2016 SA PUBLICATION FORUM
R34.90 BIRD’S EYE VIEW
MEET THE BATELEURS Pilots who fly for nature
CHEETAH VS LION
SUMMER HOLIDAY SPECIAL
Power balance in a small park
ECO TRAVEL TOP 23 GREEN DESTINATIONS 03019
4X4 IN ANYSBERG & CAMDEBOO PHOTOGRAPHY: THE SHOT THAT SAYS IT ALL
9 771993 790001
NEW ‘HOTELS’ AT TWEE RIVIEREN
explore | conserve | enjoy
Octagon 8 Tent
The Octagon 8 provides a full 360Â° view of your surroundings. The Is this the most scenic of all our nat flysheet provides a spacious shelter and has a multitude of uses, parks? Visit Marakele to see for you or you can just pitch the inner for a bug-proof screen room. The tent comes with a wheeled carry bag for ease of movement on the campsite while the ingenious hinged door makes entering and leaving the tent quick and simple.
R 4,299 R 4,999 Only available at
For 8 persons with a full 360Â° view
*Valid until 31 December 2016 or while stocks last
Ideal as shelter
Wild SUMMER 2016/2017
16 The four-bedroom villa with the rooftop bar-cum-lounge offers excellent whale watching.
41 INSIDE TRACK 4 Letters | 8 Kgalagadi bat hotel | 10 Camdeboo campsite | 11 Summer trip planner
BEST OF ECO TRAVEL 14 Quiet on the eastern front Addo’s Darlington Dam offers respite from city noise 16 All-star Cederberg Lose yourself in spectacular night skies 19 Riding high Five horseback trails to get you back to nature 20 The air up there Head to the Drakensberg if you want to breathe deeply www.wildcard.co.za
22 Kogelberg in bloom Discover a treasure trove of botanical riches 26 De Hoop’s Ocean House Experience utter indulgence and restful seclusion 30 Water babies welcome Our pick of activities for aquatic adventurers 32 A better place Why Gamkaberg’s eco-lodges count among the world’s best
36 A community affair How taking care of nature takes care of our needs 38 Table Mountain trails Explore the park with the highest density of footpaths 41 Bike in Grootvadersbosch A new network of routes you can ride all weekend long 44 The wonder of wilderness Places untouched by humans are good for the soul SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 1
Wild SUMMER 2016/2017
The sharp beak of an African darter appeared above the water, seemingly from nowhere.
76 WILDLIFE 50 Who is top cat? The power balance between lions and cheetahs in a small park 68 Dive master The African darter’s solution to capturing prey underwater 70 Owl night long Get to know these impressive birds of prey PHOTOGRAPHY 78 The art of storytelling Let your pictures speak 2 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
ADVENTURE 56 The track to Tapfontein Follow the 4x4 route to these isolated cabins
KIDS 88 Colour me dangerous For some creatures bright hues are a way to stay safe
PEOPLE IN PARKS 62 On angel wings The volunteers who fly for conservation
WILD CARD 90 Parks protocol Why you shouldn’t feed wildlife and other guidelines for guests 92 On the web 93 Become a member 94 Map of the Wild parks 96 Competition Win a stay for four in Gamkaberg
BOTANY 76 Coast coral tree The flaming flowers attract birds and humans alike
Discover the joy of the
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Giantâ€™s Castle Resort
The views are stunning, the air is clean, fresh and bracing, the accommodation comfortable and snug. Take a refreshing break in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park just four hours from Johannesburg or Durban along the N3. Bike, hike, visit ancient rock-art sites, or simply chill out â€Ś the choice is yours.
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Conservation, Partnerships & Ecotourism
INSIDE TRACK EDITORIAL BOARD HAPILOE SELLO, SANParks SHERAAZ ISMAIL, CapeNature TEBOHO MOKOENA, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife RAY NAGURAN, Msinsi Resorts ANN REILLY, Swazi Big Game Parks HEIN GROBLER, Wild Card
WILD CARD ENQUIRIES 0861 GO WILD (46 9453) email@example.com International Wild Card members call
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CONTRIBUTORS Bridgena Barnard, Ilse Bigalke, Emma Bryce, Nick Dall, Justin Fox, Jim Freeman, Albert Froneman, Samantha Hartshorne, Jacques Marais, Fiona McIntosh, Judy McMahon, Don Pinnock, Scott Ramsay, Roxanne Reid, Janine Stephen, Ron Swilling, Ann and Steve Toon, Albie Venter, Olivia Wickstrom PHOTOGRAPHY & ART Shaen Adey, Africaimagery.com / Roger de la Harpe, Bridgena Barnard, Nick Dall, Chris Forder, Justin Fox, Albert Froneman, Amida Johns, Hougaard Malan, Jacques Marais, Dale Morris, Scott Ramsay, Daleen Roodt, Janine Stephen, Ron Swilling, Ann and Steve Toon, Albie Venter
PUBLISHED BY Tip Africa Publishing PO Box 13022, Woodstock, 7915 T: (+27) 021-447-6094 F: (+27) 021-447-0312 firstname.lastname@example.org
FROM THE EDITOR
Researchers say 10 per cent of the wilderness areas on Earth has been destroyed over the past 20 years.
reen, not blue. This has been the mantra for our Best of Eco summer edition. Over the past few months, our team turned into modern-day eco-warriors. We sought out the quietest spot, the cleanest air and the sparkliest night sky in Wild Card parks and reserves. We gasped at sensational botanical diversity and wallowed in the most profound wilderness experience. Then we explored trails. Hiking trails, horse trails, mountain-bike trails, 4x4 trails and water trails, for those of us whose preferred downtime is synonymous with motion. Trails hint of migration routes, of wildlife, and more often than not they embody the essence of a safari. Researchers say 10 per cent of the wilderness areas on Earth has been destroyed over the past 20 years and, with the devastation of 14 per cent of the continent’s wild places, Africa isn’t doing well. While many governments put measures in place to save species from dying out, very few have legislation to protect ecosystems. Eco statistics are heartbreaking, but on a more positive note, Wild Card generates R80 million in turnover each year for conservation. Thank you for making a difference. Admirable work is also being done by the Bateleurs, the organisation of volunteer pilots who use private aircraft to fly wildlife missions free of charge. Read more about these wings for the environment on page 62. As apex predators and tourist drawcards, lions play a dual role in our national parks. What happens when they are introduced to a small park where there is a thriving yet fragile population of cheetahs? We examine the challenges of co-existence on page 50. This summer, may your thoughts turn to an alternative, greener lifestyle. Enjoy our bucket list for in-the-know nature pilgrims. Then get going!
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Wild has won again at the SA Publication Forum Awards, the competition for excellence in corporate publications. For the fourth year in a row, Wild has been named the Best External Magazine (Category A for magazines with a large circulation).
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Wild® magazine and Wild Card® are registered trademarks of SANParks. Opinions expressed in this magazine do not reflect those of the Wild Card or any of the Wild Card programme partners. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, but Wild magazine cannot be held liable for inadvertent mistakes. Prices correct at the time of going to print.
4 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
Connect with us at www.wildcard.co.za | email@example.com | PO Box 13022, Woodstock, 7915
ZIPPY STRIPES We recently spent a few days in Kruger and came across two zebras next to each other with these unusual stripe patterns on their rumps — almost as if their skin had been ‘patched up’ and now the stripes don’t match. Is this common, and presumably genetic? Sally Stumbles Trevor Carnaby, author of Beat About the Bush, responds: These photos depict scarring from an injury where the stripes have healed out of sync. It is quite common with zebras and not genetic.
WINNING LETTER FIRST SA TOUR We recently received our first copy of Wild magazine and it’s worth reading every single page. Coming from Germany, my wife and I started our first South African tour this February at Kimberley and visited Mokala, Mountain Zebra and Addo Elephant national parks before we continued our journey to Cape Town. Reading about these parks in your latest issue was like being there again, and the appetite grew for more! Wild is very detailed and informative about South African wilderness and the huge efforts to preserve it. We will be back next year and are looking forward to much more. Hans and Elke Thoemmes, Eitorf, Germany
Sally Stumbles wins a pair of Wolf River aqua shoes for women (R799) from HI-TEC.
Send us your letter for the chance to win.
Enjoying the spectacular views in Mountain Zebra National Park.
With these aqua shoes you can explore around streams and rockpools with ease. They feature durable rubber outsoles for stable footing in wet environments and drainage ports so your feet won’t slosh around inside. The toggle fastening is simple to use and ensures a secure fit. SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 5
The Bence family spells LOVE in the Kgalagadi.
“The Wild Card has given us the opportunity to visit so many different places. We would not be without it.” – Freddie Mulder
DESERT AND BEACH HOLIDAY
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
We have been to almost every national park in South Africa, our favourites being Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park. This December will be the second time we have a ‘desert and beach’ holiday: 10 days in the Kgalagadi, back home for a family Christmas, and then off to Ebb and Flow for another six days. We cannot wait to sit in our chairs at Nossob, with the fire going, watching the sky turn from pale blue to burnt orange and listening to jackal call in the distance. Pure bliss and soul enriching. At Ebb and Flow, after an early hike to the waterfall, we swim at Leentjiesklip, chat to camping friends we see once a year, watch narina trogon — astonished by the beauty of a green flash with red wing tips — and sit back and relax. Thank you for a great magazine which helps readers conserve and respect nature. Charl Bence
Thank you and your team for yet another informative Wild issue (Winter 2016). I enjoyed the article about the Apple-leaf tree Philenoptera violacea. However, in my tree books the botanical name is listed as Lonchocarpus capassa? Johan Kriek It’s complicated if you are not a scientist. Some species have been named more than once and this taxon is an example. Sources such as SANBI use Philenoptera violacea. Yours is a synonym. — Ed.
SUSTAIN OUR LEGACY
Melissa and Estelle Bence in the Kgalagadi.
LOST PHONES IN MAPUNGUBWE My son, daughter-in-law, grandson, husband and I recently spent a week in Mapungubwe National Park. What a magic place it is. We stayed in the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp and Vhembe Wilderness Camp. The friendliness and efficiency of the staff added to our pleasure. My husband and grandson both lost their cellphones along the way, and we discovered the loss only once we had returned home. My son phoned and was told that they had been handed in, and would be sent to the head office in Pretoria where he could collect them. Service and honesty like that is beyond price. Jean Bisset
6 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
One does not have to plough through ads looking for your well-written articles. Another distinguishing feature are the articles on the lesser-known reserves and parks which contribute to the sustainability of our legacy. I am 65 and enjoying semiretirement. Our children were exposed to the bush from a young age, and value that to this day. Our son is a lawyer but wants to build on his FGASA qualifications. Our daughter has just had a baby, and granddaughter’s first visit to SANParks will be when her parents and I do the Skukuza half marathon next August (again). Rob Lloyd
EIGHT PARKS ROAD TRIP The Wild Card was a worthwhile asset on our latest holiday, as we visited eight national parks. We left Durban on 12 August in our motor home. At Mokala we saw large herds of sable and roan. In the Kgalagadi we were privileged to see three lionesses with five cubs and two cheetah mothers, one with two cubs and the other with four; also a Cape fox. Next stop Augrabies, and although the Orange was low, the power of the falls was amazing. Namaqua was not its best, but still very pretty. The flowers in the Postberg section of the West Coast were truly spectacular. Then the complete opposite in beauty at the Valley of Desolation in Cambedoo. We spent three nights at Mountain Zebra where the highlights were an aardwolf and a family of bateared foxes. Our last stop was Golden Gate where new grass shoots attracted lots of game. Alex and Sheldene Stuart
RATINGS FOR 4X4 TRAILS We go to Wild Card parks in our 2x4 Fortuner and off-road trailer. Could you perhaps grade the trails 1â€“3 for 2x4s and above only for 4x4s? A 2x4 can go where most 4x4s go, but I do not want to go over large rocks and where I must still build roads. Lionel Vogt If a trail is seriously off-road with significant obstacles that may require road building, please rest assured that we will mention it in the article. â€” Ed.
THE ONLY RESIDENTIAL ESTATE WITH DIRECT ACCESS INTO KRUGER NATIONAL PARK VIA A PRIVATE BRIDGE Situated near Malalane and on the banks of the Crocodile River, Mjejane Game Reserve is a Big 5 reserve that boasts 10km's of spectacular river frontage and a private bridge into the Kruger National Park. Amidst the sights and sounds of nature, with a choice of two dream lifestyles - Riverview and Bushland - Mjejane Game Reserve is for those who enjoy an intimate connection with the African bush.
mjejane Where did you go with your Wild Card? Send us a picture of your card in the parks and you could win free renewal of your membership. Email your image to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: Card). For rules, visit www.wildcard.co.za/category/competitions. Dr Tsholofelo Kungoane wins free renewal with this picture taken in Karoo National Park during a recent family holiday.
FREEHOLD OWNERSHIP ON MJEJANE GA ME RESERVE
087 231 1640 WWW.MJEJANELIFESTYLE.CO.ZA
K G A L A G A D I T R A N S F R O N T I E R PA R K
The latest accommodation at Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi comes with a catch. By Bridgena Barnard
8 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
Bats tucked up for sleep in one of the new bat hotels.
here are a number of exclusive ‘hotels’ with ‘luxury suites’ at Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, but you can’t spend a night in one. They’re exclusively reserved for Flutters, Baldmice, Old Batters, Vlermuise, Fleder Mousers and Vagabonds. The only guests in the new Kgalagadi ‘hotels’ are free-tailed, Cape serotine and yellow house bats. Like many other species, bats are threatened by human activity and behaviour, yet certain agricultural areas rely on bats for pollination and pest control. In the Kgalagadi ecosystem they play a vital role, acting as natural insect controllers. The SANParks Honorary Rangers, with the help of an eco-solutions company, donated six bat hotels that were installed in Twee Rivieren rest camp by the technical department. The objective was for the bats to move into the hotels and contribute to effective pest and insect control in the camp. An eco-friendly, non-toxic and sustainable solution. The rectangular boxes are posted three metres high in the air on poles, in full sun, as per the preference of their occupants. Inside the boxes comprise three to five sleeves of wooden dividers. The bats roost upside down between these dividers. When dusk settles, these nocturnal creatures start to wake up and move. You can hear a screeching noise as they slowly slip down to the bottom of the box opening. All of a sudden, in a nanosecond, they
drop down out of the box, open their characteristic webbed wings and fly into the sky. Watching them sweep through the dark, I experienced a sense of delight. These astonishing mammals can live for 20 years. They have one baby a season, which the females raise till they are six weeks old. Fast and ferocious flyers, they are equipped with echolocation skills to detect supper in an effortless manner. Their senses are so refined they can even perceive objects as thin as a human hair. A small colony of bats can eat over a ton of insects, such as mosquitoes and moths, a year. My ill feelings towards mosquitoes have elevated bats’ standing in my books even more. But complaints from chalet guests to the service department got me thinking: “Why do people react to bats in this manner?” It’s down to fear and a misunderstanding of the species, so let me set the record straight. You have probably watched too many vampire or Dracula movies and too few wildlife documentaries about bats. Only three bat species out of 1 100 in the world survive on blood. None of these are found in Africa. Bats aren’t trying to fly into your hair or attack you, they’re swooping up insects hovering near you. Bats change direction rapidly as they chase after insects, so their flight can seem erratic. If you were unlucky enough to be bitten by one, a bat may give you rabies, but so might a jackal or dog. /
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The Twee Rivieren bat colony would like to thank the SANParks Honorary Rangers, in particular the late Div Bosman, chairman of the Free State region, who were so generous in donating the bat hotels. To learn more about the SANParks Honorary Rangers and find out how to get involved, visit www.sanparksvolunteers.org. www.wildcard.co.za
SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 9
Back to basics C A M D E B O O NAT I O NA L PA R K
HOTT SPO The scenic Driekoppe trail will have you crawling up a challenging track.
Waaihoek Rustic 4x4 Campsite is on a flat piece of ground with a loo and a shower perched halfway up a mountain.
Looking for an unusual camping spot that sees very few visitors? Then head up a rugged track to the Waaihoek campsite in Camdeboo. By Judy McMahon
lthough my husband, Les, and I are now in our 70s, we are still keen campers and always on the lookout for a little-known destination with a challenge thrown in. After reading about Driekoppe 4x4 route and the Waaihoek campsite in Wild, we decided to pay a visit. We called at the SANParks office in Graaff Reinet to enquire about booking. Park manager Nick de Goede said both the trail and the campsite were open, though facilities there are basic and rustic. It sounded very much like our kind of place. Driekoppe 4x4 trail is a scenic grade two trail. You follow the track past the water supply pump, to the top of Hanglip with its panoramic view of the Camdeboo
plains or you can follow the stream bed down Wolfkloof to the waterfall. You can also walk a circular route by following the left-hand turn-off. We found the trail a little taxing, but the eventual views from the top are truly breathtaking. Waaihoek campsite, just below the Hanglip viewpoint, is rustic as promised, but well appointed with the basic necessities: a tap, braai, loo with a view and open air shower, even fixtures to secure a tent. One can only imagine the night sky. We stayed at Nqweba campsite, near the dam, which has a game-viewing deck and top-notch facilities. Added to this was an abundance of game and birds along the way. All of which will entice us back soon.
TRIP PLANNER Waaihoek campsite can be booked only by phoning the park reception on 049-892-3453. Base rate is R225 a night for two people. The Driekoppe 4x4 trail does not have to be booked in advance, you just have to pick the key up from reception. In case of queries, contact Camdeboo park manager Nick de Goede on 049-892-3453. 10 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
INSIDE TRACK We provide the glamorous backdrop. You prepare the lime daiquiris.
TRIP PLANNER Travel smarter in Wild Card parks and reserves with our curated guide. When the heat is on, we recommend you chill with a lime daiquiri, the quintessential summer cocktail. By Nick Dall
SHAKEN NOT STIRRED
• 2 cups dark rum • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice • 2/3 cup sugar syrup
Combine the rum, lime juice and syrup. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and fill two-thirds full with the cocktail mixture. Shake for 30 seconds and pour into frosted glasses. Serve ice cold.
The Foodie recommends
The Adventure Traveller recommends
The Naturalist recommends
The Sophisticate recommends
Where: Mosu Lodge at Mokala National Park
Where: Albert Falls Game Reserve
Wide open spaces, an abundance of endangered species and a pervasive aura of unhurried calm make Mokala the ideal spot to unwind. Couple this with the crackling intensity of the park’s famous summer thunderstorms, the array of elegant accommodation options and the legendary food at Mosu Restaurant, and you have a real winner. Enjoy a daiquiri on your chalet’s private stoep before decamping to the restaurant for the mouth-watering venison fillet. Don’t forget to admire the dazzling stars before you retire for the day. You’ll feel like a millionaire.
By day the placid, expansive waters of Albert Falls Dam are a playground for sailing, wind-surfing and fishing enthusiasts. But as nightfall approaches, animals and humans alike are drawn to the lake’s edge to quench their thirst. Pour some daiquiris and pull up a chair to enjoy a ringside seat at the main event. Relive the action of a day spent on the water, while the sun slips behind the Karkloof Hills on the far side of the lake and the mild Midlands air comes alive with melodic birdsong and careening bats. Life doesn’t get better than this.
Where: Mathekanyane Lookout near Skukuza rest camp, Kruger National Park
Where: Highlands Mountain Retreat at Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Kruger holidays are all about letting the rhythms of nature wash over you and by the time the burnished sun starts slinking towards the horizon, you’ll be thirsting for a refreshing sundowner. The massive dome-shaped boulder at Mathekanyane enjoys fabulous 360° panoramas of the bushveld below and comes into its own in the twilight hour. There are no benches here, so bring a picnic blanket if you want a barrier between you and the pleasant warmth of the rock beneath. Remember to allow at least 20 minutes to get back to camp before the gate closes.
If it’s views you’re after, you can drink your fill at Golden Gate. Dramatic basalt cliffs interposed between rolling grasslands and vast skies make it the kind of place that turns photographers, aesthetes and poets giddy. The most memorable views are at the exclusive Highlands Mountain Retreat, where eight log cabins perch atop a ridge with unencumbered vistas towards the peaks of the Drakensberg. After a day spent discovering the park’s fascinating history and ecology on horseback, you deserve to unwind in your private hideaway, drink in hand and fire ablaze.
CONTACT SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, reservations@ sanparks.org, www.sanparks. org/bookings/
CONTACT SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, reservations@ sanparks.org, www.sanparks. org/bookings/
CONTACT Mosu Lodge 053-204-8000, SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, reservations@ sanparks.org, www.sanparks. org/bookings/ www.wildcard.co.za
CONTACT Albert Falls 033-569-1202, email@example.com, www.msinsi.co.za
SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 11
ECO Some of the best eco-holidays on the planet, from high-end accommodation to horseback safaris, can be enjoyed in Wild Card parks and reserves. Indulge your craving for peace and quiet, your passion for wilderness experiences, and your appetite for adventure under a big blue sky at these pristine spots.
UNTOUCHED Enjoy unadulterated nature at our top spots, such as Darlington Dam in Addo Elephant National Park.
SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 13
ECO ADD O ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
Silence in a national park generally refers to spots that are isolated, have limited facilities and are difficult to access. Darlington Dam in Addo Elephant National Park offers a combination of all three. By Jim Freeman
W The tranquillity of Darlington Dam is a two-hour drive from Port Elizabeth.
ater lapping and the sussuration of wind through long grass are the only sounds. The sun is within a minute of taking its final bow. Its dying rays skitter across the water, giving wavelets whipped up by the wind a silver-blue sheen. All is at peace with the world. Then the sand-muffled thud of hooves interposes. A small herd of wildebeest gallops back and forth along the shore in the gloom, bodies silhouetted against the water. Is silence the absence of sound or an absence of noise? To my mind, the former is sensory deprivation, the latter sensory enhancement. It might sound like stating the obvious but, if you want quiet, go where other people donâ€™t. I visit Addo Elephant National Park
14 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
regularly but only fairly recently ventured into the remote western section of the reserve that surrounds Darlington Dam. The two entrances to this stand-alone section of Addo are some distance from the main park and youâ€™re recommended to go there only if you have an all-wheeldrive vehicle. The dam, formerly known as Lake Mentz and fed by the Sundays River, was once the second largest in the country. It was built largely at the instigation of Jock of the Bushveld author Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who owned irrigation-dependent farms in the area. It was renamed in 1995, after the hamlet that was swamped in the damming process, and incorporated into the national park five years later. During times of drought, waterfowl still perch on
the tips of long-submerged houses in the middle of the dam. Darlington Dam is known by Kirkwood locals for its carp fishing. Even so, I spotted fewer than a dozen vehicles, mostly in groups of two or three, with people under canvas gazebos escaping the sun while waiting for the fish to bite. Most had massive cooler boxes, because those who visit have to bring all their own consumables. There is no restaurant or shop, only a basic ablution block in the small campsite. There is no electricity or drinking water. With luck youâ€™ll have the place to yourself under the vast starry expanse of the Milky Way. The soundtrack: crackling coals for company. The campsite and fishing spots are on the western side of the dam. Wildlife is www.wildcard.co.za
not abundant, but the birdlife is wonderful, especially in the reeds that line the Sundays River below the dam wall. On the eastern side of the dam the animal life is prolific. The plains lend themselves to large groups of herbivores, but these are skittish as so few people go there. The only larger predators are leopards, found in the mountains through which a seldom-used but beautiful 4x4 trail winds. Far from disrupting the tranquillity of nature, contextually appropriate cries, grunts and howls, whether fish eagles, fiery-necked nightjars or jackals, make me yearn for quiet places. My most memorable moment at Darlington Dam was three western ospreys giving a fish eagle a hard time, and being very noisy about it!
Trip planner Camping R60 an adult, R30 a child. Book with Addo EleÂ phant National Park on 042-233-8619.
SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 15
Stargazing is the perfect night-time activity for nature lovers, especially in remote places such as the Cederberg. By Roxanne Reid
The Cederberg Wilderness Area is a two-anda-half-hour drive from Cape Town. 16 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
n overnight hikes to Sneeukop and Sneeuberg I’ve seen how great the skies here are for stars,” said Henry Davids, CapeNature’s Cederberg Tourism Officer. The Cederberg Wilderness Area, 200 km north of Cape Town, ticks all the boxes for good stargazing and, what’s more, the higher the spot, the better your experience. Skies in nature reserves and game parks are special because they are unobstructed by buildings and there is no light pollution from artificial sources. The wilderness is also usually pollution free and not hazy. Plan your visit to coincide with a new moon, when the stars are brightest. If there’s little or no wind, count yourself especially lucky. And for the ultimate bonanza, go where the air is dry. Deserts are great for stargazing. In the 1980s, the Cederberg Observatory was set up near Dwarsrivier. It’s now run by seven partners and open to the public on Saturday evenings, weather permitting, except on weekends closest to full moon. After a slideshow you’ll look through telescopes. Entrance is free but a donation is appreciated.
ECO CE DE RBERG
TIMELESS In the Cederberg you can see the night skies much as the Khoisan might have seen them many moons ago when they were painting rock art in caves. www.wildcard.co.za
Thanks to their remote locations, protected areas such as the Cederberg offer prime stargazing.
Stars in your eyes Give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. If you plan to watch for a while, it’s more comfy to lie on your back than to crane your neck. A pair of binoculars can improve your view more than you might imagine. Buy a star chart or book like Sky Guide Africa South 2017 to guide you and enhance your enjoyment. Use a compass to find reference stars in the sky. Download a free interactive star-watching app to help identify stars, planets and nebulae. It’s like a virtual planetarium in your pocket as GPS sensors automatically choose a sky-map for the direction you’re pointing your phone. But do remember that most star apps need cellphone signal, so aren’t much use in remote areas where there isn’t any.
“On good nights the views of the skies are stunning,” said partner Chris Forder. “The observatory is in a valley 890 metres above sea level, between the Sneeuberg, Dwarsberg and Wolfberg ranges, which shield it from the lights of Cape Town and Citrusdal.” Although winter months are best for stargazing because the centre of our galaxy is overhead, you’ll still see Orion and the Southern Cross during summer. “Unfortunately the two best planets to see, Saturn and Jupiter, aren’t particularly well placed this summer,” says Chris. But there are always plenty of stars.
WATCH THIS SPACE
It is possible to visit the Cederberg Observatory from CapeNature’s Algeria rest camp and campsite. Allow 40 minutes one way for travel on the dirt roads.
18 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
Recommended spots for amateur astronomers: 1. Pafuri in northern Kruger National Park is far from any city, so there’s little light pollution. 2. Anysberg Nature Reserve in the Karoo has a stargazing platform with a telescope, where guided stargazing takes place one weekend a month. 3. Tankwa Karoo National Park is open and remote, some 200 km from the nearest town. Perfect for camping out to enjoy star-filled skies. 4. The dry air of SANParks’ arid parks — Kgalagadi, Richtersveld, Mokala and Augrabies — is ideal for looking at the stars.
ECO HOR SE RIDING
SADDLE UP! See nature from a new viewpoint when you explore on horseback.
BIG GAME PARKS
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, near Mbabane, Swaziland
Addo Elephant National Park, near Port Elizabeth
Anysberg Nature Reserve, near Laingsburg
Golden Gate Highlands National Park, near Clarens
What could beat riding through Big Five country? In Addo carefully conducted horse trails make this possible. In the morning and afternoon, two-hour guided rides explore the Nyathi section, home to big game and predators. Less adrenalin-inducing are trails through the Zuurberg section with its grand mountain views. Make it happen Big Five rides from R470 a person, no under 16s. Zuurberg rides from R230 a person, no under 10s. Book with the park on 042-2338600.
A trip that combines horse riding with astronomy, that’s the idea behind the two-day Planet Trek. The route makes its way past mosaic markers that represent the planets. Your destination is Tapfontein’s charming little cottages. With no electricity and no other people for miles, there’s little risk of light interfering with your stargazing. Make it happen R875 a person out of season, R1 060 in season, minimum four people. CapeNature Reservations 021-483-0190
In this scenic park it’s all about the views: panoramas of honey-coloured rock against green summer grasses and powder blue sky. Why not boost your enjoyment by sightseeing from horseback? You’ll see more from this commanding position and the pace of the outride is gentle enough to take it all in. Make it happen It is essential to book in advance with the park on 058-255-1000. Bear in mind that the stables are closed on Mondays.
With its rolling grasslands and welltrodden game paths, Mlilwane is ideal for horse-based exploration. Known for their well-schooled horses, Chubeka Trails offers outrides to suit your skill level and sense of adventure. If you’re a more experienced equestrian, opt for an overnight outing such as the Klipspringer Trail. You’ll ride to a base camp along the Lusushwane River and then explore the stunning Swazi surrounds from there. Highlights include a river crossing, long canters and birding from the saddle. Make it happen Outrides from R250 an hour, Klipspringer Trail from R3 895. Big Game Parks Reservations +2682528-3943
Royal Natal National Park, near Harrismith Get a new perspective on the famous Amphitheatre when you see it from the saddle. Outrides in the Rugged Glen section of the park climb the foothills of the Drakensberg for breathtaking views. Exploring by horse improves your chance of encountering wildlife such as the mountain reedbuck. Rides take place morning and afternoon and vary between two and six hours. Make it happen From R180 for an hour. Book with the park on 036-4386310.
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ECO U K HA H L A M BA- DR A KENSBERG NAT IONA L PA RK
Trip planner uKhahlamba-Drakensberg is a World Heritage Site that stretches the 150 km length of the mountain range. Didima Resort at Cathedral Peak offers a variety of accommodation some 250 km from Durban and 400 km from Gauteng. Book with Ezemvelo Central Reservations on 033-845-1000. 20 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
DEEP BREATH Want to fill your lungs with pure O2? You don’t need to visit an oxygen bar — many Wild Card parks and reserves have air you could bottle. By Romi Boom
THE AIR UP THERE With several peaks topping more than 3 000m, the Drakensberg range towers above city pollution. www.wildcard.co.za
hances are you need a pure air fix in the wilds as often as possible. More than 80 per cent of urban residents breathe unhealthy air. You can watch what you eat and lead an active lifestyle, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about the quality of the air you breathe in town. While data cannot tell where exactly to find the cleanest air, some ecosystems are better than others. The good news is that the air in the southern hemisphere is much cleaner than in the northern hemisphere. Even so, light, cold and rain can change the air’s composition. Surprisingly air that looks clean, such as an old-growth forest, may harbour invisible, odourless toxins. It’s true that abundant foliage soaks up carbon dioxide, but microscopic particles of air pollution can travel thousands of kilometres. Oceanside is a good place to start breathing deeply, with phytoplankton being a highly rated photosynthesising species. The lookout at Cape Point in Table Mountain National Park records potently pure air, especially when the southerly gale threatens to sweep you off your feet. Wild ’s choice of pristine oxygen is to be found in a more remote spot, in the Drakensberg highlands. Strap on your hiking boots and head for a trail amid vast meadows and a neglible human footprint. The oxygen boost will reduce your stress, increase your energy and relax the body. You’ll be gasping for air.
uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park lies four to five hours’ drive from Gauteng. SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 21
ECO KO G E LBE RG BIODIVERSIT Y
Kogelbergâ€™s botanical treasures are there for all to see. 22 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
FLOWER POWER Right on Cape Town’s doorstep is the most biodiverse floral area in the world. Get on your knees with an expert botanist to make astonishing discoveries. By Ilse Bigalke
ogelberg Nature Reserve is a rare exception in a world where Kew Royal Botanical Gardens recently warned that a fifth of all plant species are endangered. The reserve lies at the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the world’s most biodiverse and abundant floral area. Even more amazingly, all the species previously thought to be extinct in the area have been rediscovered over the past 15 years. “Thou shalt not remove something that has taken millions of years to evolve.” This is the first biodiversity commandment according to botanist Amida Johns. When her husband, Mark, was transferred in 1994 to become manager of Kogelberg Nature Reserve, Amida promptly enrolled in a plant taxonomy course through Unisa to supplement her zoology and geography degree. At first she explored the area in the company of many people, including specialists, and then, “The whole thing literally started blossoming. This is the most rewarding thing I could have done with my life.” This wilderness area with its high mountain peaks and steep kloofs has remained mostly unspoiled thanks to its relative inaccessibility and unsuitability for agriculture. Straying from the hiking trails is prohibited and no picnicking or camping facilities are provided. Because Mark had to know what he was managing
Since birds have no sense of smell, bird-pollinated plants have to display alluring colours to sustain their procreation. www.wildcard.co.za
and how to handle threats such as fires, he and Amida criss-crossed this “hottest of fynbos and endemic hot spots”. Amida has the ability to make the landscape come alive in a practical and quirky way for visitors ranging from specialist groups to tourists from around the world. “Many people find fynbos structurally boring,” she says, “but get down there and you’ll find your reward. An example is the ground protea, which hides its flowers between the leaves.” We duly get down on all fours. “There are various ways to engage people with flora, including their vibrant colours, the leaf and plant structure and texture, association with the ecology, as well as different smells.” Since birds have no sense of smell, bird-pollinated plants have to display alluring colours to sustain their procreation. With leucadendrons it’s the structure that often discloses the difference between the genders. The male plant is usually more bushy, while the females are upright and slender, pouring all their energy into producing seed cones. Restio females do the same thing and hold the flowering head tight, while that of the male dangles. She explains the different habitats and how plants can be associated with sandy, muddy, wet or rocky areas. It is this astonishing diversity of habitats in the reserve which ensures its rich biodiversity. “The more habitats, the greater the Kogelberg Nature Reserve lies about 90 km from Cape Town.
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ECO “Many people find fynbos structurally boring, but get down there and you’ll find your reward.” biodiversity,” says Amida and points out that some very rare plants grow in areas where there is a high degree of shade and wetness, and that a stand of restios and swamp daisies is usually indicative of a wetland. The Palmiet River flowing through the reserve is associated with riparian vegetation and is a hot spot for dragonflies. “Biodiverse fynbos has a crucial role in maintaining veld structure to prevent massive floods and water run-off. It releases water slowly into the catchment areas.”
KO G E LBE RG BIODIVERSIT Y
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s image, “The Earth laughs in flowers,” is probably nowhere more appropriate than in this plant paradise. And there is no better interpreter of its hidden secrets than Amida, co-author of a comprehensive wild flower guide of the species that visitors can expect to see: Stellenbosch to Hermanus, South African Wild Flower Guide 5. Does she talk to plants? Amida admits she does, when nobody is around to listen. “That causes the distinction between human and plant to fall away.”
undreds of indigenous and regionally indigenous trees planted since the early 1960s have matured into a forest and now form part of a botanical garden and educational exhibit at Mlilwane. With help from Total Swaziland, Ted Reilly has developed a botanical and nature trail around the rest camp. Trail signs are now up, identifying 70 different tree and plant species, with 133 trees and plants labelled within the rest camp grounds. The trees have lured many forest bird species, including purple-crested touraco, green pigeon and robin chat. The hoot of the rare narina trogon is now a common sound, says Ann Reilly, marketing manager of Big Game Parks of Swaziland.
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Ted Reilly began formal conservation in Swaziland in 1959, when he converted his inheritance, Mlilwane Farm, into the country’s pioneer conservation area in the beautiful, secluded Ezulwini Valley, between Mbabane and Manzini. The wildlife sanctuary used to be a productive mixed agricultural farm with deep tin-mining scars. The rest camp was established on what was once a mealiefield. The scenic hippo pool in front of the restaurant used to be a donga. As part of the habitat rehabilitation, wetlands were developed. “This proves nature can make a comeback if given the opportunity,” says Ann. “It requires time, effort and dedication, as well as passion and foresight, but it is possible.”
A new botanical and nature trail has been developed around the rest camp in Swaziland’s Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Kogelberg is the highest coastal peak on the African continent
PLANT PARADISE The Western Cape is more botanically diverse than the richest tropical rainforest in South America, including the Amazon.
10% OF ALL PLANT SPECIES ARE FOUND IN SOUTH AFRICA
TH most bio-
diverse country in the world
flora species in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve
endemic species in the reserve
The Kogelberg Biosphere stretches along the coast from Gordonâ€™s Bay to the Bot River vlei.
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ECO DE HO OP NAT U RE RESERVE
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IN TUNE WITH NATURE
Is this the ultimate beach house? Luxurious, eco-friendly Ocean House in De Hoop Nature Reserve is hedonistic bliss, plus it’s been off the grid from day one. By Justin Fox
orukuru Ocean House is the new kid on the block at De Hoop Nature Reserve. It provides five-star luxury in a private home set on the dunes above a magnificent sweep of shoreline, which is tremendously rich in sea life. The four-bedroom villa with the rooftop bar-cum-lounge offers excellent whale watching on a section of coast considered to be Africa’s largest nursery for southern rights. Ocean House was designed with renewable energy and low environmental impact as core objectives, and has a minimal footprint beyond the building. Its eco-design includes solar power from the large banks of solar panels on the back of the house and doubleglazed windows. Borehole water is used and
De Hoop Nature Reserve lies 50km from Bredasdorp, about two-and-ahalf hours’ drive from Cape Town. SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 27
the fynbos removed during construction was replanted on the roof after the house was completed. Food waste and black water from the house is recycled through a biogas tank, to provide methane gas for use in the kitchen. The house has been completely off the grid from day one, relieving some of the thorny issues around tourism versus sustainability. The elegant interior design is inspired by the surrounding fynbos and marine environment. There’s an enclosed courtyard with swimming pool and living area for al fresco dining, especially useful when the southeaster is blowing. Excellent cuisine, a private chef, impeccable service, a butler, cosy fireplaces, magnificent ocean views: it doesn’t get any better. To keep you busy, there’s sandboarding on the dunes, beach picnics, mountain biking and walking trails, with the chance to see some of the reserve’s wildlife. The fynbos is magnificent, and birders will be happy to note that more than 260 species have been recorded. Wander the beautiful rock ledges at low tide, or don a mask and snorkel to float above underwater gardens.
Right, top to bottom: Morukuru Ocean House lies nestled among the fynbos. The luxurious interiors invite you to kick back and relax. What could be more refreshing on a summer’s day than a dip in the ocean? 28 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
Ocean House is the first five-star accommodation option in De Hoop Nature Reserve. Available on an exclusive-use basis, it sleeps eight adults and four children. Rates start from R22 000 a night for four in low season, inclusive of all meals, selected drinks, activities, private vehicle and guide, personal chef and butler. BOOKINGS 011-615-4303 www.morukuru.com ARRIVE IN STYLE Fly to and from De Hoop by helicopter from Cape Town with Silvercross. Skimming over the waves while spotting whales and sharks must be the most memorable way to arrive at Ocean House.
ECO DE HO OP NATURE RESERVE
Wander the beautiful rock ledges at low tide, or don a mask and snorkel to float above underwater gardens.
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ECO WAT E R
GET YOUR FEET WET!
Whether you prefer heading to the beach or a river, here are suggestions for a memorable splash. By Olivia Wickstrom
Paddling in Tsitsikamma, Garden Route National Park
Surfing at Olifantsbos in Table Mountain National Park
Sailing on Langebaan Lagoon in West Coast National Park
Imagine an adventure that begins on a kayak on the Indian Ocean and ends with jumping off a cliff into the Storms River. Untouched Adventures’ kayak and lilo trip is a three-hour outing that encompasses adrenaline-inducing activities, spectacular views and relaxation. Make it happen Daily conservation fee is R49 an adult, free with a Wild Card. Lilo adventure R500 a person. Book with Untouched Adventures on 073-130-0689.
A short drive from Cape Town, Olifantsbos is the perfect outing if you long to ride epic waves in beautiful surroundings. This secret surf spot is a rocky right pointbreak suited to experienced surfers. The beach even offers accommodation in Olifantsbos guest house. Make it happen Daily conservation fee is R135 an adult, free with a Wild Card. Olifantsbos guest house from R3 100 a night for four. Book with SANParks on 012428-9111.
When you glide over the water, the breeze in your hair, you’ll feel at one with nature. The central section of Langebaan Lagoon is set aside solely for sailboats and board sailing, so you don’t have to dodge powerboats. You can learn with Sail Due South, which runs courses on the lagoon. Make it happen Daily conservation fee is R50 an adult, free with a Wild Card. Contact the park on 022-7722144 or the sailing school on 022-7722168.
Swimming with seals at Robberg Nature Reserve The sandy stretch between Robberg Peninsula and the island is an idyllic place to spend a summer’s day. While dolphins can be seen at a distance, the seals stay closer to the beach, enjoying the water, too. Check conditions before diving in as the tides can catch swimmers unawares. During a break from the water take a stroll to enjoy breathtaking views and indige nous coastal flora. Make it happen Daily conservation fee is R40 an adult, free with a Wild Card. Contact the reserve on 044-533-2125.
Paddling on Whiskey Creek in Keurbooms River Nature Reserve Kayak 7 km upstream and stay over in Whiskey Creek Cabin, a solarpowered lodge. Paddles, lifejackets and helmets are provided. The trip takes four hours; arrive early so you can picnic and swim along the way. Make it happen Daily conservation fee is R40 an adult, free with a Wild Card. Hire of double canoes R135 a day. Whiskey Creek Cabin from R2 180 a night for six people. Book with CapeNature Reservations on 021483-0190.
Tsitsikamma paddling: www.untouchedadventures.com • Olifantsbos guest house: firstname.lastname@example.org • Langebaan lagoon sailing: www.sailduesouth.com • Robberg swimming: www.capenature.co.za • Whiskey Creek canoe trail: email@example.com 30 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
Spend time with your loved ones enjoying lifeâ€™s simple pursuits. At our resorts you can picnic, fish, canoe, hike, bike, braai, camp, bird-watch or simply sit around a fire sharing stories.
Visit for the day or stay the night Visit www.msinsi.co.za for more information and share your journey on Facebook/Msinsi Resorts & Game Reserves Central Reservations: 031 765 7724
ECO G A M KA BE RG NAT URE RESERVE
A BETTER PLACE
CapeNature has been creating pockets of wilderness that touch the Earth lightly. Included on a list of Africaâ€™s 50 finest is Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. By Ron Swilling
Karoo toad croaks from the reeds in the eco-pool, providing a soft bass note to the calls of a fiery-necked nightjar that graciously offers deliverance to all within earshot. When they quieten down, I pick up a brief, gentle hum in tune with the natural orchestral repertoire. Its source remains a mystery until my friend returns to the fire and with him comes the realisation that it was the sound of the solar-powered fan in the waterless toilet. It fits seamlessly into the intimate, modest tented camp embraced by rounded hills, spekboom and sweet-thorn trees, the Gamkaberg and, in the distance, the majestic Swartberg range.
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If the camp is ever dismantled, the area would be ecologically healthier than it was before.
Gamkabergâ€™s eco-lodges look perfectly at home in the landscape.
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ECO G A M KA BE RG NAT URE RESERVE
The tented camps are comfortably equipped but their greatest luxury may be the sense of seclusion.
AFRICA’S FINEST Other Wild Card partners that made it into the top 50 of Africa’s Finest are Hamilton’s Tented Camp and Pafuri Camp in Kruger National Park. Highly commended: !Xaus Lodge in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Copies of the book can be bought online at www.africasfinest. co.za.
Secreted away between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, unknown to most, Gamkaberg Nature Reserve is a prime conservation area in a World Heritage Site. Three biomes meet in this biodiversity hot spot: succulent karoo, fynbos and subtropical thicket. The reserve, with its three tented eco-lodges and rustic mountain camp, reveals a vision to leave the world a better place. Solar power, a natural plunge pool filtered by a tiny wetland of reeds, recycling bins, waterless toilets and the use of natural materials and biodegradable cleaning agents are the most obvious features that have earned the reserve its prestigious place in a new book, Africa’s Finest, featuring the 50 most outstanding sustainable tourism lodges, camps and facilities in remote, rural sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Gamkaberg’s conservation ethos and community outreach programmes are top notch, and compared to many of its more opulent peers, the reserve is easily accessible and affordable. In 2007, CapeNature crafted a fiveyear tourism strategy to improve its
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infrastructure and tourism portfolio. The planning team, which included an ecological planner, adopted a new, more holistic approach that took into consideration the sensitivity of the environment, low-impact construction techniques and materials, road access, reduction of water usage and reuse of grey water, eco-friendly management of sewerage and other waste, and the use of low-energy electrical appliances. In cases where rebuilding was necessary, CapeNature successfully reduced its carbon footprint. Global recognition, in the form of the International Holcim Foundation’s award for sustainable development in conservation, soon followed. CapeNature’s motto ‘What is good for the environment is good for us’ now attracts visitors who want to be associated with responsible entities and facilities. The personal touch is what makes Gamkaberg different, from the initial escort to your camp to the immaculate but unobtrusive service. The manager of Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, Tom Barry, has been at the helm for 23 years and has nurtured the reserve as it grew from a
Reeds naturally filter the water in the plunge pool.
GETTING THERE Gamkaberg Nature Reserve is 33 km southwest of Oudts hoorn and 32 km southeast of Calitzdorp, easily reached from the R62. All the accommodation is accessible with a sedan, except for Oukraal mountain camp, for which you’ll need a 4x4, or to walk. The daily conservation fee is R40. Entrance free to Wild Card members.
small nature reserve, initiated in 1974 to protect the Cape mountain zebra, to becoming part of an 80 000 hectare tract of conservation land with interlinking corridors for wildlife. Tom and his dedicated team have been instrumental not only in cultivating the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, but also in developing the eco-lodges. He explains that rather than select pristine sites, the three camps were located on land that had already been disturbed, either due to previous construction or in the case of Sweet-thorn Camp, historic use as a stock kraal. Local trees have been planted to ensure that if the camp is ever dismantled, the area would be ecologically healthier than it was before. According to Tom, what makes Gamkaberg Nature Reserve shine is the team of people who enjoy what they do and take pride in their work. “It’s about the message,” he explains as we relax in the lapa taking in the Little Karoo landscape. “It’s not about claiming to be perfectly green, but about demonstrating that environmentally friendly tourism and lifestyle practices are feasible.” www.wildcard.co.za
ACCOMMODATION Fossil Ridge Eco-Lodge sleeps four in two tents, Sweet-thorn Eco-Lodge sleeps six people in three tents and Tierkloof EcoLodge sleeps eight in three tents and two additional beds in the kitchen-lounge area. Each eco-lodge has a fully equipped kitchen-lounge area, an eco plunge-pool and a lapa area. Sweet-thorn also boasts a shady gazebo with comfortable seating and a pair of hammocks swaying invitingly in the breeze. Prices range from R580 a tent in off-peak season to R2 130 in peak season. Oukraal mountain camp has a rustic kitchen area and three quaint herders’ huts with two beds in each. R145 a person a night. The Stables has two rooms with bunk beds, R240 a room a night off-peak, R480 peak season. The campsite is R70 a person a night.
ACTIVITIES HIKING Several short trails wend their way through the reserve. Guarrie Trail 0.7 km/20 minutes Spekboom Trail 1.3 km/30 minutes Mousebird Trail 2.5 km/1.5 hours Pied Barbet Trail 4.1 km/2.5 hours Overhang, part of the Tier kloof Trail 14.4 km/6 hours Tierkloof overnight trail, hikers overnight at Oukraal 24.8 km 4X4 There are two 4x4 trails to explore the different landscapes; 4x4 day visits are R200 a vehicle. Zebra Crossing 4x4 Route takes you through rugged terrain and a fynbos display to a spectacular viewpoint at 1 000 m. Kannaland 4x4 Route winds through the lower areas and foothills, with succulent Karoo vegetation and subtropical thicket. BIRDING The reserve has an abundance of Little Karoo avian life. ROCK CLIMBING In association with the Mountain Club of South Africa, restricted to specific areas with an overnight stipulation.
RESERVATIONS CapeNature Central Reservations 021-483-0190 www.capenature.co.za SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 35
Nature conservation student Nelsiwe Mpapane is sharing her love of nature with the community.
WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD The rugged surroundings of Gamkaberg Nature Reserve are speckled with sweet-thorn trees, verdant spekboom and treasured succulents. These ‘gems’ are used in CapeNature outreach programmes to make a difference in the Klein Karoo. By Ron Swilling
e work our magic in the communities,” says Nelsiwe ‘Nelly’ Mpapane, a junior ranger and final-year nature conservation student, talking about the community conservation projects that take place behind the scenes at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. Projects “small, big and ongoing” focus on environmental education, waste management and water saving. Nelly’s presentation is about Wonderbags and often includes a distribution of the bags to encourage her audience to do their bit to halt climate change. She works closely with Susan Botha, the regional communi-
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ty conservation co-ordinator for CapeNature’s Karoo and Garden Route reserves. For those wondering, a Wonderbag comprises two cushions filled with polystyrene chips that hold a pot snugly between them in a warm hug, keeping ingredients at a high temperature after the pot is taken off the stove and slow-cooking a delicious meal. It’s a way to conserve energy, save money and reduce the need to cut down precious local trees, especially species such as the slow-growing guarrie that is harvested for firewood faster than it is able to regenerate. Nelly makes the presentation real by cooking chicken breyani
ECO C OM M UN IT Y
Community members display Wonderbags and spekboom plants, ways to benefit the environment.
Nelly shares some words of wisdom: “The environment takes care of us, so we should return the favour.” in the Wonderbag while the presentation is in progress, driving home her point when she retrieves the cooked meal two hours later. Nelly’s story began on the outskirts of Kruger National Park where she grew up and witnessed many incidents of poaching. It was in Grade 11, when Kruger had an outreach programme for learners from schools in the adjacent areas, that Nelly first understood the fragile nature of the environment and appreciated the importance of conservation. Her interest in the natural world grew and she realised that she would like to work with communities, raising awareness of conservation issues in their areas. “I wanted to be out there making a difference,” she explains. This led her to study nature conservation at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in George and steered her to Gamkaberg Nature Reserve between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn to gain practical experience. Opportunities to reach out to the community at Gamkaberg are numerous, especially on public holidays when events are hosted to reveal the wonders of the www.wildcard.co.za
Klein Karoo. These usually culminate in a short talk on climate change and the distribution of Wonderbags to local households. The climate change presentation emphasises the benefits of spekboom and encourages families to plant the fireresistant shrub around the borders of their homesteads. Nelly elaborates: “We are bringing the community into Gamkaberg, so people can learn more about the environment and the reserve.” The reserve regularly hosts primary school learners, who walk the short trails, learning about the flora and fauna and the importance of conserving wilderness areas. An ongoing project in CapeNature reserves countrywide is the employment of people from the neighbouring communities on a one-year contract. These Full Time Equivalents or FTEs are part of the expanded public works programme (EPWP). In addition to learning about conservation, participants pick up essential skills while being involved in daily maintenance and research projects in the reserve. At the end of the year they leave with marketable skills and self-confidence.
The Wonderbag project is funded by Lotto, the Table Mountain Fund and the Foundation for Human Rights. The bags are made by women from Oudtshoorn and De Rust. Funding was obtained through applications made by the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve, an inspiring project partner for CapeNature.
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IN YOUR STRIDE
Table Mountain has the highest density of footpaths of any park or reserve in South Africa. A hike to explore its natural beauty beats gym any day. By Fiona McIntosh
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he sheer cliffs of Kasteels Buttress glow in the late, golden light. Below me the sun glints off the Camps Bay houses. I’m at one of my favourite viewpoints in the whole world. The ruin of the old cableway on Postern Buttress was used to carry passengers and supplies during the construction of the Woodhead Reservoir in 1893. Having hiked up Oudekraal Ravine and along the Twelve Apostles Path, I’ll now descend Kasteelspoort, take in the sunset from Breakfast Rock and be back home in half an hour. Living on its slopes, I hike Table Mountain most days. It’s my gym, the place that I find inspiration. I sling my head torch round my neck and start down. Longtailed Cape sugarbirds are still extracting nectar from the bright yellow flowerheads of Protea nitida that line the track. The sky is streaked with pink and the head torches of hikers on Lion’s Head look like fairy lights. The only noise is the twittering of birds and the sound of the sea. It’s magical. Part of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, Table Mountain National Park is one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. It stretches some 60 kilometres from the city centre to Cape Point. The mountain is very special to both visitors and locals, many of whom follow its contour paths to and from work in the city. The Slingsbys, who produced their first Table Mountain map in 1973 and are now on the 12th edition, estimate that
VIEW FROM THE TOP Table Mountain National Park boasts an abundance of trails. Many of them, like the hike up Kasteelspoort, deliver breathtaking views.
ECO TA BLE MOU NTA I N NATIONA L PA RK
The sky is streaked with pink, and the head torches of hikers on Lion’s Head look like fairy lights. The only noise is the twittering of birds and the sound of the sea. It’s magical.
Spend the night
Looking to escape the city? These are some of our favourite multi-day hikes in Table Mountain National Park.
The Hoerikwaggo Trail offers tented camps at Orangekloof, Slangkop and Smitswinkel. Hike up from Kirstenbosch, Constantia Nek or Camps Bay to the luxurious Overseers Mountain Cottage and sleep under a star-studded sky. The Cape of Good Hope trail is another gem. Over two days you hike over mountains, along the beach and through pristine fynbos, often spying eland, bontebok, zebra and ostrich, and constantly thrilled by spectacular views. “An hour from the city of Cape Town, this should be on all hikers’ bucket lists, yet it’s seldom booked out,” says Saskia Marlowe, hospitality services manager of Table Mountain National Park.
CONTACT Hoerikwaggo Trail 021-712-7471, SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org www.wildcard.co.za
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Hikers’ heaven 5 more picks
Table Mountain National Park is situated next to Cape Town.
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Cederberg Wilderness Area
A vast network of footpaths in this rugged reserve leads to well-preserved rock-art sites, natural pools, lofty peaks and iconic landforms such as the Maltese Cross and Wolfberg Cracks and Arch. Plan your own multi-day hike by carrying a tent or staying in caves and shelters. Contact CapeNature 021-483-0190, www.capenature.co.za
uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park This park offers the most extensive hiking in the country with some 2 500 km of paths. Follow mountain streams to tumbling waterfalls, slog up steep passes to enjoy the view from the plateau, take a guided hike to one of the Berg’s many natural art galleries or traverse the foothills on the five-day Giant’s Cup Trail. Contact Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife 033-8451000, www.kznwildlife.com
Garden Route National Park
With high mountains, lush indigenous forests and magnificent coastal paths, this extensive park has something for everyone. The Otter, Tsitsikamma and Outeniqua trails are among the best long-distance trails in Africa, the birdlife is incredible and there’s a chance of spying the elusive elephants in the Knysna Forest. Contact SANParks 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org
De Hoop Nature Reserve The five-day Whale Trail, a slackpacking trail with magnificent overnight huts, showcases the diversity of CapeNature’s flagship reserve. Sightings of whales, bontebok, eland and Cape vultures add to the attractions of the day trails, which lead to lovely beaches and rock pools, around the vlei and up the fynbos-covered Potberg Mountain. Contact CapeNature 021-483-0190, www.capenature.co.za
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary This small Swaziland reserve punches above its weight when it comes to habitats and hiking opportunities. Its mountains, forests, open plains and rivers offer wonderful bird and wildlife sightings including hippo, crocodile, zebra and nyala. The nine trails can be walked unguided or with a guide. Contact Big Game Parks of Swaziland +2682528-3943, www.biggameparks.org
the park has over 400 kilometres of trails. The highest density of footpaths of any park or reserve in South Africa. There is a conservation fee payable (free with a Wild Card) to access the spectacular trails of the sections at Silvermine (R40 adults, R20 children aged 2–11) and Cape of Good Hope (R125/R65), but at numerous entry points hiking is free and easy. The network of footpaths changes constantly as the park acquires new land and carries out maintenance. The development of the Hoerikwaggo Trail in the last decade was a major undertaking, which involved the construction of kilometres of new path to link older paths, which were upgraded at the same time. By employing over 420 unemployed people from townships around the peninsula and on the Cape Flats, the project also had a far-reaching social benefit in accordance with the ethos of “building paths, building people”. Nowhere else in the world is there an urban park with a kilometre-high mountain as its focal point. Inevitably there are safety issues; the trails are rugged and the weather can change quickly, resulting in unprepared hikers getting into trouble, particularly if the cable car closes. “I was struck by the amount of time rangers spend carrying people with sprained ankles down the mountain,” commented Lesley-Ann Meyer when she was appointed park manager in July 2016. “So we’re looking into new technology that will improve safety and enhance the tourist experience. Perhaps a code that you scan at access points like Platteklip Gorge that will translate important information such as the need to wear suitable footwear and carry sufficient water for your chosen hike.”
Explore top-notch trails near Heidelberg, Western Cape.
G RO OT VA DERSB OSCH NAT U R E RESERVE
BIKE COUNTRY The mountain-biking trail that will soon be on everyone’s lips is the new one in the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. With tracks covering nearly 100 km, the riding is world class. By Jacques Marais
ountain-biking mojo has once again returned to the Grootva dersbosch area, now including the extensive conservancy buffer zone under CapeNature stewardship surrounding the reserve. The Table Mountain Fund has joined forces with a group of local landowners who make up the Grootvaders bosch Conservancy, providing a cash injection that allowed resident trail gurus Aileen Anderson and Walter Brosius to get stuck into an extensive network of expertly designed mountain-biking trails. These days, if you saddle up in Grootvadersbosch, you had better be ready to say goodbye to friends and family for most of the day. A full weekend of riding waits if you crank into the surrounding hills and valleys, with hours of incredible singletrack waiting to be discovered. Everything goes, from gnarly mountain ascents to sidewinding through the undulating farmland hills. To access the scenic tracks inside the reserve, head to the CapeNature gate where you can buy an activity permit to pedal along a scenic eight-kilometre route traversing forest and fynbos, mostly along
jeep track and gravel roads. Don’t expect an easy cruise though, as the dual-track is eroded, with rogue restio tufts and errant rocks lying in wait. Chances are you’ll perform an unexpected stunt over your handlebars in one of the many stream crossings. A never-ending panorama over the gorgeous valley below makes up for the suffering, nearly. The original access from this jeep track onto the conservancy trails is no longer open, but you can still enjoy an out-andback ride on this roughshod track. Once you reach the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy sign, you can take a welcome breather and turn back. Should you succumb to temptation and head into the valley, what awaits you is the brand new Grootvadersbosch Conservancy Mountain-Bike Trail. From the conservancy offices, you can access four different routes that explore the 35 000 ha surrounding the nature reserve. You can also conveniently access the network from a number of guesthouses and farms. The curve and swerve of sumptuous singletrack swoops on either side of the main SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 41
ECO G RO OT VA DE RSB OSCH NAT U R E R E SERVE
FREEWHEELING You wonâ€™t have to ride on any tar when you tackle the trails in Grootvadersbosch.
Thanks to fence stiles you can easily bypass gates.
gravel access road to the reserve, doglegging through stands of wattle, pine and eucalyptus, for a fairly technical 10 kilometres or so. The route is clearly marked. The real flow of the trail starts as you contour along the ridge, blasting over fence stiles and onto a whippy stretch of track dipping down towards Valley’s End. Continue your descent towards Buffeljags River and a T-bone with a rough track to the right to Snelsetter House at Grootvadersbosch Guest Farm (a registered CapeNature stewardship site) and a well-deserved cold beer or two. This 30 km of riding can be extended onto the Black Loop, properly steep riding that will eventually drop you down onto Tradouw’s Pass and the tiny mission town of Suurbraak, after a further 18 km of riding. The Blue Loop takes you south into the more arid farmland area of Skeiding, another CapeNature stewardship site, with magnificent views back towards the rugged mountain ranges. This is a much faster ride, combining singletrack, dirt roads and tracks through waving wheat fields and scrubby renosterveld. Lots of fence stiles ensure you never have to stop to close gates while loving your ride. The vision is for this trail to eventually link from Heidelberg all the way through the mission village of Suurbraak and on to Swellendam. A number of further hiking and running trails are also planned. The conservancy’s alien-clearing project has been lauded by the environmental community as one of the Western Cape’s conservation success stories. It currently employs more than 130 local people to clear invaders and re-establish indigenous vegetation.
Getting there Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve lies 260 km from Cape Town. Accommodation Camping R300 a day for one to six people off-peak, R370 peak season. Six-sleeper cabin R890 for one to four people off-peak, R1 295 peak season. Reservations CapeNature Central Reservations 021483-0190 Mountain biking Activity permit for riding in the reserve R30. Permit for trails in Grootvadersbosch Conservancy R50. Annual permits R300. To download trail maps, visit www. gvbconservancy. co.za. Visit www. visitswellendam.co.za for more information on mountain biking in the area.
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ECO H LU H LU W E -I M F OLO Z I GA ME RESERVE
PRICELESS One of the most prized wilderness experiences in the world is in the heart of Zululand. Will it touch you? By Scott Ramsay
PIECE OF PARADISE The iMfolozi Wilderness Area has not been transformed by humankind and hikers take care to leave only footprints.
We cooked simple meals on a small campfire and slept on thin mattresses under the stars. www.wildcard.co.za
SUMMER 2016/2017 WILD 45
When white rhino had been hunted out elsewhere in Africa, a small population survived in iMfolozi.
t had been a typically sweltering day in Zululand and we were all grateful for the imminent arrival of night. As the sun dipped in the west, we lay in the shallows of the White Umfolozi River enjoying the pleasure of cool, clean water on our hot, sweaty bodies. The turning from day to night cast a spell of wonder on us and, after drying off, we sat on the side of the river in quiet contemplation. Three white rhinos drifted into view, emerging from the acacia woodland onto the riverbank, their horns scything the twilight sky. No more than 30 metres of shallow water separated us from the bull, cow and calf. They were unaware of us as the breeze had carried our smell away from their large nostrils. Then they came even closer, wading into the river, gulping big mouthfuls of water. We were witnessing a primordial ritual, something that has continued uninterrupted for longer than homo sapiens has been on Earth. For several hundred-
46 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
thousand years, rhinos have come to drink from the White Umfolozi River at the end of each day. The famous conservationist Ian Player helped save the white rhino from extinction. At the turn of the last century, no more than 50 remained in the very area where we now admired the three rhinos. Today, despite poaching, there are several thousands across the continent. They all originally come from the iMfolozi Wilderness. But for Player, it wasn’t just the rhino that was saved from extinction. In his book Zululand Wilderness, he writes how the iMfolozi wilderness helped save his soul. “What I had been having were what we today call wilderness experiences. I had had no terminology to explain how I had been affected by these contacts with the wild. Now here was the word. I was filled with an excitement, a deep thrilling, and a surge of enormous energy. “My life entered a new phase. There was meaning now. I realised that the game
WHERE FEW VENTURE
In the Drakensberg, the highest mountains of the country remain out of reach of most people, except mountain climbers and the very fit. Be sure to hire a mountain guide who knows the lie of the land.
reserves not only were vital for the conservation of wildlife, but they could be sustenance for the human spirit and lead to a better understanding between people. They could be the core of a renewal of mankind. They were the new sacred places of our world.” Thanks to far-sighted conservationists, the iMfolozi wilderness was saved from transformation and destruction. Here we were, camping under the stars in one of Africa’s oldest protected areas, proclaimed in 1897. For five days and four nights we were hiking the Primitive Trail through the reserve’s dedicated wilderness area, 300 km2 of untouched bushveld. There’s no evidence of people here: no huts, no telephone poles, no tourist facilities, no cars, no dirt tracks. Not even rangers are allowed to drive their 4x4s here, unless exceptional circumstances require it. “Wilderness is the landscape which contains only the plants and animals native to it,” a good friend of Player’s, game ranger Jim Feely, wrote in 1957, advocating for a formal wilderness area at iMfolozi. “Where people are alone with the living Earth. Where there is neither fixed nor mechanical artefact. Once this environment was everywhere, now only relics remain. Yet in these places are the original bonds between mankind and the Earth.” www.wildcard.co.za
In the northern Cape, the remote areas of the Richtersveld and Kgalagadi are arid wonderlands requiring total self-sufficiency.
In the Western Cape, the Cederberg and Groot Wintershoek mountains are home to diverse fynbos, rare cedar trees and the largest population of Cape leopards remaining in the country.
On the Primitive Trail we had escaped the modern world, and left behind our cars, cellphones and watches. An armed ranger guided us as we carried our backpacks and walked through the bush. We cooked simple meals on a small campfire and slept on thin mattresses under the stars. After supper one evening we sat around the fire, and then everyone fell fast asleep except me. It was my turn to keep watch. As hyenas whooped in the distance, my heart filled with wonder, and melancholy. In the past 300 years, humanity has transformed, or destroyed, most of South Africa’s natural habitat. Protected wilderness areas such as iMfolozi are all that is left in a region which once teemed with wildlife. What remains is all the more important and valuable precisely because it’s all that is left. Like Player, the untamed terrain has guided me to a deep sense of belonging and meaning. Might it be time to head to iMfolozi and let it touch you, too?
In Kruger, almost half the park is designated as wilderness, off limits to any development or major roads. To explore it, join a guided trail.
TRIP PLANNER To join a wilderness trail in iMfolozi, you need to be physically fit and at least 16 years old. Trails range from two to four nights and cost from R2 520 to R4 185 a person. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is about 250 km north of Durban. BOOKINGS Ezemvelo Central Reservations 033-845-1000, www.kznwildlife.com
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www.sanparks.org +27 (0)12 428 9111 1
Addo Elephant National Park
Agulhas National Park
Augrabies Falls National Park
Bontebok National Park
Camdeboo National Park
RESERVES and resorts
6 Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
7 Karoo National Park 8 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 9 Knysna National Lake Area 10 Kruger National Park 11 Mapungubwe National Park
12 Marakele National Park 13 Mokala National Park 14 Mountain Zebra National Park 15 Namaqua National Park
16 Table Mountain National Park 17 Tankwa Karoo National Park 18 Tsitsikamma National Park 19 West Coast National Park
20 Wilderness National Park 21 IAi-IAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
IAi-IAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park 21
Augrabies Falls National Park
Namaqua National Park
www.capenature.co.za +27 (0)861 CAPENATURE (227 362 8873) 1
Anysberg Nature Reserve
Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve
Bird Island Nature Reserve
Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
Cederberg Wilderness Area
De Hoop Nature Reserve
De Mond Nature Reserve
Gamkaberg Nature Reserve
Goukamma Nature Reserve
St Helena Bay
West Coast 19 National Park
CAPE TOWN 16
Table Mountain National Park
20 Rocherpan Nature Reserve
5 Camdeboo National Park
1 Addo Ele Nationa
Swellendam Bontebok National Park 4
18 Tsitsikamma National Park Plettenberg Bay
FOLLOW US ON Agulhas National Park 2
Mo Z Na P
21 Salmonsdam Nature Reserve
94 WILD SUMMER 2016/2017
56 CAPE WESTERN
17 Marloth Nature Reserve
23 Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve
Karoo National Park 7
18 Outeniqua Nature Reserve
24 Walker Bay Nature Reserve
16 Limietberg Nature Reserve
22 Swartberg Nature Reserve
Tankwa Karoo National Park 17 5
15 Kogelberg Nature Reserve
19 Robberg Nature Reserve
Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area
14 Keurbooms River Nature Reserve
12 Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve 13 Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
10 Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve 11
Mokala 13 National Park
St Franci Bay
Mossel Wilderness Bay National 9 Knysna 19 National Park Lake 20 Area 9 50
300 Kilom etres
4X4 EXCURSIONS IN THIS ISSUE
Waaihoek campsite in Camdeboo
Marakele National Park 12
Kruger National Park
Centurion Midrand Sandton
1 Hlane Royal National Park
Vaal Dam N3
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Orange Vanderkloof Dam
At Ezemvelo, present your Wild Card + ID + confirmation letter.
Kosi Bay Lake Sibaya
Pongolapoort Dam Lake St Lucia
Mokala National Park
MBABANE Mlilwane Mkhaya Game Wildlife Sanctuary Reserve 2
22 North Coast
www.kznwildlife.com +27 (0)33 845 1000
Port Shepstone N2
Graaff-Reinet 5 Camdeboo National Park
www.msinsi.co.za +27 (0)31 765 7724
Cradock Mountain Zebra National Park 14
King William’s Town Bisho
1 Addo Elephant National Park
Albert Falls Dam
4 Inanda Dam 5 Nagle Dam 6
kamma al Park
Tapfontein cabins in Anysberg
Mapungubwe National Park 11
Chelmsford Dam Nature Reserve
Cobham Nature Reserve
Didima – Cathedral Peak
Garden Castle Nature Reserve
Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve
Harold Johnson Nature Reserve
Highmoor Nature Reserve
Hilltop – Hluhluwe Game Reserve
Mpila – iMfolozi Game Reserve
Injesuthi Nature Reserve
Ithala Game Reserve
Kamberg Nature Reserve
Lotheni Nature Reserve
Midmar Dam Nature Reserve
Monks Cowl Nature Reserve
Ndumo Game Reserve
19 Phongolo Nature Reserve
St Francis Bay
20 Royal Natal National Park
0861 GO WILD (46 9453)
firstname.lastname@example.org 300 Kilom etres
Amatigulu Nature Reserve
18 Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
International: +27 861 46 9453 | Fax: 086 502 6704
21 Spioenkop Dam Nature Reserve
www.biggameparks.org +268 2528 3943 / 4
22 Umlalazi Nature Reserve 23 Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve
Hlane Royal National Park
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
24 Wagendrift Dam Nature Reserve
Mkhaya Game Reserve
25 Weenen Game Reserve
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Published on Nov 29, 2016
Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrated with world-class photogr...