Tag Archives: vacation

Addo Elephant National Park: Celebrating 90 years of conservation success!

Today we celebrate the 90th birthday of the Addo Elephant National Park.

By the early 1900’s the Eastern Cape’s wildlife was being exterminated at an alarming rate. The last remaining lions and black rhinos in the region did not see the arrival of the year 1900, and only about 140 African Elephants remained around the Addo district, which was rapidly developing into an important agricultural area, leading to conflict with the newly established farmers. The government’s decision to intervene was not good news for the elephants. In 1919 they appointed Major P.J. Pretorius to destroy the elephants, and by 1920 he had killed 114 of them and caught 2 for a circus. Only 16 elephants remained when public sentiment swung in their favour and the wanton killing ended, and when the Addo Elephant National Park was proclaimed on 3 July 1931, only 11 elephants were left. Initially, the Park was not fenced to keep the elephants in and when they left the Park they were at the mercy of the “civilisation” that wanted to destroy them all, so the first Park manager made the decision to feed them with citrus and other fresh produce to keep them within his boundaries. Slowly but surely their numbers started growing, but by the time the Park, then only 2,270 hectares in size, was finally surrounded with an elephant-proof fence in 1954, there was still only 22 elephants at Addo. The unnatural practice of feeding the elephants, which in the end was done more for the entertainment of tourists than for the elephants’ sake, ended in 1979. By then the herd numbered about 100 animals, but Addo’s elephants have responded wonderfully to the protection they’ve been afforded since the Park’s proclamation, and today number over 600! Along with the elephants, the last free-roaming herds of African (Cape) Buffalo that occurred in the then Cape Province, as well as the unique and endemic Addo Flightless Dung Beetle, finally found a secure refuge. In subsequent years the Park’s area was expanded and species that fell into local extinction were reintroduced.

With the Addo elephants now finally living in a safe refuge, the focus at Addo Elephant National Park is no longer on saving a single species. Today, the park’s management is concerned with the protection of the enormous diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna encompassed within its boundaries, which covers an expansive area of over 178,000 hectares stretching from beyond and across the Zuurberg range to the coastal forests and dune fields of Alexandria. The Park protects portions of no less than five of South Africa’s seven distinct terrestrial biomes, these being subtropical thicket, fynbos, forest, grassland and Nama-Karoo, not to forget to mention the portion of marine environment protected around Algoa Bay’s St. Croix and Bird islands which is important breeding sites for endangered seabirds. Addo is the only National Park in South Africa that can claim to protect the “Big Seven” – the famed “Big Five“ of ElephantLionBlack RhinoBuffaloLeopard, together with the Great White Shark, and Southern Right Whale.

Addo Elephant National Park protects a total of 95 mammals species. The Park also boasts a list of 417 bird species, and if that isn’t enough, visitors also have a chance of spotting any of the more than 50 reptile species or 20 kinds of frogs and toads that call Addo Elephant National Park home. The Park’s most famous invertebrate inhabitant undoubtedly is the Addo Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus), this being only one of 5 places they are still found. These interesting insects make use of elephant and buffalo dung as food, either for themselves or rolled into brood balls in which they lay a single egg before burying it in soft sand and on which the larvae then feeds when it hatches.

The Addo Main Camp is the Addo Elephant National Park’s first and biggest tourist facility. Camping and a wide variety of accommodation (as well as a swimming pool) is available to overnight guests. There are picnic sites for day visitors, an underground hide overlooking a waterhole frequented by all the Park’s animals and floodlit at night (we even saw a brown hyena there when we visited in December), a birdwatching hide overlooking a small artificial wetland, a self-guided discovery trail, guided drives and horse rides, a fuel station, restaurant, shop and excellent interpretive centre where young and old can learn more about the Park and its inhabitants. Elsewhere in the Park guests can overnight at the luxury, full service and privately-run Gorah, Riverbend and Kuzuko-lodges, or in one of the Park’s own camps at Nyathi, Matyholweni, Kabouga Cottage, Mvubu Campsite, Narina Bushcamp, Langebos and Msintsi. Between the Main Camp and Matyholweni guests have access to an extensive and well-maintained network of all-weather game viewing roads, while other areas of the Park can be explored along hiking trails or 4×4 trails.

The easiest way to reach the Park is along the N2 highway from Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), turning off to the gate at Matyholweni just before you reach the small town of Colchester on the bank of the Sundays River, about 45km from PE’s airport.

Addo Location

 

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Sunday 13 June 2021

It was the morning after Marilize’s milestone birthday, which unfortunately coincided with South Africa experiencing a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections precluding any big commemoration with the extended family and friends. It was up to me and Joubert to make the event memorable, so we surprised Marilize with a weekend breakaway to Marakele National Park.

Having spent all day Saturday at our comfortable safari tent overlooking the dam at Tlopi Tented Camp, we decided to prolong our departure back home to Pretoria on Sunday by exploring the roads leading through the Marakele National Park before checking out. There were lots of animals and birds to be seen, but it is Marakele’s awe-inspiring scenery that steals the show every time!

Check-out time at Tlopi Tented Camp is at 10:00 in the morning. While I was packing the Duster, Joubert was keeping an eye out for thieving monkeys and getting some final photographs of life in and around Tlopi.

It was time to head for the gate. Along the way we detoured to the Bolonoto Pan and the graves of the Coetzee family, but no matter how we tried we just couldn’t stretch our weekend any further. Around midday we handed back the key for Tlopi unit 10 to the friendly reception staff and said our goodbyes to Marakele National Park, till next time.

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Saturday 12 June 2021

Round about 04:45am on Saturday, the territorial rasping of a leopard really close lured Joubert and me out of our cosy tent into the cold winter morning air at Tlopi Tented Camp. Try as we might using our spotlight and headlamps the big cat remained unseen, so we warmed ourselves with hot drinks, waiting for the first rays of sunshine to appear. It was the morning of Marilize’s milestone birthday, and unfortunately this coincided with South Africa experiencing a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections precluding any big commemoration with the extended family and friends. It was up to me and Joubert to make the event memorable, so we surprised Marilize with a weekend breakaway to Marakele National Park

First light made an appearance around 06:20 and a stream of birds started arriving at the dam – first a few double-banded sandgrouse, then a hadeda and a pair of egyptian geese, waking up the arrow-marked babblers in the tree shading our tent. It was only at 08:10 that the sun first peaked over the cliffs of the Waterberg towering over Tlopi and started heating up the crisp air. Somewhere in between Marilize joined us on the deck of our safari tent.

Marakele_Jun21_D-PS (7)

One of the most active actors on the dam stage was a pied kingfisher that regularly made attempts at dive-bombing fish in the shallow water, and was very successful at it too, providing us excellent views and photographic opportunities from very early on in the day.

There appears to be a very healthy population of bushbuck in the thickets around Tlopi. They regularly ventured out into the open to drink and feed in and around the dam.

Throughout the day a family of tawny-flanked prinias put in regular appearances:

The vervet monkeys had us laughing. As soon as they spotted anything on our deck that appeared to be food they could steal – and seeing as we were celebrating a birthday it must have seemed like a feast to them – they’d arrive from all corners, including from across the dam, to come and try their luck, in vain.

There truly is no need to venture out of Tlopi Tented Camp to go and look for Marakele’s wild inhabitants – there is a constant queue of animals and birds arriving at the dam in front of the camp, and around your tented accommodation, that would keep any nature lover enthralled all day long.

From about 14:00 in the afternoon, two herds of elephants made their way past the camp to the dam. They spent quite a while enjoying the water and the greenery around the dam, allowing us to take photographs of them to our hearts’ content. The little ones were especially endearing. Be sure to catch our next post to see what drama erupted next to the dam thanks to the elephants!

At the end of a beautiful and happy day, with the sun setting to the west of Tlopi while the smoke from our evening braai (barbeque) wafted on the slight breeze, Joubert set up his camera for a few night shots after it went dark.

To be continued…

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Friday 11 June 2021

This past weekend Marilize celebrated a milestone birthday, and unfortunately this coincided with South Africa experiencing a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections precluding any big commemoration with the extended family and friends. It was up to me and Joubert to make the event memorable, so we surprised Marilize with a weekend breakaway to Marakele National Park. We left Pretoria just after 1pm on Friday, routing through Bela-Bela (Warmbad) and Thabazimbi, and arrived at Marakele’s gate just before 4pm.

After performing all the requisite formalities, which these days include a questionnaire on the recent medical history of the entire family, we set off on the 17km drive to Tlopi Tented Camp in the golden glow of the bushveld sunset.

In our estimation Tlopi Tented Camp is Marakele’s most beautifully situated accommodation option, and we were very lucky to be allocated unit 10, “Loerie”, right at the far end of the camp. Tlopi looks out over a dam frequented by a large number of birds and mammals, and the mountains of the Waterberg beyond.

To be continued…

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 (final instalment)

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.

Cape Vidal beach at low tide

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!

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

Summertide Diary: iSimangaliso Rhinos

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.

Signpost re-modelled by a muddy rhinoceros

Summertide Diary: Rock Pool Wonderland

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.

 

Summertide Diary: Exploring iSimangaliso (part five)

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.

Bush Squeaker

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.

 

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