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 Post subject: Jenb- Marakele - I would never have guessed!-May 2008
Unread postPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 6:43 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
It all started when I got a phone call from my cousin living in Australia. “Jen, I’m coming to South Africa and I’ve booked a guided tour in Marakele, would you like to come?” “Yes, yes, yes” was my immediate answer. “Don’t you want to think about it?” he asked. “No, no, no, “I said, “We will be there!”

We planned to leave for Marakele early in the morning but a few emergencies and curved balls popped up. With everything sorted and last little things packed at 2-05pm we were on our way. 240km to go and the office would be closing at 5pm. We passed through the dusty town of Britz and a while after that the turn off to Thabazimbe and the first sign board: “Marakele” straight ahead! I was starting to feel anxious because I was sure that being a Saturday the office might close a few minutes early in which case we would have been stuck outside the gate until morning. After a quick petrol stop, about 15km from town, 4-50pm, there it was!
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We fell in line at the counter and about 10 minutes later the friendliest widest smile said: “Good Afternoon, how may I help you?” After joking about my son who is listed as a child on the Wild card and an adult on the SANParks system, wondering if he is a grown up acting as a child or a child who thinks he is big she handed over our documentation. “Thanks, now can you direct us to Bontle camping site?”. The smile became even broader! “Ahha, first time visitors! Welcome to Marakele! You are going to love our park!”. She took her time marking the 4x4 routes on the map, chatting and explaining everything from the layout of the camping ground, the “push button” system at the tunnel and even the animal population in the park. Not checking the time even once. Long past 5 o’clock we were on our way to Bontle thinking: “What an amazing welcome, what an amazing person!”

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"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France


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Unread postPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 9:43 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
Just as we entered the boom, Rayno called “Mac Donald bokkies, Pumba!!”. Breaklights, reverse gear, binos, camera! Within 5m from the gate: Impala (Mac Donald bokkies), Warthog, Natal Francolin, Red-billed Hornbill, Pied babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike.
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Bontle is a beautiful camp, excellent layout and the ablution blocks are so well designed and blends into the landscape. We found a site which we later found was much sought after by the regular campers but before setting up camp a few more photographs of the welcoming parties!
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Camp was set up, keeping a close eye on the camp boundary, opened a bottle of wine and started settling in for a braai. When it was completely dark, and it becomes completely dark at Marakele, we heard the fall of soft feet quite close by, and a crunching chewing sound. The spotlight was still in the car but another visitor had his at hand and scanned the area. There they where! 4 Rhinos, in the camp by now and just on the other side of our car! I was at the point of starting a fruit salad but immediately packed away all the fruit, they where so close! I would prefer not to feed a guy with his own can opener attached to the end of his nose, thank you! After diner, we carefully made way towards the ablutions, scanning the area by flashlight all the way, had a lovely hot shower and then.....bed. My peaceful sleep was constantly being disturbed by the hooting and snorting of a very possessive Impala ram herding his females back into line.
Sometime during the night a Blue Wildebeest joined the racket with his nasal "gnu-gnu" call which was so close, it sent vibrations through my chest! A few jackal took it upon themselves to take care off the background music. I smiled in my dreams knowing, this is Africa!

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Unread postPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 9:40 am 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
Early the next morning we were woken by the sound of the bush, birds merely chirping away in the Acacia tree above and the rusty wheel call of Francolin. I lifted the tent flap and felt the cool winter breeze on my face. The Impala ram herded all his females under the trees to the left of the waterhole and far off this rhino appeared with a tiny little one. I sipped my coffee while watching him. He ran circles in the long grass, playing like a puppy. Every now and again Mama lifted her head to keep tabs on him.
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No waterhole will be perfect without the resident Fish Eagle.
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The Rhino scratching post.
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A nesting hole in camp which was being checked out by a pair of Glossy starlings.
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We got packed and ready for a special outing, up the mountain, to the very top…………… (To be continued)

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 4:24 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
The morning was partially cloudy with a misty drizzle when we left camp but still with lots of promise of what the day might bring. We turned north on the road towards the lookout. We found giraffe, warthog, kudu, impala and numerous birds en route.
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We got to the tunnel which links the bottom portion of the park with the “Greater Marakele” portion at the other side of the road.
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It was rather exiting because the moment you pass the gate, you drive into “Big 5 territory”. In general the game became a lot scarcer but the breathtaking scenery made up for it!

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"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France


Last edited by JenB on Thu May 29, 2008 5:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 4:28 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
The road leading up the mountain.
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The road is extremely narrow and becomes rather traitorous when nearing the top, with a vertical fall on the one side and a steep upwards slope on the other. One has to drive slowly, with caution and be on the lookout for oncoming traffic.

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 4:37 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
We saw a troop of baboons in a wild fig tree. That was the first sighting of baboon we had so far and wanted to get a few photographs. It was amazing to see them flee the moment they saw the vehicle! No begging for food, in fact, no hanging around whatsoever! After being patient for a while, I caught this guy off guard. When he heard the sound of the camera – GONE!!
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Then I realized: This is where the feeding begins. People try to build their confidence by feeding and soon they start begging and then they become completely out of control.

After a very steep climb, we eventually reached the top of the mountain. The view from there is totally awesome! Pardus had it so spot on when she called Marakele “The Garden of Mountains”! :clap:


Aloe arborescens in full bloom.
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Pardus’s “Garden of Mountains” (with the road far below).
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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 4:43 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
Anne-marie,
The park is divided by the road. Until recently one had to leave the bottom part of the park and enter through another gate but they have now constructed the tunnel. When you want to enter, you only have to press a button and the gate opens for you. The "bottom part" as I refer to, does not have any cats but when you pass the gate you drive into the portion which hosts the Big 5. :wink:

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 5:02 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
Birds at the very top of the mountain! :D
(Calling all the Fundis!! Please, help if I’ve got the ID's wrong!)

Cape Bunting
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Cape Rock-Thrush (Male)
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Cape Rock-Thrush (Juvenile)
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Buff-streaked Chat (Male)
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Buff-streaked Chat (Female)
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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 12:07 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
The weather reminded me of the weather in the Cape, just not four seasons in one day, more like four seasons in one hour! One moment it was dark and stormy the next, bright and sunny.
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What we hoped to find! Vultures!
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The birds, many of them, far more than one could count.
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On the way down we were pleasantly surprised by 3 Klipspringers.
I love this tippy toe stance!
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It’s little friend.
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The third was not keen on being a photographic model. He stood with his hind legs on a rock and his head low down on the other side presenting prime view of his rear end!

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 12:16 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
A few more giraffes on the way, but they disappeared as soon as they noticed company, then back through the tunnel.

Some birds on the way.
The ever so noisy Southern Pied Babblers.
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The guy with the brightest jacket around!
Crimson-breasted Shrike.
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Back in camp we decided just to do a “Kruger fry up” for dinner and to make it an early night. Just before bedtime I wanted to check the plain once more in search of eyes when I nearly stepped on this “stone”. It was right next to the ground sheet and as I motioned my foot to kick it out of the way, I took a second look and……………
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The little critter must have felt so safe, he decided to sleep right there! Another look around and……………….
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His little mate! Awe, man! We felt so privileged! Everyone tiptoed to bed, taking care not to disturb our little guests.

Oh, it was a great day but I was so excited about the next! The reason for our visit to Marakele, a guided tour by one of the rangers to take us up the mountain and to the home of the extremely rare cycad, Encephalartos eugene-maraisii!!

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"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France


Last edited by JenB on Thu May 29, 2008 12:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 4:35 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
We woke up bright and early, stirred by the sounds of the bush. Our little guests were awake long before me and were already having breakfast.
We had to meet my cousin at the main gate at 8 o’clock and there were a load of things to get ready. Water, camera, binos, hiking boots, sun hats, TR book and pen, well just about everything except the kitchen sink! Fortunately we got to the gate just in time and the SANParks vehicle and guide were ready and waiting.
I dashed into the office to pay my due and there my cousin was standing! After huge hugs and lots of kisses, I haven’t seen him in 4 years, he said: “Jen, I’ve just had a discussion with the park manager and he said that it is an extremely difficult hike. We will be going all the way up the mountain and it could be dangerous for anyone that’s not super fit, in fact, they would prefer not to take us at all!” (He has been negotiating this hike for the past 6 months because it is not a usual route to do. The camp manager decided to allow it because my cousin is spending lots of time and effort to get to and photograph all the cycad species that has not become extinct yet, but sadly, for all of them, it is just a matter of time. Not being "super fit", I decided not to go and my family joined the circle of quitters.)
Somehow, I was not surprised because we went up the mountain, by car and it is one heck of a climb, no matter how you look at it. Before we arrived at Marakele, I was sure that the joy of seeing the Eugene- Maraisii in nature would be the one and only highlight of the trip but I was rather surprised at myself for not being too disappointed and offered to stay behind to get a braai and some deep heat ready for his return. He promised to e-mail all his pics to me to post on the forum. While driving back to camp, I took another look at that mountain and let out a sigh of relieve: “Phew…….. I’d rather not, not today!”
Then! On the way back to camp!

Road block!!
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Another!
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Bennett’s Woodpecker.
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Lord Lewellyn, in person!
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"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France


Last edited by JenB on Thu May 29, 2008 6:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 4:42 pm 
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And then! African Rock Python!
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Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 5:03 pm 
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Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.
Back at camp. (Photos by Rayno)
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Another visitor, this one waiting to pick from the table!
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My cuzz, arrived just in time for lunch and I had cold beer ready and waiting! We spent a couple of happy hours catching up on many years. It was so great to see him, and having his company in the shade of a thorn tree in Marakele was just incredible! He was hoping to see some rhino action. Although there were two males having a tiff with lots of dust clouds and snorting, the action was very far off. Al the regular waterhole passersby showed up and then this gorgeous beast, with family in tow, made his appearance!
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Sadly, it was time for him to leave. After lots more hugs and kisses and messages to all the family, that was it, end of the visit. We settled down to enjoy the sunset.

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Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 7:40 pm 
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New Page!! Thanx for helping! :clap: Cool here goes!!

I lazily leaned back in my chair, with a glass of Cape red wine in my hand and watched the activity on the plain. From afar I watched the grey bulk of rhino grazing. After a while I noticed that they were coming closer. I turned my eyes away and enjoyed the birds beginning to flock. The arrogant little ram was once again protecting his business and the ewes were bouncing with fluffy white tails getting back in line. The warthog family was gathering the last bits to eat before sunset. I casually gazed across to the other side and by now the big guys were very close, closer than I’ve noticed before! The leader of the pack carefully stepped across the unfenced camp boundary, hesitated for a moment and began to graze. Without even bothering to lift their heads the rest followed close on his heels!

I could not believe how relaxed they were! Every time they spotted movement, they calmly lifted their heads and then went right back to feeding. We watched them for about 45 min just going about their business.
This was an awesome experience, one I will never forget! They are obviously frequent visitors in camp but being the first time I got so close and personal with rhino will remain in my mind for the rest of my days!
They are truly the most beautiful lawnmowers I have ever seen!!

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Unread postPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 8:17 pm 
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We were sad because it was our last night in Bontle but we were spoilt with loveliest of sunsets!
(Photo by Rayno)
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After a nice braai at lunchtime no one was really hungry and we picked at the left overs for dinner. The night air became rather chilly and I made myself a hot cup of coffee and retreated to the tent sending SMS messages to dear friends and family. SO and Rayno were outside with the camera and tripod and Rayno was trying his hand at photographing the stars. The stars were so plentiful and they seemed so close it felt as if one could reach out and touch the sky.
Suddenly I hear:
“Dad, did you hear that!!??” (Whisper tone)
“Yes! Spotlight! I think the rhinos are right behind us!”
Next thing the tent flap opened with urgency and Rayno whispered: “Mom, Dad said come quickly!”
Within a flash I was there! SO turned on the spotlight and……..!! Oh, my word!!

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