Tag Archives: walking trail

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

Autumn Highlands Holidays – Golden Gate

About time we started telling you about our autumn holidays in the mountains in detail, isn’t it!?

Our first stop was an old and familiar favourite: Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the eastern Free State Province, with scenery so unique that photos from there are instantly recognisable. Here in the foothills of the Maluti and Drakensberg ranges, rugged rocks, hillsides green with waving grass and crystal-clear streams of fresh water all beckon to be explored, and the de Wets just can’t resist!

Walking around Golden Gate is the best way to experience the variety of beautiful wildflowers adorning this special place.

And then while taking in the floral splendour you are bound to notice the astounding diversity of insects, amphibians and reptiles that have made this highland habitat home.

Golden Gate also boasts with a wonderful array of birds, many kinds of which are hard to find elsewhere in the country. During the 4 days we spent in the Park we identified 56 species of bird, just a small slice of the 180 kinds that have been recorded here since the Park was proclaimed over 50 years ago.

Golden Gate’s also home to a selection of mammals, both big and small, that are well adapted to the sometimes harsh climatic conditions of a mountainous abode, and these are often encountered while exploring the Park on foot, horseback or the comfort of a vehicle.

Glen Reenen is one of six SANParks-managed establishments offering accommodation to visitors at Golden Gate. On this trip we spent four nights in cottage 27, which has a lovely view from its veranda of the Mushroom Rocks and the glen from which the camp takes its name.

Golden Gate lies about 400km south of Pretoria. Our favourite route to the Park is over Sasolburg, Heilbron, Bethlehem and Clarens, though the quickest option is probably via Harrismith and the N3-highway.

Our favourite route to Golden Gate, via Sasolburg, Heilbron, Petrus Steyn and Bethlehem, a distance of about 400km from Pretoria (map drawn with Google Maps)

From Golden Gate we made our way to Royal Natal National Park in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, and we’ll be sharing some pictures from there in following posts.

 

Golden Gate’s Scenic Splendour

The three of us spent a bit of time today exploring another one of the hiking trails that radiate from Glen Reenen in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This must be one of the most beautiful pieces of South Africa!

A special time at the Giant’s Castle

Spending Easter in a beautiful natural location is almost a given for the de Wets. Our original plans for this particular long weekend was to visit the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, and specifically the Cathedral Peak area, but a last minute change in reservations had us heading for the Giant’s Castle area of the Park instead. A special place to celebrate a special holiday!

While we had only three days to spend at Giant’s Castle, the weather made sure we experienced almost every climatic experience the Drakensberg mountain range can conjure (with the exception of snowfall). Dark thunder clouds one day gave way to heavy fog and a constant drenching drizzle the next, followed in turn by a day of glorious sunshine! Giant’s Castle must be one of the scenically most spectacular parts of the entire Drakensberg range, and you cannot help but stand in awe at the shear majesty of the landscape surrounding you.

Whether it rains or shines, Giant’s Castle’s grandiose scenery will keep your jaw dropping every so often. When that happens, and you bend down to pick it back up, take a moment to enjoy the magnificent juxtaposition of tiny beauties – pretty flowers, exquisite butterflies, delightful droplets, ornamental moss and lichens, and dainty insects – all around you!

It goes without saying that such a scenically attractive piece of earth wouldn’t be complete without a myriad of wildlife to round off the picture, even if, as at Giant’s Castle, they have to be content with taking a back seat to the surrounding landscape.

Giant’s Castle is one of our favourite destinations in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, and we can’t imagine that we’d ever get enough of it (our previous visit was also over Easter, in 2014). Excellent amenities in the camp (managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) and a terrific network of short and longer walking trails ensures that every visit is a pleasant and fulfilling experience, one we can highly recommend!

Giant’s Castle Chalet #4, uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, April 2017

A walk in the Park

There’s no doubt that hiking is the biggest pastime enjoyed by visitors to the Royal Natal National Park. Walking through the mountains allows access to so many beautiful spots. We particularly enjoy the easy trails that lead from the Mahai campsite and visitor centre, like Otto’s walk and the trails to the Cascades and Fairy Glen.

This was the last installment on our December visit to Royal Natal National Park in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg. From here we travelled to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in Zululand, and from tomorrow we’ll be sharing some of what we experienced there.

Up into the Echo Ravine again

The last time we walked the Echo Ravine Trail from Glen Reenen, Joubert was still a bit too young to join. This time around Marilize and I could finally share this beautiful walk with our son, something we’ve been looking forward to for some time.

Summer at Golden Gate

Our New Year’s visit to Golden Gate Highlands National Park marked the final stop on our three-week long bush holidays. For this final leg, we were joined by Marilize’s parents and my sister and brother-in law at Glen Reenen Rest Camp.

Glen Reenen, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, December 2014

Glen Reenen, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, December 2014

This Park may have been proclaimed originally to safeguard the awesome mountain scenery, but the hills and valleys are also home to a pleasing variety of birds and animals. We found most of the game concentrated towards the east of the Park, around the Basotho Cultural Village.

Golden Gate’s magnificent scenery and hidden jewels are best enjoyed along the many walking trails traversing the area. Have a look at the posts we dedicated to the Brandwag, Echo Ravine and Mushroom Rocks walks, three shorter hikes that are ideal introductions to this mountain ecosystem.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park was another highlight of the trip and a perfect setting to conclude a wonderful holiday. Quality time spent with dear family saw us home in good spirits and strength for the year that lay in wait. And just to be sure the Park is still as beautiful as we remember it, we’ll return soon enough. We simply can’t stay away from a place this magical.

 

We didn’t think three weeks in the bush would fly past as quickly as it did. We started of with two nights at Chelmsford Nature Reserve, then three nights at Ithala Game Reserve, three nights at uMkhuze Game Reserve, three nights at Lake Saint Lucia, five nights in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, one night at Midmar Dam, and finally four nights at Golden Gate Highlands National Park. By the time we reached home back in Pretoria again, we had covered a distance of 4022km between and in some of our favourite South African wild places. An epic December bush holiday indeed.

Dec14 Bush Trip

Our route between 13 December 2014 and 3 January 2015 (map drawn from Google Maps)

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Mushroom Rocks

If the trail to the top of the Brandwag Buttress is the most popular of Golden Gate Highlands National Park’s walks, and the Echo Ravine trail the most spectacular of the short walks radiating from Glen Reenen, then the Mushroom Rocks trail is the easiest and least demanding. And that’s a good thing, because you can concentrate on finding the little jewels hiding among Golden Gate’s flowing green grasslands and gawk at the amazing scenery without using it as an excuse to catch your breath 😉 . The only challenging section of the trail is the crossing over the Little Caledon River, especially in summer when the Park experiences most of its rainfall and even more so when lugging a couple of cameras, binoculars and water bottles along…

 

Up and into the Echo Ravine

What better way could there be to ring in the first day of a new year than exploring new places? Especially after ending 2014 on a literal high atop the Brandwag Buttress? That’s why Marilize and I decided to undertake the Echo Ravine trail at Golden Gate Highlands National Park that day (Joubert was out exploring other pastures in Golden Gate with his grandpa), a walk we’ve not done before. We were not disappointed that we did, the scenery on the way to, and inside, the ravine is simply awe-inspiring and in our view this is one of the best short (taking an hour or two to complete) walks in the Park. It’s not an easy walk, requiring you to clamber over boulders at several stages, especially as you near the head of the ravine, but the rewards are entirely worth the effort.