Tag Archives: view sites

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/)

 

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 Mountain Zebra (part one)

1 January 2021

As soon as the gates opened on New Year’s Day we headed for the Rooiplaat Loop, the sightings board at reception having indicated that Lions and Cheetahs were seen there the previous day. And we did not wait long – right where the road skirts the Park’s boundary fence we came across a big male lion, known as Nomad, patrolling his territory.

We supposed that it was the proximity of the big predator that made these Black Wildebeest so jittery!

It’s early morning in the Mountain Zebra National Park and there’s so much to be seen!

It was on the link road between Rooiplaat and Ubejane Loops that we happened upon these cute little Bat-eared Fox pups and their elders. More photos of them tomorrow!

Bat-eared Fox pups

Along the main road, between the two junctions with the Ubejane Loop, we saw this pair of unusually tolerant Secretarybirds – they’re normally quite nervous and move away from the road the moment a vehicle approaches, so this was a great opportunity to watch them in action.

At the southern junction of Ubejane Loop with the main road there’s a small earth dam filled with rainwater. By the time we arrived there at mid-morning Cape Mountain Zebra families were arriving from all corners, along with some other wildlife, to slake their thirst and it was wonderful to watch their social interactions before heading back to camp.

Back at camp there was time to kill either side of lunchtime, and thankfully there’s very much of interest around the accommodation and camping area.

Our route for the afternoon would first take us into the mountains along the Kranskop Loop before taking another jaunt around the Rooiplaat Loop.

A real highlight of our afternoon drive was an encounter with a group of three Cheetahs – one adult and two youngsters – on the Rooiplaat Plateau, just half-an-hour before we had to be back in camp.

 

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: Arriving at Mountain Zebra

31 December 2020

It’s a 210km drive from Addo‘s Main Rest Camp to the gates of the Mountain Zebra National park, and we arrive just after 13:00. The rest camp lies about 12km into the Park, but it’s hot and most animals are hiding from the midday summer sun and we don’t see much of them before reaching the camp.

After checking in we make our way to our allotted unit, cottage 20, and while Marilize and I unpack the car and settle into our accommodation Joubert is already out exploring and enjoying the birdlife in camp.

Time to go exploring as a family, and off we go to the Rooiplaat and Ubejane Loops before returning to camp three hours later.

2020 draws to a close with a beautiful sunset over the hills of the Mountain Zebra National Park

The last sighting of the year: a Raucous Toad next to the swimming pool in camp.

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: 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.

 

Summertide Diary: Departing Wilderness

22 December 2020

Our last morning in Wilderness and one final chance to take a walk through the camp – even if it was drizzling slightly it’s amazing to still find so much new to see!

As we start our drive to our next destination, the sun finally puts in an appearance, inviting us to pull to the side of the road and enjoy the view over Swartvlei, the largest of the lakes in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park.

A view over Swartvlei from a lay-by along the N2-highway

If you’d like to read more about the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park, please have a look at this special feature about it that we published a while ago.

Summertide Diary: Exploring Wilderness and surrounds

21 December 2020

It pays to be out early in South Africa’s wild places, and the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is no exception. Even when the sky is still heavy with rain and the sun nowhere to be seen.

After breakfast we felt like exploring a little further afield, and so headed to the Woodville indigenous forest a few kilometers away from Ebb-and-Flow. We explored the wet forest, marveled at the enormous Outeniqua Yellowwood that rules over it and kept a lookout for birds and other creatures trying to hide from us, until we could stand the pestering mosquitoes no more!

From Woodville we extended our joy ride to Rondevlei and the Swartvlei beach, and then had a quick look around the holiday town of Sedgefield, of which I have many happy childhood memories, before heading back to camp.

Just being outside at Wilderness was such balm for the soul. You don’t always have to be out chasing the “hairy and scary” animals for which Africa is famous to enjoy yourself in our wild places…

More frog hunting before bed-time resulted in these photographs of Raucous Toads:

If you’d like to read more about the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park, please have a look at this special feature about it that we published a while ago.

Summertide Diary: Exploring Bontebok

19 December 2020

Our first morning in the Bontebok National Park started with a visit from a VERY big Rain Spider in the kitchen. Despite their large size these spiders aren’t deadly to humans (though a bite would be very painful), but considering that other visitors might overreact if they encounter this one and kill it I decided to catch it and relocate it to a suitable spot outside (and had to keep a curious Cape Bulbul at bay while the spider hid in an aloe). After all this excitement we could enjoy breakfast overlooking the Breede River as morning broke over the Lang Elsie’s Kraal Rest Camp feeling very pleased with ourselves.

The previous time we visited Bontebok it rained for most of the two days we spent in the Park, and so we didn’t get to explore much. This beautiful morning presented an opportunity to rectify that, so we got an early start to our first drive through the reserve.

We wanted to go check out the local picnic spot, known as Die Stroom (“The Stream”) before it got too busy with day visitors. It does seem a lovely spot to enjoy a relaxed picnic while also taking pleasure in all the Park’s other attractions.

When we got back to camp one of the star attractions of the Park, a Bontebok, was waiting for us at our chalet, together with an Angulate Tortoise and lots of birds.

Another one of the things we missed out on during our previous visit to Bontebok was most of the walking trails available to visitors, so before lunch (and before it got too hot) I got going on the Acacia and Bushbuck Trails, which follow the course of the Breede River. Along the way a few viewing decks have been built overlooking peaceful stretches of the river.

After lunch there was time to walk around the camp.

And then another circuit of the Park’s game viewing drives saw us through till sunset.

After dinner and with the camp now clothed in darkness I went down to the river to look for frogs at the water’s edge. Thrilled to find a few of three different species, though even more exciting to see was the Sharp-toothed Catfish actually jumping onto the river banks to catch any frogs sitting too close to the water!

While away from our chalet our little “camera trap” caught this Large-spotted Genet patrolling outside.

Large-spotted Genet caught by our camera-trap outside our chalet at Bontebok National Park

If you’d like to learn more about the Bontebok National Park, have a read through this special feature we published after a previous visit. For more about the beautiful Bontebok antelope, read here.

Map of Bontebok National Park, from a brochure published by SANParks

Summertide Diary: Swartberg Pass

18 December 2020 (cont.)

On a clear day, when you turn onto the N12-highway just west of the gates to the Karoo National Park, you will see straight ahead of you the outlines of a large mountain range some 100km to the south. That’s the Swartberg (“Black Mountain“) – the highest mountains in the Western Cape, separating the Great Karoo from the Little Karoo.

We had two choices to get to the other side of the Swartberg, driving as we were from the Karoo National Park to the Bontebok National Park. The first is to stay on the N12 and go “through” the mountain along Meiringspoort – a beautiful stretch of tarred road but the less adventurous of the two options. The other option is to turn off the N12 onto the R407 just before Meiringspoort, following the road that leads to the small town of Prince Albert, and then taking a left turn into the Swartberg Pass (road R328). For us, the choice is an easy one.

Unquestionably one of the most exhilarating drives in South Africa and a personal favourite of ours, the Swartberg Pass is an engineering masterpiece designed and built (with convict labourers, many of whom died during construction) by the renowned Thomas C.J. Bain between 1881 and 1888. Recognised as a national monument, with a gravel surface and supported by impressive dry-stone retaining walls, the pass connects the Western Cape towns of Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. Crossing over the beautifully unspoilt Swartberg, itself a declared nature reserve and World Heritage Site, while reaching a maximum altitude of 1,575 metres above sea level, the scenery along the Swartberg Pass is as awe-inspiring as the numerous tight switch-back bends, blind rises and steep gradients are hair-raising!