp from
our photographs and jumped up and down shouting: “I am in the Kalahari, I am in the Kalahari!” Anticipation was at an all-time high for this fiveyear-old. Our first game drives were all about making the connection between animals in photographs and wildlife DVDs and the real thing. The long horns of gemsbok amazed him, jackal reminded him of our neighbour’s dog, lionesses were prettier than the males and cheetahs playing on red dunes were super cool. At lunchtime we stopped for a picnic at Melkvlei and gave Aphelele the opportunity to play in the sand and > SPRING 2013 WILD 29
Y MIL YEA
GAME PLAN APHELELE’S PHOTOS
Five-year-old Aphelele took these pictures when he visited the Kgalagadi.
With a very big sigh he announced he was now sick of photography. get rid of the pent-up energy that comes from sitting in a vehicle waiting for action. With his own camera and small beanbag he joined in our fun. This activity was a lifesaver for all of us. He was occupied and in his element! Digital technology made his learning curve a breeze. Every time after taking a photo, he would look at the screen of the camera to make sure it was a good one. Small things amazed him and we had to stop at every bird he spotted using his own pair of binoculars. He would then identify the bird by searching for it on the iPad. Playing the sound of the bird was a highlight. During our game drives, 30 WILD SPRING 2013
sightings were plentiful: lions with playful cubs, jackal, cheetah, leo pard, hyena and all the antelope. On hot afternoons, with little animal activity, songs, poems and colouring books entertained him. Evenings around the campfire we spent identifying night sounds: barn owls, jackals and even Cape foxes entering the circle of light. With his head torch Aphelele searched for scorpions running about. He was exhausted by the time he went to bed. The day before our departure we could see he was beginning to miss his mom and home. With a very big sigh he announced he was now sick of photography. When
we replied we were going to pack up the camping gear and head home, he was relieved. On our last drive, we had just gone past Samevloeiing when he jumped up and shouted to stop the vehicle. We stopped and scanned the veld but couldn’t see anything. “Reverse!” he exclaimed. We quickly did so and then saw a tortoise on the side of the road. Aphelele’s school had a tortoise, but he never knew they are wild animals. It was Aphelele’s interest in the little things that reaffirmed the wonder of nature for us. If only everyone could see the wilds through the eyes of a child.
Skukuza has a village atmosphere, perfect for kids.
Top game parks FOR FAMILIES
Youngsters check out a sausage tree, one of Letaba’s interesting sights.
Want to introduce your little ones to the wilds? These delightful places will make for a family holiday to remember. By Lizya-Beth du Plessis SAMANTHA HARTSHORNE
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, NEAR HAZYVIEW
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, NEAR PHALABORWA
The sound of the Sabie River running past this camp in the south of Kruger will reassure you that a relaxing holiday awaits, but that does not mean it will be boring for the kids. Although Skukuza lies in the heart of Big Five country, you and your children will be happy to know about the availability of shops, two swimming pools, a golf course, a doctor, and Internet access at the café deli. For adventurous spirits, the park offers game drives for children older than six. Be sure to keep an eye out for the tiny fruit bat, thick-tailed bush baby, cheeky warthog, spotted hyena and purple-crested turaco on your wilderness adventure.
Quietly, nearly tiptoeing along the Letaba or the ‘River of Sand’, the massive beast is nothing short of awe-inspiring. How can something so large make no noise whatsoever? The elephant is but one of the regular visitors you will encounter around this beautiful rest camp. For youngsters who want to get a closer look, there is the Letaba Elephant Hall. At this fascinating museum, your kids will love learning about elephant research, behaviour and ecology. When the sun sets, put on your headlamps for a thrilling night drive (ages six and up). You might just hear the roar of a lion that will silence the night. >
SPRING 2013 WILD 31
Y MIL YEA
TWEE RIVIEREN Get ready to head off into an eternity of grasses and dunes that will transport you straight to the wild world of gemsbok, springbok and eland. It can get hot in the Kalahari Desert, so it’s a good thing this camp has a swimming pool and air-conditioned chalets. When nature calls, there is nothing better than a guided morning walk (ages 12 and up) or a night drive (six and older). It is possible to take younger kids along on a guided drive if you book out the entire safari vehicle (minimum four adults required, kids pay half price).
MOKALA NATIONAL PARK NEAR KIMBERLEY
The rolling hills and endless plains of this national park may trick passersby into thinking that Mokala is simply a tranquil retreat. But nature lovers who choose to make this park their family holiday spot are in for a fun time. If you are staying at Lilydale Rest Camp, your family may enjoy paddling on the Riet River (ages 12 and up, availability depends on river conditions). Relax over lunch at Mosu Restaurant or have a wild time at the Matopi picnic area. A nice dip in the swimming pool to cool down, and a warm crackling fire to share stories of your adventures will delightfully wrap up your day.
5TIPS FOR TRAVEL
WITH KIDS Holidaying by car with a gang of road warriors? Games, gizmos and fun will keep the peace.
HOMEWORK. Involve young travellers in putting together your itinerary. Get them to do research about your intended destination or let them help decide where to go next. INTERESTS. If your child loves swimming, make sure there’s a pool in the rest camp. Don’t pack those swimsuits too far away so you can also stop en route at a river or beach. If they’re into photography, let them take pictures from the moving vehicle.
A game drive in Ithala
ITHALA GAME RESERVE NEAR VRYHEID
COMFORTS. Make room for blankets, pillows and playthings in the car. Each child should have a separate backpack with their own stuff.
Imagine the rising sun over the Ngotshe Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal where an orange glow announces the start of a new day and your family adventure in the Ithala Game Reserve. Stay at one of the bush camps to enjoy family braais and marvellous views of the cliffs, mountains and vegetation. Both you and your kids will love learning about the animals, rock formations and natural beauty of the landscape from your own field ranger. Hold your breath and take a dip in the rapids and rock pools. Remember to avoid the Pongola River, unless you fancy being a hearty snack for a hungry croc.
MAPS. Get the kids to add info to your itinerary as you progress. Kids who love technology can work the GPS unit and chart your course. Smaller children can draw on a mapped out copy of your trip map. Mark in checkpoints along the way where they will get a treat as a reward for good behaviour.
CONTACT For bookings at Kruger, Kgalagadi and Mokala: SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111. For Ithala: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife 033-845-1000.
CAR GAMES. Play Kruger cricket or ‘I spy’. Go to www.wildcard.co.za and search ‘travel games’ for instructions.
32 WILD SPRING 2013
SURPRISES. Be open-minded about your trip, and divide it into manageable sections so you can stop to enjoy sights and picnics along the route.
KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK, NEAR UPINGTON
Scan the QR code to see how we created this ad using the very tread that inspired it.
www.treadsmartly.tv Follow us & see how ‘smart choices’ can change things.
When you choose a Bridgestone Ecopia tyre, you aren’t simply choosing ‘the greener option’ or leading technology and innovation that inspires superior performance in moments when you truly need it. You are choosing a philosophy that says: “I made the smart choice”.
Bridgestone South Africa. Visit our website: www.bridgestone.co.za. Available at: www.bridgestone.co.za and other selected Bridgestone dealers.
Y MIL YEA
SURF&TURF Thundering waves, craggy blowholes, sandy beaches and mountain fynbos, the legendary coastline of the Whale
IVALLING THE POPULAR OTTER TRAIL, the fiveday Whale Trail in De Hoop Nature Reserve highlights the spectacular coastline on the southern tip of Africa. Huge swathes of coast, sprinkled with middens from the remains of many an ancient meal, provide the hiker with the opportunity to explore an area of spectacular beauty and, during the winter months, the certainty of seeing whales. On the first two days you negotiate mountain fynbos, before reaching the coast. Traversing Potberg’s green crown proved to be an unexpected pleasure. Even the light rain on the second day couldn’t dampen the children’s spirits. At eight and 12, there could easily have been sulks and tantrums but they donned rain gear and good attitudes, inspired by the natural world. “We like walking in the rain,” they chorused. Gladioli dappled with raindrops lined the path and Cape vultures floated through the sky. Chocolate was savoured among the > restios with natural science lessons.
Inset images from left to right: An agama has a look around. The fynbos is adorned with exquisite flowers. Pack your snorkelling things so you can explore the rock pools.
34 WILD SPRING 2013
Trail has it all. Even better, it’s kind on a hiker’s back. By Ron Swilling
WHALES, AHOY! Limestone cliffs offer excellent viewpoints for observing De Hoopâ€™s marine life.
Y MIL YEA
The children went off to explore rock pools, weaving moments into memories.
The indoor fire at Cupidoskraal kept us warm all night while the wind raged outside. When we neared the coast and Noetsie appeared in a cove far below, a pod of dolphin frolicked in the surf but the trail’s namesake was unfortunately absent as it was the wrong time of year for southern right whales to have ventured northwards from their Arctic haunts. With shoes off and refreshments unpacked, thanks to the Whale Trail’s porterage option, we could toast the scenery with a beer and hot cocoa. Trail wounds were nursed to the sound of the thundering surf. Supper in the cosy A-frame kitchen was accompanied by laughter and fizzy ginger beer. A picture of a southern right whale looked down on us from the wall and seemed to smile indulgently. From Noetsie the coast beckoned and the weather warmed. The trail hugged the limestone cliffs, hollowed out into wizened caves, until Stilgat’s ladders invited adventure and snorkelling in magical turquoise pools. The adults sat on the rock pinnacles and reminisced about the barefoot freedom of childhood holidays, while the chil36 WILD SPRING 2013
dren went off to explore rock pools, weaving moments into memories. Soft beach sand and the luxurious Hamerkop hut tucked into the coastal vegetation introduced welcome diversity and a sandier seaside walk, until the path rose again into the cliffs. Now, rock platforms filled with water created perfect patterns and seawater burst from craggy blowholes. The trudge across soft sandy beaches was balanced with bags of scrumptious snacks to keep the youngsters happy, salty sea swims, exploration and discovery. We arrived at the Vaalkrans hut as the sun dipped behind the hills. Positioned above a sea cave, Vaalkrans provided home and hearth for the night, and continued to fill us enraptured hikers with wonder. As the sea crashed underneath us and the wind whistled a seafarer’s tune, a warm fire crackled in the fireplace of the long, cosy kitchen. We finished off large plates of spaghetti supper, had seconds, and discussed favourite overnight huts. The kids loved Cupidoskraal best for their loft room reached by a wobbly ladder and for the sweet little elephant-shrew they found living outside. I was glad to hear that >
Noetsie is a magical coastal hideaway, balancing the bird’s eye view from Potberg on day one. Along the coast, Stilgat’s turquoise pools beckon, while beachcombing turns up a host of other treasures.
Chocolate was savoured among the restios with natural science lessons.
VMS IMAGES / ARCO / S TUENGLE
Pronking could be a way of signalling fitness and ability to escape to predators.
WILD GARDEN Before the coast is reached, the walk up Potberg provides a feast WINTER 2013 WILD 31 of fynbos.
Y MIL YEA
they could now rattle off several botanical names. After the last night of hiker camaraderie, we were happy to have an extra helping of coastal paradise and last wallows in the rocky pools before meeting the shuttle at Koppie Alleen for the ride back to our vehicles. Here, we unpacked the little left in our crates and started cars. Muddy baboon prints informed us that our furry brothers had been admiring themselves in our side
The best trails are those that allow time for exploration and adventure.
mirrors while we were away, but otherwise everything was as it had been when we left. Or, maybe not. Now, a kaleidoscope of colour and coast flickered through our minds: king proteas, the serpentine Breede River as seen from the heights of Potberg, verdant glistening fynbos and the plethora of coastal cliffs, coves and cormorants. Yes, nothing was quite the same. We had walked the Whale Trail’s legendary coastline.
DAY 1: Potberg to Cupidoskraal
DAY 2: Cupidoskraal to Noetsie
DAY 3: Noetsie to Hamerkop
DAY 4: Hamerkop to Vaalkrans
DAY 5: Vaalkrans to Koppie Alleen
Moderate to strenuous
Watch out for oystercatchers as well as whales and dolphins.
It’ll take about two hours, so slow down and enjoy the last day on the trail.
14,7 km 15 km
The Whale Trail winds through De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Overberg, near the southern tip of Africa, about three hours from Cape Town. Trail reservations are limited to group bookings of either six or 12, no children under eight. Cottages are well equipped, hikers simply have to bring their own bedding, towels and food. Porterage of gear and food between the huts can be arranged. Bookings open a year in advance. CONTACT CapeNature 021-483-0190, email@example.com, www.capenature.co.za
The toughest stretch. Start early to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
38 WILD SPRING 2013
Motivate yourself with the thought of the beautiful bay at the end of the day.
It’ll take about four hours if you don’t stop, but you will! The views are breathtaking.
10,5 km 7 km
Y MIL YEA
At Bontebok National Park there are several short and easy walks, perfect for kids.
Take the kids to these parks to learn about culture and nature while having fun.
Bontebok National Park, near Swellendam
This park is perfect for little people as many of its attractions are best viewed from adult knee height, starting with the tortoises that crop the grass in the rest camp. From the deck of your chalet you’ll also see a large variety of birds and some of the braver bontebok. In spring and summer, lots of lovely wildflowers will draw you close to the ground. What’s more, kids are free to explore wherever they want because there are no dangerous predators here. There are two safe swimming spots along this stretch of the Breede River and there’s a picnic area and jungle gym at Die Stroom.
The elephant-shaped jungle gym at the main camp is the first clue that Addo is a delightful destination for kids. The Ulwazi Interpretive Centre has exhibits specifically aimed at curious young minds, such as a fossil dig and geology puzzle. Kids will also get a kick out of the underground hide that looks out onto a waterhole. To learn more about Addo’s plants, take the PPC Discovery Trail, a short walk with interpretive signs. As a bonus, the park runs a free kids holiday programme during December and July. For older children, ages 10 and up, the guided horse trails in the Zuurberg Section will be a hit.
Kids will agree that Cathedral Peak’s Didima Camp is a great place for a holiday. By day they can play on the green mountain slopes while at night there’s television in the chalets. Didima is also the best place to learn about the Bushmen who once lived in these parts. The San Rock Art Centre explains their way of life and what their works of art mean. A visit includes a ‘fireside’ story session and an audiovisual presentation on rock art. But nothing beats seeing the real thing. A guided hike to one of the rock art sites near Didima is recommended.
The grasslands of the eastern Free State have been home to the Basotho people for centuries. Visit the cultural village to experience their traditional way of life. Women in colourful clothing will show you skills like how to grind corn between two stones, while men draped with animal skins demonstrate the old way of doing things. It’s a chance to taste homecooked favourites, try home-brewed beer and meet the chief. For the full experience, stay in the thatched rondavels that form part of the village. Other suitable activities for kids include short walking trails, pony rides and swimming in the river.
CONTACT SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
CONTACT SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
CONTACT Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Reservations 033-845-1000, www.kznwildlife.com
CONTACT SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
Addo Elephant National Park, near Port Elizabeth Didima, UkhahlambaDrakensberg Park, near Bergville
Basotho Cultural Village, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, near Clarens
SPRING 2013 WILD 39
Y MIL YEA
Family weekends No-hassle weekend activities for the whole gang! Simply grab your Wild Card and hit the road.
“On a mountain bike you can get up close to the abundant herds of relaxed plains game that roam Mlilwane.” – Stephen Cunliffe, photojournalist
A guided mountainbike trail is a fun way to explore.
With lush green lawns right on the water’s edge, Albert Falls is the perfect place for a picnic. Thanks to the setting, this very English pastime gets an African spin: thorn trees provide shade from the sun; braai stands cater for meat lovers; and zebras, not sheep, graze nearby. The picnic
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, near Mbabane, Swaziland
PICNICKING area is spacious, so kids are free to run around after a soccer ball or Frisbee. Dad will also want to bring his toys as Albert Falls is famous for bass fishing. Remember to get a permit at the gate. If angling’s not your thing, gazing at the shimmering water is a sure way to relax.
CONTACT Albert Falls 033-569-1202, www.msinsi.co.za
Kids will love the laidback atmosphere and close game encounters of this Swazi park. Warthog families have the run of the rest camp and from the restaurant deck you can watch hippos wallowing in the waterhole. Of course, on a mountain bike you can see so much more of the area and its animals. There are several trails that criss-cross the veld, taking riders from open grasslands to lush forest. The track is mostly soft earth and the climbs tend to be gentle, just right for eager young cyclists. Mlilwane is the setting for the Imvelo MTB Classic race, so the local zebra, nyala and blesbok are quite accustomed to seeing people cycle past.
Table Mountain National Park, near Cape Town
The two-hour hike to Elephant’s Eye Cave in the Silvermine section of the park has all the ingredients for a fun day out. It’s relatively easy, the views are impressive and there are curiosities to keep the kids interested. The fire lookout hut is used by foresters scanning for veldfires.
HIKING From here it’s easy to make out the shape of the elephant’s head with the cave forming its eye. The caving itself is cool and dripping with ferns, a good place to catch your breath. On your way back, stop off at Silvermine Dam for a braai at one of the pretty spots along the water.
CONTACT Table Mountain 021-712-2337, www.sanparks.org
Goukamma Nature Reserve, near Knysna
Want to feel like intrepid explorers? A canoe trip along the meandering Goukamma River to the estuary mouth is the chance to make your own discoveries. Seated in stable canoes, you will paddle past dense indigenous forest where grysbok and bushpig snuffle among the leaves. The river is patrolled by African fish
PADDLING eagles and among the reeds you might spot malachite, giant and pied kingfishers. Challenge the kids to see how many different species they can find. On a fine day everyone will abandon ‘ship’ for the warm water of the estuary. After a relaxing swim and snacks on the riverbank, it’s time to paddle back.
COST Rent canoes from the reserve office. R30 a day for single canoe, R50 a day for double canoe. Paddles and life jackets provided. Children must be accompanied by adults. CONTACT Goukamma 044-383-0042, www.capenature.co.za
COST Guided mountain-bike trails from R130 a person. A bike can be hired at reception for R120. CONTACT +268 2528 3943, www.biggameparks.org
Albert Falls Dam, near Pietermaritzburg
Tweede Tol in Limietberg Nature Reserve, near Wellington
Forget about fancy resort pools, the large rock pool in the Witte River is the stuff of kids’ dreams. The water is silky soft and clear enough to see aquatic creatures darting around. Kids will love clambering over the boulders and jumping into the water. Day visitors are welcomed on a
first-come first-served basis, so best get there early. Better yet, pack your tent and stay over at Tweede Tol. From the campsite it’s a short walk to a water wonderland where little waterfalls cascade into a rock pool. The jump from the top of the cliff into the pool is a rite of passage.
CONTACT Tweede Tol 023-355-1607, CapeNature Central Reservations 021-483-0190, www.capenature.co.za SPRING 2013 WILD 41
D AN R
’S N0.1 SA
PING AM B C NTURE
9 NCE 1
up to 15째 C
UP TO 55째C X37X
WHAT MAKES A MEAL? The caracal’s diet ranges from birds and rodents to springbok.
Notoriously aggressive, cunning and secretive, caracal are born survivors. Here’s what you should know about this elusive cat. By Trevor Carnaby
SPRING 2013 WILD 45
Caracal occur practically throughout South Africa and in the arid savannas and semi-desert regions of the rest of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, where woody vegetation allows them to melt away unseen. Tenacious and cunning, their success is due to a number of physical and physiological adaptations to their lifestyles. The most interesting of these is perhaps their powerful hindquarters. Longer back legs allow for incredible acceleration when chasing prey in a series of bounding leaps. They also enable caracal to leap up to 2,5 metres from the ground to snatch birds from the air. This technique is often used in longer grass or around watering points where flocks of groundbirds, doves and sandgrouse gather and suddenly fly up when disturbed. Caracal will lay in ambush nearby, then suddenly charge and leap straight up into the air. They either bat down a number of birds with a flurry of paws into the fleeing flock or use both paws to sandwich a single bird and bring it to the ground. 46 WILD SPRING 2013
When they are hunting, caracal, like most cats, usually stalk and pounce. If cover is sparse, they will look for a concealed spot, often close to water, where they simply lie in wait to ambush prey that passes nearby. They kill larger prey such as dassies and antelope by biting at the throat and suffocating the animal. Smaller prey such as rodents and birds will be dispatched by a bite through the spine at the back of the neck. When a caracal brings down a large animal, it starts eating at the hindquarters. The carcass is rarely consumed past the forequarters, with the neck and head usually left untouched. If the carcass is on the ground, the caracal will occasionally use its paws to scrape leaves, grass and other debris over it for concealment while it goes off for a drink before returning, a behaviour common to many cats. Interestingly, and in common with some of the more primitive carnivores such as genets, they don’t tend to pluck a bird’s plumage, but rather eat it feathers and all, merely discarding the wings with larger feathers. >
ion, leopard and cheetah aren’t the top predator everywhere in Southern Africa. In some semi-arid to arid regions, where these larger predators have been pushed out, the honour belongs to a rather smaller, yet supremely competent and powerful feline, the caracal. This solitary cat is unmistakable when seen in the wild, with its robust, larger hindquarters, a relatively short tail that hangs only midway to the ground, a light reddish-brown coat and characteristically tufted, pointed ears.
Hello kitty Like smaller cats caracal can purr, something larger cats besides cheetah cannot do. They also make subtle sounds for contact, lacking the modified voicebox of the lion and leopard to make loud, farcarrying â€˜roaringâ€™ calls.
A caracal has a generous amount of stiff hairs between its toes, which makes sandy and rocky terrain easier to negotiate while providing insulation for the toes and feet on nights when temperatures plummet in arid habitats.
TAKE COVER Kittens are sometimes taken by large raptors or killed by other WINTER 2013 WILD 31 predators.
IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER Caracal differ from other small cats by having round rather than slit-like pupils in the eyes, indicating they are not exclusively nocturnal but can be active in the day. The white line of hairs beneath the eyes reflects ambient light from the stars and moon into their eyes to improve night vision. Like all cats, they have a reflective layer of crystals at the back of the eye that not only has the ability to intensify the light it receives, but, like a mirror, is responsible for bouncing the light signals back through the receptor cells in the eye. This allows the brain an enhanced opportunity of recognising the image. Most of the cells in the eye are rod cells, which are incredibly sensitive to light, shape and movement, making it possible for caracal to detect prey in total darkness.
Ground birds such as bustards, young ostriches, spurfowls and francolins fall prey to caracal, even raptors are snatched from their nocturnal perches in trees. Mammal prey includes dassie, steenbok, duiker, springbok, grey rhebok and mountain reedbuck. Larger prey is the norm in areas where there are no other large predators. Rodents and birds form the bulk of the caracal’s diet in areas where larger prey is scarce.
Caracal are able to get most of their moisture from the body fluids of their prey, so aren’t tied to surface water sources. In summer, they conserve energy and water by moving in the cool of night. During the day they usually hide up in dense bush or in trees, but will even do so in mammal burrows, where they occasionally have their babies if other suitable den sites are in short supply. In winter, they extend their operational hours by becoming active during late afternoon and continuing until well after sunrise. In the Kgalagadi, I have seen caracal expertly stalk to within 30 metres of a herd of springbok in broad daylight before a lack of cover ended the hunt, while on another occasion I came across an individual investigating nest chambers in a sociable 48 WILD SPRING 2013
weaver nest high up in a camel thorn tree. Like their larger cousin, the leopard, caracal are quite at home in trees and have been known to stash kills off the ground in a behaviour called caching. They sometimes return to these kills over a period of a day or two. The similarity doesn’t end there. With larger prey they will also pluck the fur in order not to eat it and they will sometimes rake prey with the claws on their hind feet. Caracal are generalists and will feed on anything from rodents and birds to full-grown springbok. Unfortunately, their ability to kill animals the size of small antelope has brought them into direct conflict with sheep and goat farmers in much of their natural range. Notoriously aggressive, cunningly secretive and consummate survivors, caracal still hold out in farming areas despite intense persecution. The good news is their overall numbers may be increasing due to the conversion of stock farms to game and cattle farms where caracal are less of a threat and are therefore not persecuted. On your next visit to a wilderness area, keep a sharp lookout for this elusive feline. It will present itself when least expected and will just as suddenly be gone, so be sure to savour every second!
I have seen caracal expertly stalk to within 30 metres of a herd of springbok in broad daylight before a lack of cover ended the hunt.
The caracal’s tufted ears can flick or twitch to signal whether it is relaxed or anxious.
What’s in a name The largest of Africa’s small cats, at up to 20 kg, the name caracal is an English version of the Turkish name Garah-gulak, meaning ‘black ear’, which is an appropriate description of the back of the ear as a contrast to the rest of the body. The dark colouration and the dark tuft at the ear tip are used for communicating mood and intentions between meeting caracals. The Afrikaans name is rooikat, meaning ‘red cat’ and alludes to the rust-coloured coat. They are also sometimes referred to as the African or desert lynx because of their similarity to the Eurasian and Asian lynx Lynx lynx. Although you can certainly see the obvious physical similarities of stocky build, longer hindlegs, ‘bobbed’ tail and tufted ears, the caracal is not as boldly marked as its northern cousin and DNA studies have revealed they are not closely related. Until relatively recently, the caracal was classified with all the other small cats in the wellknown genus Felis, along with the domestic cat, but genetic evidence suggests they be placed in their own genus of Caracal. They are therefore now conveniently known as Caracal caracal and are thought to be closely related to the serval and the African golden cat, both of which have also been moved out of the Felis grouping. Other smaller cats differ from these three species by having proportionately longer tails and hind legs the same length as the forelegs, which shows they are generalists rather than having specialised hunting adaptations. Unlike most other cats, the caracal’s tail is not required as a rudder for steering at speed or for balance when climbing and is therefore shortened and lighter to make leaping up easier. www.wildcard.co.za
SPRING 2013 WILD 49
water The miracle of Water is life. Without it, the many forms of life on Earth, including humans, would not exist. Wild Card parks and reserves lead the way in protecting our precious water resources. By Peter Chadwick
50 WILD SPRING 2013
Water from the Orange River is channelled through a narrow passageway and cascades 60 metres down in Augrabies Falls National Park.
The gorge at the Augrabies Falls is 240 metres deep and 18 kilometres long. During floods in 2006, 6 900 cubic metres of water went over the falls every second, three times the average high season flow rate of Niagara Falls.
of people in Africa do not get enough acceptably clean water to live healthy lives.
Heavy rain pelts down on massive trees in dense coastal forests in the Garden Route National Park. As urban and agricultural demands for water continue to rise, the role of natural forests in the ecosystem are becoming even more valuable and have to be managed as much for a sustainable supply of clean water as any other goal.
Well-managed natural forests almost always provide higher quality water with less sediment and fewer pollutants than water coming from other catchments. A great white pelican comes in to land on De Hoop Vlei, an internationally recognised RAMSAR wetland that lies within De Hoop Nature Reserve in the southern Cape. De Hoop Vlei is 18 kilometres long and up to half a kilometre wide, with its catchment falling mainly on neighbouring agricultural land.
75 bird species counted at De Hoop’s wetlands
XX WILD SPRING 2013 52
ALONG THE ORANGE RIVER Rising in Lesotho, the river flows westwards through South Africa, passing through steep-sided gorges in the Augrabies Falls National Park before forming the border between South Africa and Namibia and finally emptying its contents into the Atlantic Ocean. The Orange River is a major source of hydro-electric power and irrigation water.
At 2 200 kilometres in length, the Orange River is the fifthlongest river in Africa, with a drainage area of more than 1 000 000 square kilometres. As climate change impacts increasingly on our planet, droughts and flooding will become more frequent. Climate change also highlights the importance of protecting water resources from degradation and the spread of invasive alien plants. Mountain catchments within protected areas are critical in this regard as they are the primary source of our water supply. >
THE WATER YIELD A FYNBOS MOUNTAIN CATCHMENT CAN LOSE DUE TO A DENSE COVER OF INVASIVE ALIEN SHRUBS OR TREES SPRING 2013 WILD 53
97% of water on the planet is salty
54 WILD SPRING 2013
2% is held in ice-caps | 1% is usable to humans
Estuaries rank with tropical rainforests as the worldâ€™s most productive ecosystems, even more so than both the rivers and the ocean that influence them from either side. Langebaan Lagoon, another of South Africaâ€™s internationally recognised wetlands, falls within the West Coast National Park. The lagoon and its surrounding wetlands and salt marshes support dense populations of molluscs, crustaceans and other invertebrates that provide food for thousands of resident and migrating species of birds and fish. >
Expected increase in water demand in South Africa to 2030
Many mountain streams and rivers, including the sources of the Orange and Tugela rivers, are generated by high rainfall along the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg escarpment. The Drakensberg also contains the world’s second-highest waterfall, Thukela Falls, with a total drop of 947 metres over a series of five falls. The tranquillity of the famous towering Amphitheatre in Royal Natal National Park belies the fact that rivers rising from the Drakensberg provide water for the industries of Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Water is an essential resource for South Africa’s economy.
OF SOUTH AFRICA’S LAND AREA GENERATES 50% OF THE RIVER FLOW
56 WILD SPRING 2013 XX WILD SPRING 2013
The Pholela River, which has its source high in the southern Drakensberg, cuts a winding path through the ancient landscape and deep gorges of the mountains. Headwater catchments, which receive high levels of rainfall, are the source of major rivers. Many of these areas are threatened by mining activities.
of aquatic ecosystems in South Africa are vulnerable or endangered
Water floods around the roots of giant sycamore fig trees in Ndumo Game Reserve. The roots of these massive trees, which border tropical wetlands, stabilise the soil, preventing extensive damage from flooding. Wetlands support high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. They are also important for growing crops.
“Water is the driving force in nature.”
– LEONARDO DA VINCI
The Garden Route National Park is home to large estuarine lake systems and wetlands that are crucial habitat for waterfowl such as this white-breasted cormorant. Destruction of wetlands has severe consequences for water quality, consistency of water supply and flood control. Significant economic costs are incurred to prevent flooding, control invasive alien plants and sedimentation, and to rehabilitate degraded wetlands. >
OF SOUTH AFRICA’S WETLANDS STILL SURVIVE
SPRING 2013 WILD 57
DOWNSTREAM We swim in it, we fish in it, we drink it. We generally take it for granted, but water is a scarce resource.
nly 18 per cent of high water-yield areas in South Africa enjoy any form of formal protection. Most of this occurs in the higher reaches, leaving the lowland reaches of rivers largely unprotected. Wetlands are the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, with 48 per cent of wetland ecosystem types being critically endangered according to the 2011 Biodiversity Assessment. Clanwilliam yellowfish Labeobarbus capensis
Protected areas, particularly the catchments managed by CapeNature and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, are critical ‘water factories’ that supply much of our country with its drinking water and requirements for agriculture and industry. These areas also safeguard numerous important estuaries where 60 to 90 per cent of commercially important fish species spend some period of their life cycles. Streams free of invasive alien fish are often
Tiger fishing on Jozini Dam. The 13 000 hectare dam is fed by the Phongola River, whose source is high in the Enkangala grasslands. Higher reaches of rivers are more protected than lowland reaches.
found within protected areas. South Africa is a dry country and water most definitely a precious resource. Reduce your direct water footprint and educate yourself on how to become more water wise. Learn to value every precious drop and help keep it pure. Find water-saving tips on www.wildcard.co.za. Search ‘water wise’ to find out how you can reduce your use.
Only five of 19 species of freshwater fish found in the Cape Floristic Kingdom aren’t in danger of going extinct.
Paddling on the Groot River at Nature’s Valley, Garden Route National Park.
58 WILD SPRING 2013
MAKES HOT COOL. LITERALLY.
SWEAT-ACTIVATED COOLING Sweat smarter with Omni-Freeze® ZERO. Sweat reacts with blue rings to lower the temperature of the material. Others will feel heat. You’ll feel an arctic blast. CO LU M B I AS P O R TS W E A R . CO. Z A
© 2013 Columbia Sportswear Company. All rights reserved.
INSECTS A male Pennington’s blue Lepidochrysops penningtoni, a rare species from the Kamiesberg area, showing his underside.
Flutterby A burst of bright butterflies rewards visitors to Karoo or Namaqua National Parks in spring. By Steve Woodhall
Namaqua and Karoo National Parks lie within a 500 km radius of Cape Town. Namaqua has a coastal section.
60 WILD SPRING 2013
ll along the great escarpments of the Karoo and Nama-Karoo you can see flowers blooming from August to October. Make a point of looking at these flowers a little closer, watching out for tiny forms whizzing around the rocks. Tiny to medium sized, these butterflies are often brightly coloured. Mountaintops are often the best places to find butterflies, as are dry riverbeds and sand dunes. Many fynbos and Karoo plants have small, hard leaves, evolved to prevent moisture loss. Add to this aromatic chemicals that dissuade herbivores and there’s not much for little cater pillars to eat! But nature being what it is, butterflies have developed strategies to overcome these obstacles. Plants that have hard, dry, aromatic foliage reproduce and grow after the rains. New shoots emerge, flowers bloom and set seed. Energy is expended, proteins and fats are formed. Many Karoo butterflies’ caterpillars feed on young, juicy leaves or immature seeds. In areas of hardy, tough grasses among the Karoo bossies and herbs, usually where conditions are damp, you’ll find butterflies whose larvae eat grasses. These are so hard and lacking in nutrients and energy that butterflies such as Trimen’s brown Pseudonympha trimenii spend all year as caterpillars, sheltering from the bitter weather by burrowing down into the base of the grass clumps. Their pupae form there and the butterflies emerge in a burst in springtime.
Karoo butterflies’ caterpillars feed on young, juicy leaves, daisies or grasses.
Ants beware! The caterpillars of arid-area butterflies are often associated with ants. To some extent the butterflies fool ants into seeing them as their own early stages by exuding pheromones mimicking chemicals that the ants use to communicate. Some butterflies, such as the opals, live inside the nest-like shelters of cocktail ants. Coppers such as Barkly’s copper and king copper are found as larvae and pupae in underground ants’ nests, often in areas where it is surprising they can find plant matter to live on. When their seed food is becoming exhausted, the larvae of ant blues such as Pennington’s blue move into nearby sugar ants’ nests where they eat the young.
A male Beaufort opal Chrysoritis beaufortia sunning himself on a bitterly cold Karoo spring morning. It is named after Beaufort West. The genus Chrysoritis is wholly endemic to South Africa and Lesotho. The caterpillars live inside cocktail ants’ shelters and come out to feed on young shoots of the food plant.
The male Midas opal Chrysoritis midas is a tiny spark of glittering copper among the grey-green leaves of its food plant, Diospyros austro-africana var. microphylla.
Wykeham’s blue Lepidochrysops wykehami is found across the Karoo to Namaqualand. The male is blue and the female greybrown. Their young larvae feed on the immature seeds of the flowers upon which their mothers have laid their eggs.
The largest copper and a Karoo specialist is the king copper Tylopaedia sardonyx. This female is nectaring on the ubiquitous vygies. The males are smaller, extremely fast-flying and are usually found around large isolated bushes.
The Boland Skolly Thestor protumnus, found all over the Succulent and Nama Karoo areas, has completely abandoned plants. Some of the caterpillars live in nests of pugnacious ants where they beg to be fed by mouth, rather like a cuckoo chick.
The painted lady Vanessa cardui is common in these areas because its food plants, the daisy family Asteraceae, are abundant there. The larva feeds on the gazanias that grow wild in the Karoo (the same ones we grow as garden plants).
A female Trimen’s brown Pseudonympha trimenii. This handsome species emerges in large numbers in springtime, but only where its food plants grow. Dozens may be found flying around small isolated patches of wiry Merxmuellera grass.
One of the jewels of the Namaqua National Park is Barkly’s copper Aloeides barklyi. Uniquely among its genus, it has a silvery grey upperside. This is a male; the female has orange wingtip patches.
SPRING 2013 WILD 61
RANGERS Looking for a private way to explore the Kruger National Park? Then get off the main roads at Pretoriuskop and Satara to explore the Mananga and Madlabantu adventure trails. Text and pictures by Dianne TippingWoods and JoĂŤl Roerig
Rediscover all the reasons why you love Kruger. 62 WILD SPRING 2013
The Shabeni koppie is visible from almost all points along the northern section of the Madlabantu 4x4 Adventure Trail. www.wildcard.co.za
HE FIRST FEW BUFFALO ARE MERE MOVING SHADOWS in the monochrome savanna of the early morning as we sit and sip from steaming mugs of coffee. Slowly, the light seeps through the veld, giving it colour and form. A hyena calls nearby. We’d seen it loping off behind us minutes before as we came slowly along the two-track road towards Malihane waterhole. The excited hissing of red-billed oxpeckers announces the herd is getting closer. We can smell them on the crisp, clean air and their bovine snorts and rumbles are more audible by the minute. The frontline materialises from the haze about 200 metres away from where we’re patiently waiting at the crossroads of the Mananga 4x4 Adventure Trail. From their posture and gait, we know the buffalo are cautiously testing the air. Their snouts glint in the first sunrays as their nostrils flare towards us. Then, as though in response to an invisible signal, they come in waves towards the water. We don’t speak. We just watch, listen and absorb the spectacle. It is fully light by the time the first two dozen have gathered at the trough to drink, hundreds ambling after them. After drink-
Kruger’s 4x4 adventure trails let you get to grips with the landscape and spend alone time with the animals you encounter.
ing, they continue towards our vehicle, big bulls with heavy bosses, nursing mothers and small, fawn-coloured calves. They have decided we are no threat and, within 15 minutes, the bakkie is surrounded. We are fully embedded in the herd. There are no other cars. It is only us and the buffalo. We watch them for more than an hour before restarting the engine and moving on as the herd slowly departs towards the Mavumbye riverbed. Experiences like this make Kruger’s short 4x4 adventure trails so rewarding. They are a chance to reconnect with the bush in a close, leisurely and private way as a maximum of six vehicles are allowed on each trail each day. The Mananga trail consists of four management tracks which come together at the Malihane windmill, where we met up with the buffalo herd. If you follow the directions recommended by SANParks, the trail is nearly 50 kilometres long and you will have to travel short sections over the public H1-4, S90, S41 and S100 roads to complete the circuit. Regular Kruger visitors know these open basalt plains for their marula and knobthorn trees, but also for their frequent sightings of lions, leopards, cheetahs and plains game.
The Kruger National Park lies around 420 km from Gauteng.
SPRING 2013 WILD 63
The open plains of the Mananga Trail support the area’s grassland vegetation, which is dotted with thorn trees.
As the day warms up, bateleurs soar against cobalt blue skies and liquid calls of magpie shrikes weave lines of sound across the veld. Our sightings set the pace for the day and we manage to stretch the Mananga Trail from dawn until dusk, meeting only one other car all day. No one asks us what we’re looking at, tries to outmanoeuvre us, or gets impatient with us for blocking the road as a massive herd of zebra amble past. We try to make sense of their complicated social interactions, but it is hard to discern what the occasional kicking and screaming is about or who is calling the shots as their stripes form a beautiful collage, an abstract study in black and white. One of the huge privileges of the trail is that you can get out of your vehicle, at your own risk, although strict preconditions apply at all times. Specific guidelines are issued with your booking. Part of the deal is you leave no trace of your visit. Of course we still stay within a few metres of the car, but it’s enough to experiment with different camera angles, investigate a chrysalis, and have a closer look at a spider web and some tracks. Luckily, the Mananga, which means ‘wilderness’, has many 64 WILD SPRING 2013
wide open areas where we can see what’s going on around us as we stretch our legs. At midday, when a family of elephant stands dozing in a patch of shade in the road, we doze a bit with them, lulled by their contented rumbles and occasional sighs. The network of subtle sounds on the trail tells its own story. As we listen, our bird list creeps up steadily, ending on 72 for the day. The elephants slowly stir and resume feeding, with deep concentration and obvious pleasure. A young bull startles a female bushbuck who scampers up the bank and freezes poised at the top, before disappearing into the bush, which changes to leadwood, apple-leaf and riverine shrubbery along the Mavumbye. Earlier in the week we did the Madlabantu (‘man-eater’) 4x4 Trail near Pretoriuskop. At the time only the northern circuit was open, looping from the H1-1 near Shitlhave Dam to Mtshawu Dam, which is accessible by booking this trail. The route links up with the public road again at the Shabeni, the koppie visible from all points of the trail, which changes colour as the sun arcs the veld. The southern section, which was closed due to flood damage, >
Birding is first rate, with sightings of common species like the Natal spurfowl (top) and Kruger specials like the saddle-billed stork (above).
Krugerâ€™s short 4x4 adventure trails are a chance to reconnect with the bush in a close, leisurely and private way.
GENTLY DOES IT While not technically challenging, there are places where2013 youâ€™llWILD be XX WINTER SPRING glad for your 4x4.
A stick insect catches a ride on the bonnet.
is an exclusive extension of the Fayi Loop. The grass was high and thick. Ploughing through it over the double track landed an interesting array of bugs on our bonnet. We recognised the stick insects, but many of the other creatures looked like little aliens and were completely new discoveries for us. The area’s sourveld vegetation is dominated by silver cluster-leafs, interspersed with kiaat, marula and occasional knobthorns. Even though the routes aren’t challenging, a 4x4 vehicle is essential for both the Mananga and the Madlabantu trails to minimise the chance of mishaps and to reduce the vehicle’s environmental impact. The trails are not intended to test a 4x4, but the Madlabantu certainly made for some scenic, hilly driving, with lingering mist and small valleys which were a hive of animal and bird activity. In summer, both trails may be closed after the rains, when the terrain becomes swampy and slippery. We saw evidence of many mud wallows which must provide warthog, buffalo and even elephant with hours of cool pleasure. The real surprise on the Madlabantu Trail was the Mtshawu Dam. Its scenic shoreline was dot66 WILD SPRING 2013
ted with contented waterbuck and we surprised a hippo on his midday stroll. He looked remarkably guilty to have been found so far from the water and as our vehicle approached, quickly joined the rest of the pod in the water. There were also plenty of African jacana, white-faced duck and spur-winged geese around, along with a magnificent saddle-billed stork. At the weir near the dam, which you have to cross during the course of the trail, we flushed nothing less than a greater paintedsnipe! Other good avian finds on the Madlabantu were bushveld pipit and an African cuckoohawk, with croaking cisticola and gorgeous bush-shrike being other uncommon Kruger birds that are best looked for in this area. Winding through the bush on either of the trails feels like having a long and intimate conversation with an old friend. The bumps haven’t been smoothed out, the verges aren’t cut and you can feel the gradient and the textures of the veld. Slowly, kilometre by kilometre, you reconnect and rediscover all the things you have in common, all the reasons why you love the park and why, when you leave, you’re already planning to come back.
TRIP PLANNER Kruger’s adventure trails bring out the uniqueness of the different landscapes and associated fauna and flora. Participants may get out of their vehicle in open areas if there are no animals nearby. Keep a careful lookout and stay close to your vehicle. The trails can be booked only at the respective camps. MADLABANTU TRAIL Book at Pretoriuskop on 013-735-5128. MANANGA TRAIL Book at Satara on 013-735-6306. COST R460 a vehicle, regardless of the number of occupants. Plus a R100 deposit which is refunded upon completion of the trail and serves as a method of informing camp management of your safe return. Make your reservation the night before or on the morning you wish to travel. The trails are weather sensitive and advance bookings cannot be made.
MARAKELE is calling Sheltered by the Waterberg Mountains lies a park of remarkable rarity. On the rocky slopes five metre tall cycads and tree ferns thrive. Among the towering peaks endangered Cape vultures have found a home. At tranquil Tlopi Dam elephants come for a drink while antelope graze unhurriedly between the tents of unfenced Bontle Camping Site. Come see for yourself why the Tswana named Marakele the ‘place of sanctuary’. Go Wild.
Book your escape now! Safari tents from R990 per night for two people. Camping from R185 per night for two people.
5% discount on online bookings. Tlopi Tented Camp • Bontle Camping Site • Motswere Guest House • Morning and sunset game drives Guided bush walks • Two-night 4x4 eco-trail | Reservations (012) 428 9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org |
visit www.sanparks.org or www.sanparks.mobi
Senegalia nigrescens (Knoppiesdoring)
When creamy-white, scented flowers transform the bushveld, you know spring has arrived. Illustrations by Daleen Roodt
Knob-thorns are slow growing, with a single, straight trunk reaching eight to 20 metres. They grow in many different soil types, often alongside marulas, and are an indication of palatable grasses.
DID YOU KNOW? The knob-thornâ€™s scientific name was recently changed from Acacia nigrescens to Senegalia nigrescens.
The knob-thorn is the first tree to bloom in spring, when food is scarce.
Acacias are pod-bearing trees and belong to the third-largest family of flowering plants in the plant kingdom. The knob-thorn Senegalia nigrescens forms part of this ecologically important thorn-tree family. Nigrescens refers to the seed that darkens when it dries out. 68 WILD SPRING 2013
Between January and July the long, thin pods turn from reddishpurple to dark brown. They split open once they have fallen to the ground.
Longhorn beetles Zographus plicaticollis (male shown right) live in the dead wood, which is termite- and fire-resistant, hard and durable. Nesting birds make their homes in its thorny trunk. Near rivers, white-backed vultures nest in its branches. Local communities carve trunks and branches into traditional clubs and walking sticks (knobkieries), and long knob-thorn poles are planted next to village homes as lightning conductors.
The branches form a rounded canopy that spreads with age. The bark is dark and where it thickens, knobs are formed several millimetres apart, equipped with small, black, hooked thorns. These offer protection against browsers such as elephants, which strip the bark off the stem. Look for thorny knobs on the trunks of young trees and on the newer branches of mature trees.
The tallest trees are always found on flood plains.
Giraffes have a unique relationship with the knob-thorn tree, the foliage of which makes up about 40 per cent of their diet. Believed to be pollinators of the knob-thorn, their long necks reach high into the canopy where they rub the flowers and collect pollen. This pollen is delivered from flowering tree to flowering tree as they feed. Larvae of the butterfly Charaxes phaeus (female shown above) feed on the knob-thornâ€™s leaves. Despite the thorns, the highly nutritious leaves are also browsed by kudu, elephant and giraffe. The flowers and pods are eaten by baboons and vervet monkeys. Elephants love the leaves, roots and inner bark, the natural healing properties of which fight tooth decay.
WIN THIS ILLUSTRATION
To stand a chance to win, simply answer the following question: What is the scientific name of the knob-thorn? SMS Knob-thorn: answer and your Wild Card number to 33929 or email competition@ tipafrica.co.za (subject line: Knob-thorn). Closing date: 31 October 2013. It costs R1.50 an SMS. A winner will be selected by lucky draw. SPRING 2013 WILD 69
Friends IN LOW PLACES The predator-packed Kalahari is a dangerous place to be a small mammal. For meerkats and ground squirrels safety in numbers can involve a novel form of neighbourhood watch. By Ann & Steve Toon
74 WILD SPRING 2013
LATE RISERS Itâ€™s half an hour after sunrise when a meerkat and a ground squirrel emerge from the same burrow to greet the new day.
N AN EARLY MORNING GAME DRIVE along the Kgalagadi’s Auob riverbed, the sudden movement of a small head ducking into a hole alerted us to a meerkat burrow only metres from the road. We set up our cameras and trained our lenses on the hole, and within minutes a little head popped out: a ground squirrel. Then another; the same hole, but this time a meerkat. Other heads appeared in nearby holes, some meerkats, some ground squirrels. As the animals emerged warily into daylight and began sunning themselves, it became apparent that this one burrow was home to half a dozen ground squirrels and twice that number of meerkats, all living together in apparent harmony. Such an arrangement is by no means unusual. Meerkats are strong diggers, but frequently save themselves the work by occupying burrows already excavated by ground squirrels, often while the squirrels are still resident. The presence of so many extra eyes doubtless has a benefit – the Kalahari is full of dangers to an unwary animal, with snakes, eagles, jackals and other predators on the lookout for a meal. How much the stay-at-home ground squirrels really benefit from the added security is questionable though, as meerkats spend much of the day foraging away from the burrow. Interestingly, researchers have identified significant differences between the alarm calls of meerkats and ground squirrels, linked to their different foraging strategies. Ground squirrels, which can find plants to eat within a short dash of their burrow, use one type of call which basically says ‘take cover now’. Meerkats, on the other hand, cover considerable distances in the search for insects and other food, so running back to their burrow for every alert would waste too much energy and foraging time. Instead, they respond differently to different threats – backing off from an ambush predator like a jackal, for example. So they use more complicated alarm calls which include information about predator type and how individuals should respond. It’s important that the meerkats all respond the same way to a threat: if one runs in the opposite direction to all the others, it is much more vulnerable.
76 WILD SPRING 2013
They inhabit the driest, most open country of all mongoose species and the dry riverbeds of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offer a perfect habitat. Active in daytime, meerkats are gregarious and territorial, living in packs that can number as many as 30 or more animals, and defending their territory against interlopers. They feed largely on insects which they dig up, including the larvae of beetles, moths, butterflies and flies, as well as other invertebrates such as scorpions, spiders, lizards, small snakes and even birds.
A type of rodent, ground squirrels also favour arid habitats, and are numerous in the Kgalagadi. They are active in daytime and gregarious, but tend to live in smaller groups than meerkats, typically up to three females and two or three males, though sometimes larger numbers of males form bands. Unlike meerkats they do not defend a territory and will tolerate other groups within their home range. They feed mainly on seeds, roots and vegetation, but will also eat insects and small vertebrates occasionally.
Male meerkats will happily share a burrow with male ground squirrels.
Co-habiting means more pairs of eyes to keep a lookout for danger.
Above: Sharing the burrow is a temporary arrangement, as meerkats usually rotate between different warrens in their territory every few months. Left: In the cooler winter months meerkats warm themselves in the early morning sunshine before they begin foraging. Right: A meerkat appears bemused by the misdirected attentions of its housemate. www.wildcard.co.za
SPRING 2013 WILD 77
Rhebok Hiking Trail crosses a shallow river several times.
& High mighty There’s challenge aplenty when you hike the lower slopes of Rhebokkop in Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Your reward is to overnight in the
HE THOUGHT OF STAYING FAR AWAY from all the other holiday makers, hidden up in the Maluti mountains, appealed to me. But I was a bit worried as the receptionist at Golden Gate told me the hut was “way up in the mountains” and if we wanted to stay there we’d be signing up for a 28-kilometre hike. I like hiking and I’m reasonably fit. But I’m not very good at hiking and lugging a fully loaded backpack stuffed with a sleeping bag, food, camping plates, mugs, cutlery, a can of gas, matches, a torch, clean socks and mosquito repellent. I was still thinking about the potential weight of my backpack when the receptionist told me she could help. She would organise for our overnight bags to be taken up to the hut by a ranger who would also collect them for us the next day. That was all the convincing I needed.
A light daypack with a bottle of water, lunch, sun cream and a raincoat was all we 78 WILD SPRING 2013
carried when we set off. We had a spring in our step as we thought of our heavy bags back at reception and quickly reached the top of the first uphill stretch. Our first water break was in the shade of what Golden Gate is best known for, its deep orange sandstone rock shaped in parts like a mushroom. Little did we realise how soon those impressive cliffs would pale in comparison to climbing the lower slopes of Rhebokkop, the highest peak in the park. For the first few kilometres, the hike takes you on a high mountain path parallel to the main road through the park. We later turned away from the road and walked into a valley where the sound of distant cars faded and we spotted rhebok grazing on the edge of a cliff. Everything was silent except for the wind rustling through the grass and waterfalls crashing into the ravine below. We crossed a mountain stream and stopped to swim in what looked like a natural super tube. The refreshing water splashed over the smooth rocks and funnelled through a tunnel it has smoothed out >
Rhebok hut, nestled in a valley beside a mountain stream. By Harriet Burke
ROCKY ROAD The trail takes you straight up Golden Gateâ€™s impressive rockfaces.
There was only one way out and that was upwards.
SPRING 2013 WILD 79
We were so high up, on the edge of South Africa.
on its endless course downhill. The path followed the river for a while, then out of the ravine and back down, across the tarred road. A group of horse riders trotted past on the last stretch towards the hut, which is flat and easy going on tired legs. Rhebok hut is nestled in a valley beside a mountain stream, perfect if you prefer to clean off in the river instead of starting up the donkey shower. It is a basic structure with a couple of three-tiered bunk beds in each of the three rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. We spotted a long-tailed widowbird with its impressive plumage in the reeds close to the river and looked back at the mountains we’d already hiked through with a great sense of achievement. The towering Rhebokkop on the Lesotho border caught the last rays of sunlight as boerewors sizzled on the braai. The stars shone brightly and the soothing sound of the waterfall close by sent us to sleep.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park is three-and-a-half hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
We had been warned the second day was steeper, so we set off early, hoping to avoid the blistering heat. This meant walking through grass dripping with dew and watching the changing colours of dawn as the morning mist disappeared and the sun rose over the blue Maluti Mountains. We spotted a few eland on the crest of a hill and yellow bishops fluttering about near the shallow river which we crossed at least 10 times on the route. This involved a number of decisions about which rocks to balance on or whether to remove your shoes and save them from total immersion by walking through barefoot. At one point we had to climb up the side of a waterfall and then cross the river at the top, making it more of a thrilling adventure than a hike. The further along you go, the more isolated you feel as two huge mountains tower above on both sides. All you have are white painted footprints or cairns to remind you
80 WILD SPRING 2013
that others have gone this way before. When I saw which direction we were headed, I realised there was only one way out and that was upwards. Hiking is a mental challenge for beginners, even reasonably fit beginners like me, and I had to set small goals to ensure I could keep going. There was no shortage of fresh mountain streams and springs, so we stopped many times to refill our water bottles and recharge ourselves for the next uphill section. Somehow the short-term goals worked and we made it to the top where we were treated to a magnificent view right down into Lesotho. A few dirt roads and matchbox-sized houses far beyond the border fence were the first sight of civilisation for the day. We were so high up, on the edge of South Africa, sweaty but relieved and thrilled to have made it to the top. On the highest slopes of Generaalskop, we walked past a lone wildebeest which stood very still, its eyes glued to us as it chewed on some grass. It seemed so content to be grazing where it was, while we had bust almost every muscle to reach the same point. It was a steep descent back down to camp and the loose rock made parts of the route more of a scramble than a walk as the sun began to beat down on us. There is a rather steep and narrow ridge called “Knee Brake” that you traverse before you can see the Langtoon Dam and then the end of the trail comes into sight. Beyond the dam wall one final lush ravine leads you to the end of the trail and a fresh mountain pool. After the midday heat has worn you out, the crystal clear, refreshing cold water is pure bliss. This hike is not for the faint-hearted, but it is well worth it if you want a physically challenging adventure and a weekend escape from a busy life. We were really lucky to hike in good weather, but be prepared that it can change quickly.
2 1. Rhebok Hiking Trail offers panoramic views over the Free State and into Lesotho. 2. Glen Reenen Rest Camp lies nestled between magnificent buttresses. 3. You might come across horse riders on the first day, but the rest of the time you’ll have the mountains to yourself. 3
GOLDEN GATE looks beautiful in winter when it is covered in snow, but it is best to do this hike in spring or summer when it’s warm enough to swim in the mountain pools. Be sure to pack a raincoat as it is a summer rainfall area and a thunderstorm can begin unexpectedly. GLEN REENEN REST CAMP has rondavels and camping along the river. Clarens is a 20-minute drive from the park’s western gate. The town has a number of beautiful art galleries and good restaurants. Horse riding is offered in the park while adventure activities such as whitewater rafting, flyfishing and archery can be booked through the town’s tourist information office. RHEBOK HIKING TRAIL costs R135 a person. Daily conservation fees are payable if you don’t have a Wild Card.
RESERVATIONS 012-428-9111 www.sanparks.org www.wildcard.co.za
SPRING 2013 WILD 81
SHOOT LIKE A PRO
LIE OF THE LAND The high angle emphasises the grandeur of the Tankwa Karooâ€™s vast plains.
Professional photographers journey from far and wide to capture the beauty of our parks. Here’s how you, too, can shoot a memorable landscape photo. Photographs and text by KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER
Landscape photography is about sharing the wonder of what you see, using the art of light and colour to translate a passing moment into an unforgettable image that speaks, feels and remains long after the pages are turned. Successful landscape photography is often about being in the right place at the right time, being witness to an incredible wonder of nature, > Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 1/200 sec, F7.1, 24–70 mm
SPRING 2013 WILD 83
SHOOT LIKE A PRO
which translates with little effort into a magnificent image. Other times, you need to work harder at it. More often than not, this work means waking up way before sunrise or scrambling up mountains shortly before sunset. Choosing the right lens, using an interesting filter, setting up a tripod, experimenting with slow shutter speeds or different exposures all help create an
image that tells an interesting story. But with every lens, tripod, filter and flask of coffee comes the dilemma of optimising the limited space in a backpack, and then actually carrying it. I maintain that if you can’t carry it yourself, you don’t need it. Fortunately, we also have access to tools and techniques that help us plan ahead, to shift our ordinary images into the extraordinary.
MAPUNGUBWE NATIONAL PARK
Canon EOS-5D Mark II, 1/60 sec, F10, 70–200 mm
FOCAL POINT On any trip you need to look for new, interesting angles. There’s nothing worse than coming back with photos that everyone has already taken. Rest assured there is always a different angle because, like thumbprints, our eyes are all different.
Part of looking for a new angle can be changing the focal point in an image. Rather than showing Mapungubwe’s sweeping vistas, this shot puts flowers in the foreground, yet captures the ambience of the park all the same.
AGULHAS NATIONAL PARK
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 1/320 sec, F4.5, 24–70 mm
COLOUR AND TINTS Digital photography makes it extremely easy to alter the final colour of an image. The disadvantage of this is that images nowadays are often over-edited. You need to be deliberate
XX WILD SPRING 2013 84
and careful when converting an image, including into sepia or black and white. Ideally you need to have the final version in mind when shooting the image in the first place.
WORLD VIEW Landscape photography can also focus on manmade structures.
WIDE-ANGLE LENS Lens choice can alter a frame significantly, so a wide-angle lens is a handy addition to your bag. When I was looking for a slightly different way to shoot a windmill, a wide-angle lens Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 1/250 sec, F4.5, 10â€“22â€‰mm
made for a dynamic and slightly unusual composition. I climbed the wall of the dam and used the round, empty basin to capture the dry and desert-like Tankwa Karoo National Park.
TIP 4 FISH EYE LENS This is a fun lens to have, but you have to be very careful to shoot with it effectively. The result is dramatic but can easily look contrived. I used the lens to create a ‘fish bowl’ effect in the sky with the main focus on the quiver tree, but the fish eye lens also plays with scale in this image and makes the tree appear a lot bigger than it was. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 1/80 sec, F14 , 15 mm
A quiver tree in Augrabies Falls National Park
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark IV, 1/400 sec, F5, 24–70 mm
SCALE This is a great way to take a seemingly plain frame and do something creative with it. Scale is also an effective tool when you are trying to capture the grandeur of a landscape. I could simply have shot the rock pools at sunset but it
quiduntia con rerum nem explabo recus, to ipsam eat odisquae cupture serspelest, sitaLIKE dis eaA PRO SHOOT sinimet moditi rem qui consedipit poreGARDEN ROUTE NATIONAL PARK pro cori sandus et fugiame nempori occaborum serroreiciis sae plabor apellab orepudit aute porum hictibus id mod explit est eatemquias idit, ipicia susiciis sae plabor apellab orepudit aute porum hictibus id mod explit est eatemquias idit, ipicia sus orepudit aute porum hictibus id mod exis the silhouettes plit of the girls shot estlittle eatemquias ipicia susiciis to scale that startidit, making this image plabor more interesting. sae I also choseapellab to place the aute with porum girls in the centreorepudit of the frame, the id modfurther exwater of the poolshictibus behind them, plit est eatemquias enhancing their presence in the picture. idit, ipicia sus KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 1/160 sec, F7.1, 16–35 mm
PATTERNS AND REPETITION Use pattern and repetition to create an eyecatching or unusual frame within an ordinary image, then crop the photo. With the fever tree forest, cropping further
enhances the pattern of the trees and makes the horizon look longer than it is. I know when I am shooting a landscape if it will be better as a panorama. I keep this in mind when photographing. GARDEN ROUTE NATIONAL PARK
Canon EOS-5D Mark II, 1/50 sec, F9, 24–70 mm
GOLDEN HOUR Shoot in the best light possible. Be prepared when the Golden Hour arrives and landscapes come to life. Make sure you are where you want to be long before the sun starts creeping over the horizon. There is nothing worse than
rushing to find the best angle, choosing a lens and setting up your tripod only to then miss the moment. It often means spending time scouting during the less ideal hours of the day to find interesting angles or vistas. SPRING 2013 WILD 87
BLOOM TIME The chalets at Duinepos are surrounded by flowers in the spring time.
West Coast National Park lies an hourâ€™s drive north of Cape Town.
88 WILD SPRING 2013
They knew hardly anything about wildlife before landing the concession to run Duinepos Chalets in the West Coast National Park, but three spunky women from the local Langebaan community have befriended two naughty eland bulls. By Marion Whitehead
PHOTOS: MARION WHITEHEAD
PEOPLE IN PARKS
ARGE, CLEAR ELAND TRACKS WERE THE FIRST THING I noticed in the indigenous garden outside my chalet at Duinepos in the West Coast National Park. I dropped my suitcase and followed the path towards the braai boma and found more evidence of eland: nearly every aloe had been grazed into a stump and discarded like a kid’s chewed candyfloss stick. “They like the bitter taste,” chuckled co-owner Hildegarde Valentyn, who runs reception and is the friendly face welcoming guests at this cluster of 11 self-catering units in the hills above Geelbek Visitor Centre and Restaurant. The flat-roofed chalets are tucked away in the bush like a big secret – you can’t see them from the road and it’s only when you crest the first large vegetated dune that you notice the chimneys of the cottages’ indoor fireplaces peeping above the sheltering foliage. Painted a deep earthy red and olive green, the low, squat buildings clustered around a central swimming pool, jungle gym and braai boma are designed to blend into the envi-
ronment – and seem to have got the eland’s stamp of approval. “It’s mainly two naughty bulls that roam around the chalets at night and early in the morning,” explained Hildegarde. “They also drink the water out of the bird baths.”
General manager and co-owner Janine Fortuin is less thrilled about the eland’s dietary preferences. “You can plant 20 aloes and next thing there are just seven left!” she exclaimed. “But guests love seeing the eland so close.” Operations manager Augusta Pretorius, the third in this triumvirate of co-owners, assured me she once snapped a picture with her cellphone of an eland on the stoep of chalet number two, just a few metres away from her. “It was huge, this high,” she gestured towards the roof over the patio table and chairs at the outdoor braai. After eight years of running Duinepos, the three women still marvel at the wildlife around them and are hugely appreciative of the opportunity SANParks
and the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) put their way when the Duinepos Chalets concession was given to a local community-based upliftment project in the first empowerment deal of its kind. Years of training, mentoring and hard work have paid off and the pioneering project now provides a successful model for other parks. All three grew up in Langebaan, but none of them knew much about the national park on their doorstep before DEAT initiated the Duinepos project in 2005 as part of the Sustainable Coastal Livelihoods Programme. The three made it onto the final shortlist of applicants, formed Bright Idea Projects and submitted a business plan. SANParks regional general manager Gary de Kock, who was park manager at the time, said their energy and commitment won over the steering committee, which awarded them the contract. It’s been a steep learning curve with lots of challenges. Janine, the major shareholder, had some management experience as she’d worked her way up from waitress to restaurant systems manager. >
Eland are regularly sighted by guests who stay at Duinepos.
Duinepos has a swimming pool where guests can cool off.
From left: Hildegarde Valentyn, Augusta Pretorius, Janine Fortuin
The pioneering project now provides a successful model for other parks.
SPRING 2013 WILD 89
PEOPLE IN PARKS
One of the bird hides at Geelbek.
Augusta, the oldest, had been a micro entrepreneur with her own dressmaking business while Hildegarde, the youngest, had been unemployed since matriculating and lack of finances had put the brake on further studies. The trio has seen their dreams realised since opening for business after a group of disused staff cottages were renovated, extra ones built and the garden landscaped with water-wise indigenous plants between 2005 and 2008. The women sourced many of the furnishings in the chalets from community crafters and now employ four full-time staff apart from themselves. “We gave them the bare bones – the buildings and fittings – and they had to do the rest,” commented Gary. Mentoring and training continued for the first four years, but now they are an independent business. Creative touches in the two-bedroom chalets enhance the fresh, modern look. The pine furniture is painted white, and cheerful hand-painted fabrics curtain the windows and are used as throws on beds decked with quality cotton linen. The kitchens are a pleasure
to cook in, with everything provided from coffee plungers and ice buckets for your bottle of local Darling wine to good quality stainless steel pots. “We want people to feel they’re getting value for their money,” said Janine. Nature lovers enjoy the tranquillity here and many return again and again, often bringing family for reunions. Janine likes to keep in touch with regulars and gets great satisfaction being able to make people happy in the peaceful haven they have created. “I like that there’s no television and limited cellphone reception here. Families can play together, talk, walk and cycle. It adds real value to their lives.” Their pensioners’ and mid-week specials are popular as you get two free nights if you book for three (excluding flower season of August and September, plus DecemberJanuary holidays). Two of the units are universally accessible and sleeper couches in the lounge mean each unit can sleep up to six. Bird clubs are frequent visitors to this twitchers’ paradise of some 250 species. The main drawcards are the two hides on the Langebaan Lagoon at Geelbek, which
are little more than a kilometre down the road and a great place to spot waders on the salt marshes and muddy flats. The freshwater hide at Abrahamskraal is a short drive away and there’s good terrestrial birding right on the chalets’ doorsteps. What started out as an innovative SANParks community development and black empowerment project has grown into a sustainable and socially responsible business, well on its way to achieving green credentials for reducing its environmental footprint with practices such as recycling garbage and reducing water use. “They’re a big success story for SANParks,” said Gary proudly. Happy to be a guest of this successful project, I went to bed in my cosy chalet dreaming of large, four-legged creatures that go bump in the night. I was up early to check if there was an eland on my stoep, or at least in the garden. Nothing. I tiptoed out, peeped around the corner and found myself about to step on the eland’s calling card: a scattering of large round poops. Next time, I’m sure I’ll catch that naughty eland standing on my stoep.
CONTACT Tel 022-707-9900 or 083-704-7067, email email@example.com, www.duinepos.co.za 90 WILD SPRING 2013
A PARK FOR EVERY SEASON
Families can play together, talk, walk and cycle. It adds real value to their lives.
SPRING sees a plethora of flowers popping up on dunes and between bushes of the strandveld in the West Coast National Park, from bright daisies to dainty lachenalias. The Postberg Section opens its gates to visitors in August and September to share the floral bounty. SUMMER brings vast concentrations of migrant birds flocking to the shores of Langebaan Lagoon to escape the freezing northern hemisphere winter. Megaticks include waders such as the bar-tailed godwit and sanderling. AUTUMN is still good for paddling, swimming and windsurfing at Kraalbaai, where houseboats are moored in the sheltered cove and lazy braais are a pleasure at the numerous picnic spots. WINTER heralds moody landscapes and welcome rain in between sunny days when pink flamingos in their thousands trawl the shallows for delicacies. Cooler weather is great for hiking and cycling on the network of trails in the park.
DUNE WE GO Thereâ€™s plenty of family fun to be had climbing the big dunes at Tsaarsbank.
The length of the tunnels swallowtailed bee-eaters use for breeding.
HOLE in one Short or long, cavernous or cosy, holes of all shapes and sizes house animals that seek safety, a comfortable place to breed, or a suitable lookout for prey. By Emma Bryce Merops hirundineus
Swallow-tailed bee-eater At nesting time these dazzling birds plough long tunnels into sandy riverbanks. They lay their eggs in cool chambers at the end to keep them safe. Groups of birds share a wedge of the riverbank and together they protect their hatchlings from predators. 92 WILD SPRING 2013
Many animals reuse holes and burrows abandoned by other creatures, because it saves them the effort of creating new ones themselves. Usually, they search for a hole that’s their size, to make sure it’ll be a good fit.
Spring hare More rat than rabbit, spring hares are energetic Jack-inthe-boxes that pop up and disappear just as quickly. Their hidey-holes are extra-long tunnels that run 80 cm below ground. Once inside, the furry critters block the exit hole with loose soil to keep enemies out.
The distance a spring hare burrow can cover.
Did you know?
When they’re dressed in the brightly coloured scales they wear for breeding, these reptiles hide underground to escape predators. The burrows they build are often at the base of a bush for extra protection. They also house the 12 or so eggs they lay, in the cooler underground sand.
These wild hogs like to revamp abandoned aardvark burrows. To dodge their predators, warthogs always keep a few entrance holes in sight. This makes it easy for them to slip away into their underground chambers. At night, they reverse into these tunnels with tusks facing forward to scare off their enemies.
ANN & STEVE TOON
Monitor lizard What crafty creatures Nile monitor lizards are! They break into termite mounds to lay their eggs, and then leave it to the hard-working termites to patch up the hole. Once this work is done, the monitor lizard’s eggs are safely protected from hungry predators.
SPRING 2013 WILD 93
Did you know? If some birds canâ€™t find a natural hollow to nest in, they will look for man-made ones. They will lay their eggs in holes in roofs, fences and water tanks. Even postboxes are used!
Pearl-spotted owl Like fairytale owls, these tiny birds perch at the entrance to their nests in tree trunks. They sometimes take over the homes of barbets and woodpeckers. The owls fill the hollow with wood chips to cushion their eggs. They defend their homes by making a loud territorial whistle that warns others away.
94 WILD SPRING 2013
These slim mammals have mastered the art of underground living. They often move into abandoned burrows, and are very good at sharing their homes with other animals like meerkats and ground squirrels. Their large, underground networks have many entrances – like secret doorways to another world.
Using their fangs, these bristly spiders dig deep dens. They drape the insides with silk, which they also wrap around the hole’s entrance. When insects at the top tread on that silk, the spider feels the vibrations and pounces. The dinner is dragged down the dark passageway and the spider feasts in private. AFRICAIMAGERY.COM / TONY PHELPS
The average number of Damaraland molerats living together in a colony.
Everything these toothy rodents do is for one molerat queen. She depends on her underlings to feed her and she’s the only one allowed to breed. The workers burrow into the soil with their shovel-like teeth. In this way they create huge tunnel networks that can stretch 2 m below ground.
Hornbills have an unusual habit: pregnant females are closed up inside tree hollows. The birds build a wall with a small opening – the male hornbill brings food to this slit. Eventually, the mother breaks out of her tree hideaway, but the newly hatched chicks quickly close it up again. Inside they can stay protected until they fly away.
The number of weeks females spend inside the tree hollow before they break out.
WIN A STAY
IN ROBBERG NATURE RESERVE
PICTURES DALE MORRIS
EXCLUSIVE TO WILD CARD MEMBERS
TOP: Robberg’s Fountain Shack has a breathtaking setting. LEFT: Visitors to the reserve often see seals, whales and sharks.
obberg is a wildly beautiful place of crashing waves, deserted beaches and misty cliffs. At the heart of it all lies
Fountain Shack, a rustic fisherman’s cottage with views that are the envy of five-star lodges. There may not be electricity but you’ll find plenty of fresh air, deep quiet and natural beauty. Spend your days exploring the peninsula along one of the many hiking trails, heading back to enjoy the sunset from the deck. Fountain Shack is booked out by one group at a time, so once the day-trippers go home, you’ll have Robberg all to yourself.
96 WILD SPRING 2013
How to enter: A party of four will enjoy a
two-night stay in Robberg Nature Reserve. For the chance to win, email the answer to this question along with your name and valid Wild Card number to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: Robberg). QUESTION: What is the name of the accommodation in Robberg? Competition rules The competition is open to valid Wild Card members only. The prize is for four people, two nights midweek. The prize is valid for six months from the date the prize letter is issued. CapeNature reserves the right to accept and award a booking at its sole discretion. Competition closes 31 October 2013.
A NATIONAL PARK. A WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
A GAME RESERVE. ENJOY SWAZILAND
AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN
MAPUNGUBWE is calling Take a journey through the past to a time when animals had the run of the plains and an ancient civilisation lived on Mapungubwe Hill. You’ll find stately giant baobabs and weathered sandstone cliffs; a timeless backdrop to the great variety of big game. Delve into the history of the Golden Rhino at the interpretive centre, then make your way to the restaurant for
refreshments and a chance to drink in the view. This is a place for all time. Go Wild.
Restaurant with great views Book your escape now! Accommodation from R885 per night for two people. Camping from R185 per night for two people.
5% discount on online bookings. 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 email@example.com |
visit www.sanparks.org or www.sanparks.mobi