After breakfast with Debbie and Jonathan we drove to Brackenfell, Roger in Ufudu and me with Debbie’s car. The reception at AC Motorhomes was warm, as always, and we left Ufudu in their capable hands before meeting Kevin for lunch.
It was good to see him, as it always is. Here he is, a 22-year old young man with great plans for his future and a good measure of focus to go with it. Hopefully his exams go well after all the disruptions at the campus and here’s holding thumbs that his interview with Maersk goes well at the end of the month.
We arrived back in Somerset West at about 5 pm. Rather late to launch the Hobie but between Jonathan and Roger they were determined that it would happen. We were in the Cape after all; it remains light until late.
After a late dinner we spent the night in Debbie and Jonathan’s guest room. It felt rather odd to not be in Ufudu. And such a pain to remember what to pack and what not to. We realised that we had become very lazy travelers since the advent of Ufudu…
We left early’ish the next day, hoping to get accommodation at the Kogelberg Biosphere. En route we stopped to visit Laubsher van Zyl, a colleague of Roger’s, in Pringle Bay. What a wonderful place to live!
Arranging for the Kogelberg accommodation was a bit of a mission; we drove in, only to find out that it was not possible to just arrive as a ‘walk-in’ guest. All bookings have to be made through Central Reservations. There is no cell phone reception in the reserve so we had to drive out again to make the reservation and payment. Much to our delight we managed to get a reservation so the next step was to go into Kleinmond to buy food.
We went down to the harbour to buy fish for supper. There we were entertained by some kids swimming and diving off the dock. We ended up buying lamb chops as there was no fresh fish available.
After buying the necessary supplies we headed back to the reserve and settled in.
It was still early enough to go for a hike down to the river before supper.
What a beautiful, tranquil place. We had a most enjoyable evening and reluctantly left the reserve mid-morning the next day.
The only sad part is the noticeable lack of maintenance compared to 3 years ago; the pool pump was not circulating the water, the roof gardens were in need of attention and wood work needs treatment.
We stopped for lunch at the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens after we left the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. On our walk after lunch we passed some workers that were ‘playing around’ with a puff adder. Snakes are always interesting so of course Roger had to get some pictures. I was a little concerned that they would harm the snake so we waited around until we witnessed it slithering off into the ticket.
Ufudu was ready to be collected so we were both anxious to get back to AC Motorhomes before close of business and therefore did not spend too much time in the gardens.
We collected Ufudu and drove back to Somerset West to drop Debbie’s car off.
The next four days were spent getting together with friends and family. Thanks to everyone for their time, hospitality and the gifts we received. It is always so hart-warming to see everyone when we are in the Western Cape. Regrettably there were also those we were unable to see; we will make contact again next time!
We absolutely love Farm Stalls and on this trip we decided that we would avoid franchised restaurants. We thus discovered, amongst a few other new ones, the Dassiesfontein Farm Stall between Botrivier and Caledon, en route to Rinette in Gansbaai. What a delightful place! They have an array of solar panels on the roof and a grid-tied solar system with a monitor showing patrons how much energy is being produced. Their bread is made from flour that is ground on the farm and is baked daily in the restaurant’s old wood stove.
We eventually left Gansbaai, where our last ‘friend visit’ was, on Sunday afternoon, 6th November, heading towards the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
We arrived at De Hoop just before sunset, which was beautiful as always, and checked in for two nights. Our holiday had begun…
The next day we went for a short drive and then a long walk along the beach.
We were lucky enough to have a whale and calf leisurely swimming past and giving us the pleasure of watching them for a very long time!
De Hoop remains one of our favourite Nature Reserves.
During our sabbatical year I wrote extensively about all the places we visited. I have undertaken to not repeat anything mentioned before about any places we subsequently visit, with some exceptions of course! The Karoo National Park is one such exception. Reason: rare sightings (for us) and the fact the this was the first time we were able to sleep in the park; it had previously been fully booked.
As we entered the park we noticed a park official fussing around a snake. It seemed rather odd as the snake appeared to be dead; it was a Cape Cobra. It turned out to be severely stunned after being caught up in the electric fence, with what appeared to be some damage to its tail section. Fortunately, the gate guard realised that something was wrong when he heard the fence ‘ticking’ and switched it off before alerting the park official. We spent some time waiting for it to recover and move, rather slowly, into the bush; just in case some motorist did not notice and drove over it.
We got some rather curious looks as we drove into camp; in the middle of an exceptionally dry Karoo landscape with a Hobie in tow! You know the sort of look: ‘Do these people know something we don’t?’. Anyway, while checking in we decided to go on a night drive seeing as we have never spent a night in the Park.
What a good decision. The guide and his tracker were informative and communicative and in no time we saw Aardwolf; another tick on our list of must-see creatures. In fact, it was at a den and hence not just a fleeting sight, with quite a lot of movement. Sadly, the photos we managed to get are not good enough to publish.
The other really cool sighting was of a Cape Eagle Owl. It was nesting and had a chick so we undertook to return in the morning as Roger wanted to be sure the eyes are really orange!
Owls sleep during the day so we spent a long time observing the nest the next morning. Just as we were about to leave, with no more than pictures of a sleeping owl, a last click of the camera delivered the indisputable proof: it opened its eyes!
Then, after leaving the Park on Sunday I got the news that a very dear friend had passed away during the night. I was deeply shocked and terribly sad; we were scheduled to go and visit Lorrainne and John in Worcester, as we always do when we come to the Western Cape. Lorrainne and I had been friends for more years than what I can remember; this was so unexpected…
We stopped for lunch in Laingsburg where we paid a visit to the Flood Museum. What an interesting experience! We now understood for the first time what happened, thanks to a long chat with the curator. It was actually not a flash flood or a burst dam wall. There were a series of heavy downpours over the two days prior to the 25th January 1981 and the water dammed up against the railway bridge which caused the town to become flooded. The extensive damage and high death toll was caused when the embankment gave way and the town ’emptied’. You can read more about it here http://www.infolaingsburg.co.za/index.php?p=25
Worcester was on our route so we stopped by at John and Lorrainne’s house. Not the visit that we had planned but at least we were able to be there and spend some time with the family. How devastating to lose a friend, partner, mother and grandmother; so young and with so much still to give. May she rest in peace.
We arrived at Jonathan and Debbie’s house in Somerset West at about 8:30 pm. After catching up over a glass (or two?) of wine and a bowl of soup we spent the night in Ufudu, parked in their driveway.
The N1 from Jo’burg to Cape Town is monotonous. Boring, in fact. We like to travel on the alternate routes, stopping at farm stalls and interesting small towns and villages. This time was different in many respects, and while I sat drifting in and out of a vegetative state many thoughts flitted through my mind.
It had been a long and tiring year. My project in Botswana had me away from home for long spells, rising at 03:20 am on a Monday morning to fly out on the 6:30 flight to Gaborone, and if there were no delays, returning home again at about 7:30 pm on Friday evenings. Fortunately, there were times in between where I was able to work from the office in Bryanston.
Due to our schedules we did not have the luxury of the usual run-up to a holiday: planning (not that we ever do much of that!), cleaning and preparing Ufudu, buying supplies, packing, dreaming over a glass of wine, etc. etc. Whatever needed doing was done by Roger in my absence. He drove to Silver Creek Gorge on Thursday after work, returning home with Ufudu on Friday morning, while I worked until Friday evening. We packed on Saturday morning and left our complex at about 3 pm on Saturday afternoon, 29th November.
First on our list for the next few days: deliver Jonathan’s Hobie. It was sourced from Durban and delivered to the Vaal Dam where Roger collected it a few days prior to our departure. Next, we had arranged to have some work done to Ufudu at the AC Motorhomes factory in Brackenfell. While that was being done we would visit friends and family in and around Cape Town using Debbie’s car (kindly on loan to us). Once we had Ufudu back we would head up the coast to Herolds Bay for Joe’s farewell (more about Joe later).
It wasn’t long before Roger began to have droopy eyelids. We were hoping to overnight in Bloemfontein and were close to Kroonstad when he asked me to take over drive duty while he takes a nap. I had no sooner taken over when the wind started picking up. It had been blowing all day but now suddenly reached speeds of about 35 knots (Roger’s lingo and estimate, not mine).
Roger was resting at the back when I noticed a very dark, brown ‘wall’ of dust approaching. I called to get his attention over the noise of the truck and the wind. He says he could not hear what I was saying but my tone prompted him to react immediately and in no time he was next to me, ready for action. The next moment we were in the midst of an unbelievably strong wind/dust storm, with debris swirling around and me holding on to the steering wheel with all my might. Then there was a lull and the next minute I had to exercise control in the opposite direction. At first I thought we had a flat tyre but in fact we had driven through a tornado and were now exiting the opposite side.
Then there was rain, with squalls that once again had me clinging to the steering wheel. Next thing we noticed a commotion ahead and passed an 18-wheeler that had been blown over by the wind; he was carrying a load of mattresses and clearly did not have enough weight to remain grounded. Scary.
As soon as the storm passed and it was safe to pull over Roger took over again and I could recover from the adrenaline… What an experience!
We reached Bloemfontein at about 8 pm and after supper and a bottle of wine at John Dory’s we found a camping spot at Reyneke’s Camp Ground. What a lovely surprise: each campsite had its own ablution!
We had a much needed good night’s sleep despite the traffic noise and the occasional passing train.
Roger requested three days off for my birthday, as he usually does. That way we can actually plan something, knowing that his schedule won’t be a problem. When we stopped in Kaapsche Hoop in November it suddenly started to rain so we could not walk to the edge of the escarpment as we had hoped. We decided to go back there now.
We took a leisurely drive, leaving home at about 12:30 on Friday 15th January and got to Kaapsche Hoop in the late afternoon. It is a small hamlet on the edge of the escarpment, seemingly with its head in the clouds more often than not! It was overcast and drizzling on-and-off when we got there so we stopped at the Salvador Pub to collect the key and went straight to our accommodation, the Royal Coach. The Queen’s Carriage (R8, used by princesses Elizabeth and Margaret), was one of the White Train coaches used for the British Royal Tour of South Africa in 1947. It was restored in 1995 and later converted into a 3-bedroom, self-catering facility.
We skipped lunch, a very unusual thing for me to do, so as soon as we settled in we went in search of some refreshment. It was too late for lunch and too early for supper so we settled for a carafe of red wine and chicken liver pâté at the Bohemian Groove Café. Yum…
There was a cosy fire burning and the background music was at just the right volume. I cannot remember when last I felt so completely chilled. We just sat there and enjoyed the atmosphere until it was supper time and ended up having supper there as well. After supper we went to the Salvador Pub, the other hangout in town, and ended off the evening with a Jameson on the rocks in front of their fire!
Our plan was to do a hike the next day but the weather had not changed so we took the opportunity to sleep in. After a rather late breakfast we decided to go to the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden for a tour. What an interesting experience with our very informative guide Jana. The background of each Chimp was given; what he/she has been through, to their knowledge, and how that has scarred him/her, both physically and emotionally. We came away with an overwhelming sense of despair at the extent of damage caused by ‘humans’; but at the same time the extent of the care and compassion shown by others, such as the rescuers and donors. Perhaps there is some small measure of balance somewhere in the equation…
After the tour we had lunch at the visitors’ centre and of course could not resist browsing the shop and buying some goodies there.
By the time we got back to Kaapsche Hoop the cloud had lifted (note, I did not say the sun was out!) and we decided to do a short walk. Maybe we would be lucky enough to have a view over the Lowveld. And we were!
Due to the rugged terrain, weirdly eroded rock formations and ghostly swirling mists the place was initially known as Duiwels Kantoor. Thanks to the scenery being reminiscent of the Cape, it was renamed to Kaapsche Hoop in 1882 and the valley below became De Kaap Vallei.
My birthday dinner was at the Bohemian Groove Café. It was delicious, to say the least. It is important to note that there is no Woolies around the corner. The tasty salad ingredients were fresh from their garden (Benzoate free!) and the food presentation was testament to the owners’ personal involvement.
One of the attractions of Kaapsche Hoop is the wild horses; perhaps not truly wild but rather feral. There are many stories of how they became wild but whichever story resonates with you, it is pleasing to see the herds grazing, just minding their own business.
Breakfast on Sunday morning was at the Salvador Pub, as it was on Saturday morning. They make the most divine omelettes! Their coffee, however, is not that good so we stopped in at the Bohemian Groove for coffee before leaving town. There was one last stop and that was the cemetery across the road. It was a short walk amongst the pine trees, with the rain still drizzling down.
“These lime kilns, which were built in the 1880s to supply lime to gold mines in the area, are a national monument. Lime was used in the process of recovering gold. A German called Goddard built the 60-foot-high kilns using Italian and German builders. In 1899 cyanide was found to be more useful in the extraction of gold and Goddard fled to Europe leaving hundreds of unpaid workers and an insolvent lime mine.” Country Life Magazine, November 2013
On our way home we stopped at the Total Alzu service station for lunch. We always enjoy this, their flagship station, because of their commitment to conservation.
We arrived home in the late afternoon after a good, relaxing, long weekend.
It is always such a pleasure going to Marloth Park; almost like escaping to a private, tranquil world of our own. Despite the drought we still enjoyed just being there. Listening to the bird song which starts at about 4 am makes for a gradual and peaceful awakening and sets the mood for the day. Sitting around the fire at night, listening to the sounds of lions roaring causes one to forget about the drought and everything else of concern; just for the moment…
The first thing we do when we get there is to fill the bird bath. Besides bringing welcome relief to the birds it also provides us with hours of pleasure just watching the birds come to drink and bath.
One of the activities we perform without fail every time we are at Marloth Park is to do a ‘clean-up walk’ around our property as well as the adjacent ones. There is always rubbish lying around, thrown out of car windows or blown in by the wind; sometimes even dropped by baboons after raiding rubbish bins. At the same time we remove any Prickly Pear plants we spot and everything goes onto the fire after our evening braai. It is amazing how easy it is to control invasive plants when one is consistent. Years ago we would end up with piles of plants. It gets less and less as time goes by and this time we found only 5 small plants.
During our walk we were suddenly rewarded with an amazing sight: in the midst of the dry surrounds a cluster of bright red flowers! That certainly lifted the mood…
But then there was an unpleasant surprise after the walk: a multitude of pinhead-sized ticks (not pepper ticks) all over our clothing and especially mine. One had already latched onto the skin of my torso. We spent the next hour washing our clothes and picking ticks off it! I suppose they were just too happy to find a host, much to our dismay!
Despite the heat Ufudu’s solar panel and batteries were working well again so no problem there. As you may, or may not know we have no electric power at our place; gas stove and geyser and 12V lighting system, run off the car battery, so it would have been a problem if we needed to boost Ufudu’s charge.
On the second day we decided to go for a swim in the municipal pool before popping in to Don and Trish for a sundowner.
That night we slept in the open area of our house where we hoped to have a slight breeze to cool things down a bit. It did not help much; sleep does not come easily when it is so hot…
All too soon it was time to pack up and start the journey home with a planned stop-over at Kaapsche Hoop. Kaapsche Hoop has intrigued us since our ANT year when we bought the book ‘Geological Journeys’ and we became aware of it being just off the N4 between Pretoria and Nelspruit.
About 15 km after the Nkomazi toll gate we suddenly came to a complete stop at the tail end of a backup on the N4.
A phone call to the TRAC help line informed us that there was strike action and the road is closed! So we decided to turn around and take an alternate route via Barberton. That turned out to be very scenic and most enjoyable.
Due to the electrical storm we were not able to do the walk to the edge of the escarpment, but we will be back; it is such a quaint little village set in the most beautiful surrounds! There was no camping facility so we continued along the N4 and decided to stop over at Elangeni Resort on the banks of the Elands River, near Waterval Onder. We were pleasantly surprised by the good birding, which kept us occupied until dusk.
It was a short drive to Rosebank the next day. After a brunch stop at Alzu we arrived home in the early afternoon after another enjoyable trip in Ufudu. Until next time…
We spent November 2013 in Kruger and had such a wonderful time that we decided to take our next leave in November as well. We just had to go back in summer to experience the birds, new growth and new life again. Sadly, this time round it was nothing like 2013; that was a year of good rain and this year we are in the grip of a devastating drought.
We entered the Park on Sunday 22nd via the Numbi Gate and spent a night each in Pretoriuskop, Satara, Letaba, Tsendze, Balule, Satara (again) and Skukuza Camps before leaving through the Crocodile Bridge Gate on Sunday 29th. It was depressing to say the least. The migrants seemed late arriving and not in the abundance we have seen before. There were no new-born Impala; the first we saw were two on the day we left.
The dams are dry or drying and the ones with water seemed to be kept wet artificially. The heat was almost unbearable, reaching 43⁰C at Letaba on the day we were travelling back down towards Balule.
Then, suddenly, we had a storm (mostly wind) and things cooled down to 19⁰C and cloudy. That was a huge bonus, even though it still did not rain much; just a bit of drizzle now and then.
One of the highlights of the trip was a guided walk at Olifants Rest Camp. We met Christo at Letaba and he told us about this walk which almost guaranteed a sighting of the Pel’s Fishing Owl. Decision made; we are going on the River Walk.
That night at Balule camp the son of the next-door campers found a scorpion. Roger was quick to fetch our ‘scorpion’ torch, happy that at last we had the opportunity to use it. Christiaan scanned the campsite for a long time afterwards, thoroughly enjoying the new ‘toy’, despite his parents obvious dismay!
We were up early and arrived at Olifants Camp in time for breakfast before the walk at 9 am. At the same time Roger arranged with camp management to have Ufudu plugged in while we were away in order to get the batteries charged. The heat during the night at Balule camp, with no external power, had caused the fridge and freezer to drain the batteries and the solar panel was now battling. The day was cool after the previous day’s heat so besides Ufudu being plugged in we were also happy that the walk would be bearable.
It was absolutely worth it; we had a really good sighting of the Pel’s. My photos were not as good as Deon’s but you can see him nonetheless…
During times of drought the predators do well of course. The lions were mating, the wild dogs were in good condition and the birds of prey all seemed to be well-fed.
It was with a dull feeling of disappointment and concern that we left the Park. I feel such pity for the suffering of the animals and there seems to be no promise of relief in the immediate future…
Ufudu’s aircon had stopped working while we were still on our year-long trip; a pipe had broken off so Roger had it repaired just before this trip. No sooner were we on the road when it stopped working again. In Nelspruit, after we spent the night at the Lakeview Lodge caravan park, we spent 2 hours at ASA Auto Services getting it sorted out. This time the “O” ring seal on the pipe which was replaced in Jo’burg had been damaged on installation! We eventually left for Hazyview at 2:30 pm on Friday (19th). There was a weekend of fun flying to be done and we were anxious to get going…
Our first visit to Hazyview together was to take part in the Bantam World Record in 2011. Roger did not have his own aeroplane at that time so we hired one from Alec Green in Nelspruit. The record was set with 48 Bantam aircraft at one venue. That was such fun that we decided to buy our own. The Bantam was later sold and Roger bought a BatHawk, affectionately known as Buzz. This time, once again, Buzz was not there. Due to weather predictions the guys that were going to fly in from Gauteng decided not to come. The plan was that we would arrive in Ufudu and Buzz was going to be flown down by Gavin. No problem; Andrew Papas kindly allowed us to use his BatHawk for the event. Thanks Andrew!
We had a pleasant evening meeting new friends and catching up with old ones and after a buffet dinner turned in relatively early. It rained during the night and early Saturday morning we woke up with trepidation; was it going to clear sufficiently to fly?
After breakfast we proceeded to prepare for the events and by the time everything and everyone was ready the weather had cleared. Events for the day included: flour bombing, spot landing, toilet roll cutting and a poker run.
The last event for the day was the Poker Run. Individual cards are placed in envelopes and sealed before being dropped off at nearby airfields. The participants then collect a hand of cards by visiting these airfields. The last card of the hand is selected at the evening event before all are opened. Each player pays a nominated amount into a kitty and the best hand takes the spoils.
Our fuel was running low, there was a storm brewing and the wind was picking up so the decision was taken to skip the last leg to Bagdad Café and go straight back to Numbi. Bobby went to Bagdad and collected the bag of cards on behalf of all of us. Next problem: Mike’s battery was flat! Just then we got lucky as a helicopter pilot who operates from Mercy Air came to see what the problem was and in no time they had the battery connected to his car. Problem solved.
We had a great party in the evening, from prizes for the different events to live music and a sumptuous set menu. Fun was had by all!
I was lucky enough to have three (yes, 3) Aces and won the Poker Run kitty!
We left for Kruger National Park in the mid morning on Sunday. Until next year…
Who would ever expect to find a highly specialised and well-equipped dive centre in the heart of Mpumalanga? Well, that is exactly what we found when we arrived on the farm Komati Springs (previously known as Badgat). The farm is also surrounded by the Nkomazi Game Reserve; a big-five reserve owned by Dubai World!
We were welcomed by Andre Shirley who showed us around while husband Don was busy with a training session. The farm is enclosed by electric fencing to keep the lions, elephant and other dangerous game out. It is hard to imagine a more effective security system…
As soon as Ufudu was levelled and set up we grabbed our cameras and binoculars and set off for a short’ish walk to the dive site, which is an old, dis-used asbestos mine.
The mining process left a large hole and an ajoining cave system that filled with water after mining stopped in 1972. The site was rehabilitated in 2002, giving excellent conditions for all forms of diving. In the open water it reaches 55 meters and the caves have been explored to 186 meters. For more information go to http://www.komatisprings.com/ .
Precariously perched on the cliffs above the water is where the Bald Ibis have decided to set up a breeding colony. There are approximately 40 birds, and we had the opportunity of watching them return to roost at dusk. They also share this space with herons roosting in the fig tree at the base of the cliff.
After dark Don drove us back to camp. A thunder storm swept in while Roger was braaiing and although the rain brought welcome relief from the heat and dust, it almost extinguished the fire! Luckily he saved the day by transferring the veggies tot the ‘Go-Anywhere’ (a small rectangular version of Webber). After the storm the fire was still good enough for the lamb chops!
In 2005 Don and his friend Dave Shaw were involved in a heroic attempt to recover the body of Deon Dreyer from the depths of Bushman’s Hole in the Kalahari. A book by Phillip Finch called Raising the Dead (HarperSport 2008) tells the story of this harrowing ordeal. We got our copy at the dive centre and look forward to reading it soon.
We left the farm in the late morning bound for Nelspruit.
It was dark when we arrived at De Oude Stasie campsite in Wakkerstroom, only to be confronted with a CLOSED sign on the gate! However, the gate was open so we went in and camped anyway; we have our own facilities after all… What we found out the next day is that businesses in Wakkerstroom do not operate on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays!!! Being a Monday night the ‘closed’ sign was actually referring to the Restaurant and not the campsite. The same was true for everything else; our only option for coffee and lunch the next day was at the Wakkerstroom Inn.
The wind was relentless but when the low cloud lifted sufficiently we took the 4×4 track up to Ossewakop, which provided a stunning view of the town and surrounding area.
We decided to stay at the Birdlife campsite for the second night. We had no sooner settled in when a huge storm broke. In the late afternoon we were at last able to go for a walk down to Crane Hide.
The night was cold, as was the previous one, with the temperature going down to 9⁰C.
The following morning was calm but still very cold. We bought some home-made pies and other goodies before going down to the old Kruger Bridge where we spent some time watching birds. We were rather disappointed though because it seemed our timing was not that great. The resident species appear to keep a low profile due to cold windy weather, while most of the migrants have not arrived yet; all-in-all not a very productive bird watching experience.
During our year-long trip we were invited by Andre Shirley (one of our blog followers) to visit their farm, Komati Springs, near Badplaas to see ‘a real’ colony of Bald Ibis. We decided to take her up on that now and left Wakkerstroom, rather disappointed, at around mid-day.