This morning it was a sad farewell to Marilize’s parents who joined us for the 4 nights we spent at Addo Elephant National Park. They headed home to Jeffreys Bay while we travelled in the opposite direction to the final stop of our 2020 summertide ramble – the beautiful Mountain Zebra National Park (please click on the image for a clearer view).
I think it’s more the inclement weather than the government-imposed restriction on beach-going in the Garden Route (an attempt at limiting crowds to curb the spread of COVID-19) that caused the beach at Nature’s Valley to be this deserted today.
We’ll be spending the next few days with close family in Jeffreys Bay but we’ll resume our summertide rambles through two of the Eastern Cape national parks on the 27th.
It’s the fifth day of our 2020 Summertide Ramble, and we’ve moved again – this time about 200km due east to the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park, where our cosy log cottage in the Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp has a lovely (if overcast and rather chilly at the moment) view over the wetlands of the Serpentine River just before its confluence with the Touw River.
With it being a short school holiday we had the opportunity to visit the privately owned Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve for a day this past week.
The reserve was established in 1990 and is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site northwest of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It covers approximately 1,600 hectares of undulating terrain at the transition between the open grasslands of the Highveld and the savannas of the Bushveld.
Going by the name, clearly pride of place at the reserve goes to two species. The first is the white rhinoceros, which are heavily guarded on the reserve to keep them safe from poachers – in fact, several of the reserve’s rhinos arrived here as orphans after their mothers were poached. Furthermore the horns of the rhinos at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve has been infused with a toxin that makes it unfit for human consumption to further deter the unscrupulous syndicates supplying the traditional medicine markets in Asia.
In a corner of the reserve are four large camps through which visitors are allowed to drive to view two prides of lion, African wild dogs and cheetahs in natural surroundings. Whenever we consider visiting a destination where large predators are kept in camps and enclosures we are always very careful that it is not in any way linked to the absolutely abhorrent canned hunting fraternity, cub petting or the lion-bone trade. The owners and management of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve have publicly undertaken that the animals on the reserve will not be subjected to such inhumane practices.
The first and most expansive of the predator camps at the reserve is allocated to the tawny lions. We arrived there just minutes before feeding time, and found the lions up and very active indeed!
The next camp visitors enter houses a sizable pack of the highly social African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Wolves for their beautifully blotched coats.
A pride of White Lions is to be seen in the third predator camp (regular readers of our blog will remember how excited we were to have seen one of only three known wild white lions back in January during a visit to the Kruger National Park).
In the fourth camp visitors can try and spot cheetahs, though these lanky cats use their camouflage to great effect and finding them may be neigh impossible if they don’t want to be spotted!
Another positive feature of the reserve is the vulture restaurant – a feeding station where carcasses are regularly laid out for the endangered birds. Throughout our day on the reserve we had regular sightings of the impressive but endangered Cape Vultures overhead, and many other kinds of birds were also in evidence.
Other kinds of mammals, aside from the rhinos and large predators, thrive on the reserve and roam freely over most of it. We were especially impressed by the large herd of eland and beautiful sable antelope, and we also saw black-backed jackal, black and blue wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, gemsbok, grey duiker, impala, roan antelope, springbok, warthog, waterbuck and yellow mongoose.
Special mention needs to be made of the reserve’s population of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. Being not at all indigenous to this part of the country visitors are provided an opportunity to see the least well-known of the three kinds of zebra found in South Africa.
The main visitor centre of the reserve offers an extensive picnic site and playground, restaurant, swimming pool and the wildlife centre – a collection of endangered and mostly non-indigenous reptiles, birds and mammals, obviously well taken care of and displayed in well maintained terrariums and enclosures, among which visitors are allowed to stroll at their leisure.
Visitors can overnight on the reserve in chalets and log cabins, the latter overlooking a portion of the lion camp. Given the rather small size of the reserve the road network, all dirt, is not very extensive but the majority of roads can at least be fairly easily traversed in standard passenger vehicles while there’s also additional routes available to 4×4’s. Unfortunately the Wonder Cave which as adjacent to the reserve was closed at the time of our visit.
Mankwe Dam, a large man-made impoundment that holds water throughout the year and that’s a veritable magnet for wildlife, is located in the heart of the Pilanesberg National Park. On its banks you’ll find the Mankwe Hide, very popular with photographers and recently rebuilt after being destroyed in a veld fire. That is where we are headed next.
Back in the hide’s parking area this southern masked weaver is enjoying a bath in a small puddle- as if he is too scared to go swimming in the big pool on the other side!
Almost immediately after driving out of the parking area at the hide, we come across a pair of lions – our second lion sighting of the day and less than 200 steps from where we were standing outside our vehicle just a few seconds ago! Luckily, being a mating pair, their attentions are focused on satisfying other base instincts than finding food. Our day just keeps getting better!
Leaving the lions to their honeymoon, we head north along Kgabo Drive and take a left into Tlou. Along the way we add further to our list of birds seen, including this rufous-naped lark singing its lungs out from a prominent perch.
Just as we get to the junction of Tlou and Thuthlwa drives we find another brown hyena, walking quite purposefully away from an old elephant carcass with a large chunk of bone in its jaws. We follow alongside until it disappears into a thicket, its destination remaining a mystery to us but we like to think that it is headed to a den with hungry youngsters waiting.
If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)
If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.
To be continued tomorrow.
“This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us, it made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.” (Bridget Asher)
Do the mountains have the same profound impact on you as it does for us?
“These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.” (Donald Miller)
With South Africa preparing for a nationwide “lock-down” of a minimum three week duration in the face of the global pandemic, we’ve returned from the Drakensberg grateful for having had a chance to recharge our batteries in beautiful natural surroundings. We’ll be sharing many more photos from our latest trip in days to come and hope that they’ll bring you as much joy as the memories will for us in these trying times.
God bless you and keep you.