Our Vanishing Beach

The recent opening of the Klein River lagoon at its western extremity, and the high seas that accompanied the recent cold front, have led to massive erosion of Grotto Beach at Hermanus.  This is threatening the road that backs the beach and there is little that can be done to stop this natural process.  It is all rather worrying and the dog lovers who used to walk their four-legged friends eastwards from Grotto, now have nowhere to go.  What  pity that the authorities did not pre-empt this by opening the lagoon at its eastern end.  It would have prevented a great deal of anguish.

Spring Flowers at Nieuwoudtville

After we had climbed the pass and slithered through the mud on our way out of the beautiful Tankwa Karoo Park, we made our way to Calvinia, where we spent a night before heading to the van Wyk’s farm, De Lande for the last night of our trip.  Calvinia was cold.  There was a brochure for the Akerendam Reserve in our cottage, so we headed there and drove as far as we could into the valley above the dam.  It is a spectacular place with high dolerite topped mountains and apparently has a good number of walks, which we hope to return to one day.  A pleasant, if delayed, meal at Die Blou Naartjie ended off our day.

Next morning we set off for Nieuwoudtville, going via Loeriesfontein in the hope of seeing birds and flowers, but were disappointed on both counts, so, after a stop off at the waterfall, we headed straight to Papkuilsfontein for an early lunch.  Alri was on hand and greeted us warmly.  The flowers on the farm were as good as we have ever seen them, although the bulbs were not yet in full bloom.  The daisies, however, made up for this and we were blown away by the spectacle as we drove out as far as the waterfall.  This farm really is one of our favourite destinations and we have never been disappointed during our five or six visits.

We returned to DeLande where we spent the night in the Jan Voorman Sinkhuisie, a beautifully appointed cottage made of corrugated iron.  We had dinner at the guesthouse and set off for home the next day, well satisfied with our trip.  Our route home took us via the back road to Clanwilliam, then through the Koue Bokkeveld to Ceres. It was a journey to remember.  We had travelled a total of 6300 kms in 23 days, recorded 244 bird species, and had enjoyed every moment of it!


Tankwa Karoo National Park

When we left Augrabies, we stopped for a night in Kenhardt.  This was a first and we stayed in a quaint guesthouse, the Oude Herberg, where Linda, our hostess, gave us a wonderful meal.  From there we drove down via Calvinia to the Tankwa.  Rain and wet roads hampered our progress, but we made it to our destinatiuon at the Tankwa Guest House, close to the Oudebaaskraal dam.  The evening was beautiful with rain and rainbows enhancing a magnificent sunset.  We hoped that the next day would clear.

One shares the Guest House and we had a group of mainly journalists with us.  Luckily we had the main suite, but it was not uncomfortable sharing kitchen and living quarters as they were nice people and we got on well.  The kitchen is huge and each group is allocated cupboards and a fridge, so there is no cross-pollination of food and facilities!

Next day dawned with an almost cloudless sky and we were able to see the snow on the Cedarberg to the west.  We spent the day walking and driving through amazing fields of daisies and chasing larks all over the place.  It was fascinating to see how the vegetation follows the moisture which is retained in the joint patterns in the underlying shale, giving rise to unique rectilinear vegetation patterns.

Corrugated  roads are a feature of the reserve and we wondered why the authorities don’t smooth them out as it would make for a far better experience.  That said, we were not deterred and when we left the park after our second night, we went out through the north-east, up the Ganagga Pass, which was also a great drive, until we reached to top, where the recent rains had made a quagmire of the whole area.  The road was apalling and we slithered and skidded along for about 30 kms before reaching the dry section.

We had been advised that the southern portion of the park was the least interesting, but with the magnificent flowers in  bloom, it was quite the reverse – it was the best area and we were very glad that we had been allocated accommodation in the Guest House.  We will certainly return to this beautiful and remote part of the world.


Augrabies National Park

Augrabies was a revelation.  We had previously only visited for an hour or so, just enough to see the main falls, but this time we stayed for three nights.  The camp was comfortable if a little tired and in need of renovation.  The main falls were much as they had always been – impressive, but a shadow of what it must have been like when in flood, if the pictures were anything to go by.  What impressed us though, was when we drove into the reserve and visited Ararat and Oranjekom.  The views from these two sites into the lower gorge were fantastic, as was the scenery throughout the park.

Good game viewing was not anticipated as we were aware that the park is best known for its scenery, and it certainly lived up to expectations.  We did, nevertheless, see some game and got some good birds, especially larks.  A small herd of giraffe had nowhere to hide as there are no trees and the poor creatures have to browse by bending down to shrubs that reach no higher than their shoulders at best.

The 6km Dassie hike along the river and then south and back to the camp was beautiful, although we would not want to do it in the heat of summer.  It led us to more amazing views of the river gorge and some secondary falls that we were unaware of.  We also drove down to Blouputs, a settlement on the river and on the northern side of the park.  A tar road led to the bridge that crosses the river at that point and then the road ended – just like that, at a very small village, the name of which I forget.

This park is definitely worth a visit and we will return when the next flood comes!

Mabalingwe Game Reserve

After our visit to Mapungubwe, we used some time share points to spend three nights at Mabalingwe’s Ingwe development.  It was an opportunity to do some more birding in the Waterberg area, but as a game reserve it did not really meet expectations.  I guess this is due to its being a bushveld housing estate as much as anything else and it was overrun by visitors during our stay.  Many of them appear to disregard reserve rules and there is much evidence of new tracks being formed in the bush, giving the whole place a somewhat abused feeling.  This was a pity, as the area is attractive and the birding is good.  Our cottage was not as good as those in the national parks, having the bedroom upstairs and the only bathroom downstairs – not my idea of comfort.

On the positive side, we had a very friendly warthog family that liked to spend time around us and would have come inside if invited.  The same could be said of a Nyala bull that must have been brought up in the camp.  Of course this behaviour is probably as much due to the animals being fed as anything else, which is a pity as they end up becoming too dependent on humans.  We were not sorry to leave, but did not look forward to the long journey to Augrabies, broken by a night in Vryburg.  There we stayed at Lockerbie Lodge, an imposing name for a very unimposing establishment!  Enough said!


Mapungubwe National Park

The road from Marekele to Mapungubwe skirts the Botswana border.  Parts of it were slow going with the road surface very potholed in places, but we reconciled ourselves to this and enjoyed the ride.

Mapungubwe straddles the border at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers.  It is a very significant historical site and any visitor to the park would not want to miss a visit to the museum with its amazing display of 800 year old artefacts and the guided heritage tour to the old excavations and hilltop kingdom.  Of course, one can also see the wildlife which occupies the reserve and the birding is also very good, especially along the river banks and in the forests.  A tree-top boardwalk provides wonderful birding opportunities in the latter.  Unfortunately, this was damaged in recent floods, but nevertheless, we spent a number of profitable hours on the extant section.

We spent two nights in the very good Leokwe camp in stone rondavels which were well appointed.  The scenery around the camp is spectacular with outstanding rock formations and many baobab trees.  We then transferred to the Limpopo River tented camp, also a very comfortable space with excellently fitted tents.  Just as well as the monkeys were again on hand to trouble us!

Our guide to the world heritage site was Cedric ‘Shoe’.  I do not recall his real name, but he told us that it meant shoe, so that’s what stuck.  He was a very accomplished guide and kept us informed and amused with his cheerful banter.  Artefacts from the site are on display in the museum, a magnificent building which has been awarded a number of architechtural prizes, including the 2009 World Building of the Year!

The site is also interesting as it has relics of South African Defence Force activities dating back to the border wars of the late twentieth century.  The views over the river confluence are accessed from a series of platforms constructed along the adjacent hills and are well worth visiting.   We can certainly recommend Mapungubwe as an excellent destination.


Marekele Game Reserve

We had not previously visited this small reserve in the Waterberg close to the town of Thabazimbi.  Tlopi tented camp is situated on a dam, but one must travel a bumpy and dusty road to get there.  As we unpacked a troop of Vervet monkeys raided us and before we knew it they were in the car and in the kitchen.  Luckily, I managed to evict them before too much damage was done, but we knew we had to be vigilant and all doors needed to be kept closed all the time.

The scenery is spectacular, with huge Waterberg sandstone cliffs looming over the camp and high mountains all around.  We did not see much game, especially when compared to Mokala, but we did hear lions roaring close by at night.  On our first evening we were delighted to hear our names called and when we looked out, even more delighted to find that John and Carol were there for the night.  We joined them for a meal and were able to swap stories of our recent adventures.  They were on their way home from Kruger Park and Mapungubwe, so we picked their brains re the latter, our next destination.

The next day we set out for the summit of the Waterberg massif, hoping to get a glimpse of the famed Cape Vultures.  More than 800 breeding pairs occupy the cliffs, but we were too late – they had already gone hunting.  We did, however, see some interesting birds on the high ground as well as unexpected Yellowwood trees.  The road to the top is narrow and precipitous, but tarred in order to allow access to the huge Sentech towers which broadcast their signals far and wide.  Needless to say the views from the summit are outstanding.

Will we return?  Probably not as there are so many other parks which offer more, but it was, nevertheless an interesting stop-over.


Mokala Game Park

It was a long drive from Anysberg to Mokala, around 700km, but we arrived ready to explore our new environment.  The camp, Muso Lodge, is very comfortable and we had a chalet looking out over a small waterhole.  As we unpacked, a herd of Roan antelope came down to drink.  Wow, what a sight – something we hadn’t seen for years, and I forgot to mention that we had seen a herd of Sable on an adjoining property on the way in.  All this made for a pretty good start to our two-day stay.

We spent a comfortable night in front of a blazing fire and awoke the next morning ready to go.  The reserve is relatively small, so one can cover all of it in a day.  We were delighted to see a very good selection of antelope, covering most South African species, and there were always plenty of them, so game viewers, take note – this place is worth visiting. There are no elephants, (or lion?) but we did see white rhino and buffalo as well, and an excellent herd of around 30 giraffe.  The birding was also good and we were able to re-acquaint ourselves with some species that we had not seen for a long time.

We spent a second night, before setting out on another 700km journey north to Marekele, but that is the subject of my next blog.

Anysberg Nature Reserve

When we arrived at the park offices it was a Saturday afternoon and everything was closed.  We were really worried as it was bitterly cold and we needed to buy some firewood.  Luckily we ran into a student ranger, whilst out birding, and he said he would arrange for some, so later that evening we were delighted when 4 bags of wood were delivered, ensuring warmth for the night.  The cottage, Agama, was well appointed, with gas geyser and fridge and solar power for lights.

After a good night, we set out to explore the reserve on Sunday, taking the 4X4 route to Tapfontein.  It proved to be quite an experience, but we saw many birds as well as Klipspringers, Gemsbok and Red Haartebeest.  The scenery was typical Karoo and, needless to say, we saw no other cars at all.  The dam near the camp is a good spot for aquatic birds, and a brisk walk to the kloof which supplies water to the camp was a fine way to end the day.

The reserve is noted for its stargazing potential and the route to Tapfontein was marked with solar system beacons.  A full moon during our stay, however, put paid to any stargazing we may have anticipated.  The drive out on Monday morning took us through more beautiful scenery on the way to Laingsburg, where we joined the N1 for our long route to Mokala.  We had had a good start to our trip and will probably return.

Birding in some Small Parks in South Africa

Our decision to visit a number of South Africa’s small national parks was not a bad one.  It was to be a birding trip and we would compile a list as we progressed through a number of different environments.  The only drawback was that, being winter, all the migrant birds would be absent, but there would be plenty to keep us busy, nevertheless.

We started at Anysberg in the Karoo just south of Laingsburg.  Our approach from Montagu led us through typical Karoo and into the park on a pretty basic track, not recommended for sedan cars, I’m sure.  The reserve is very quiet and we had a peaceful stay of two nights before moving on to our next stop.  As it was our first stop the bird list was able to progress well and we recorded 75 birds.

Anysberg panorama
Anysberg panorama

Mokala is situated some 85 km south of Kimberley and, despite its being a new game park, rates very highly in terms of the sheer volume of game available for viewing.  The camp, Mosu Lodge, where we spent two nights, is also very comfortable and we can only recommend this destination, especially if one is keen on a good variety of antelope.  We even saw a herd of thirty giraffe – certainly the largest I have ever seen!  The bird list grew to 100.

The camp at Mokala
The camp at Mokala

Our next stop took us to the Waterberg region near Thabazimbi, where we spent two nights in the Tlopi tented camp at Marekele Reserve.  Game viewing was poor compared to Mokala, and the gravel roads were often very bad and dusty.  The high point, literally, was a drive up to the communication towers situated on top of one of the impressive mountains in the reserve.  There we had great views and saw some good birds.  The camp was comfortable, but we needed to be vigilant when the monkeys were around!  We were now up to 136.

A view across Marekele
A view across Marekele

From Mokala we took the potholed road north to Mapungubwe, a fascinating area at the confluence of the Shashi and Limpopo rivers and at the intersection of the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe and SA.  We spent four nights there, two the Leokwe camp and two in the Limpopo River tented camp.  Both were very comfortable.  The reserve is rich in history and we really enjoyed visiting the museum and going on the guided heritage walk.  It is a reserve well worth visiting and, in order to get the full experience, I would recommend staying in both camps, if possible.  Our stay had pushed the list up to 190 birds, but it was getting more and more difficult to spot new species.  A herd of around 60 elephants just outside the reserve on the road to Pontdrif made for impessive viewing.

The Museum at Mapungubwe, with its award winning architecture
The Museum at Mapungubwe, with its award winning architecture

Our next stop was for three nights at Mabalingwe, not really a national park, but a private reserve and bushveld housing estate.  It offered comfortable accommodation and interesting game drives, but it all felt a bit abused, probably because there were so many people there and there were tracks everywhere.  We passed the magic 200 number and got to 207.  Our aim for the trip was 250 species and we wondered if we could get there.

Hippos at Mabalingwe
Hippos at Mabalingwe

The long drive from Bella Bella to Augrabies necessitated a stop in Vryburg, but the less said about that, the better.  In the 1000 odd kilometres from Mabalingwe to Upington we did not see a single raptor, but were happy with literally scores of Northern Black Korhaans along the road into Vryburg.  The list grew by 1 on this journey!  At Augrabies we changed our plans and decided to stay an extra night and forego our trip to Pofadder.  It was a wise decision as Augrabies proved to be very rewarding.  For the first time we ventured into the park and were impressed with the scenery in what is, after all, more of a scenic than a game viewing experience.  The camp was comfortable and adequately appointed.  The list grew to 226.

The Orange river canyon downstream of the falls
The Orange river canyon downstream of the falls

A night in Kenhardt was uneventful, but we did get to search the Bushmanland veld for larks and pipits, a hard task at best.  The following morning we set out for the Tankwa Karoo park.  By the time we passed through Calvinia it was raining and the drive into the park and to the Guest House in the south was fraught, as the roads were very wet and slippery.  We spent two nights there in great comfort, sharing the house with two other couples.  It was a wonderful place to be and when the weather cleared, the flowers were magnificent and we even saw some new birds, bringing the list up to 240.

In the southern Tankwa
In the southern Tankwa

We left the Tankwa via the impressive Gannaga Pass, only to find that the road at the top was nothing but mud and water for around twenty kms, so we slithered and slipped through this, eventually getting onto dryer ground and on to Calvinia for a cold night, but not before we had made a quick trip into the Akerendam reserve, just outside the town.  Next day saw us travelling the short distance to Nieuwoudtville, where we stayed at De Lande, in the delightful Jan Voorman Sinkhuisie.  We visited our favourite farm, Papkuilsfontein, where we ran into the delightful Alri, before driving around the farm through one of the best displays of daisies we have ever seen.

At Papkuilsfontein
At Papkuilsfontein

Sunday saw us packing up and heading for home.  We had had a wonderful trip, covering just on 6300 kilometres, through our favorite country, over a 23 day period.  It was hard work at times, but well worth it and no, we didn’t reach the target of 250 birds, but had to settle for 244!  Not bad going for the winter!  Included were 3 lifers, so we were well satisfied.

I intend writing individual reports on each of the reserves we stayed at, so keep a lookout if you want to  see the pictures and get the lowdown!