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.
22 January 2021
It’s our last full day in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and it’s one of those beautiful mornings that you can only experience out in wild Africa. Clear skies, golden light, inspiring scenery and beautiful creatures along the Grassland Loop all conspired to make us want the moment to last forever.
Heading back to camp after our breakfast at the lookout point near Mission Rocks, from where we could see both the Indian Ocean to the east and Lake St. Lucia to the west while drinking our morning coffee, we couldn’t help but reflect on why this is one of our favourite corners of South Africa.
Seeing as it may be some time before we see the sea again we opted to spend our final afternoon in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the beach at Cape Vidal.
23 January 2021
Sadly our time at Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and with it our Summertide Ramble through the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal, has come to an end. The 30km to the Bhangazi Gate goes by far too quickly for our liking, despite some good sightings along the way, and with heavy hearts we tackle the road back to Pretoria…
A huge thanks to each and every one of you that joined us for our daily recollections of this most memorable trip!
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to healthy populations of both White and Black Rhinoceros, jealously guarded by the reserve’s rangers and routinely dehorned to deter poachers. Rhino populations all over our country are under severe threat and seeing these animals in the wild, even without their trademark horns, is an experience we’re very grateful for.
Being diurnal in habit and much less skittish, the White Rhino is the easier of the two African species to find while driving around iSimangaliso.
Black Rhinos are solitary, shy, more nocturnal and consequently seen less often than White Rhinos.
This muddy signpost in the park was used by a muddy rhino as a rubbing post. Rolling in mud, leaving it to dry and then rubbing the caked mud off against a sturdy rock, tree or …signpost, is a way for the rhino to rid itself of external parasites like ticks.
For landlubbers like us gawking with open mouths at the colourful life in a rock pool at the sea shore is one of the highlights of a beach holiday. Many of the life forms are so unique and different from what we’re used to as to seem utterly alien. We were fortunate in that, during our time in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we had a chance to visit Mission Rocks at low tide in the cool of the afternoon, allowing us to clamber over the rocks from one pool to the next to our heart’s content.
21 January 2021
After a night of heavy rainfall our first encounter of the morning was with an amphibian, probably no surprize there. It was however the first time we saw the tiny Bush Squeaker frog – this one, no bigger than a thumbnail, was sitting next to our vehicle as we wanted to climb aboard for our morning excursion.
Everything was crisp and clean along the Grassland Loop after the rainstorm the previous night.
Climbing to the top of the Kwasheleni Tower and taking in the beautiful views in the morning light with the smell of a wet forest all around was magical.
There was lots to see along the remainder of the road back to camp
With low tide arriving around 15:00 this afternoon we used the opportunity to go down to Mission Rocks and explore the wonders of the rocky shoreline there. This gallery is just a little teaser of what we have in store for you tomorrow.
After a wonderful time around the rock pools at Mission Rocks the road back to Cape Vidal was buzzing with lots to see.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!