Thursday, 26 June 2014

Wildlife in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi


Established in 1895 Hluhluwe-iMfolozi (pronounced Shooshloowee Umfolozi) is the oldest game park in Africa. As it offers self drive tours, we decided to spend two full days driving ourselves around the park in our little rented chartreuse Kia Picanto. Including an organised parks night game drive, we spent at least 24 hours driving around the site. For one night we stayed in a rondavel at the Hilltop Resort for around £40 including a fabulous buffet breakfast. This was amazing value for money as it was super comfortable and we even had our own fridge, cutlery, crockery and brai outside. Definitely mega awesomemoon.

The reserve is particularly rich in black and white rhino, elephant and various antelopes such as nyala and impala and we were incredibly lucky to spot many of these and much more.  

Large game
  • A lioness lying on the bank by a river, across the water from us whilst we were eating our bbq lunch at a picnic spot. This was a real treat for us as we had not seen any large cats and we spotted it just before we had to leave the park.
  • 8 white rhino- some individual males and other rhino in small groups. On the second morning we drove right up to a lone male sleeping and disturbed him. Needless to say our hearts were pounding as he stood up and stared, stomping his back feet and snorting at us just a few metres away.
  • Many giraffe- including a female giraffe and her calf as our first spot entering the park.
  • Burchell's zebras
  • Elephants 
  • Many buffalo 
  • Many nyala wandering around the picnic spots and at river banks 
  • Many impala 
  • Red duiker (Ty spotted one on the night drive- a very good spot as they are tiny) 
Small animals
  • Many warthog 
  • Chacma baboons eating in a tree 
  • Vervet monkeys at Hilltop camp 
  • Large spotted genet (hiding in a tree on the night drive) 
  • Thicktailed bushbaby (on the night drive)
  • Scrub hare
  • Banded mongoose
  • Cane rats
  • Malachite kingfisher
  • Cape glossy starling (beautiful iridescent blue/green colour)
  • Southern black flycatcher
  • Crested francolin
  • Egret
  • Wagtail
  • Yellow fronted canary
  • White fronted bee-eater
  • Dark capped bulbul
  • Burchell's coucal
  • Wooly necked stork
  • Night jar
  • Glossy ibis
  • Brown hooded kingfisher
  • Emerald spotted wood dove
  • Cape turtle dove
  • Fork tailed drongo
  • Cape vultures
  • Crested Guinea fowl
Always wanted to spend a few days in this park.  Good times.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pietermaritzburg - The Alma Mater

Just over 17 years ago, I first set foot in South Africa for a year's study at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.  I was really excited to come back to the city and see how things are these days in the quiet old "sleepy hollow" town.

Well, it was a bit of an emotional shock to come back, really.  Things have changed!

When I first pulled off the N3 onto the Church street exit to roll into town centre, I couldn't believe how busy the street was.  Minibus taxis honked wildly and jostled with each other as they darted in and across traffic to pick up fares.  Cars double parked at odd angles everywhere.  Loud music blared out from vehicles and shops, and tons of people just flooded the streets on foot.  Pedestrians wandered across the busy traffic and I couldn't tell if most are on their way somewhere or just ambling about.  It was definitely NOT the sleepy hollow I remembered!

I felt a bit sad.  It's hard to see so much rubbish in the streets, thousands of flyers plastered haphazardly on all surfaces promoting backstreet abortions for R100 with cellphone numbers - "pain-free with free womb cleaning".  When we drove by the city hall, I saw that some glass from the great clock was broken, and that the Tatham art gallery was closed.  Even the old Church of the Vow - one of the most important structures in Afrikaner history, had scars of having had flyers tacked to its walls. Ghandi's statue's glasses were stolen.

But then, as we walked around - I felt better.

There WERE people around town enjoying the centre.  The faces have changed, perhaps - we saw three white faces and perhaps a dozen Indian faces all afternoon.  But - the town is probably more alive than ever before.  The shops were busy and well stocked, and through there was some rubbish about, there were no graffiti-covered derelict buildings or giant potholes.  It's just become a lived-in place.

Upon checking the Tatham Gallery, we saw that it was indeed closed - but only because it was Monday.  Peering through the glass, I could still see nice paintings and exhibitions neatly mounted up for everyone to enjoy. The broken glass I spotted in the City Hall clock tower - was the only broken pane.  The clock still worked, and the well-presented smiling school kids walking by still glanced up at it to check the time.

So yeah, the place has Changed.  But it seems quite alright.

Drakensberg Mountains


Staying at the Ampitheatre Backpackers in the Drakensburg was unlike any experience I have had in a backpackers lodgings so far! The panoramic view of the Northern part of the Drakensburg was incredible and the hot tub in the bar wasn't too bad either! At the Royal Natal National Park we enjoyed sunning ourselves sitting on giant boulders taking in the views and silence and dipping our toes into the small streams from the Tugela River. 

The following day we visited Cathedral Peak and saw dramatic views of the mountains from the Cathedral Peak Hotel whilst having a spot of tea and cake. The mountain is known as Little Horn by the local people. Two of the peaks - the inner and outer horns - seems to show the outline of a kudu's head with its spiral horns in the clear sky between them. There was a lot of wildlife to spot in the grounds including bush buck, sun birds, butterflies and locusts!

Feels wonderful to be back in the Drakensberg.  Back in '97, it seems that I'd go hiking up here almost every weekend with the University of Natal Mountain Club.  Those backpacking trips hiking along narrow grassy paths, scrambling up rock faces and sleeping in caves in the mountain's care form some of my fondest memories of that time.  It's great to come here with Phillippa and share that familiar tranquillity again.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Cape Town


How can we start? It's been an amazing time back here in the Mother City - and it was great to almost feel at home as this was the first time we'd been to a place where I'd lived in almost a year!

We sort of put our tourist-hat on and "did" a bunch of mandated tourist things - like the Robben Island trip - but at the same time it was personal since we were always staying with friends and off the "trail".

So much stuff done- almost begs to be bullet-pointed, but that kind of detracts from each.  But whatever... here goes!

  • Visiting the old lodge I used to manage in Long Street - and seeing some old residents still there!
  • Walked up Table mountain - all the way from the Castle of Good Hope at sea level.  And that's not a minor qualifier - just over 1000m of up - as opposed to about 500m from the usual trail head...
  • Calculated our exact distance from the noon gun by timing the sound delay from the puff of smoke to the boom - verified by GPS. (thus helping me maintain a modicum of confidence in my ability to teach Physics!)
  • Lion's head for full moon moonrise/sunset.  Nice!
  • Kirstenbosch Gardens and Camps Bay for sunset with Kim - just beautiful!
  • Hout bay for fish and chips and down to cape point for the lowering sun.  Had to rush out of the park (pausing for a few road-going ostriches) to avoid a post-sunset overstay fine - but made it!
  • A full day of 4wd trails in the Worcester area with Kim - steep tracks and beautiful fynbos
  • Great White Shark diving in Gaansbaai - I'd hummed and hawed about the ethics of this for over 15 years... but we decided to go for it - an it's pretty cool.  The sharks don't seem too bothered about the divers - which is good!
  • Just good times taking it easy with good people.  Nice!
Despite arriving in winter and 6 degrees, on the whole we were pretty lucky with the weather in Cape Town. Also fortunate to have friends to hang out with and share some great experiences. The food in CT is amazing and I discovered the best burger and chips I have ever had, Ocean Basket (a chain) which we visited several times, and we had excellent sushi on the harbour front after visiting Robben Island. 

It was great to do some hiking again, after super leisurely days on the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of the walk up Table Mountain. The rocks were a great place to sit and take in the incredible views and to cool you down from the exertion. In the words of Ludo from the film Labyrinth 'Rocks. Friends.'

Although it was winter we still got to see some stunning wildlife including sun birds, ostriches, cape sugar birds, dassies, sea lions and the magnificent great white sharks. Winter is the best time to see the great whites and the water is also slightly warmer. 

On the boat I started to feel particularly nervous when I looked across the water to see a fin circling another shark dive boat. Then the sharks stared to circle our boat... 

'The head was only a few feet from the cage when the fish turned and began to pass casually as if in proud display of its incalculable mass and power. The snout passed first and then the jaw, slack and smiling, armed with row upon row of serrate triangles.The gills rippled, bloodless wounds in the steely skin.' Extract from 'Jaws'- Peter Bechley

Ty was all excitement and wanted to be in the first group. I procrasinated! All I could think of was the numerous stories I had read or heard recently about shark attacks especially the old lady in Cape Town who went swimming everyday and was eaten whole by a shark, the only thing left was her red swimming hat!! Despite the initial fear we did go in the first group and it was AWESOME! The sharks are incredibly majestic and fascinating to watch.