Kaapsche Hoop

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.

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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…

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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!

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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…

Charlie
Charlie

After the tour we had lunch at the visitors’ centre and of course could not resist browsing the shop and buying some goodies there.

Pigmy Kingfisher
Pigmy Kingfisher

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!

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Not a clear day but a great view nevertheless!
Not a clear day but a great view nevertheless!

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.

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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.

Main entrance to the Bohemian Groove Café
Main entrance to the Bohemian Groove Café

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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.

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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.

Most interesting...
Most interesting…
Old kilns near Ngodwana Paper Mill
Old kilns near Ngodwana Paper Mill

“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.

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We arrived home in the late afternoon after a good, relaxing, long weekend.

Marloth Park and the journey home

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.

Summer? Looks more like mid-winter...
Summer? Looks more like mid-winter…
Blue Waxbill
Blue Waxbill
Bearded Scrub Robin gathering ants for its chicks
Bearded Scrub Robin gathering ants for its chicks
White-browed Scrub Robin
White-browed Scrub Robin
Another predator, grateful for the water/food source
Another predator, grateful for the water/food source

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…

Scadoxus species
Scadoxus species

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.

Newly hatched indoor mozzie control
Newly hatched indoor mozzie control

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.

Water Monitor crossing the road
Water Monitor crossing the road
Warthog guarding his turf inside the pool area
Warthog guarding his turf inside the pool area
Welcome relief!!
Welcome relief!!
Anyone who knows me will realise that it takes a lot to get me into a public swimming pool!
Anyone who knows me will realise that it takes a lot to get me into a public swimming pool!
View of the very dry Crocodile River
View of the very dry Crocodile River
Banded Mongoose in Don & Trish’s garden
Banded Mongoose in Don & Trish’s garden

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.

N4 backup, EISH. A rude reminder of Gauteng...
EISH! A rude reminder of Gauteng…

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.

Entrance to Kaapsche Hoop village
Entrance to Kaapsche Hoop village
Watching the rain from the Salvador veranda
Watching the rain from the Salvador’s veranda

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.

Lesser Swamp Warbler
Lesser Swamp Warbler
Olive Woodpecker male (red cap) and female (grey head)
Olive Woodpecker male (red cap) and female (grey head)
Half-collared Kingfisher
Half-collared Kingfisher

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…

Kruger National Park

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.

Forester moth
Forester moth?
Making potjie at Tsendze (note the wind protection to protect the low gas flame)
Making potjie at Tsendze (note the wind protection for the low gas flame)

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.

Eish!
Eish! The indoor temperature was with aircon full blast…

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.

The lump in the water is a hippo dying, surrounded by barbel squirming in the mud
The lump in the water is a hippo dying, surrounded by barbel squirming in the mud
Another dying hippo, trying to find relief in a water trough seemingly unable to get out again
Another dying hippo, trying to find relief in a water trough seemingly unable to get out again
Elephants digging for water in the dry river bed
Elephants digging for water in the dry river bed
Green algal slime at Sunset Dam. Gross...
Green algal slime at Sunset Dam. Gross…

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!

Parabuthus transvaalicus?
Parabuthus transvaalicus?

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.

River walk with guide Vusi
River walk with guide Vusi

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…

Pel’s Fishing Owl
Pel’s Fishing Owl

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.

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"Don't mess with me!"
“Don’t mess with me!”

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Tawny Eagle with Plated Lizard
Tawny Eagle with Plated Lizard
Spotted Thick-knee (3 adults and 1 chick)
Spotted Thick-knee (3 adults and 1 chick)
Blacksmith Lapwing chic
Blacksmith Lapwing chic
Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle
Bateleurs
Bateleurs
Woodland Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
Green-backed Camaroptera
Green-backed Camaroptera
We had a number of Ground Hornbill sightings
We had a number of Ground Hornbill sightings. Here were 4 in a tree and we listened to their melodic booming calls for about 20 minutes. Mesmerising…
Squacco Heron fishing at Lake Panic
Squacco Heron at Lake Panic

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…

Full moon at Lethaba camp
Full moon at Lethaba camp

 

 

Hazyview Fly-in

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…

It seems that Patrick managed to fix it this time
It seems that Patrick managed to fix it this time

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.

Preparing ‘flour bombs’ – Anthea, Andrew, Erika, Sean
Preparing ‘flour bombs’ – Anthea, Andrew, Erika, Sean
Roger and Andrew in the Rotax-powered BatHawk that we would we using
Roger and Andrew in the Rotax-powered BatHawk that we would we using
Watching and measuring the distance as the planes came in to land and the distance of the flour bombs from the line
Watching and measuring the distance as the planes came in to land and the distance of the flour bombs from the line
Spectators and judges
Spectators and judges

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.

Preparing the cards
Preparing the cards
Bobby leading the second (our) formation
Bobby leading the second (our) formation
1st stop on the Poker Run - Hendriksdal
1st stop on the Poker Run – Hendriksdal

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.

Mike getting a jump-start at Mercy Air
Mike getting a jump-start at Mercy Air
Mike and Tamara, on our way back to Numbi
Mike and Tamara, on our way back to Numbi

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!

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Roger receiving the prize for landing closest to the line
Roger receiving the prize for landing closest to the line

I was lucky enough to have three (yes, 3) Aces and won the Poker Run kitty!

Bobby doing his live performance while the actual performer looks on
Bobby doing his live performance while the actual performer looks on
Numbi Fly-in 2015
Numbi Fly-in 2015

We left for Kruger National Park in the mid morning on Sunday. Until next year…

Komati Springs

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.

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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.

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Note the chick behind the adult
Note the chick behind the adult
Andre and Don thoughtfully brought a bottle of wine for sundowners
Andre and Don thoughtfully brought a bottle of wine for sundowners

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!

A pleasant evening with new friends, sharing a bottle of wine and a bite to eat
A pleasant evening with new friends, sharing a bottle of wine and a bite to eat

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.

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Rufous-naped Lark
Rufous-naped Lark
Komati Springs dive site
Komati Springs dive site

Wakkerstroom

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.

Start of the 4x4 track up to Ossewakop
Start of the 4×4 track up to Ossewakop
Lion Spoor (Euphorbia clavarioides)
Lion Spoor (Euphorbia clavarioides)

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A "bird's eye-view" of Wakkerstroom
A “bird’s eye-view” of Wakkerstroom
Have some wind...
Have some wind…
and cold...
and cold…
On the way down
On the way down

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.

Glad to be on the ground (said by a true pilot!)
Glad to be on the ground (said by a true pilot!)
Calm after the storm
Calm after the storm

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.

Speckled Pigeon - Warblers and Swallows would not sit still long enough!!
Speckled Pigeon – Warblers and Swallows would not sit still long enough!!

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.

Sterkfontein Dam

It was a short, 50 odd km, drive to the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve. On crossing over the Nuwejaarspruit just below the dam wall, we were amazed to see that the river was in full flood, having burst its banks!

Nuwejaarspruit
Nuwejaarspruit

The Sterkfontein Dam forms part of the Tugela-Vaal Water Scheme. When the Vaal Dam runs low, water is released from Sterkfontein into the Nuwejaarspruit which is a tributary to the Wilge River, which in turn flows into the Vaal Dam. The volume of water being released was unbelievable! The level of the Sterkfontein Dam is dropping rapidly as a result and this could be a problem for the fish and other aquatic life. The fish are spawning and eggs laid in the shallows are left behind as the water recedes.

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The wind was blowing so strongly that Roger did not go fishing
The wind was blowing so strongly that Roger did not go fishing

We soon settled in and by the time we turned in the outside temperature was 11⁰C with 13⁰ inside! Time for the down duvet…

The next day was still cold and windy so we took the time to do some housekeeping and catching up with our correspondence and blog posts.

In the late afternoon our camping neighbours, John and Brent, came around to meet us and have a look at Ufudu. It turns out that they live very close to us in Jo’burg so we hope to keep in touch. John is a keen fly fisherman and of course Roger does not let an opportunity go by without trying to learn something new.

Flies that John gave to Roger; too exquisite!
Flies that John gave to Roger; too exquisite!

Monday morning dawned with no relief from the cold, windy weather. However, by about 11am the wind suddenly dropped and Roger decided to go and try his hand. All he came back with was some old fishing line and debris left by others. It is always upsetting to see how little respect people have for the environment.

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He did at least see one fish swim past.

Crystal clear water - stunning!
Crystal clear water – stunning!

We left the campsite at about midday and stopped in Harrismith for lunch and some much needed shopping , hoping to reach Wakkerstroom by nightfall.

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Sterkfontein Dam Resort
En route to Wakkerstroom we had views of the Nuwejaarspruit bursting its banks for many kilometres
En route to Wakkerstroom we again had views of the Nuwejaarspruit near Harrismith

We will be back to this amazing dam…

Bald Ibis right next to the road - sorry could not resist!!
Bald Ibis right next to the road – sorry could not resist!!

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

The wind had not abated and the atmosphere had a pink-brown hazy hue from all the dust. Patches of road showed evidence of a shower but not enough to settle the dust.

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This was our first over-night visit to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and also the only one of the 19 national parks we did not visit during our year-long travels. We were treated to a thunderstorm soon after we arrived and checked in at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp; what a relief!

We were slow getting out of bed the next morning and eventually set out on our planned hike to Wodehouse Peak, which, according to the rudimentary map should take 4 hours.

It is always such a wonderful experience to hike in the Drakensberg; we enjoyed the views and the plants and the birds and just being in a ‘park’ again. Seeing the abundance of ‘sweet’ grasses like Rooigras (Themeda Triandra), which are absent where the veld is overgrazed, was so refreshing. It was interesting to see how resilient this comparatively unspoilt area is in the face of the current drought. Here was healthy looking veld where all we had seen over the past few days was dusty earth eaten bare by livestock!

Brandwag Buttress
Brandwag Buttress
Sandstone overhang en route to the Brandwag Buttress
Sandstone overhang en route to the Brandwag Buttress
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-chested Cuckoo

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At the Brandwag Buttress the wind was blowing so hard that we did not dare venture too close to the edge! The next section of the route is a long climb along an exposed ridge so we decided to turn back. With the force of the wind it would be unpleasant and hazardous. We went back the way we came, detouring into the Boskloof ravine for lunch.

Wild Pink (Dianthus mooiensis)
Wild Pink (Dianthus mooiensis)

We were keen to go birding so were up early the following morning and left camp after coffee, choosing the Echo Ravine route. It was a beautiful, crisp morning and the birds were out in force. We even saw a Bald Ibis flying off his roost as we entered the ravine.

Cape Grassbird
Cape Grassbird

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Our breakfast spot - Echo Ravine
Our breakfast spot – Echo Ravine

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View of the Glen Reenen campsite. If you look carefully you will spot Ufudu…
View of the Glen Reenen campsite. If you look carefully you will spot Ufudu…

We left the campsite and took a slow, bird-watching drive out of the park towards Sterkfontein Dam, our next destination.

Langtoon Dam with Mushroom Rock in the background
Langtoon Dam with Mushroom Rock in the background

Our last point of interest was at the Vulture Hide. We were in for a treat indeed! There was a Bald Ibis feeding and we were the only people in the hide.

Golden Gate Vulture Hide
Golden Gate Vulture Hide. Thankfully the glass keeps the flies and smell at bay!!!

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As we decided to leave a Cape Vulture circled to ‘inspect the runway before landing’! Needless to say we stayed. A Pied Crow later joined the party.

Cape Vulture
Cape Vulture

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We reluctantly left the hide after about an hour!

Ladybrand with Jan and his Shadow

Jan and Shadow the Sheepdog arrived at our campsite at 8:15 am on Wednesday 11th November as agreed. After introductions and pleasantries the men started doing what men do best: inspecting the vehicle (Ufudu) and discussing details that only make sense to them. With some details still to be covered we left to meet our breakfast reservation time at the Living Life Station Café where a smiling and bubbly Veronika was waiting to serve us. What a lovely place and pleasant experience it was. Thanks Jan for a sumptuous breakfast!

Living Life Station Cafe
With Jan (and Shadow under the table) at Living Life Station Cafe
Shadow, Jan’s working sheepdog and constant companion
Shadow, Jan’s working sheepdog and constant companion. A stunning dog indeed!

After breakfast Jan kindly drove us around town and the surrounding area, showing us all the points of interest. It makes a huge difference to one’s experience of a place to have such a wealth of local knowledge available! Thanks Jan for being our tour guide.

Ladybrand is (was) a true Frontier town and many of its sandstone buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, have been given National Monument status
Ladybrand is (was) a true Frontier town and many of its sandstone buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, have been given National Monument status
Orphanage first erected for the children of Boer war casualties
Orphanage erected for the children of Boer war casualties
Anna Susanna (Antjie) Scheepers Monument on the Ladybrand High School grounds, heroine of the Louis Trichardt Trek
Anna Susanna (Antjie) Scheepers Monument on the Ladybrand High School grounds, heroine of the Louis Trichardt Trek
St James Anglican Church
St James Anglican Church
Interior of the St James Anglican Church
Interior of the St James Anglican Church

About 10 km north of town is the Priory Church of St Augustine, Modderpoort. It has the most interesting history! Go to http://saintaugustines.co.za/wp/home for more information.

Cave Church of St Augustines at Modderpoort, first used in 1859
Cave Church of St Augustines at Modderpoort, first used in 1859
Cave Church interior
Cave Church interior
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Grave of prophetess Anna Mantsopa Makhetha. She died in 1904 – according to legend she was 111 years old.
St Augustine's Chapel
St Augustine’s Chapel

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When we got back to camp in the late afternoon where Ufudu’s inspection continued. That had no sooner finished when we were treated to a most welcome thunder shower! After Jan left the sky cleared somewhat so we decided to go to the Bald Ibis colony at Hoffman Kloof that he told us about. We were hoping to still find chicks on the nests but when we got there we found all the nests empty. We saw around ten birds, including some fledglings flying and resting on the cliffs. Our first Bald Ibis sighting!

Bald Ibis with chick. Photo courtesy Cassie du Plessis, Ladybrand pharmacist
Bald Ibis with chick. Photo courtesy Cassie du Plessis, Ladybrand pharmacist, taken a few weeks previously

Thursday morning dawned cool and cloudy with a few spots of rain. This made for a pleasant change from the previous day’s 37 degrees; just the right weather for a morning hike along the ridge above Little Rock Resort to The Stables.

View of Little Rock Resort
View of Little Rock Resort
Interesting sandstone formation
Interesting sandstone formation
View of Ladybrand from above The Stables
View of Ladybrand from above The Stables

The Stables is a cave-like structure formed behind a huge chunk of sandstone that has detached from the ridge on the southern side of town. During the Basotho/Boer war of 1858 the Boers used this feature to stable up to 40 horses. It was a great walk and impressive feature; just a pity (as always) that it isn’t kept clean and tidy.

Looking down behind the boulder into The Stables
Looking down behind the boulder into The Stables
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No horses but Letitia posing for perspective…

After a pleasant experience in Ladybrand we had a most enjoyable lunch at The Cabin Farmstall, en route to Golden Gate National Park.

Dry and dusty Free State

After a good night’s sleep in a dark and fresh-air environment and listening to the sound of the rapids, we set out with anticipation towards Vredefort. We were hoping to see and learn a lot about the geological and other history of the area. After all, the Vredefort Dome was created by the impact of a meteorite estimated to be 10 km across resulting in the largest known energy release in the earth’s history!

It would be safe to say that it was the most disappointing experience on our travels to date. The Interpretation Centre we had heard about was closed and clearly had been so for some time, judging by the weeds growing through the paving stones.

All locked up and overgrown
All locked up and overgrown
Eyeing us out from a distance... Staff?
Eyeing us out from a distance… Staff?

We decided to find out what was going on so went into town, about 2 km further on, to find the Information office. Every town has one, right? What an absolute shocker: the town was totally rundown and clearly had not been maintained for a very long time, the streets had more potholes than tar and there was no Information Office in sight. At the Police station we were sent to the Municipal Office and their response was “we know nothing about the Interpretation Centre, try asking at Parys”. We left feeling disappointed and depressed…

A few weeks ago Roger received a call from Jan Oberholzer who is a sheep farmer near Ladybrand. Jan is interested in acquiring a motorhome and contacted AC Motorhomes. He had some questions so they gave him Roger’s details. As we were planning to pass through the Eastern Free State soon, Roger promptly made an arrangement to meet up. So Ladybrand was our next stop.

The drive through the Free State via Kroonstad, Senekal and Clocolan did nothing to lift the mood; it was hot, very hot, and very dry. The atmosphere was hazy with dust from dry ploughed fields blowing across the road. The gusting wind made keeping Ufudu on the narrow tar a challenge, and there were constant ‘dust devils’ making things worse.

Our mood changed when we spotted the Cabin Farm Stall & Deli just outside Ladybrand.

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What an absolute pleasure it was to stop there. The artistic and creative flair of the owners is visible in every object on display and we spent a considerable amount of time just browsing; they must have such fun creating this stuff!

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We left with some goodies from their Deli and hoped we would be able to return for a meal at another time.

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We got to the Little Rock Campsite in Ladybrand at about 5 pm and had supper at their restaurant, the Little Rock Saloon, while listening to the Country and Western channel on DSTV. What a pleasure; the place is family owned and run, the food was good and the people friendly. We decided to stay for two nights.

We went to bed looking forward to meeting Jan for breakfast the next day and finding out about the places of interest in the area…