Did you know that as a South African you get a free trip up the Table Mountain Cableway on your birthday? All you have to do is show your green ID book as proof. It’s a real thrill to line up with the other tourists and know that you’re getting a freebie. Even better is when you hear them ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over OUR mountain. You can start your day feeling on top of the world with breakfast at the top. The Table Mountain Café offers a full English breakfast, but if you prefer to do your own thing, pack a picnic and stake out a secluded spot. The mountain is big enough that you can have the breathtaking view all to yourself.
Wild contributor Justin Fox got up close and personal with these zebra at Shongweni Dam Nature Reserve near Durban. If you have the chance to visit this lovely reserve, don’t miss out. The dam lies like a shimmering jewel amidst rolling hills and lush forests. You’ll find keen anglers and happy picnickers on the dam’s shores, as well as a herd of zebras “as friendly as Labradors”. Justin started off photographing the animals with a zoom lens, but the zebras were so trusting that he moved closer. Soon he was sitting right inside the herd with the animals grazing around him. “It felt like such a privileged position: to be so close and yet trusted by wild animals,” he says.
The arrival of winter is good news for fans of Silvermine Dam in Table Mountain National Park. Dotted along one side of the dam are the most picturesque picnic sites, each with a braai and a stone table. Some of the sites are tucked between trees for added privacy, while others are right on the water’s edge. You can enjoy Silvermine’s scenic picnicking year round, but fires are allowed only from May to September – during summer strong winds pose too much of a fire risk. Stake out your picnic spot early on and allow time for a walk. For great views, take on the two-hour Silvermine Circuit, which offers breathtaking views over Hout Bay. If you’re not feeling that energetic, the boardwalk around the dam is an easy option.
This ostrich was stretching its legs just after sunrise in the Karoo National Park. The bird’s powerful, elongated legs enable it to reach speeds of 70km/h, making it the fastest animal on two legs. In just one stride an ostrich can cover 3 to 5m! The ostrich has only two toes on each foot, an adaptation that is believed to help with running. The bird’s great speed helps it to outpace most predators except the cheetah. Fortunately, the ostrich can also deliver devastating kicks and has been known to kill lions in confrontation. Not bad for a fluffy bird!
Wild Card member Jasper Hulley photographed this cheetah kill and was lucky enough to have the sighting all to himself! If you want to see cheetahs hunting, the Auob riverbed in the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park is the place to go: several times a week a springbok is killed here by a cheetah, usually a female with cubs. Jasper says this springbok stood no chance as it had a broken leg. Interestingly, research shows that the big cats often go hungry. About 75% of hunts are unsuccessful as prime-aged springbok are usually fleet enough to get away. The springbok that cheetah manage to take down are usually lambs and old adults.
Every year with the change of season, a very special event takes place in the Kruger National Park. The Sunset Serenade is a concert held in the heart of the bush. As the sun goes down, a group of six musicians play light and classical music pieces. Birds, beetles and bats join in and provide an unexpected accompaniment to Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Sometimes animals like elephants come to investigate what’s happening in their neck of the woods. Fortunately, armed rangers keep an eye to ensure the safety of the audience. “If the concert is situated near a river, we hear a chorus of hippos,” says Peta Ann Holdcroft, cellist and one of the founder members of the event. “It is an amazing sight to see their ears up, as if they are listening closely to the music.”
These sweet donkeys will transform the way you think about hiking! The Donkey Trail is a slackpacking hike in the Swartberg Nature Reserve between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. While you set off with a daypack, the donkeys transport your overnight bags to a remote mountain camp. Stick to their pace and you’ll have an easy climb. (It also helps to take a walking stick, says Wild journalist Kate Collins.) The route is beautiful, with proteas, big views and mountain pools for cooling off. The camp is quite luxurious, with comfy mattresses in safari tents – and, of course, the joy of knowing that you didn’t have to lug it all up there. Isn’t the donkey a brilliant animal?
To see a completely different side of the Kruger National Park, lace up your hiking boots and get out of the car. The Mphongolo Backpack Trail is conducted in a remote area where few people ever set foot (the closest camp is Shingwedzi). The trail is led by two armed guides who are also extremely knowledgeable on the bush and its animals. It’s a chance to learn about medicinal plants, track spoor and spot wildlife. Walking in big game country is guaranteed to make your heart beat faster. You’ll have to carry your own tent and food, but the beauty is that you sleep in a new place every night. Because you’re in the wilderness there’s no guarantee what you’ll see, but on Wild’s trip, three of the Big Five made an appearance.
Caught in the act! Wildlife fans Freddie and Antoinette van Rensburg came across this big cat couple in the Karoo National Park. Lions were introduced to the park in 2010 and have settled in well. The Van Rensburgs saw these two near the Doornhoek picnic site. “We immediately noticed that love was in the air,” Freddie says. “The male followed the female around and made his intentions clear by rubbing against her.” When lions mate, neck-biting and snarling are commonplace. It’s no wonder the lioness is looking unhappy. Male lions have barbed penises, so it’s very painful when they withdraw. A bout of mating lasts one minute on average, but lions usually mate every 20 minutes for four days!
Melons in the dry Kalahari desert? It’s not a mirage! The tsamma (Citrullus lanatus) is a round melon that is an ancestor of our watermelon. After the summer rains tsamma vines trail across the dunes and the melons ripen towards midwinter, turning from light green to yellow. The flesh is pale and dense, like the white of a watermelon where it meets the rind. Many animals will feed on these melons, but striped mice especially love the seeds, which are rich in oil and proteins. The tsamma consists of 90–95% moisture and is an important source of water in the arid Kgalagadi. What does a tsamma taste like? Unfortunately it’s bitter enough to make you pull a face.
Imagine bathing in dirt instead of water… Well, it seems to work for this elephant who was having a dust bath in the Kruger National Park. Elephants use their trunk to throw dust on themselves as a way to deter insects. Although these pachyderms have thick skin, it’s still surprisingly sensitive. Elephants also regularly take mud baths to protect their skin from sunburn and lock in moisture. Dirt and mud can colour an elephant’s skin so that they look brown and red rather than grey.
Did you know that there’s a wonderfully wild getaway within an hour’s drive from Durban? Albert Falls Dam is surrounded by thornveld and grassveld, an oasis that draws birds (and birders) from far. There are at least 280 species on the bird list and specials include secretary bird, osprey and pelican. There aren’t any fences between the visitors area and Notuli Game Park, so zebra graze on the lawns and you could game view from your chalet. Most of the activities centre around the sparkling dam – fishing, sailing, canoeing and picnicking on the water’s edge – but you can also go hiking and mountain biking.
Wild Card fan Helen van Groenigen of Holland photographed this encounter in the Kruger National Park. The leopard wasn’t merely inquisitive, it was looking for a meal. Leopards are omnivores and will eat fruit, fish, reptiles and birds. They will take prey ranging in size from mice to baby giraffe, and will readily scavenge if the opportunity arises. Although small antelope such as springbok and impala make up the bulk of their diet, porcupine remains have been found in 30% of leopard scats in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Fortunately for the porcupines, they come armed with sharp quills, which they raise when attacked. Contrary to popular belief, porcupines don’t shoot out their quills. Instead their raised quills form dangerous spears as they back into the predator. This time the defence mechanism was successful and the porcupine got away.
Guest Blog by Wild Card Magazine
The Garden Route’s best kept secret is Mother Holly’s tearoom in the Millwood section of Knysna Forest. A dirt road leads past dense forest and huge ferns before spitting you out in front of two tin cottages. They’re all that remain of the once bustling gold mining town that stood here in the late 1800s. One of these old miner’s cottages is now home to Mother Holly’s, where you can enjoy homemade scones or a light lunch. On a fine day you can sit in the garden, while in cool weather a fireplace inside beckons. Best of all, the place is blissfully free of cartloads of tourists – this is a place the locals treasure.
Guest Blog by Wild Card Magazine
There’s a good reason that people talk about the Cederberg with such reverence. This landscape is ancient – experts say the range was a prominent feature even before Gondwanaland broke up some 130 million years ago. Rock art in this area dates up to 8 000 years back and when you walk in the wilderness area there is a sense of timelessness. A good place to experience this is in the Valley of the Red Gods, on the way to the Wolfsberg Cracks. Large sandstone pillars rise on either side of the path that leads up the mountain. Some people say they look like supplicants turned into stone. All around you is quiet, the figures in the rock silently contemplating the hikers at their feet. We’d recommend visiting in the late afternoon, when the rays of the setting sun bring out the russet and amber tones of the sandstone.
When late summer leaves the veld looking rather bare, this spectacular flower pops up to brighten the surroundings. Known as the candelabra flower or chandelier lily, Brunsvigia orientalis has bright pink to red flowers that extend from a central stem. The stem provides a sturdy perch for sunbirds who visit the blooms in search of nectar. Reserve manager Mark Johns photographed this splendid example in CapeNature’s Rooisands Nature Reserve near Hermanus. You’ll also find it on sandy lowland coastal areas from southern Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and Plettenberg Bay. February and March is when the candelabra flower blooms, so look out for it on your next walk.
Guest Blog by Wild Card Magazine