Stony Point Nature Reserve

Betty’s Bay is a quaint seaside village on South Africa’s south-western coastline, about 90km from Cape Town (part of the route follows the scenically spectacular R44 Clarence Drive along the False Bay coastline, offering superb whale-watching at the right time of year). The town’s most endearing residents – African Penguins – have lived at this address since 1982 in one of just three mainland breeding colonies of these charismatic birds. What used to be the Waaygat Whaling Station until the mid-1900’s is now the Stony Point Nature Reserve, a haven for not only the penguins but many other species of wildlife as well. Of archeological interest at Stony Point is a midden of abalone shells indicative of the lifestyle of Khoisan people dating back to before colonial times.

The stars of this show is undoubtedly the African Penguins, with about 2,000 breeding pairs of these endangered birds now at home here. The management authority have provided artificial nests made of fibreglass to the penguins as the site does not yet have the deep deposit of guano that penguins require to dig their nest burrows as is their natural habit.

Besides the penguins four species of cormorant breed on the rocks of Stony Point, while many other kinds of sea, shore and land birds also find a home here and dassies, lizards and agamas vie for position to bathe in the sun on the rocks.

The Stony Point Nature Reserve is managed by CapeNature. An enclosed walkway leading through the colony, with informative displays along the way, allows visitors to view the penguins and other wildlife at close quarters without disturbing them. At the entrance to the walkway is a very popular restaurant operated by a local community organisation.

 

Advertisement

Eastern Grey Squirrel

Sciurus carolinensis

The Eastern Grey Squirrel is not indigenous to South Africa. It was imported from North America to the city of Cape Town, by way of Great Britain, in the late 1890’s. Thankfully it has not spread much further than Cape Town’s suburbs and surrounding towns in the years since, as it relies on the nuts of plants like oaks and pines that also are not found naturally in this country. In addition they’ve been recorded feeding on cultivated fruits from orchards and gardens, fungi, insects and eggs.

Eastern Grey Squirrels are usually encountered alone or as small family groups. They nest in holes in trees or construct their own nests – called dreys – in the forks of branches. While they’re very agile in trees they often forage on the ground. They’re also well known for hoarding food stores by burying it for later consumption. Litters of 1-4 kits are born at anytime of year and leave the nest when they’re about 2 months old. In the wild they may live to about 8 years old, though most die within two years of birth. Adults weigh around 550g and measure between 40 and 50cm in length, of which the tail accounts for roughly half.

One of the very best places to see these critters locally are in the Tokai Plantation, a spacious picnic area managed as part of the Table Mountain National Park.

Cecil John Rhodes, the man responsible for establishing the Eastern Grey Squirrel (and Chaffinch and Common Starling) in South Africa, is a controversial figure. A staunch proponent of British imperialism, he amassed an enormous fortune here at the southern end of Africa. As this isn’t a political blog we won’t delve into his legacy any further, but whether you despise or admire the man you cannot help but be impressed by the magnificent memorial erected for him on the slopes of Devil’s Peak (inside the Table Mountain National Park) in Cape Town after his death at the rather young age of 48 in 1902.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, 23 December 2022

Located at the back (eastern side) of Table Mountain is one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens; Kirstenbosch. Kirstenbosch covers 528 hectares, of which only 36ha is cultivated garden and the rest is natural fynbos and forest inhabited by a wonderful diversity of fauna and flora on the mountain slopes.

Influenced by Harold Pearson, chair of Botany at the South African College, the government of the Union of South Africa established Kirstenbosch as the country’s first National Botanical Garden in May 1913. It was the first of its kind in the world to focus its efforts on protecting and showcasing a country’s native flora, the richness of South Africa’s unique fynbos vegetation coming to the world’s attention then already. Pearson died just three years later and was buried in the beautiful garden he worked so tirelessly for. The inscription on his gravestone speaks volumes.

Kirstenbosch exhibits an untold variety of indigenous South African plants both in the laid-out gardens and the extensive tract of natural vegetation on the slopes of the mountain. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirstenbosch won the gold medal at the annual Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show 37 times out of the 44 times it took part in the exhibition!

Kirstenbosch is incredibly rich in wildlife. More than 125 species of bird have been recorded here. Of the 34 species of mammal that’s been encountered in the garden you are most likely to see is the four-striped grass mouse, but even caracals roam here! The list of fauna in the garden is completed with the addition of 2 types of indigenous freshwater fish, 8 kinds of amphibians and 24 reptile species.

Kirstenbosch is open every day of the year. Visitors come here to picnic in the beautiful gardens and to hike, jog and cycle on the extensive network of trails that traverse the areas of “wild” vegetation. A highlight is the raised walkway through the tree tops in the arboretum, dubbed the “Boomslang” for its resemblance to the well known tree-living snake. For the price of your entry ticket, which can be purchased online in advance, you can join guided walking tours of the garden on weekdays. These last about 90 minutes. The conservatory is not to be missed – in this facility plants from more hot and arid parts of Southern Africa is displayed, including the remarkable Welwitschia mirabilis. There’s a restaurant, tea room and coffee shop on the premises and also a curio shop, a book shop and a nursery. On summer evenings musical performances by local and international acts draw many visitors to the garden, while the gardens are dotted by wonderful sculptures. Accommodation is available in the garden at the Kirstenbosch Manor House, where there’s also a small meeting venue available. A much larger conference centre is also available and is a popular venue for wedding receptions.

While exploring the Table Mountain National Park and Cape Town during December 2022, we based ourselves at the Eland Cottage inside the Cape of Good Hope section of the Park. Eland Cottage has two lounges, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, bathroom, three bedrooms, outside shower and lapa! In addition to Eland visitors to this part of the Park can also book the Duiker Cottage, similar to Eland, and Olifantsbos House – a luxury unit with an exclusive setting right on the beach. DeWetsWild will gladly assist you with bookings in these units, other accommodation options in the Table Mountain National Park, at one of five hotels in metropolitan Cape Town or at the Goudini Spa in the Cape Winelands if you are planning a visit to Cape Town and surrounds.

Cape Fur Seal

Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus

The Cape Fur Seal is the only seal that is native to the continent of Africa, being found from Namibia’s Atlantic coast to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast (rarely further east to East Londen). They live in coastal waters, roaming up to 160km from the coastline, and prey mainly on schooling fishes like sardines and mackarel, octopuses, chokka (a type of squid), crabs, lobsters and other invertebrates. While hunting the seals can dive up to 200m deep and stay submerged for up to 8 minutes!

Cape Fur Seal breeding colonies are usually located on rocky islands and shores, though there are a few on sandy beaches. Bulls establish their territories from mid-October in preparation of the cows arriving about a month later, first to give birth to a single pup and then to mate with the “beach master” – the bull in control of that territory and the harem of cows in it – about a week later. The harems break up by end of December when all the females of reproductive age have been mated. The pups can’t swim until they’re about 3 months old and are prone to drowning after being struck of the rocks by freak waves or being caught by land-based predators like jackals and hyenas. Adult bull seals, at 2.4m in length and up to 360kg in weight, are much bigger than the cows who weigh up to 115kg. They may live to about 18-21 years of age in the wild, though even adults may fall prey to sharks and killer whales.

Several operators use the Hout Bay harbour near Cape Town to conduct sight-seeing tours of about an hour to the large seal colony at Duiker Island. During our December 2022 tour of the Western Cape we booked ourselves on the Calypso operated by Circe Launches for one such trip, and found the company a thoroughly professional outfit that we’d gladly recommend and certainly use again ourselves.

December days at the Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town is a city more richly endowed with scenic splendour than most others in the world,  and almost all of the most beautiful spots in and around the city are protected in the Table Mountain National Park. And while Table Mountain itself is undoubtedly worthy of its spot among the wonders of the natural world, it is in the Cape of Good Hope section of the national park that visitors can get the most authentic taste of the Cape Peninsula’s other natural wonders, of which there are many!

The Cape Peninsula is world renowned for its rich variety of unique plants – about 2,300 species are found here and many of them occur nowhere else on earth.

More than 300 bird species have been recorded in the Table Mountain National Park and the Cape of Good Hope section of the Park is an excellent place in which to search for most of them.

There may not be any of the famed “Big 5” African animals roaming freely over the Cape Peninsula these days, but there’s still a very rich and diverse population of insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that inhabit the area along with all those birds.

While exploring the Table Mountain National Park and Cape Town during December 2022, we based ourselves at the Eland Cottage inside the Cape of Good Hope section of the Park. Eland Cottage has two lounges, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, bathroom, three bedrooms, outside shower and lapa! In addition to Eland visitors to this part of the Park can also book the Duiker Cottage, similar to Eland, and Olifantsbos House – a luxury unit with an exclusive setting right on the beach. DeWetsWild will gladly assist you with bookings in these units, other accommodation options in the Table Mountain National Park, at one of five hotels in metropolitan Cape Town or at the Goudini Spa in the Cape Winelands if you are planning a visit to Cape Town and surrounds.

At Simonstown, just a stone’s throw north of the Cape of Good Hope, is the Boulders Beach where African Penguins breed right at the urban edge. Have a read here if you’d like to know more about this special place. While we again spent a few moments with the penguins at Boulders during our December 2022 trip to Cape Town we will soon tell you more about another colony of these charismatic birds that you should seriously consider also including in your visit to the Western Cape.

Announcement! First Group reservations now available through DeWetsWild!

Announcement!

We are very excited to announce that DeWetsWild can now assist you with reservations at First Group’s Hotels & All-Suites, Resorts, Apartments and Chalets!

  • Bushman’s Nek Berg & Trout Resort (KZN Drakensberg)
  • Cape Gordonia (Gordon’s Bay)
  • Chaka’s Rock Chalets (Ballito, KZN North Coast)
  • Hasting’s Hall (Cape Town)
  • Hole in The Wall (Coffee Bay, Wild Coast)
  • Knysna River Club (Garden Route)
  • Kowie River Chalets (Port Alfred, Eastern Cape)
  • La Montagne (Ballito, KZN North Coast)
  • La Rochelle (St. Lucia, iSimangaliso)
  • Lake View Cabanas (St. Lucia, iSimangaliso)
  • Magalies Park (Hartbeespoort)
  • Midlands Saddle & Trout (KZN Midlands)
  • Mount Sierra (Cape Town)
  • Perna Perna Mossel Bay (Garden Route)
  • Port Owen Marina (Velddrif, West Coast)
  • Qwantani Berg & Bush Resort (Eastern Free State)
  • Riviera Suites (Cape Town)
  • The Palace (Durban)
  • Whispering Waters (KZN Midlands)

First Group Reservations

 

 

West Coast Fossil Park

Phosphate mining near Langebaan on South Africa’s West Coast unearthed a rich find of fossils belonging to some 200 different kinds of animals dating back to about 5-million years. At this time the area looked very different from what it does today, with the sub-tropical riverine forests and wooded savanna roamed by relatives of today’s elephants, short-necked giraffes, hippos, three-toed horses, hyenas, sabre-toothed cats and even an African bear! The West Coast Fossil Park is a declared national heritage site and the visitor centre and a preserved portion of the actual dig site gives a fascinating glimpse into this prehistoric world. A small curio shop and restaurant is also available on the premises. There’s an extensive network of hiking and mountain bike trails available at the fossil park for those interested in experiencing the fauna and flora that currently occur in this part of our country.

Remember that DeWetsWild can assist you with bookings if you are planning a visit to the West Coast – either in the West Coast National Park or at the Port Owen Marina in nearby Velddrif.

West Coast National Park

Saldanha Bay and the Langebaan Lagoon on South Africa’s West Coast was formed as few as 9,000 years ago when the Atlantic Ocean breached the barrier dunes along the coast.  Langebaan Lagoon – 15km long, between 1 and 4km wide and up to 6m deep – is still marine in nature, not receiving any fresh water from inflowing rivers, and subject to the oceanic tides. The lagoon with its crystal clear water is renowned as a refuge for wading birds, many of which migrate here in our summer months – with more than 70,000 counted at times! – and a staggering array of marine life, and was proclaimed a marine nature reserve in 1973. It attained the status of a national park in 1985 and, following the incorporation of more land adjacent to the lagoon from 1987 onwards the name was changed from Langebaan National Park to West Coast National Park in 1988. In the same year the Park was given recognition as a wetland of international importance in terms of the Ramsar convention.

Today, the Park covers 400km² of which the lagoon accounts for 56km². Aside from the 30km of pristine Atlantic coastline (known as Sixteen Mile Beach) and a few offshore islands the rest is undulating sandy terrain broken by a few limestone and granite outcrops and covered by a rich variety of Fynbos vegetation communities and South Africa’s most extensive salt marshes. All this is inhabited by at least 54 land mammal species, over 300 bird species, more than 30 kinds of reptiles and 8 kinds of amphibians, not to mention the several hundred species of marine creatures. The Park is a stronghold for the Black Harrier (an endangered species) and African Oystercatcher and hosts the largest breeding colony of Kelp Gull in South Africa. Most of the Park’s preciously little 280mm average annual rainfall occurs in winter, when daytime temperatures average 19ºC. In summer, temperatures may soar above 40ºC but averages around 28ºC.

The Park’s focal point is the Geelbek Manor, a restored farmhouse in Cape Dutch style complete with its outbuildings that date back to 1860. The farm was settled much longer before then though and around the 1750’s was the northernmost point of Dutch influence under the Dutch East India Company’s occupation of the Cape of Good Hope, marked to this day by the VOC logo on a stone beacon erected by their representatives that can be seen at Geelbek. The homestead now houses a top-notch restaurant, while the stables have been converted into a dormitory and educational facility for visiting school groups. A replica of a set of fossilized footprints found in the area, dated to 117,000 years ago and dubbed “Eve’s footprints”, can be seen in the small information centre next to the restaurant (the original footprints are to be seen in the National Museum in Cape Town).

The two birdwatching hides at Geelbek is rated among the best in the country, and with good reason. At low tide the mud flats in front of the hides attract thousands of wading birds after invertebrate prey, and the walk ways leading to both allow a closer view of the community of plants and invertebrates in the extensive salt marshes.

Driving between the town of Langebaan and Geelbek visitors should not miss the turnoff to the Seeberg (Sea Mountain) viewpoint. From atop the massive granite boulder you can see almost every corner of the lagoon and most of the national park. In the little house built on the boulder – at one point actually inhabited – is a fascinating display on the history of the area.

Below Seeberg, on the shores of the lagoon, is another bird-watching hide from where the multitude of waterbirds can be watched from close quarters.

While there’s no shortage of salt water in the West Coast National Park, fresh water is a rare commodity. One of the few sources is the Abrahamskraal waterhole, where the excellent birdwatching hide allows visitors to see a whole different community of birds and animals.

On the western shore of the lagoon is the beautiful beaches of Kraalbaai and Preekstoel, complete with white sand and yachts and houseboats bobbing on the crystal clear water.

Tsaarsbank is a rocky beach on the Atlantic Ocean that faces out towards Vondeling Island, which is jam-packed with a colony of Cape Fur Seals and a myriad of seabirds – they even make themselves at home inside and on top of the abandoned buildings dating back to the times when whaling was a major industry in Saldanha.

Unfortunately for us, the Postberg section of the Park is only open to visitors in August and September at the peak of the spring flower season, so we will have to return then to explore that area beyond the glimpses we had from the road leading to Tsaarsbank.

Bontebok grazing in the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park

During our visit to the West Coast National Park in December ’22 we stayed in the Van Breda Cottage just behind the Geelbek Manor. The historic cottage sleeps six people in three bedrooms, with a bathroom, fully equipped kitchen and spacious lounge. The wide stoep has a built-in braai and a lovely view towards the lagoon. Other accommodation options available in the Park include the Abrahamskraal Cottage, situated among the fynbos to the south of Geelbek, Jo-Anne’s Beach House, located beautifully with a view of the lagoon on the narrow spit of land between the lagoon and the ocean in the west of the Park, and the 2-bed Steytler Cottage at the Geelbek Manor. Remember that DeWetsWild can assist you with bookings if you are planning a visit to the West Coast National Parkeither in the Park itself or at the Port Owen Marina in nearby Velddrif. Visitors to the Park can enjoy various adventure activities provided by operators in the surrounding towns, enjoy hiking or mountain bike trails, diving and swimming in the lagoon or at the beaches, or sightseeing along the excellent tar and gravel road network. Picnic sites with braai (South African barbeque) facilities are available at Tsaarsbank and Preekstoel.

While the West Coast National Park has no shop and only the one restaurant at Geelbek, the holiday town of Langebaan just outside the northern entrance gate into the Park has all the amenities visitors might require. The West Coast National Park is easily accessible from Cape Town, less than an hours drive away along the R27 highway.

Cape Columbine Nature Reserve

Declared in December 1973, the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve covers 263 hectares of beautiful rocky and wild Atlantic coastline and endangered Sandveld Fynbos vegetation, which it is claimed is an absolute delight to behold in the spring flower season – we’ll have to visit again then to confirm! The reserve offers hiking trails and the possibility to kayak, fish, dive for crayfish, scuba or – if you are brave enough to enter the cold water – swimming. Picnic areas are available for day visitors. What the reserve lacks in the way of large animals it more than makes up for in awe-inspiring scenery and a rich variety of birds and smaller creatures.

The Cape Columbine Lighthouse inside the reserve was the last South African lighthouse built to be manually controlled (it dates back to 1936). Apparently this lighthouse is usually the first seen by incoming ships from Europe and the Americas on their way to Table Bay and the Cape of Good Hope and its light is visible up to 50km away.

Cape Columbine Lighthouse

The camping area at Tietiesbaai has ablution blocks with hot water and flush toilets available for campers pitching their tents or caravans on one of the 60 available campsites (no electrical points at the sites though).

The Cape Columbine Nature Reserve and the camping area at Tietiesbaai is managed by the Saldanha Bay Municipality. Rustic accommodation is available inside the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, but remember that DeWetsWild can also assist you with bookings if you are planning a visit to the West Coast – either in the West Coast National Park or at the Port Owen Marina in nearby Velddrif. The Seekombuis is a restaurant specialising in sea food located right at the reserve’s entrance, which is less than 2km along a gravel road outside the very pretty West Coast town of Paternoster, where there are shops and other restaurants available too.

Paternoster

Karoo Menagerie

The Karoo National Park is an incredibly diverse conservation area, despite its arid nature, and while the flash floods is undoubtedly the part of our December 2022 visit to this park we will remember most vividly, the Karoo still dished up so much more for us (which it usually does)!