South African Blog

April 2019

We flew from Sydney to Johannesburg leaving on Thursday 11th April an hour late, arriving at 5.00 p.m. on the same day at Oliver Tambo Airport after a 13 hour flight. I watched 5 movies and did not sleep. Tim slept a bit more, but not much.
Oliver Tambo Airport is efficient, and we easily obtained our SA Sim, drew Rand, and dragged our luggage to the City Lodge Hotel on top of the multi-story car park. The hotel had good Internet, which was useful (our last as it turned out, for at least the first part of the trip). We had a snack, tried to sleep, but not well and then caught the flight to East London on Friday 12th April.

Friday 12th April

After collecting our car - a brand new Rav 4, we headed to Beth and Stella for lunch. Then Stella helped us find Lee Gold Music where Tim purchased a good inexpensive guitar. Things are inexpensive in South Africa.
After a scare thinking that our accommodation was at 5 Eland Street, we realised it was at 5 Eland Place. Had it been the former, we would have ended up in a hotel somewhere. But Eland Place was quiet, private and mostly clean but the promised Internet did not work.
Beth and Stella hosted us to a wonderful bean soup and catching up was important and fun.

Saturday 13th April

We joined Roseanne at the Sunrise Park Run which we walked, visited the school where she teaches and followed this up with a brunch and then the Rugby match between Selbourne and Grey College, Bloemfontein. Jordan featured in several matches. As with our previous visit to Union High School, it was good to see how many Africans and others were participating in sport and school, all part of the move away from apartheid.
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A family dinner at The Cricketer was fun. Thanks to Anagret for many of the photos there and at home - more than appear in the blog.
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Sunday 14th April

We walked with Stella along the Nahoon plank walk, saw many surfers and dolphins, then shopped and enjoyed a wonderful dinner hosted by Beth and Kevin, with contributions from Blackie and Roseanne.
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Then sad farewells.

Monday 15th April To Addo Park

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The trip to Addo Elephant Park was uneventful, though it included a nice stop for coffee. We found our Addo Rest Camp Safari Tent far more luxurious than we had assumed. Although we were reliant on communal kitchen and bathroom facilities, there were only four other tents and we felt as though we were the only ones making use of the facilities. The tent itself had a balcony with an outdoor table overlooking the actual park and during our stay we saw kudu, wart hogs, many birds and an elephant from the deck. The tent was large with a full size fridge, bedding and towels, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans that were exclusively for our use, not part of the communal kitchen. We had to keep the door locked as the monkeys had learned how to open unlocked doors!!
We used our newly purchased small gas cooker and pan rather than theirs and it worked well. Early the next morning we joined the dawn game tour. It was freezing cold and the viewings were somewhat limited, but it did give us an overview. After a cup of tea we went for a walk along the road as there were no other options. Addo's setting affords great valley views and a busy railway line runs right past the park. We did manage about 6 km though with only 90 m elevation.
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Following advice, tours on our own were quite successful in seeing wildlife and critters on both days and the official sunset tour introduced us to our first sightings of zebra, male kudu, a black-backed jackal, lots of wart hogs and several birds. We had many more sightings of these the next day when on our own.
We had a particular interest in the flightless dung beatle as Kevin Coles, my nephew 'in law', had completed his masters doing research on their distribution, behaviour etc. at Addo Park. He loaned us a copy of his thesis and a Guide to the Park, which was beautifully illustrated, although a little dated as the park has since been expanded. Kevin's thesis was a very good read.
The park provides water for the animals and birds from bores, but no artificial feeding. Animals live or die given what is in the wild.
In the next sections we will present photos of the critters and game we saw and managed to photograph.

Dung Beatles, Tsongololos, Giant African Land Snail

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Elephants

Our first sighting of elephants was on Day 1 when we were on a self-driving trip. It was a family of five, with one female having only 1 tusk. Many of the female elephants in Addo Park don’t have tusks, something to do with evolving to avoid being killed for ivory. The tusk-less ones survived.
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Elephants eat for 18 hours a day and seem to get enough in what to us looked like sparse pickings. But they manage the thorn bushes, and carefully make use of paths to and from water holes, walking in a line so that they don't tread on too much vegetation. They also make use of the roads as evidenced by lots of elephant dung and on the day after it rained hoards of dung beatles cleared it all away. On day two we saw many more elephants in much bigger groups at several different locations. It obviously is an Elephant park and hosts the largest number of disease free elephants in SA.
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Quail

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There were small groups of quail beside the road, though they were quite shy and moved off quickly.

Lions

There used to be 11 lions in the park, but the day before we arrived they darted three young males to be sent to other parks as they are trying to increase the genetic variability of the lions. We were taken to the enclosure where three very sleepy young lions were starting to wake up.
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We did not see any of the remaining lions in the wild, but given the small population relative to the size of the park, it is not surprising.

Buffalo

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Red Hartebeest

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Kudu

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Terrapins

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Zebra

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Warthog

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Spotted hyena

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Black-Backed Jackal

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Vervet Monkey

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Birds

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Thursday 18th April (Pre Easter)

We drove through to Graaff-Reinet, had a lunch with Jennie, visited various spots and shopped. Then we all ate out at the Drosdy, including some of the family. It was a special evening.
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Friday 19th April (Good Friday)

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After a breakfast and lots of chats with Jennie, we travelled to the farm through country that I should know well, but it has faded with the decades.
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Over the next four nights and three days we caught up with Wayne and Marina, their various activities at Zoetvlei and through Pam Golding. We stayed in the Stone House, a gloriously located cottage that brought back fond memories from previous visits.

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Jennie joined us on the Saturday, very proud that she had managed to change a flat tyre and on Sunday we explored the Blue Pool area with Wayne. Zoetvlei is very dry, probably drier than I have ever seen it. But we found a few puddles at the Blue Pool and a channel with running water indicating that the water table was rising with the cold.
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Marina does wonderful things with vegies and indigenous trees.
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Then on Sunday evening and Monday it rained albeit very lightly. We just hope for more rain.

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Tuesday 23rd April (post Easter)

Marina drove with us to Richmond and shared so much of her life with the museum, church, book-store, art gallery and other features of what is now quite a special Karoo Town. My memories are of a place to pass through quickly en route home, but I now see how much style and history it sports.
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We arrived at Prince Albert in time to purchase cheese at the dairy and shop at the Spar before heading to our accommodation (Wolvekraal Guest Farm) in cold, wet and windy weather. But once inside it was comfortable and we were able to self-cater using our small gas cooker.
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Wednesday 24th April

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Our host had been quite negative about hiking in the Swartberg, suggesting it would a misty, cold etc. and the i-centre had almost no information that helped us. But we had done our homework and the SANP group had told us we could get a permit at the gates to the Swartberg Nature Reserve, so we persevered, driving up the wonderful Swartberg Pass, to almost the summit where we found what we assumed was the place to get permits. No one was there, but there was a car park and a track head, so we hiked - up the Swartberg for about 1 hour, then noticed the mist and cloud, so returned. However we clocked up 380 m climb, with a 4 km hike, although we were slow - lots of rocks, slippery sections and tricky footwork.
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After that we explored the Bushman Valley, were given a very unclear map and some vague directions, but we managed to hike to the top of the mountains with wonderful views of Prince Albert and the valleys in all directions. This was also a 4 km hike with 320 m climb although it felt more. So overall for the day we did about 8 - 9 k and 700 m climb. We were tired, not having done much hiking with climbs for the previous 2 weeks.
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We enjoyed a simple meal cooked on the simple gas cooker, with vegies cooked in the microwave and ate outside in glorious autumn weather. Then we downloaded lots of pictures and slept well. We had no Internet coverage and no TV, but plenty to keep us busy. It is great staying in places away from the crowds.

Thursday 25th April

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The Outeniqua Pass provided the route to Mossel Bay, and we walked briefly on the Kouma Trail at the top of the pass.
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Our stay at the Acquamarine Guest House was very comfortable, although finding it and manoeuvring the tight parking spaces was a challenge. But we were able to get washing done easily and enjoyed the spa bath and shower and breakfasts.
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On the Friday, we caught up with Jill and Colin Mathiesen, Jill having been at UCT with me in the late 60s. Both are well, fit, and actively engaged in many good works. We enjoyed hiking parts of the St Blaise Trail, followed by a fun lunch.
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Then, onto to Hermanus on Saturday 27th April, where we had an important three nights and two days with Loel, hiking around the Hermanus coast line, enjoying meeting her friends, seeing Nico and catching up with Gert, my brother-in-law and his new partner Carol who has a son in Australia, so perhaps we might meet again.
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Loel and Nico have always been involved in important educational and small business projects for disadvantaged folk and this is continued by their proteges. We were impressed with what we saw, although overall, we must confess that we were left with an impression of no less disadvantage and wealth discrepancy than on previous visits and that there are more gated communities. We know the issues are complex, with so many refugees from the rest of Africa moving south.
We took Loel, Nico, Alan Hardy and Jo to lunch, which was fun.
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The trip home was long and it did take us a week to overcome the jet lag, air flight colds etc.

But all is good now, especially after a wonderful walk into the Jamieson Valley where we heard the Bower Birds and Bell Birds.
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File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.12.