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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 2:57 pm 
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billyf wrote:
:lol: :lol: I think they are more likely to roll some cigarettes and smoke them :thumbs_up:
Thanks billyf, that would explain the rooibos stompies.

Anyway, the morning of Sunday 23rd August was fine, but the strong wind and waves meant that the boat trip up Storms River Gorge wouldn't be operating today. Older trip reports on this forum mention that the boat leaves from near the suspension bridge, but it now goes from just behind the restaurant, every 90 minutes.

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We loved the little waterfalls that sprang up as each wave receded

It was the wrong time of year for the kloofing trips (canyoning + abseiling) otherwise we would have done those for sure. Instead, we reluctantly moved on to the next stage of our journey, heading for Natures Valley Rest Camp.

Along the way, we visited the animal sanctuaries at Plettenberg Crags: monkey, bird and elephant. To keep this SANParks-related, I'll just mention that I found it more interesting and worthwhile to watch elephants behaving as elephants in Addo, than to be with the tamed and trained sanctuary elephants even though they allowed us to feel their eyelashes, look into their mouths, etc.

It was about 17h00 when we arrived to check in at Natures Valley rest camp. There was some kind of problem, and our check-in hinged around an animated 20-minute phone call by someone whom I assume was the camp supervisor. I'll never know what the problem was, because the phone call was in Afrikaans and ek kan nie Afrikaans praat nie. But our name, reservation number, car license plate etc were repeatedly mentioned during the phone call.

Eventually they decided that we did have a booking, but then they couldn't find the keys to our forest huts. After a futile search, they switched us to huts 8 and 9 at the furthest end of the camp, but the communal kitchen at that end of camp was not usable. This was resolved by lending us a two-plate electric hotplate for use in our forest hut.

These hassles had lost us about 45 minutes, and it was now dark, but we had a stroll around the forest anyway and saw baboons and a bushbuck.

I rather like communal kitchens, but instead we were cooking for four people in a compact hut. With an electric kettle and electric hotplates, we had all we needed for cooking except for water and a sink. We used a sink in the scullery a hundred metres away, and there was a tap ten metres away, but it was a rather odd halfway setup.

The cooking arrangements would have been better with a usable communal kitchen (with sink and cookers together), or in warmer weather cooking on the braai.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining. Not at all. But this part of our trip was on a tight schedule, and the hassles here tilted the balance so we decided to move on to Wilderness NP early the next day rather than staying at Natures Valley the following morning.

The weather was great the next morning (Monday 24th) and we headed off for Wilderness, stopping briefly at Knysna to visit the lookouts around the eastern headland.

After the beautiful quiet remoteness of Addo, Storms River Mouth and Natures Valley it came as a bit of a shock to see how close Wilderness NP was to the N2, but we needn't have worried because we were at north camp which feels restful and remote.

A sign at the park gate said to press the red button on the intercom and wait for a reply, but we couldn't get a reply. After a few minutes, someone leaving the park rolled down their window and told us just to drive on to the reception building at the south camp. Check-in there was straightforward, although we were disappointed to hear that all except one of the walking trails was closed for maintenance.

The SANParks website did its best to lower our expectations for our Rondavels, warning that the rondavels "are basic and are classified as budget accommodation", but they had everything we wanted. Looking from the outside, we couldn't imagine that they would fit an ensuite toilet, shower, fridge/freezer, hotplates and a microwave oven (plus beds of course). The decor screamed "functional" rather than "luxury" but this was exactly what we wanted.

We had lunch on the lawn between the rondavels and the river. In summer this area would be full of tents and the camp would have a very different feel, but today it was empty. It's a stunning setting. Looking one way you have a view of the river; looking the other way the view is of the dramatic stone-studded tree-clad ridge behind the camp. For the third (and final) time this holiday, the scenery evoked part of Australia. That distinctive rocky forested ridge could easily have been behind a campsite along the Hawkesbury River near Sydney.

After lunch we hired canoes. The most popular trip is to the Touw River Waterfall, which is a bit of an odd arrangement. You canoe for 45 minutes, then park the canoes and do the rest of the trip on foot, along a boardwalk. It seems a pity to be paying by the hour to hire a canoe which you then park on the river bank.

What made up for this was that the people hiring the canoes were very easygoing. They were closing in three hours, at 16h30, but they said we could use the canoes as long as we liked, provided we left them upside-down in a designated place when we returned. This was great for us, because we like to take our time and do extra things along the way.

At first we paddled against a stiff headwind and made little progress, but once we got past camp the wind abated. Not long after that we reached the "pont", which is a raft hooked up to a rope loop. Walkers use this to get themselves across the river without getting wet feet. Soon after the pont, the river got too shallow to paddle and we dragged our canoes out, and hid the paddles.

The boardwalk is well-constructed (though with a few ups and downs) and we soon found ourselves at a very pleasant waterfall. There are four sections of drop, and the track comes out to the second. You can scramble down to the bottom, or up to the third level, but we couldn't find a way to get to the very top. Actually, we could have done it by climbing up the water supply pipe and along a structure that carried it, but we felt that climbing over infrastructure might not be the done thing in SA so we gave it a miss.

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Swimming hole at Touw River Waterfall

We then "boulder-hopped" down-river a while before finding a place where we could rejoin the boardwalk. After we got back to the canoes, we took them into the shallow water and paddled or swam in the remaining patches of sunlight. There were hundreds of fish visible in the clear water, and I watched a kingfisher fishing prolifically. It must have ended up with a very full belly.

We amused ourselves on the pont for a while, then paddled back. As we passed the camp K and H asked to be dropped off by their rondavel, and Rowena and I continued downstream. It was dark by the time we returned the canoes at 18h30.

Having been in SA for a week, we needed to do a load of washing. The laundry in north camp had no power. I started to work out which circuit-breakers controlled which sockets, but SO had no patience for that kind of systematic approach and took off to jog around the rest of camp looking for a working washing machine.

She returned to announce that there was a really nice laundry in south camp, so we ended up doing three return drives between the two camps: one to put the clothes in the washing machine, one an hour later to transfer them to the dryer, and one an hour after that to put more coins in the dryer and wait another hour until the last of the clothes was dry (it's always the jeans, isn't it?).

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, in which our intrepid explorers visit Karoo NP wearing clean clothes.

Regards,
Roger


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 10:30 pm 
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Richprins wrote:
I remember that bug now...it's called a "pillbox" millipede, or something similar!

Yes that's it! Thanks for the identification. Pill millipede, order Sphaerotheriida:

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Photo by Mick talbot, used with permission under CC Attribution license

Here's what they look like unrolled, actual size:
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Source: http://www.sfgate.com/n/pictures/2005/0 ... ipede8.jpg

Regards,
Roger


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Tue Sep 15, 2009 3:09 pm 
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OK, yesterday I promised full disclosure of any leg-pulling. I hereby declare that the picture of the "unrolled millipede" in my previous post was a leg-pull. It made the millipede look much bigger than they really are. The man in that photo was actually a very very small man.

Moving on now to Tuesday 25 August, I finally finished that packet of muddy-tasting wholemeal rusks. My daughter K asked for the box to store her souvenirs in, and when I passed it to her she said "Did you know that the best-before date was more than a year ago?".

Well that explains everything! I wonder where it had been sitting all that time before it was rediscovered and put on the shelves at the Addo store.

We left the Ebb & Flow rest camp of Wilderness NP and headed to George to do some shopping. I could have played safe and stuck with the rusk varieties that we had enjoyed (original, buttermilk, muesli, marmalade etc) but noooooooo, I'm a slow learner. I thought the "Aniseed and hops" rusks sounded worth trying, so I bought some.

We reached Oudtshoorn where we visited an ostrich farm, then on to Cango Caves where we very much enjoyed the "adventure" tour. We stayed overnight at a holiday farm 2km from the caves.

I tried the new rusks. The first of the Aniseed and Hops rusks was quite interesting, the second was just manageable, but after that the hops flavour was strong and disagreeable and they were quite unpalatable.

We don't like to waste food in our family. We follow an unwritten rule that if someone buys food, they are expected to use it up (unless it's actually seething with decay). As I was the one who had chosen the Aniseed and Hops rusks, I wasn't going to get any help from Rowena or the children to use them up. The rest of my family would eat the delicious other flavours of rusk while I spent the next few days tediously dunking and munching the horrible Aniseed and Hops rusks.

Wednesday 26th saw us heading over the Swartberg Pass. We were in thick mist on the way up, so the going was very slow and we saw nothing. The downhill part was mostly mist-free, and we got some great views.

After heading through Prince Albert and refuelling at Beaufort West we reached Karoo NP well before check-in time, but our chalet was ready and the staff were happy to give us the keys early.

The chalet was well-equipped, nicely designed and spotless. A faint but pervasive smell of insecticide suggested that visitors prefer their accommodation to be free of creepy-crawlies. The setting is stunning, with the patio looking towards the mountains. Very nice indeed.

Rowena and I were keen to hike the Pointer Trail, which goes up to a nearby peak. The children don't really see the point of walking, but had agreed to join us based on some park literature saying that the trail was 8km long. Unfortunately they changed their minds when they found another piece of park literature saying the trail was over 10km long.

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Pointer Trail country

It was a pity really, because the park literature is contradictory and quite confusing. As it turns out, if you hike to the peak it's an easy 4.2km loop which the kids would have loved. The 10.8 km walk includes the summit and a round trip to the far end of the plateau.

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Even the park map at the start of the walk messed it up. Take a look at the colour coding in this photo. Obviously the colours and the distances have been incorrectly matched. The red segment seems correct at 1.8 km, but the blue segment should say 2.4 km, and the yellow segment should say 6.6 km; not the other way around as on the map.

Anyway, back to the walk itself. The track is easy to follow. It alternates between earth and stony ground. We noticed that where the path was earthy, the ants lived underground with access holes on the surface. Where the path was rocky, the ants presumably couldn't excavate underground so they built ant-hills instead. About half of the ant-hills showed predator damage, with part or all of the ant-hill broken apart.

After about 45 minutes we reached the peak, which gives a good view all around but particularly down to the rest camp which it directly overlooks.

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Karoo Rest Camp from the Pointer Trail summit

The signs had warned us that if we saw buffalo or rhino we should back away slowly without making eye contact, but we found it hard to imagine that these heavy animals would drag themselves up to the plateau, so far away from a watercourse.

We walked the plateau loop, keeping an eye on the time. The hike gives an excellent insight into the geology of the area, with a very clear layer of hard rock being responsible for the plateau's shape. In the distance you can see further layers on the mountains, and you can see how the erosion of these layers has formed the different habitats that the game drive winds through.

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Rowena on the plateau of the Pointer Trail

The end of the plateau is quite close to the N1. You can see and hear the vehicles making their way along the highway. We spotted a few places where there was a break in the small cliffs that surround the plateau. There were well-worn animal pads through these breaks, but we didn't see any mammals until the return path where we turned a corner and noticed two Cape Mountain zebras about 30m away.

It wasn't a close sighting, but there's a real immediacy about seeing animals "on foot": us watching them, and them sizing up us. We watched the zebras for a while as they took turns grazing and keeping lookout. They were comfortable with our presence at this distance, but as we made our way quietly along the path the zebras adjusted their position to maintain the same distance.

Soon afterwards we saw a kudu which also kept a "certain distance" from us as we walked the path. There was also a white dot bouncing up and down which we were not yet able to identify.

It was twilight when we got down from the plateau, and to our surprise we saw a group setting off upwards at this time.

We found the "fossil trail" and made our way around it, but the light was fading fast and we couldn't see everything properly. What we did see was so interesting that we decided to return to it tomorrow.

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Sunset from our chalet

Then we saw flashes of light high up on the Pointer trail. The people who had climbed up in the dusk were trying to take flash photos of the mountains. It doesn't work that way, of course. And as we made our way back to our chalet the camp was quiet, except for the nervous giggles and squeals from the people trying to make their way down the Pointer trail in the darkness.

Regards,
Roger


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2009 6:36 pm 
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(Disclosure: there was no intentional leg-pulling in yesterday's post.)

Wednesday 26th saw us up very early so that we could pack everything into the car and vacate our chalet before heading to the game gate for its 7h00 opening. Otherwise, it would be after our checkout time of 9am by the time we got back.

The main loop is signposted as 2.5 hours, which is about right, even for people like us who stop at every kudu. The vegetation is so low and sparse compared to (say) Addo, that you can cruise at 30km instead of 20km between sightings.

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Double-headed ostrich - a really lucky sighting

Apart from ostriches, we were seeing new kinds of antelope (well, new to us rather than new to science). This caused some argument about their identification. At Addo you are given clear colour pictures of all the animals you might see (except for the bat-eared fox), but you don't get that at Karoo.

We soon realised that there are more kinds of antelope in Karoo NP than there are flavours of rusk in the whole of South Africa, so our identifications were only tentative.

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Gemsbok missing the Karoo mountain scenery

The first half of the drive is on the low plains, then it rises into the mountains, before dropping again down the scenic pass. Very pleasant, although the frequent drainage channels make it a bit tedious for the driver.

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Is this steenbok cute or what?

Back at the camp by 9h30, we handed in our keys then went to have breakfast (which is included in the price of the accommodation at Karoo NP).

In recent years, B&B breakfasts seem to have turned into competitive gluttony events, so it was something of a surprise to be offered either cereals or a cooked breakfast, but not both. I approve of this, as B&B breakfasts are often so extravagant. And the quality was superb - we all thought the cooked dishes were extremely good.

The outdoor eating area wasn't open (maybe due to there being few people, or maybe due to it being not much above zero degrees outside) but it's an absolutely stunning setting combining interesting nearby vegetation with a fabulous mountain vista. I would rank it alongside the top of Table Mountain as a scenic outdoor eating location.

Next we re-visited the Fossil Trail. This short trail is studded with museum-type glass cases holding impressive fossils, many of which are from the immediately-surrounding area. The interpretive notes are interesting, although the author does like to keep hammering home the fact that these fossils are from mammal-like reptiles that existed even before dinosaurs, e.g. beaked dicynodonts such as the diictodon.

Back at the administration building we found a display of antelope skins, skeletons and horns. This was most helpful to crystallise our identifications, and we decided that yesterday's bobbing white dot had been a grey rhebok, which we had also seen this morning along with red hartebeest, kudu, springbok, mountain reedbuck, gemsbok, steenbok and duiker.

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It's a tough job enduring all this scenery, but someone has to do it

On our way out of the park we drove the Lammertjiisliegte game loop. Rhinoceros had been sighted here yesterday afternoon, but we didn't see any. What we did see though was the Quagga strain of the Burchell's Zebra. These Zebra have been selectively bred to enhance the brown unstriped rear which characterised the extinct quagga. The result is visually quite striking.

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Quogga characteristics on the right-hand zebra (photo by Mr Blurrycam)

After leaving the park we made our way south, stopping in several places to watch baboons (there were also many baboons splatted on the road). We also stopped at the impressive and delightful Groot Waterfall in Meiringspoort, before heading to Calitzdorp Spa where we luxuriated in the hot pool under the stars, staying overnight (and adding springbok to our sightings) before heading to Bontebok NP the next day.

But suddenly, I had a dreadful thought. OMG, OMG!

To be continued...


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 5:06 pm 
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Full disclosure: there was no intentional leg-pulling in yesterday's article. The double-headed ostrich counts as poetic license. I have a correction to make: it was "cottages" we stayed in at Karoo, not "chalets". Just in case it's important to anyone.

ribuck (yesterday) wrote:
But suddenly, I had a dreadful thought. OMG, OMG!

To be continued...

OMG, OMG! I had run out of time, and would need to take a break from my writing until the next day. And people might think that something dramatic was about to happen, when it wasn't! Oh well, this kind of stuff happens, but I promise I won't do it again.

We had a straightforward trip to Bontebok NP, stopping at Swellendam to buy wood and matches (at 50c for a box of matches, it seems to be the only thing that can be bought for less than R1). We hadn't had a braai yet, even though every night's accommodation had included braai facilities, so we bought some nice-looking sosaties: chicken in mango marinade. But we forgot to buy one of the essentials.

The approach into Bontebok NP is visually uninspiring (as others have also remarked in this forum). We weren't bothered by the garbage dump, because that's outside the park, but when we entered the park our first impression was one of ordinariness. I guess we had been spoiled by the dramatic scenery at Tsitsikamma and Karoo, and by the feeling of remoteness at Addo. In contrast, Bontebok at first glance looks like a small patch of former farmland surrounded by other farms.

But soon after reception we were encouraged by a sighting of a very relaxed-looking red hartebeest, and we knew that we would like this place. Even the park's web page says "A shop at the park entrance supplies basic commodities like beer ... groceries are available in Swellendam". Clearly they are geared up for the laid-back lifestyle.

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Any more "laid-back" and this red hartebeest would have tipped over

But nothing prepared us for the surprise we got as we entered camp. The flat landscape suddenly gave way to the dramatic sight of the sweeping bend of the majestic Breede River, and the sound of its strong current gushing past rocks and little islands. And overhanging all of this, perfectly situated to take it in, the broad balcony of our chalet. Magnificent!

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Bontebok chalet and aloes

We had lunch while we drank in the scenery, and would have been tempted to laze around all afternoon. But we can laze around when we're back in England, and we have only two weeks in South Africa, so it was off on a walk around the short Acacia Trail.

We had quite a few sightings, but the acacia is high and the sightings are inevitably only glimpses here and there. What did impress us though was the wildflowers! We hadn't realised that late August would be such a good time, but the variety and profusion were wonderful.

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The Acacia Trail is only 1.6km long, so we were soon back at camp.

There, we had a very interesting sighting. Here's a preview. Does anyone want to suggest what's happening here?

Image

Full details tomorrow.

Regards,
Roger


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 18, 2009 2:05 pm 
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(Full disclosure: there was no intentional leg-pulling in yesterday's post.)

I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Here's the full context of the previous photo:

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We had just returned from our walk when we saw the female tortoise. As we got out our camera, the male came running towards her, seemingly as fast as he could. At the last minute he pulled in his head and bumped his shell against hers. He then moved back and repeated the bumping four more times.

This, apparently, was his idea of foreplay. The female "got the message" and lifted her shell, then he mounted her.

The male's eyes were bulging, and his mouth was wide open. He was making loud groaning and panting noises, a combination of exertion and ecstasy.

The female, on the other hand, appeared uninterested and kept nibbling the grass. Whenever she moved to a new patch of grass, he had to waddle along on his hind legs to stay with her.

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This lasted for about five minutes before the female grew impatient and started to walk away. The male eventually "got the message".

We walked down to the river flats, which had obviously been under floodwater not long ago. Even now, the river was higher than usual, and the wooden steps into the water were well underwater. The current was strong and the water felt as cold as if it was coming straight from melting snow - which it presumably was.

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Three of us swam, although none of us could stay in for more than a few minutes. It's nice to come out of cold water into warm air - a contrast to swimming in England where the most painful part is often shivering in the cold wind after you come out. The tortoises came down to the river flats to join us for a few minutes, then we headed back to the chalet.

Rowena and I decided to walk the 3.3km Aloe Hill loop, while the kids stayed behind. As you might have guessed, the track goes to a hill full of aloes. They were in various stages of flowering and fruiting, which was quite interesting.

When the track turned back towards the rest camp, we saw some animals in the distance. The more we looked, the more we saw. Over two dozen: some in the woodland, some in the grassland, some standing, some with their heads down to the grass. Bontebok? It wasn't until the track took us much closer that we could see what they were ... cows on the opposite bank of the river! Oh well, we had a laugh and returned to camp.

Rowena, as usual, felt like going for a run, so she headed out along the Bushbuck Trail. Unfortunately for her, most of this track was closed for maintenance, as was the road to Die Stroom.

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Meanwhile, I went for a dusk drive around the game loop with K and H. We saw lots of bontebok and Cape mountain zebras at close range. We passed the start of the newly-opened mountain bike loop which covers the eastern section of the park. It's not yet shown on the maps, but it looks worth exploring. I think you're also allowed to do it on foot.

The bontebok in the following photo was nicely positioned for me. As the driver, I decide exactly where to stop. But for H, who was taking the photo from the back seat, it was not properly framed. But it shows that when you face westwards the mountains come into view, and the "ordinariness" of the park scenery that I mentioned yesterday disappears.

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Back at the chalet it was time for the evening meal. The kids weren't interested in the sosaties, so it was pasta and cheese for them. Meanwhile I had to light the fire. I had matches and firewood, so what was the problem? I hadn't thought to get any kindling. How was I going to light these thick logs?

I scrounged any spare paper that we had, and the dog-eared-box* from the rusks (I was still struggling to get through the hops and aniseed rusks, by the way) plus any other scraps of cardboard I could find. It wasn't enough, so with a knife I peeled as many bits of bark as I could from the firewood, and prised away as many splinters of wood as I could, but it still didn't amount to much.

I laid out the paper and wood really carefully, and lit the pile. By the time my makeshift kindling had burned away, there were a few glowing red bits on the bigger logs. I blew, and I blew, and the red bits glowed brighter and smoked a bit.

I blew and I blew, and there was a bit of tiny flame here and there. I blew and I blew, and meanwhile the kids had gone to bed. I blew and I blew, and after about 75 minutes of puffing had a usable fire. And then it was another half hour before the sosaties were cooked. But when they were done, they were wonderful. Rowena declared it the best meal of our trip.

More tomorrow.

Regards,
Roger

*: If it had been a box-eared-dog rather than a dog-eared-box, it would have been a new sighting for me.


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 7:18 pm 
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(Full disclosure: there was no leg-pulling in my previous report.)

Our kids have been really good about getting up early in the mornings so that we can fit a lot into the day, and this day (Sat 29 August) was no exception.

We were packed and ready too early for the 07h00 opening of the office to give back the key, so we did another drive around the game loop, and were rewarded with plenty of close zebras, along with steenbok and grey rhebok.

Today we were heading to Bounders Beach, which is a part of Table Mountain National Park, but first we were making a diversion to Hermanus for some whale spotting. We spent three hours there, seeing in the distance the distinctive double blow of some southern right whales. When it became obvious that the whales weren't coming any closer we spent some time and money at the craft market. It's a smart business move to put a market in a place where people spend hours and hours hanging around waiting for sightings...

We had a straightforward trip from Hermanus to Boulders. I'd read in a couple of places in the forum a suggestion to use the southern entrance (Bellevue Road), so that's where we headed.

Unfortunately, I'm the kind of bloke who reads all the signs. One of the car park signs warned that overstayers would be wheel clamped, and another warned to keep your ticket with you at all times. This sounded like some kind of parking fee, so I went to the office to ask. The nice SANParks lady asked how many adults and how many children, and before I knew it I'd been sold an entrance ticket rather than a parking ticket.

This hadn't been our intention, as we were planning to visit the free-access area to the south. Furthermore, we realised later that we could have got in to the pay-area for free by showing our Family Wild Card. Oh well never mind, it's for a good cause.

We went down to the beach, but there weren't any penguins to be seen. Then we followed the boardwalk past lots of penguins in their artificial nest boxes. I understand the motivations of those who are doing this, but I don't like to see it.

In my opinion, if a species is endangered in the wild, you cannot fix that by accommodating the animals in plastic. Then the animals are not "in the wild" anymore. Instead, you need to give them access to more of their natural habitat, and keep out non-natural predators (such as domestic pets). Of course this is quite hard to do in a built-up area like Boulders, but there is some scope for improvement.

Anyway, at the northern end there were a few penguins visible from the viewing platform, and we watched them until the children decided they wanted a swim. We headed back to Boulders Beach, and were pleased to find that some penguins had appeared.

For a while now, H has dreamed of "swimming with penguins", and here she did accomplish that. I think she dreamed of being surrounded by penguins, whereas the reality was an occasional penguin swimming past about five metres away. Nevertheless, "swimming with penguins" has been ticked off the list.

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Meanwhile I went to explore the free-access paths to the south. Access is through a gate which looks as if it might demarcate private land, but it doesn't.

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Beyond the gate the nest sites are further apart, and the penguins are more laid back. After all, these are the rebellious renegades who refuse to respect the officially-designated area.

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The path weaves around the rocks and visits a couple of pleasant little beaches behind the golf course. After a few hundred metres, I didn't see any more penguins (although there were still penguin prints on the sand), and I made my way back to the rest of the family.

The car park was closing at 17h00, so we had to leave. Our accommodation turned out to be very close-by, so after we checked in the others returned to the penguins while I cooked the evening meal.

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While I was waiting for them to return, I dunked and ate the last of the ghastly hops-and-aniseed flavoured rusks. Finished at last!

On Sunday we headed for Cape Point (remembering this time to use our Wild Cards for admission). We went to the historic buildings and the weather station (as one does). Some of us took the funicular (which is a very short ride and only goes as far as the weather station), the others walked up. At the top we walked out to the lighthouse keeper's cottage and back (about half an hour).

Rowena felt like going for a run (have you noticed that this is a recurring theme on our holiday?). She jogged to the Cape of Good Hope, then to Diaz Beach and back, while I walked down with the kids who then amused themselves examining the many decorated ostrich eggs in the curio shop. As at Addo, the eggs were decorated with pictures of everything except ostriches.

We drove to Buffels Bay for lunch, and found that it was a very pleasant spot with a sparkling white beach. Here the litter bins have a lid mechanism on top that's baboon proof. I struggled to work out how to open it with one hand, because my other hand was holding litter which I didn't want to put down due to the breeze. I'm surprised that other parks with baboon problems (such as Tsitsikamma) don't use bins like these.

A lovely walk around the beach and hillside to the Da Gama Cross was spoiled on the way back when I gashed my foot on some half-buried barbed wire. (It has healed nicely by now, but it did have me wondering how up-to-date my Tetanus boosters were.)

After we left the park, there was a large group of baboons blocking the main road in both directions. We watched them play for twenty minutes or so, and were surprised that none of the drivers seemed impatient. I guess being a Sunday most of the traffic was recreational anyway.

The children were keen to see the penguins again, so we returned to Boulders to spend a few more hours there.

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Time to get rid of that fur coat!

Then we did our last grocery shop for the trip. Having been liberated from the hops and aniseed rusks, and from the stale wholemeal rusks before them, I was now free to choose any variety I liked.

At the start of our trip we were keen to try all the available flavours, and between us had tried Original, Buttermilk, Condensed Milk, Muesli, Marmalade, Wholemeal and Hops-and-Aniseed. Would I now choose a safe variety like "Original" or "Condensed milk" for the last pack of this trip? Or would I be tempted to add another flavour to my list? The small shop we were at had exactly two kinds: Buttermilk flavour or Baked Bean flavour.

Which was it to be? I'm sure you can wait until tomorrow to find out. Meanwhile, having bought our groceries, we made our way to our Cape Town accommodation and hoped for good weather for Table Mountain the next day.

Regards,
Roger


Last edited by ribuck on Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Tue Sep 22, 2009 4:20 pm 
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Billyf - I have some good news for you. I DID NOT BUY baked bean rusks. It was getting near the end of our trip, so I decided not to buy any more rusks of any flavour.

Salamanda - I have some good news for you too. There are NO SUCH THINGS as baked bean rusks. That was a total leg-pull. Sorry about that!

Pumbaa - yes I agree with you about penguins swimming. It's more like "swooshing" through the water than swimming.


We woke on Monday 31 August to fabulous weather, and the forecast was good, so we headed off to climb Table Mountain.

We didn't want to take the cable car (because you don't really feel like you've conquered the mountain), nor did we want to walk up the Platteklip Gorge path (because it's basically steps all the way, which are more tiring to walk up than a rough track, and don't give such a good "feel" for the mountain).

The obvious route choice for us was the India Venster scrambling route, which is one of the two routes that go up approximately under the cable car (the other is the Kloof Corner route, which is more difficult).

But was it a reasonable way to go with children aged 12 and 14? They have always enjoyed rock scrambling, but aren't by any means regulars.

I had researched this route on the internet before the holiday. I spent about ten hours reading contradictory accounts. Some people just mention in passing that they went up or down the India Venster route, as if it's of no consequence, whereas others talk at length about how lethal it is. Indeed, there have been many accidents over the years, including a fatal fall earlier this year. Even some experienced rock climbers were commenting that climbing the crux of this route unprotected made them uneasy. So how could I make sense of this?

I should also mention that I descended this route with my brother when visting Cape Town in 1981. I couldn't remember enough detail of the route to relate it to the ability of a 12-year-old. All I could remember from way back then was that we sprinted down, making very fast time, with the straightforward parts interspersed by three or four moments when we said to each other "Crikey! Where does the route go now? Surely not down there..." and sure enough it did go "down there" via some heart-stopping though manageable climbs.

But I was 22 then and I'm 51 now, and I wouldn't climb down it unaided now. Those 29 extra years have added a little more weight, slowed my reflexes a little, reduced my balance a little, reduced my muscle strength a little, and reduced my flexibility and agility a little. Each effect is minor, but taken together they make a big difference to what you can and can't do. Going up is easier than going down, but even then I had my doubts about the crux.

I almost told the family that we'd be going up Platteklip Gorge after all, when I discovered two things.

The first was an account by a regular rock-climber who had taken his children up the India Venster route. He reported that his 9-year-old made it up without assistance. I reckon that a climber's 9-year-old probably has about the same skill as our 12-year old.

The second was that the TMNP management had, just the previous month, put some metal "staples" (rungs) on the crux (the most awkward part). Personally I would prefer to see the mountain left natural, but what's done is done and this made it easy to decide to go ahead.

We were equipped for just about every eventuality, including carrying a few litres of water even though it was August. Luckily so, because it was particularly hot as we started to climb. The sun reflecting off the stone had us sweating and drinking lots, and we wondered whether the water would last the distance. As we got higher, it cooled down and the sun was no longer a problem.

The India Venster route is an odd one, because 90% of it is extremely straightforward, with the other 10% being tricky. This is probably why so many people get into strife here, because the first half of the climb has no tricky bits, and people who can't scramble may be tempted to press on rather than turn back when they reach the tricky bits after having already climbed so far.

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The easy parts of the India Venster route are straightforward

As part of the recent changes, TMNP has removed all signage and track markers from the first part of the route. Those who manage to locate the route despite this are then confronted with this sign:

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The wording of this sign is "over the top" in my opinion. If people climb this "extremely dangerous" route and find it manageable, they may assume that other routes signed with such strong warnings will be equally easy. It would be better to provide information than to try to instil fear. Something like this should do the job: "this route requires hand-and-foot climbing over a 10 metre drop"!

Anyway, the kids did great! The steel staples make the former crux quite straightforward. There are other steep scrambles on the route, but all except one have excellent hand-holds and only have exposure of a few metres.

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Me, just above the section with the steel staples

The exception is the new crux, which is just before the top. It's a climb of maybe six metres, in several stages with ledges in between. It's straightforward except for the very last part which (unlike elsewhere) does not have particularly good handholds. Even so, it should be manageable by anyone who does any kind of scrambling on a regular basis.

Just after the crux we were welcomed by a family of dassies, who watched ever-so-cutely from their safe vantage point on a ledge just above us:

Image

Once at the top, we had a look around then made our way to the restaurant. I love to eat in places that have great views, and this is one of the best. The outdoor tables were filled by smokers, so we ate indoors. The food was fabulous: buffet style with half-a-dozen hot dishes, half-a-dozen salads, and half-a-dozen desserts (plus all kinds of bits and pieces). We "mixed-and-matched", and everyone was satisfied. Great capuccino too!

Rowena felt like a run, so she went down the Platteklip Gorge path while we took the cable car down. Just before we left, we looked down and saw a red helicopter way below us (circled in the photo):

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At the time we assumed the helicopter was carrying sightseers, but the following day's Cape Times told the full story. Two local hikers had attempted to climb up Kasteels Poort, but got the route wrong and ended up climbing the Diagonal path and Porcupine Buttress. They scrambled up some cliffs, only to find that they couldn't get back down again (never do that!), and also couldn't proceed. At that point they telephoned for helicopter rescue.

As we descended on the cable car, we enjoyed looking out on the route which we had climbed. We felt a sense of satisfaction, although I must admit it looks more spectacular from afar than it does from the ground!

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We climbed that? One of the steep parts of the India Venster route.

By the time we had met up with Rowena and "done" the curio shops, it was late afternoon but there were still a few hours of daylight. We thought about doing something more, but the kids had had a few very busy days and we opted for a quiet time playing cards back at our accommodation.

There's a thread in this forum about Security on Table Mountain, which made me rather apprehensive. In 1981 my brother and I had spent a few days scampering all over this mountain without ever feeling uncomfortable, but obviously times change. The forum topic is full of advice like "be aware of your surroundings", but that doesn't help non-Capetonians who won't have the "street smarts" to distinguish whether someone is hanging around innocently or with ill-intent.

It also didn't help that a couple of route guides for the India Venster route commented negatively on security, with warnings such as "dangerous - keep pepper spray within arms reach at all times".

However, what we found was quite different from what we had been led to expect. We didn't see anyone on the mountain who didn't appear to be there to enjoy the mountain. The whole area, and the India Venster route in particular, "felt" safe to us. This was a pleasant and unexpected bonus.

There's now only one more day to report from our flying visit to South Africa. In the next part of my trip report I'll wrap up. I also have a couple of "virtual awards" for others who've contributed here.

Regards,
Roger


Last edited by ribuck on Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:20 pm 
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So it came to the last day of our trip. We thought we might go to Robben Island, but the ferry wasn't running due to the wind. Instead, we did a half-hour boat trip around the V&A port which was tremendous. We had great commentary and views of port buildings, seals, cormorants, luxury hotels, cable-laying vessels, bridges, oil rigs, antarctic research vessels, etc.

Then we headed to the Cape Town Museum. K kept saying "this is a really good museum", I think because it had real content rather than dumbed-down interpretation like so many modern museums. The planetarium was disappointing though: the soundtrack was excellent and informative but the display was not properly synchronised and therefore erroneous.

And then it was off to the airport. What a great trip we had had to South Africa! We had done so much!

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The success of our trip was largely due to this forum. When we started planning this trip (just a month before we flew out), all we knew was that we wanted to visit Addo (to see elephants in a non-malarial area) and Cape Town (to climb Table Mountain). We knew nothing of the parks in between.

Then we found this amazing forum. After reading many hundreds of forum threads, and many thousands of posts, we had discovered the existence and character of Tsitsikamma, Wilderness, Karoo, Bontebok and Boulders Beach, and we incorporated them into our itinerary.

The forum helped with more than just destinations. We learned about the night-time guided game drives, the various kinds of accommodation available in SANParks, and what to see and do while we were there.

Particularly helpful were forum threads on security and on tipping. Tourists always find tipping difficult, particularly when they come from a country where tipping is not the norm, and it was great to hear South Africans discussing their own attitudes to tipping. That thread also introduced us to the existence of car watchers, which otherwise would have come as a surprise.

Then there was the experience of writing the trip report. Who would have thought that the trip report uses up almost as much time as the trip itself? Well I exaggerate, but it's not much less.

Thanks for the kind comments posted in this trip report by nopflip, carolynn, vanalder, jonty1, curiouscanadian, richprins, billyf, nightjar, p@m, leopardspots, ladylucy, micetta, caracal, munchkin, lyntaylor, pumbaa, meandering mouse, salamanda, elsa, lockie and salva.

I have two awards to announce, with prizes. The first award is for the wittiest comments. It was a close call between richprins and billyf, but I awarded it to billyf for his insights about baboons and teabags.

The prize for billyf was inspired by this comment of his:

billyf wrote:
Hop flavoured rusks :shock: - can only be for unsuspecting tourists :tongue: or for peeps who like their coffee beer-flavoured :D

After reading that, it dawned on me that hop-flavoured rusks are designed for dunking in beer rather than in coffee, so it all makes sense now.

Anyway, billyf's prize is a beer or two any time he comes to north-west England, provided of course he brings some hops-and-aniseed rusks.

The next award is for animal identifications. Again richprins was in the running, this time for his identification of the pill millipede, but in the end I had to award this prize to caracal for her identification of the bat-eared-foxes from a fuzzy and distant photo, and especially because she broke the news gently and kindly after I misidentified them as caracals.

The prize for caracal is a bungee jump off the suspension bridge at Storms River. The prize is non-transferrable. Unfortunately, from what I read elsewhere caracal is unlikely to take up on this offer.

Finally, here's our list of sightings for the trip (within and outside of National Parks): elephant, baboon and other monkeys, lemur, meercat, penguin, porcupine, ostrich, dassie, zebra, black backed jackal, mongoose, warthog, dolphin, southern right whale, seal, sea lion, bat eared fox, spring hare, scrub hare, tortoise, lots of birds including egyptian goose, lots of invertebrates including pill millipede, bontebok, kudu, springbok, red hartebeest, grey rhebok, mountain reedbuck, gemsbok, steenbok, bushbuck, duiker and probably others that I've forgotten.

I'll still be visiting this forum in the future, but I need to scale back for a while so that I can catch up with mowing the lawn. We have half an acre (1600 square metres) and the kids think it would be perfect for a game reserve...

Thanks and best regards,
Roger


Last edited by ribuck on Wed Sep 23, 2009 11:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 2:14 pm 
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Micetta wrote:
Your wife craves running :shock: What happens if she cannot run for a couple of days? :lol:

Runners do sometimes get quite "hooked" on their running, due I guess to the endorphins it produces. But I reckon Rowena can go longer than a few days without running, provided she does not have to sit in a car all that time.

Our South African trip was focused on wildlife and wasn't particularly suited to running. Sometimes there was no available place to run, sometimes it wouldn't have been safe enough to do so, and sometimes it would have been discourteous (e.g. if one were to disturb the birds being watched by a birder). But Rowena made sure she didn't miss any opportunity that arose.

Luckily, an hour is enough to stave off the craving for a few days.

And yes, with the Skukuza half-marathon, the Two Oceans marathon, the Otter Trail Run, etc. there's potential for a future visit. However, this was the most expensive holiday we've ever had and it's not likely to be repeated for a while.

Which reminds me, other potential overseas visitors might be interested in this rough breakdown of our costs for a trip of just over 2 weeks: Flights 50%, Car hire and petrol 10%, Accommodation 20%, Conservation fees 4%, Everything else 16% (food, souvenirs, admission charges to tourist attractions, tips, etc).

Regards,
Roger


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 Post subject: Re: Ribuck's August family Adventure - PE to CT
Unread postPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 4:05 pm 
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Billyf, the lemurs were at Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary at Plettenberg Crags.

I didn't describe that day in detail in my trip report because it's not within one of the SANParks, but I see that the SANParks "Activites" page for Tsitsikamma NP promotes Monkeyland as something to do while you're staying at Tsitsikamma, so I guess it's on-topic to comment on it here.

At Monkeyland, you can go to the cafe and viewing deck for free. There are often squirrel monkeys and capuchins scampering around the viewing deck. There are also guided walks through the forest, and for one fee you can go on as many of these one-hour walks as you like.

We arrived around 09h00 and went on a guided walk soon after. We saw dozens of lemurs on the track, warming themselves in any patch of sunlight they could find, and letting us pass very close to them. But when we went on another guided walk around 11h00, there were only one or two lemurs to be seen.

After that we visited Birds of Paradise then the Elephant Sanctuary, before making our way to Natures Valley rest camp for the night.

Regards,
Roger


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