Stick Insects - Phasmatodea
6:30am 31 Jul
 
     

Stick Insects - Phasmatodea

These little guys are quite common but remarkably well hidden, so the eagle-eyed will know them well but if you bumble through the brush like I do, you might only have seen one or two. Lucky me then, that he wandered right into the house - or perhaps was blown in, given the winds this year - and negated all his camouflage! These goggas - phasmatodea according to my sources - are fynbos and grass feeders. The males have beautiful wings but are not long distance flyers. Although they enjoy a patch of sunlight, they are nocturnal. Do keep an eye out the next time you go for a walk - if a stick looks particularly delicate, inspect before you tread!

- Erik Brits

Cape Dwarf Chameleon - Bradypodion Pumilum
6:30am 24 Jul
 
     

Cape Dwarf Chameleon - Bradypodion Pumilum

Seeing this fellow on the restio stalks in Betty’s Bay made me really appreciate just how crucial and intelligent some natural adaptations are. Those comical, stubby little legs are remarkable sturdy, and the combination of three toes and a claw, and two toes and a claw, makes them unstoppable branch walking machines. Even in the strong Overberg winds these guys seem unperturbed as they seek out a patch of sunlight to tan in on thin branches.

Their camouflage is so good that even just the act of transferring my eye to the view finder causes a careful search to find him again. I am a big fan of Graham Alexander and Johan Marais’ A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa (my idea of a coffee table book!), and according to them all dwarf chameleons are arboreal and most species live in forests or fynbos. I take their presence in my garden, thus, as a badge of honour! They live fleeting lives - expectancy: three to four years - but fortunately the females can have two to three litters per season… so I hope to see them there for years to come.

- Erik Brits

Winter Romance
6:30am 29 May
 
     

Winter Romance

There is something strange about a winter romantic getaway. Think about it – you remove your loved one from their natural comforts and take them somewhere cold and desolate as a ‘reward’, even better if it is snowing?! And yet; wrapped up in a blanket, glass of wine in hand and fireplace chattering in the background... I can’t explain it, but man! do I want it.

I recently heard about Tulbagh’s Christmas in Winter (28 & 29 June)– decorations, lights, theater, Rock with Santa... definitely an excuse to head out to their valley. And if you do so, definitely take note of Saronsberg’s winter special for two. Hint: it’s a great deal! (May - August)

Erik

Details here - www.nightjartravel.com/magazine/whats-on

and here - www.facebook.com/ChristmasinWinterTulbagh

and here - www.saronsberg.com

Life and Death
6:30am 19 May
 
     

Life and Death

If, instead of drifting towards the sciences as a child in search of a world that made sense, I had drifted towards the arts instead, then perhaps I would have the vocabulary I need to express the wonder of this scene. In its purest form, here we have life and death in the same frame of reference, intrinsically connected not just by the shared colours of the two proponents, but intertwined even more deeply in that the caterpillar will soon die to become a moth, but the moth will surely live due to the protection offered by the skull of the seal during its most fragile moments.

Instead, I find myself at a loss for words at the complexity of this scene, and yet I feel that a simple smile might just express it best.

- Erik

Lone Survivor
6:30am 15 May
 
     

A lone survivor of the recent otter invasion of our garden pond sits on his throne, cautiously observing the world. Soon enough, however, the insect-rich waters will rear another crop of tadpoles, and just as the night noises of the frog pond reach their crescendo, the otter will return and the cycle will repeat itself. The pond was there long before we built the house, and it is interesting to wonder for how long indeed has this cycle been going?

- Erik

Shifting Dunes
6:30am 8 May
 
     

Here we see the fearsome predator of the West Coast, a wild sand dune, stalking its prey... a little dramatic, perhaps, but it is hard to quantify to yourself the reality of shifting sand dunes until you have seen a house consumed, a road vanished, or a boundary redrawn. I took great delight in this as a child  playing in the ruins of houses that had been overrun by shifting dunes, although I’m sure the owners took less delight in the expensive toy they had seemingly built for me. It takes these multi-metre dunes less than a decade to shift so completely that you’d need a completely new map of the area.

- Erik

Ocean Sunset
8:30am 3 May
 
     

When was the last time you had the opportunity to sit on the beach and watch the sun go down? 

A photo cannot do it justice, as it is a multisensory experience. First, the waves become louder, as your body reacts to the dwindling light by ramping up the sensitivity of your senses. Next, you get goosebumps, which the poetic types will ascribe to an emotional reaction to the warm embrace of the refracted light. More likely, this is due to the sudden cooling of the sand. Being so reflective, it does not hold its heat long after the sun stops beating it. Although it has probably been there since the late afternoon, it is normally at this time that one notices the sea breeze, and the gulls drifting in it. Of course, all this is accompanied by the visual feast of the sunset itself.

So perhaps I should ask, when is the last time you had the opportunity to sit on the beach and feel the sun go down?

- Erik

Storms
8:30am 26 Apr
 
     

These skulls washed up on the Overberg coastline after the storms of last winter. Locals reported finding several seals and penguins washed up on shore just after the storms. It is odd to think of creatures so graceful in the water being bested by its power, but I think it is easy to underestimate the true power of water during a storm.

- Erik Brits

Guilty Face
8:30am 19 Apr
 
     

Guilty Face

Is it just my imagination, or is there a hint of guilt in the slump of that otter’s shoulders? There should be, because he just destroyed the frog population in the pond in my garden! It is incredible how resourceful these creatures are - well, unless you’re a frog, of course.

- Erik Brits

Dry me!
4:30pm 12 Apr
 
     

Dry me!

Our bathing bird from earlier, now catching some sun. Isn’t it just adorable?

- Erik

Bird Bath
8:30am 12 Apr
 
     

Bird Bath

Have you ever sat and watched a bird take a bath? The vigour and enthusiasm takes me back to playing as a child, especially when mom asked you not to get dirty!

- Erik

Timeless Karoo
6:45am 16 Dec
 
     

Having travelled South Africa with a camera for many years, I thought I had become fairly proficient at expressing the incredible beauty that we are so fortunate to find on our soil, until I recently came across a group of local landscape artists hanging out on Google+ ( nightjar.travel/1e7MTXh ) and I was so blown away by the obvious passion in these artworks that I simply had to share them. I think many of us will feel an instant connection and intimacy with the scenes these artists depict.

I was lucky enough to get into contact with Malcolm Dewey, who agreed to share some of the stories behind the paintings with us. Over the week we’ll share some of his Karoo scenes here.

Timeless Karoo (oil) by Malcolm Dewey www.malcolmdeweyfineart.com 

This typical Karoo farm road is between Nieu Bethesda and Richmond. Stunning vistas and silence.

Nightjar Travelled
1:55pm 11 Nov
 
     

Onigiri

This weekend, I ate take-away sushi in a grungy Cape Town bar, and not only did I survive, but it actually wash’t half bad!

Okay, I’m abusing my artistic license here... but you’re still reading so I won’t apologise. What really happened was that I found a lady selling Onigiri, or Asian Sandwiches as the business card says, and after initially battling to understand what she was selling, my curiosity got the best of me and I tried one. 

And, as I said, it was actually quite nice. I like my sushi to have that crisp dry seaweed wrapping on the outside, and this was a similar taste experience. I’m not a foodie so I won’t go into more detail, but this unusual food certainly had me tickled.

 – Erik

For more info, check out www.onigiri.co.za

What a FEAT
5:45am 11 Nov
 
     

Checking the calendar this week, I saw that the first mini-FEAT is imminent, and it brought back fond memories of attending the 2013 FEAT event in Jo’burg last month. I’ve been to numerous entertaining events in my life, and although FEAT was high up on the list, it was not the entertainment factor that made it stand out for me. You see, I brought something home with me that night, and it has been growing inside me for the last month…

But before I satisfy your curiosity, allow me to briefly explain what FEAT is all about. Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks, organised by the very passionate Lisa de Speville, is an evening of time-limited talks by adventurers where they focus on a particular aspect or theme of their expedition. Each talk is exactly and strictly seven minutes long, with image slides to accompany it. The short format allows the audience to experience several completely different adventures in one evening in an interesting way, so even if, for example rock climbing isn't your thing, there would be plenty more to entertain you.

Now with my involvement in Nightjar Travel, I've had a bit of exposure to adventurers in the past, and they have all been very impressive people... but more than that, I've looked at what they've accomplished, and all the excitement their expeditions have generated, and been slightly intimidated by these awesome individuals. This is not necessarily a bad thing - it is always worth having a few people to admire - but it did leave me with the subtle perception that hardcore adventure was for other, more formidable people than myself.

However, at FEAT, I noticed something else. Yes, granted, some of the speakers were stereotypical adventurers - youthful, tough looking, etc - but at least every second talk, someone would get onstage and they looked like me or you. Just another person who went about their day, and then decided to do something different, something more… so they got up and did it. Don’t get me wrong, their achievements are still no mean feat (I tried, but the pun was inevitable), and there were certainly hardships to be overcome and sacrifices to be made, and I admire each and every single one of them. However, when one of them patted his belly and said “I must admit, this was smaller while we were training”, I looked down at my own belly and thought, “Huh.”

There was another factor that took a while for me to notice, and that was the unusually high level of audience involvement. Even the best hypnotist would have struggled to have that many people say “Awww” as someone on stage expressed a setback on their journey, or cheer as the speaker said they finally succeeded. Listening to the small talk after the event, I realised that most of the people in attendance had some or other pretty cool story under their belts, and this was far more of a community than just an audience here for the show.

It took a week or so for that “Huh.” to turn into anything, but sitting at my desk, replaying my favourite moments from the talks (and boy, did we laugh!) I remembered everyone receiving a postcard, and being told to write their planned adventure for the year on it. Lisa would then mail the postcard to you at a later date, to remind you not to forget your goal. I thought it was a nice idea, but did not fill in my own card, and someone told me I would regret that… and suddenly it all came together. I’ve been in all 9 provinces this year, and I’ve seen fantastic things, but I spent the whole year feeling like I could do more. And having now seen the ‘holiday photos’ of such beguilingly innocent-looking folks, I realised that a wild adventure is not such a difficult thing, if you put your mind to it.

I haven’t chosen the adventure yet (and you are more than welcome to make suggestions) but I have shaved a minute from my 5K time in the last month, and grown an adventurer’s beard. I’ll figure out what I’m getting ready for soon enough, but FEAT made me realise that instead of just day dreaming, I really could.

By now you’ll have noticed that I haven’t gone into any detail about the adventures that were presented on stage, and this is by choice - the talks were all so good that I would much rather encourage you to watch one or two or all of the seven-minute clips when they are released (I will post it in the blog). In the meantime, you can check out videos of past events on the FEAT website.

 – www.featsa.co.za

As you may have gathered from the image, there are also related events coming up. The mini-FEAT events are a new concept where a 7-minute opening act is followed by an hour-long talk by a renowned visiting adventurer. The November visitor is the famed author and mountaineer, Stephen Venables. Do check out the FEAT site if you are interested.

Adventure Training
12:42pm 3 Nov
 
     

It always tickles me to sit in a Mugg&Bean and chat to one of our Nightjar Adventurer contenders. With their friendly natures, it is hard to imagine their smiling faces battling the elements, facing all sorts of adversity that harken back to the golden era of exploration… Particularly so when you’re speaking to Kai Fitchen, winner of the Readers’ Choice, with his youthful enthusiasm as he recounts the ups and downs of finding sponsorship over a cappuccino. It is easier to picture him wooing the ladies at University than on a mountain. Fortunately, he brought some more photographic evidence to remind me of why he had been nominated last year!

As it turns out, Kai is only months away from embarking on his next crazy adventure, and I listened in awe as he described the challenges he would face. He will be sailing to Rio in one of the world’s most iconic yacht races, then surviving the harsh terrain of Patagonia, the high Andes and the Atacama Desert. My immediate question was, ‘How do you prepare for such a diverse set of challenges?’

Kai’s answer would do us all proud – as it turns out, South Africa has such a diverse natural heritage that he has found many adequate training grounds right here. He’s even done his snow training locally! Of course, we’ll be detailing his next adventure in the Nightjar Travel blog, but if you want to dig a bit deeper then check out his site http://www.mykape.com/kape-2-atacama-2014/

 – Erik

Kai Fitchen won Readers’ Choice in Nightjar Adventurer 2013. To nominate someone for the 2014 awards, go to http://www.nightjartravel.com/nightjar-adventurer-2014

Matroosberg Trail Challenge 2013
7:15pm 23 Oct
 
     

Today in the mag, we featured Vertical Kilometer races. In a nutshell, these events require you to run up a mountain. As it turns out, this isn't the only gruelling (read, crazy) thing that trail runners like to do. I've just received a press release about South Africa's first SkyMarathon. 

So what's a SkyMarathon?? The goal is to 'run where earth and sky meet' – to qualify, the event has to exceed an altitude of 2000m, with enduring inclines exceeding 30% with climbing difficulties of less than 11 degrees. South Africa's first event sanctioned by the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA) will be the Matroosberg Trail Challenge (MTC). The MTC will take place on Oct. 26, and there will be some big names on the line, such as AJ Calitz, Nic de Beer, Ake Fagereng and Charl Soumer! Top female competitors will also feature, such as Robin Kime, Linda Doke, Annemien Ganzevoort and Chantel Nienaber.

I'll leave you with some more details from the release, but this looks like something to keep an eye on! If you want the blow-by-blow on race day, follow the event on twitter: 

www.twitter.com/MatroosbergTC  (or #MTC2013)

" The MTC is the first of two SASA-sanctioned events in 2013. The much-awaited Lesotho Ultra Trail, southern Africa’s first Ultra SkyMarathon®, will cover 55km in the Maluti Mountains in the Kingdom of Lesotho on 30 November. The starting line-up will boast one of the best ever fields in trail running in southern Africa, including Canadian ultra-distance trail runner of the year 2012 Adam Campbell.

Both races will form part of a national skyrunning circuit from 2014 – the details of which will be announced soon.

MTC race organiser Ghaleed Nortje is excited to have his race as the one that introduces local trail runners to skyrunning in South Africa.

“I’m really excited about the MTC being sanctioned by SASA, and by the prospect of it forming part of a national skyrunning circuit from 2014. Gone are the days when we trail runners had to drool over skyrunning events in Europe and the USA – our South African athletes can now be a part of the rich experience too, by participating in local skyrunning events,” says Nortje.

With just a few days to go before the race, all eyes are on the weather – just a fortnight ago the Matroosberg was still covered in snow. As with all mountain trail races, runners will be required to carry specific mandatory kit with them during the race to prepare for all weather eventualities. "

Photo by Andrew King

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Welcome to our Magazine and Destination Guide... For the regulars, we've recently introduced mini-mags so that you can find all posts relating to a certain interest in one place - do check these out under the Magazine page. For first-timers, South Africa is awesome and you've come to the right place to help you explore it!

Enjoy the site,
Erik