Tag Archives: picnic spots

Autumn Mountain Moments (part 2)

We made it safely back to Pretoria and I think before anyone noticed we were missing. We enjoyed a glorious morning in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, bringing to a close a wonderful, if whistle-stop, visit to one of our favourite destinations.

Autumn Mountain Moments (part 1)

Pssst…

We sneaked out of Pretoria at five this morning and headed for a quick weekend breakaway at the beautiful Golden Gate Highlands 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: 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/)

 

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: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part two)

2 January 2021

When dawn found the Mountain Zebra National Park under heavy skies this morning we were already underway along the Kranskop Loop.

When we arrived at the start of Rooiplaat Loop we found a male lion lying there, flat on its right-side. We sat there as the minutes passed, studying it through cameras and binoculars and finally coming to the sad conclusion that this lion was dead – there wasn’t even a twitch of an ear or any movement of its stomach to indicate a breath being taken. Disheartened, I started the car to drive off.

King Roy, fast asleep

The sound of the Duster’s engine had a miraculous effect. The lion lifted his head, sleepily. He rested his head on his paws for a while, then gave a mighty yawn before getting up, stretching his legs and then lying down again to look at us in irritation. He is magnificent, known as Roy, and despite his advanced age one of the ruling coalition of lion males here at Mountain Zebra National Park, along with Nomad whom we saw at a distance the day before .

When the next vehicle arrived at the lion sighting we moved of so that those visitors too could have a private audience with The King. The skies have cleared and it’s turning into a glorious day. On our way back to camp we passed Roy again, and he was fast asleep again.

With it being our last afternoon at Mountain Zebra we opted to visit all our favourite spots along the Ubejane and Rooiplaat Loops and the Link road between them again. There’s just something so indescribably peaceful about driving around wild Africa as dusk approaches.

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

Summertide Diary: Exploring Addo (part two)

29 December 2020

The first leg of our route through the Addo Elephant Park this morning, again managing to leave camp as the gates opened, went past Gwarrie Pan and Rooidam towards Hapoor Dam. Still being early in the morning there was little animal activity around the watering holes but lots to see along the way nevertheless, both big and small.

It was on arrival at Hapoor Dam that the morning turned really exciting as we came across spotted hyenas feeding on the carcass of a buffalo calf, soon to have their feast interrupted by a very annoyed elephant bull. More on that tomorrow!

Annoyed elephant spoiling the hyena feast

I think by now the birds inhabiting Jack’s Picnic Spot started to recognise us as friends, for they were very eager to join us at our breakfast table and didn’t let any rusk crumbs that dared drop to the ground go unpunished!

From “Jack’s” we headed south-east as far as Arizona Dam before turning back to camp along the same way we came, just in case there was still some drama at Hapoor (which there was, but this time it involved elephants waiting for a work crew to fix an errant water pump so they could get their morning drink).

From the moment we left camp for our afternoon drive it was noticeable that there was a sudden explosion in the Park’s Warthog population, as seemingly every sow we saw was accompanied by little bundles of joy – not something we noticed on any of our previous drives.

Another notable encounter in the afternoon, which by then turned exceedingly windy, was with a family of foraging Meerkats, a perennial favourite with visitors to our parks.

But warthogs and meerkats weren’t all that we crossed our path that afternoon and we returned to camp very pleased with our day – again!

If you’d like to learn more about the Addo Elephant National Park’s history and all it has to offer visitors, why not have a read through this post we compiled after our previous visit? And to follow along on our travels through Addo, you might find this map (from the SANParks website) most handy.Addo map from https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/tourism/map.php

Summertide Diary: Exploring Addo (part one)

28 December 2020

This morning we’re just in time for the gates opening at of 05:30 and ready to search and explore everything Addo Elephant National Park has to offer. The signs along the way give a good indication of what we might expect to see…

We head for the Gorah Loop in the east, where the more open vistas make game-viewing much easier than in the thickets that predominate over other sections of the park.

Having left so early meant no breakfast before we headed out the door, so by now there was only one logical place to head to – Jack’s Picnic Spot – so that we could fill up on coffee and rusks. Jack’s is well frequented in the early morning, and not only by humans!

Heading back to camp we have some wonderful encounters with elephants and buffaloes, the two members of the “Big 5” most commonly seen here at Addo.

Back at camp there’s ample opportunity to walk around, and there’s few better places to do that inside Addo Main Rest Camp than on the Discovery Trail, where interesting information is provided on the park’s fauna and flora as you amble along.

 

For our afternoon drive we opt for another jaunt along Gorah Loop, and again it doesn’t disappoint!

This young kudu bull was in quite a hurry – why and where it was headed to was less clear.

If you’d like to learn more about the Addo Elephant National Park’s history and all it has to offer visitors, why not have a read through this post we compiled after our previous visit? And to follow along on our travels through Addo, you might find this map (from the SANParks website) most handy.Addo map from https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/tourism/map.php

 

Summertide Diary: Arriving at Addo

27 December 2020

After spending a lovely three days over Christmas at home with Marilize’s parents, whom we haven’t seen in person since they retired to Jeffreys Bay 15 months ago, we all headed together to the Addo Elephant National Park‘s Matyholweni Gate, just an hour’s drive away, for a four night visit to this very special place.

It takes a few hours of leisurely driving to travel through the Park from Matyholweni to the Main Camp where we were booked to stay, and this of course means there’s wonderful sightseeing, bird-watching and game-viewing along the way! Jack’s Picnic Spot, just a little over halfway, is a great place to stretch tired legs while enjoying visits from all kinds of birds and other small creatures at your picnic table.

In the afternoon, and after getting settled into our comfortable chalet, we have a little time to take a drive along a few loop roads close to camp before the gates close.

If you’d like to learn more about the Addo Elephant National Park’s history and all it has to offer visitors, why not have a read through this post we compiled after our previous visit? And to follow along on our travels through Addo, you might find this map (from the SANParks website) most handy.Addo map from https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/tourism/map.php

 

 

Summertide Diary: Nature’s Valley (Garden Route National Park)

22 – 24 December 2020

Located at the mouth of the Groot River, the small holiday town of Nature’s Valley is surrounded by the western reaches of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. The town is connected to the N2 national highway by the Groot River Pass which makes for a magnificent drive as one descends through the forest canopy to the town below.

South African National Parks manages the De Vasselot Rest Camp, which offers two fully-equipped chalets, ten rustic forest huts and a camping area on the outskirts of town. Private holiday homes are available to hire in town where there’s also a small general store and restaurant. Several hiking trails traverse the forests and beaches around Nature’s Valley, and canoes can be hired to explore the river and lagoon.

We spent two nights at the De Vasselot Rest Camp at Nature’s Valley during our 2020-21 Summertide Ramble, arriving in the early afternoon on the 22nd and departing again late morning on the 24th of December 2020. Our chalet on the bank of the Groot River had a lovely setting from which we could wonder at the beauty of Nature’s Valley.

When the sun was out we enjoyed the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets from our stoep. When it was raining, the sound of the drops hitting the river and the quacking of the raucous toad beneath the deck combined to make a soothing lullaby, lulling me to sleep right there on the veranda.

We didn’t see the sun very often during our time at Nature’s Valley and couldn’t explore as widely as we wanted to due both to the very rainy weather and government restrictions imposed to clamp down on South Africa’s “second wave” of COVID-19 infections, and we’ll definitely have to return to remedy that. Still, there were many trails that we did explore in between (and sometimes during) the rain showers, and even walking in the camp and town proved very rewarding.

One of our hikes took us on a forest trail in the early morning, and we were hoping to reach a cliff-top vantage point overlooking the Indian Ocean. But we got lost in the forest. Thankfully we could trace our steps back after realising that we lost our way. And we could swing on monkey vines (yes, strong enough to hold even me!). And we got soaking wet after it started raining. And yet there was so much life to marvel at that the hike really was still more than worth the effort. The fact that we really do want to go see that viewpoint is just another reason why we have to return to Nature’s Valley!

 

Nature’s Valley location (Google Maps) Click on the map for an enlarged view.