Tag Archives: picnic spots

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.

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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.

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.

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

Boxing Morning in De Hoop

We hope everyone that celebrated yesterday had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends.

We spent much of today exploring the beautiful and diverse De Hoop Nature Reserve. Of course we’ll tell you much more about De Hoop soon!

A rainy day spent on the Western Shores of Lake Saint Lucia

The Western Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was opened to visitors a lot more recently than most other parts of the Park, and in many ways it is still being rehabilitated to its natural state – in fact there are still several exotic eucalyptus plantations in this area that still need to be harvested.

Just about 2km outside of St. Lucia town, on the main road to Mtubatuba, visitors will find the Dukuduku Gate providing quick and easy access to this interesting area. Unfortunately during our visit early in November Charter’s Creek was off limits due to flooding, but there’s other very rewarding areas where visitors can stretch their legs at: uBhejane Picnic Spot, kuMgandankawu Hide and uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk. The road network, while still rather limited, provides access to various interesting habitats and the birds and animals that find refuge there.

If you are interested in visiting St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, remember that De WetsWild can assist you with reservations in the Eden Park and Sugarloaf Campsites in town or at wonderful Cape Vidal set on the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Shores section of the Park.

Rietvlei on a winter’s day

Just some photographs from a serene Sunday spent in our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve yesterday.

Mapungubwe National Park

The treasure we know today as the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site has a troubled recent history. In 1918 already the corner of our country where the borders of South Africa, Botswana (then the British protectorate of Bechuanaland) and Zimbabwe (then still the British colony of South Rhodesia) met was set aside as a botanical reserve due to the area’s unique plant communities. It soon became known as the Dongola Botanical Reserve. In March 1947, with its size much reduced to placate the local farming community, the South African government proclaimed the Dongola Game Reserve at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers. A change in government the following year however resulted in the fledgling conservation area being deproclaimed in its entirety almost immediately. A tiny portion of it, surrounding the Mapungubwe Hill, became a provincial nature reserve, Vhembe, in 1967. Then, in 1995, with South Africa now a multiracial democracy and Botswana and Zimbabwe independent countries in their own right, and after many years of a strict military presence on the border, this arid corner of our country was once again afforded the highest level of protection as the Vhembe-Dongola National Park. In September 2004, the park was opened to visitors and renamed the Mapungubwe National Park, in recognition of the fact that this area and its rich cultural heritage centred on Mapungubwe Hill was inscribed as a World Heritage Site the year before.

 

Mapungubwe’s human history dates back to hundreds of years before the colonial period however and is extremely fascinating. Visits to the interpretive centre near the gate and the archeological site on Mapunguwe Hill are not to be missed. Read more about it here.

Today, Mapungubwe covers 28,000 hectares and consists of two distinct parts, with private farming land isolating the two sections. Both sections adjoin the Limpopo River; the eastern portion is rugged and hilly – with beautiful baobab trees – while the western section is flat and dominated by a very different community of plants. Mapungubwe’s an arid place, with average annual rainfall below 400mm and summer temperatures that easily soar above 40°C.