Category Archives: iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Our experiences in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Summertide Diary: Exploring iSimangaliso (part four)

20 January 2021

Morning broke at Cape Vidal with a thick blanket of fog covering the coast, and knowing that visibility along the Grassland Loop would be limited as a result we stuck to the main road out of camp, heading south as far as Amazibu Pan.

As per usual Amazibu Pan was abuzz with a variety of mammalian and avian wildlife when we arrived.

Next on our itinerary for the morning was a jaunt along the Vlei Loop, though in these early hours not much game were around the waterholes as yet.

Then followed a short detour along the Forest Loop…

…and the Dune Loop…

… before arriving back at our cabin in Cape Vidal where some interesting visitors were already in attendance.

Having had to skip the Grassland Loop in the morning, that is where our attention was focused for our afternoon drive.

In the evening while having dinner on the deck of our cabin the Tropical House Gecko kept us thoroughly entertained by catching moths attracted to the outside light.

Tropical House Gecko

Map of the eastern shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (from https://isimangaliso.com/)

 

Summertide Diary: Crowned Eagles

We were about half-way through our visit to Cape Vidal in January 2021 when we found that a pair of Crowned Eagles were rearing a chick in a tall Casuarina tree right inside the camp and very near our cabin. The eagles were very careful not to attract attention to their nest and being known for attacking humans that venture too close to their nests we didn’t hang around there too often. We therefore got very few glimpses of the chick in its treetop fortress.

Considered Africa’s most powerful eagle, capable of preying even on mammals the size of bushbuck, the Crowned Eagle is a very large bird of prey – females, the larger of the sexes, weighs up to 5kg and has a wingspan of around 1.6m.  Crowned Eagles are forest birds, but have adapted to life in exotic plantations where there’s suitable prey available. Mammals – hyraxes, monkeys and antelope – make up the majority of their dietary intake and small pets regularly feature on the menu of Crowned Eagles living in or near urban areas that fall within their distribution range.

Crowned Eagles are monogamous and form lasting pair bonds, each pair defending a large tract of forest as their exclusive territory. Their large stick-platform nests are built by both partners on cliffs or at the top of tall forest trees. These nests are usually reused for consecutive years and are continuously added to, eventually becoming massive structures up to 3m tall. Clutches of two eggs are laid in the spring months and incubated over a seven week period, mostly be the female. Unless the first laid egg doesn’t hatch the older sibling will kill the younger soon after it hatches. While the male regularly brings food to the nest it never feeds the chick, this task is always performed by the female until the chick is about a month-and-a-half old, at which point it starts feeding itself on meals brought to it by the parent birds. The chick takes its first flight around four months after hatching and is finally chased from its parental territory when it is at least ten months old.

Though occurring widely over Africa’s forested areas, the IUCN lists the Crowned Eagle as being near-threatened, siting a decreasing population of no more than 50,000 mature individuals caused by habitat destruction and persecution by humans. In South Africa they’re found from the Garden Route, through the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal, to the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the Soutpansberg  range and the Pafuri region of the Kruger National Park.

Summertide Diary: Exploring iSimangaliso (part three)

19 January 2021

The Grassland Loop is the first turnoff from the main tarred road you reach after leaving Cape Vidal. And because we just love taking the backroads while exploring South Africa’s wild places that is invariably the route we opt for – it criss-crosses a variety of habitats (from forest to grassland to swamp) and skirts the shores of Lake Bhangazi, which always has something interesting to see.

This morning we were particularly lucky with what we found on the Grassland Loop – a pack of four Spotted Hyenas who showed just a mild interest in a few Plains Zebras and Blue Wildebeest grazing nearby.

The Grassland Loop completed and now heading to our breakfast spot, an extended family of Crested Guineafowl crossed our path – not something we get to see often and very excited at the pictures we got of them.

Passing through a forested patch we were entertained by a troop of Vervet Monkeys and, while watching them, a few other denizens of the forest also came into view.

We needed to stock up on our fresh food and drinking water supply today, so headed south to Bhangazi Gate and the holiday town of Saint Lucia.

Right at the Bhangazi Gate the Crocodile Centre is always a worthwhile place to stop and learn more about the Nile Crocodile – a key component of the ecosystem of Lake St. Lucia. The centre houses some really impressive specimens, many of them rescued from poachers’ traps or after becoming problematic in nearby communities, and their progeny are then released back into the wild. Furthermore there are two other species of crocodiles from equatorial Africa and American alligators on show, and a myriad of other animals and birds have also made themselves at home at the centre.

After a relaxed hour or so at the Crocodile Centre we tackled the 4km round trip hike from the parking area at Sugarloaf to the mouth of Lake St. Lucia. While the distance isn’t daunting at all the heat and humidity and trudging through the hot, deep sand proved more of a challenge than we anticipated, and the sight of a huge Nile Crocodile basking on a sandbank was all the convincing we needed not to dare cool our feet in the water. In the end the beautiful scenes we enjoyed more than made up for the heat-stroke risk though.

Our shopping completed we headed back to Cape Vidal. In the midday heat there wasn’t much to be seen along the way. Only mad dogs and Englishmen… and the de Wets… venture out in the midday sun. An outing to the beach was on the cards for the afternoon. Yellow-billed Kites flying overhead regularly swooped down to catch an unwary crab, but they knew better than to trifle with the bluebottles drifting in the waves.

Walking back to our cabin there was an enormous commotion in the tree-tops owing to screeching Vervet Monkeys and alarm-calling Hadedas. Looking up, we’re just in time to see a Crowned Eagle flying off with a large prize in its talons and an empty hadeda nest… We then noticed another Crowned Eagle surveying the area from high in a Cassuarina-tree and watched it until it flew off in the direction of the cabins. More about them tomorrow…

 

Map of the eastern shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (from https://isimangaliso.com/)

Summertide Diary: Spying on the neighbours at Cape Vidal

A few years ago we purchased a very simple trail camera to take along on our visits to South Africa’s wild places, reason being that we were interested to know and see what wildlife roamed around after the humans went to bed. During our week at Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park a dripping geyser overflow that created a small puddle in hardened mud and a pie-dish beneath an outside tap were the perfect locations to set up our little “camera trap” and spy on the wild neighbours that roam the camp by day and night. The camera worked overtime and took thousands of photos, and with great excitement we’d download these on a daily basis to see what came to visit while we were either away or asleep.

Vervet Monkey sneaking a drink beneath the geyser overflow

As was to be expected a wide variety of birds were drawn to the artificial “waterholes” around our cabin. What made us really excited was the very many shots the camera got of usually very shy and retiring forest birds we would otherwise have broken our necks trying to sneak even a single photograph of.

By day the biggest mammals that roamed around the camp at Cape Vidal was the Bushbucks. Male and female, young and old, they all put in an appearance.

By far the species featured most often in the photos taken by the trailcam was the Samango Monkeys, and some of the things they got up to when they thought there weren’t any humans around to see was most amusing.

Nighttime brought a shift in the animals coming to prowl around our accommodations – the bushbuck were still around and genets aren’t really threatening, but I wouldn’t want to encounter the bushpigs or hyenas in the dark!

 

Summertide Diary: Exploring iSimangaliso (part two)

18 January 2021

Our morning drive may just have been a relatively short circuit around the Grassland Loop, passing the shores of Lake Bhangazi, and then back to Cape Vidal, but we saw so much that it actually took quite a few hours to complete.

Cape Vidal really is the most wonderful combination of a beach holiday and a bush safari. I need to be honest here: I get bored on the beach reeeaaally quickly when it is high-tide. Therefore it is marvelous to be able to just walk over the first dune and start looking for forest birds and animals without having to distract Marilize and Joubert from whichever wet or sandy pursuit they’re enjoying at that point in time, and then quickly pop back over the dune every now-and-then to check that the sea hasn’t disappeared yet! 😀

Our very leisurely afternoon outing took us south to Catalina Bay and then slowly back to camp. A strong wind and ever darkening skies accompanied us all the way.

 

Map of the eastern shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (from https://isimangaliso.com/)

 

Summertide Diary: Butterfly Bonanza (and a few other insects too)

When we first walked to the KuMfazana hide on our recent visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we didn’t quite find what we expected. Normally, if the pans in front of the hide holds water, there are hippos and crocodiles and a myriad of water-dependent birds to keep visitors entertained for hours. This time however it was the walkway through the swamp forest to the hide that held us enthralled for hours, and not because of some “hairy and scary” creatures either…

We dubbed this stretch of the walkway to the hide at kuMfazana “Butterfly Glen”

It was thanks to the sheer numbers and diversity of butterflies to be seen along this short walk that we visited kuMfazana almost daily for the week that we were at Cape Vidal in January 2021. Last time I saw anything like it was during a solitary autumn visit to the Kruger National Park in 2019. iSimangaliso’s rich plantlife and habitats supports an extraordinary list of butterfly species, each seemingly more beautiful than the one you’ve seen just before. Other spots in the Park, most notably at Cape Vidal and Mission Rocks, also contributed to the bounty but none so richly as kuMfazana. I really hope this gallery gives you an idea of what we experienced that week.

While not nearly as conspicuous as their butterfly cousins there also was a few eye-catching moths to be found.

The diversity of dragonflies on the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia almost matches that of the butterflies, and I was frustrated at not being able to identify the species most of them belonged to. Realising how little I actually know about these often seen insects I’m determined to remedy that as soon as possible.

Insects of all kinds thrive in iSimangaliso’s sub-tropical climate. Regrettably that includes mosquitoes…

When we saw a spider-hunting wasp dragging a paralysed sac spider to its nest I must admit to getting a large dose of pleasure from the hapless spider’s predicament. Sac spiders are among the most venomous spiders in South Africa and responsible for most of the serious spider bites suffered in our country. They deliver a nasty bite of cytotoxic venom and the bite-site is prone to secondary infection. The reason for my schadenfreude? A sac spider bit a then infant Joubert resulting in a visit to the emergency room late night on a New Years eve a few years ago…

 

Summertide Diary: Exploring iSimangaliso (part one)

17 January 2021

It’s a cloudy start to the day at Cape Vidal and the route for our morning drive takes us along the Grassland Loop and then to the viewpoint at Catalina Bay on the shores of Lake St. Lucia. Recent rains have swelled the lake to proportions I don’t think we’ve seen on any of our numerous previous visits to the area.

We’re slowly making our way to the picnic site at Mission Rocks for breakfast.

On arrival at Mission Rocks we delay our breakfast of coffee-and-rusks just a little to first walk down to the rocky beach and look out over the ocean. But its windy and drizzly so we don’t stay at the seaside too long before going to hide in the forest, where the picnic tables are also frequented by some colourful birds with the same aching for something to eat that we had.

Driving further south the sun finally puts in appearance and the bush becomes alive as birds and animals come out of hiding.

We turn for camp at Amazibu Pan, where the hippos are kept from their sleep by a raucous assortment of birdlife.

Heading back to Cape Vidal there’s three short loop roads that offer an alternative to the busier tarred main road, and each of them offers a glimpse into a different ecosystem. The first of these is the Vlei Loop that passes several open pans where animals congregate to drink.

The Forest Loop passes the kuMfazana Hide, where we discover a butterfly paradise – more about that tomorrow!

A turnoff from the Dune Loop leads to the Kwasheleni Tower – a new facility opened after our previous visit to iSimangaliso that we were very curious to see – but a sour old buffalo bull tried his best to keep us from reaching it.

Our patience paid off when the buffalo eventually relented and we could reach the viewing tower without further hindrance (unless you see the climbing up the dune and then the tower as an obstacle). The views afforded over Lake St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park from up the top of the tower was amazing.

Arriving back at Cape Vidal around the same time the clouds did, we nevertheless didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to explore the rock pools at low tide.

Having lunch on the deck of our log cabin we were visited by a variety of the local wildlife.

We didn’t take a very long afternoon drive, just a two-hour excursion along the Grassland and Dune Loops and back to camp.

 

Map of the eastern shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (from https://isimangaliso.com/)

 

Summertide Diary: Ghost Crabs

Subfamily Ocypodinae

The beach at Cape Vidal is alive with Ghost Crabs, a good indication as to the health of the intertidal ecosystem thanks to minimal human impact on this stretch of coast.

Ghost Crabs are omnivorous scavengers, living on any carrion, debris, and even small living creatures up to the size of turtle hatchlings that gets washed onto the beach.

Being semi-terrestrial and living in burrows they dig for themselves in moist sand, Ghost Crabs can breathe oxygen from the air through their gills, provided they can keep them wet which requires the crabs to scuttle into the waves every so often. However, they can’t stay in the water too long or they’ll drown.

This necessity for the Ghost Crabs to go into the water at regular intervals had us quite amused during our recent visit to Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The crabs would run towards the approaching wave, stand their ground, get pounded, and then re-appear when the wave retreats, still standing in the same spot. Not once did we see one of the crabs loose its footing and get tossed around by the wave action!

 

Summertide Diary: Arriving at Cape Vidal

16 January 2021

Thankfully our government didn’t opt to impose even stricter lockdown regulations following the festive season spike in covid-infections and so, after 13 days at home in Pretoria we could recommence our summertide rambles, this time heading to Cape Vidal on the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. After 7-and-a-half hours on the road we finally arrived in the holiday town of St Lucia and, after filling up on fuel and stocking up on eats and drinks we couldn’t wait to enter Bhangazi Gate for the 30km drive to Cape Vidal.

The Bhangazi gate into the Eastern Shores of Lake Saint Lucia lies roughly 610km South-East of Pretoria.
(Drawn using Google Maps)

This is one of our favourite destinations and sadly in the midst of South Africa’s first wave of the pandemic a booking we had to come to Cape Vidal in the winter holidays of 2020 had to be postponed. We were so grateful to be back now.

We were allocated log cabin #1 at Cape Vidal – although it’s the first unit as you drive into the accommodation area of the camp it was still very privately situated and surrounded by bush.

After settling into our accommodation there was only one place we wanted to go – the beach – even if by then some heavy cloud cover had started to move in from the Indian Ocean.

 

Map of the eastern shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (from https://isimangaliso.com/)

 

 

Summertide Rambles 23 January 2021

With heavy hearts, after a week in absolute paradise, we had to come back home today. But iSimangaliso – “the place of miracles and wonders” – had one more treasure to share with us on the 30km drive between Cape Vidal and the gate – this beautiful black rhinoceros!

Soon we’ll start posting the recollections of our summertide rambles through the Karoo National Park, Bontebok National Park, Garden Route National Park, Addo Elephant National Park, Mountain Zebra National Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. We hope you’ll join us for the daily series and won’t get bored too soon, as there’s lots to cover!