Just as we were starting to experience withdrawal symptoms after spending almost a month exploring eight of our country’s beautiful national parks we were saved from the agony by a good friend who organised his birthday party at our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve yesterday.
It is supposed to be mid-winter in South Africa, but with daytime temperatures in the comfortable low 20’s centigrade recently, we just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to visit the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in Johannesburg again this past Sunday. We enjoyed a lovely day walking and picnicking with good friends, soaking up the glorious sunshine under a cloudless sky, and of course our cameras went along!
Even in winter the garden is a feast for the eyes, and especially the winter-blooming aloes and carpets of daisies are a sight to behold. You are seldom far from water anywhere in the garden, with the Crocodile River flowing serenely through it and the Witpoortjie Falls being the focal point for all visitors to the gardens.
Anyone with a love for or interest in birds, especially photographers, will really find a visit to the gardens worth their while. Apart from the highly visible nesting pair of Verreaux’s Eagles, the garden absolutely abounds with birdlife, even now in winter when so many of the summer migrants have departed for warmer climes. The hide at the Sasol Dam in a quieter corner of the garden must surely rank as one of the best facilities of its kind in the country in terms of the variety and quality of sightings on offer.
Our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve is often just what the doctor ordered when I need a quick nature fix. Located just 13km from our home, with a very fair rate of admission (R50 for adults currently, roughly $3.50), decent facilities, an extensive road network and an amazing diversity of wildlife, Rietvlei never fails to recharge the batteries! A week or so ago, in serious need of getting my head cleared following a few health worries, that’s exactly where I headed for a solo trip.
In all the years we’ve been visiting Rietvlei the reserve’s cheetahs have always eluded us – these large spotted cats are experts at hiding! I therefore felt extremely pleased when at long last I encountered a female with her three cubs, just after they had their fill of a freshly caught blesbok. I returned to the site several times later during the day, hoping that the family might still be in the vicinity, only to find the remains of the carcass variously attended by nervous black-backed jackals and pied crows squabbling over the left overs.
At one of the bird-viewing hides I had another encounter that will live in my memory forever. A reedbuck ewe hid her young lamb in a dense stand of reeds nearby, which is quite normal behaviour for the species. The curious (or should that be naughty?) youngster however did not want to stay put where his mom told him to, and quite unafraid approached me where I was sitting flat on the ground taking photos of him from a distance. Eventually he got so close that I had to get up and walk away, afraid that if he was to rub up against me his mother might catch my scent on him and abandon him. If I was pleased after the earlier cheetah sighting this experience really had me feeling utterly blessed!
Winter is getting a firm hold on South Africa’s Highveld now and early morning at Rietvlei is a pleasure to behold as mist rises from the waterways and the rising sun starts to thaw the frost covering the grass and trees.
For a reserve almost entirely surrounded by urban sprawl and industries, Rietvlei harbours an impressive collection of large and easily visible mammalian inhabitants. My sightings included black wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, eland, meerkat, plains zebra, hartebeest, springbok, waterbuck, white rhinos and yellow mongoose (as well as the already mentioned cheetahs, jackals and reedbuck).
I also managed to identify 55 different kinds of birds in the few hours I spent at Rietvlei!
All in all a very pleasant day’s outing; one that certainly got my head back in the right place!
When I was planning a quick weekend getaway for our milestone tenth wedding anniversary, I was looking for a destination we’ve not visited before, within easy driving distance of Pretoria in case Joubert still had to attend classes in the morning, and that Marilize would never guess as I wanted it to be a surprise. Dinokeng Game Reserve fitted the bill perfectly, but even now I still can’t believe just how much this place exceeded my every expectation!
As promised, we’ll give a bit of an overview of the reserve and share some of what we saw and experienced during our first visit to Dinokeng. Having been used as farmlands for so long before the reserve’s founding, I expected there to be little left of the pristine natural vegetation that would have occurred here centuries ago, but I couldn’t have been further off the mark. The reserve’s vegetation is typical varied bushveld (savanna) on a flat to gently undulating landscape, drained by three large streams and their tributaries. The Tswana name “Dinokeng” translates to “a place of rivers” in English, and obviously the name is well deserved.
For a relatively newly established reserve, the list of recorded bird species found at Dinokeng, already over 350 species strong, is phenomenal! We managed to connect with 74 kinds of birds during our weekend visit and have no doubt that more proficient birders would have had an even longer list at the end of theirs.
Dinokeng’s mammalian inhabitants are obviously flourishing. Of the “Big 5” we only managed to see White Rhinos, though we found ample evidence of the reserve’s three Lion prides in the remains of their kills. The Lions, Elephants, Buffaloes and Leopards will have to wait for our next visit then. Sightings of Impala, Kudu, Warthog, Plains Zebra, Blesbok and Blue Wildebeest were numerous, with rarer glimpses of Cheetah, Tsessebe, Eland, Waterbuck, Nyala, Springbok, Grey Duiker, Giraffe, Banded Moongoose, Black-backed Jackal and Vervet Monkey adding variety to our game drives.
Dinokeng Game Reserve boasts more than 30 different accommodation providers, ranging from rustic camping areas to luxury, full-service lodges. For our first visit to the reserve we had the pleasure of staying at OuKlip Game Lodge, deep inside the reserve, where eight fully self-contained safari tents (rated 4-stars) provide very comfortably for two to four guests each. We were immediately taken in by the great facilities in the tents and camp as a whole, not forgetting the warm hospitality of the owners and staff, and have already decided that OuKlip will be our preferred base for future visits to Dinokeng as well. I think what I will most remember about our tent, number one, was the two magnificent sunsets we enjoyed from the veranda! Contact Marilize if you’d like to make reservations at OuKlip; it is sure to be one of Dinokeng’s most popular retreats.
The Dinokeng Game Reserve was officially opened in September 2011, following the amalgamation of 200 private properties, and is managed co-operatively with the provincial government. Visitors to Dinokeng should remember that this is still a developing reserve and that there remains a lot of work to do to remove old farming infrastructure, derelict buildings and fences, and that a few public roads, with associated traffic, crosses through the reserve. It is the only game reserve with free-roaming populations of the “Big 5” in Gauteng Province, South Africa’s economic hub. Today it covers 185km², with plans for further expansion. The Self-Drive Route covers large areas of the reserve, and most of the over 100km of track is good enough to traverse in a sedan. Along the way visitors will find picnic sites (with toilets), hides and viewpoints, and several restaurants (we can honestly recommend the Kingfisher Restaurant at Mongena). Overnight guests and day visitors can also join guided drives and walks from many of the reserve’s private lodges. Other exhilarating activities available inside the reserve includes cultural tours, hot air ballooning and microlight flights, fishing, clay-pigeon shooting, boat cruises and spas. The “Safari Mall” stocks basic groceries and baked goods and also offers a fuel station and bottle store.
Dinokeng Game Reserve is easily accessed from the Hammanskraal offramp from the N1-highway heading north, around half-an-hour from Pretoria.
Our weekend away, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, has flown past in the blink of an eye, and the little taste we had of the Dinokeng Game Reserve has us thoroughly addicted now. We’ll be sharing some more from this wonderful destination, and the very special Ouklip Game Lodge where we stayed, soon!
Good evening from Dinokeng Game Reserve, where we spent most of the day (except for a short siesta at noon) exploring this beautiful treasure almost right on Pretoria’s doorstep. Thank you as well for all the kind comments on our anniversary yesterday – we’ll get to them all when we return to “civilisation” tomorrow…