Category Archives: Holiday Trips

Central Drakensberg – Revisited

Following on our visit to Champagne Valley in February this year, we found ourselves heading back to the same area scarcely a month later – reason being my brother Andrew came to visit from Devon in the UK where he has been for some 20 years. This time we had traded in some timeshare points for a midweek at Drakensberg Sun, a resort we last visited some 19 years ago, so what memories we had were vague to say the least. How nice to re-visit a place that we enjoyed so long ago and find it well-kept and just as attractive after so many years!

Monday

On the Monday morning that Andrew was due to arrive from London, we were up early to do some last packing and head through the morning traffic to OR Tambo to meet him just after 8 am. All went according to schedule and by 9 am we were on the N3 heading south towards Heidelberg, where we decided to stop for a coffee and pain au chocolat “filler” at the Mugg and Bean – Andrew declared it the best cappuccino he had enjoyed in a long time. So easy to please some people!

On to Harrismith in surprisingly light traffic with fewer lorries than we have become accustomed to – mental note to travel this route on a Monday in future. We broke the journey once more at Harrismith for brunch and by mid afternoon had reached our destination.

Chalet 213 was our allocated home for the next few days – it turned out to be in the “back row” of two rows of chalets a short distance from the hotel, separated by extensive gardens and with a large pool and a dam as the main features. Getting our luggage and self-catering provisions down the awkward steps outside the chalet and then down and up to the different levels inside proved to be quite strenuous for us semi-pensioners (another mental note to book the front chalets if ever we return) and once done we made haste to the pool for a refreshing swim in the humid weather.

The steps to the chalet

Tea revived us enough to take a walk around the gardens –

Dark-capped Bulbul
Southern Fiscal
Speckled Mousebird
A river runs through it
Andrew out walking

Later we enjoyed a delicious bobotie and salads which we had bought freshly cooked at our local Super Spar the previous day and which was the perfect way to end the day with the minimum amount of cooking effort. We had thought of watching the Oscars on TV that evening but a heavy thunderstorm passed through the area and put paid to that idea as it temporarily disrupted the power and affected TV reception for the rest of the evening. This was a blessing in fact as we were all quite weary and happy to get an early night.

Tuesday

Still in “take it easy” mode, we slept later than usual and even Andrew, early riser most times, slept in to catch up on lost sleep on the flight over. After a fruit brekkie we set off on a drive without any fixed plans other than a stop at the Valley Bakery nearby, set hidden away behind plantations but well worth finding, as we had on a previous visit. Relaxed surroundings and a really good roast chicken wrap, followed by cappuccino and pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart) made for the ideal way to catch up on news with Andrew and just enjoy the ambiance for a couple of hours.

The road took us further to Winterton for some stocking up and on the way back we popped into The Hand Woven Rug Co for a look at their attractive products, including some interesting colourful rugs woven from leather off-cuts. The quirky signage outside and in added to the interest.

The Handwoven Rug Co

Back at our chalet it was time for a walk down to the dam and surrounds – wide lawns leading to the water’s edge in places and to reed beds in others. A variety of birds were doing their thing –

Yellow-billed Ducks in the shallows looking rather aloof and scudding away at my approach;

Yellow-billed Duck, Drakensberg Sun

Common Moorhens dipping at unseen organisms in the water;

Common Moorhen, Drakensberg Sun

Thick-billed Weavers by the dozen busily moving up and down, out and back, never far from their perfectly woven nests strung between sturdy reeds.

Thick-billed Weaver, Drakensberg Sun

It made me realise that the human weavers we had seen earlier, good as they were, are amateurs by comparison with these little brown experts!

We closed out the day with a braai of chops and wors and chatted well into the night – so nice to catch up with family after a couple of years.

Wednesday

I set off early to the hotel reception to enquire about walking the Forest trail – the hotel insists that anyone wanting to walk the trails check-in first and pay a small deposit, presumably to give them some record and control of hikers. My aim was to do a portion of the trail or possibly the whole one, with the objective of looking for a bird that has eluded me until now, the Bush Blackcap, a bird of the forests in these elevated parts. It was not to be as the staff had decided the trail was too slippery and dangerous after the night’s heavy rain – a wise precaution but disappointing.

Having set out to do some birding I walked the gardens and along the dam edge, then took a short drive along the road back to the R600, adding to my growing pentad list with the likes of Cape Grassbird, Lesser-striped Swallow, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Jackal Buzzard.

The gardens
A coulourful splash amongst the grasses
Locust – colourful but in a blend-in fashion

A substantial breakfast awaited back at the chalet, after which we headed off on an exploratory drive towards Monk’s Cowl, branching off at side roads that looked interesting.

One such road took us past an interesting looking building where we decided to have a closer look. We were the only visitors and a small fee of R20 allowed entry to the inside of the old Trading Store, which we were told was transported lock, stock and barrel from Lesotho some 12 years ago by the owner of the farm. The inside was filled with old-fashioned provisions, as if waiting for the next customer to come in and order from the assistant behind the counter – fascinating and absolutely unique. What a gem and another example of the quirky attractions that lie hidden in South Africa’s countryside.

Trading store ex Lesotho
Trading store
The packed interior
Old provisions on the shelves – now does that take you back or what?
Old display cabinets – I feel like asking for a tickey’s worth of sweets!

Thursday

Another rainy morning meant no chance to try for the Blackcap along the forest walk so we enjoyed a fruit brekkie in between packing. Not wanting to exhaust ourselves lugging everything back up the long flight of steps to the road above, I approached one of the security guards to assist – he was more than willing and had all our luggage and provision crates at the car in no time. Quite a relief for all of us!

We had planned a few stops, the first one being Scrumpy Jacks for their delectable cheesecake accompanied by good coffee. It was the same one we had tried for the first time a month ago but this time it was drizzled with a dark berry dressing – oh so good!

Cheesecake delight!

Once again we took the “old” road via Winterton and Bergville to Harrismith where we joined the N3 highway back to Gauteng and we were back home by late afternoon.

The road home

After not visiting the Drakensberg area for close on 20 years we have ” re-discovered”  this beautiful part of our country during  3 visits in the last 12 months or so – and we’ll be going back next year I’m sure.

 

Czech it out – Prague : Hills and a Palace

The further story of our 4 day stay in Prague, Czech Republic, prior to our “bucket list” Danube River Cruise in April 2016 ……

Into the (Petrin) Hills

We slept a little later this morning, recharging our batteries after a busy couple of days of traveling and touring. Our plan, as recommended by friends who had done a similar trip, was to take the funicular to the top of Petrin Hill, walk through the parkland to the Palace and from there make our way back down to the Charles Street Bridge. Well, it didn’t quite work out fully as planned, but we certainly walked a lot and saw many sights. After all, travel tends to be more interesting when it doesn’t go entirely according to plan – and that’s coming from someone who plans things to the last detail!

The day began in earnest, after a relaxed breakfast brought to our room by the ever-friendly staff at our hotel, at around 11 am with a walk to the nearest tram stop, which I had located on a map during a swot up of the commuting options. Two tram rides later we found ourselves, somewhat miraculously as we were guessing where to get off the tram, at the lower funicular station. The short ride to the top of Petrin Hill was through forested slopes with brief glimpses of the city beyond.

Prague – the view from the funicular

I have been fascinated by all things mechanical since childhood, especially those involving transport of some sort, and I’m always on the lookout for the chance to take a ride on unusual forms of transport, so the combination of trams and funicular was right up my street … or track in this case, and anyone observing me would probably have seen the boyish joy in my expression as we ascended the hill.

No, not the one we rode on – ours was a bit more modern. This is the 1891 version

Petrin Park

At the top we emerged from the station into an extensive park with wide lawns, gardens, many trees and shrubs and a curious mixture of structures here and there – an old Observatory, a House of Mirrors, a small church and a steel observation tower in the style of the Eiffel tower but on a much smaller scale.

Petrin Hill
Petrin Hill – the Observatory
Petrin Hill

A restaurant beckoned us for a hot chocolate and feeling suitably refreshed by this injection of goodness we set off to find the Palace. Pathways through the park were pleasantly shady and birdsong accompanied us as we meandered along, creating such a relaxed feeling that we may not have fully concentrated on where we were heading (mistake!).

Branches in the pathway required a quick decision as to which would be the shortest route to the Palace, but without signposts we knew we were guessing, but were nevertheless confident that we would find the right path eventually.

Petrin Hill
Petrin Hill
Petrin Hill

Downhill all the way

It soon became obvious we were on the wrong route, but by this time it was already too late to turn back as we had descended part of the hill and we found ourselves having to negotiate ever steepening downward paths and hundreds of steps – not good news for our rather aged knees. Realising that we would have to see it through, we negotiated one set of steps after another and just to prove there’s no stopping a birder or his intrepid wife, we stopped every now and then to view the few birds that caught our eye.

Great Tit, Prague
Great Tit
Common Chiffchaff, Prague
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chaffinch, Prague
Common Chaffinch
Wood Pigeon, Prague
Wood Pigeon

In the depths of one wooded area a cute squirrel with furry ears was an equally pleasant surprise.

Petrin Hill
Petrin Hill – Eurasian Red Squirrel (in winter coat)

By the time we got to the bottom we were virtually back at the lower station of the funicular, still in good spirits but decidedly weary. Not knowing how to get to the castle, we headed in the direction we thought it was – fortune guided us past a small restaurant called U Svatého Václava where we took sustenance in the form of Goulash soup, which perked us up no end and off we went again. Just around the next corner we asked directions of a friendly Prague-ite and were glad to hear the palace was “oh, about 7 minutes walk up that hill”, pointing to an ominously steep-looking, winding, narrow street with no visible end.

The long walk to the castle

And up again

Well, Bruce Fordyce (famous South African marathon athlete) in his prime would have done it in that time, but for us it was a long trek on our already tired legs and uphill all the way. We only just made it to the top with very little left in our tanks.

What we found after this strenuous walk was a large complex of various buildings rather than one identifiable “Palace”. The complex was handsomely designed, enclosing halls, offices, stables, a lane of residences, extensive gardens and the impressive St Vitus cathedral. However the combination of tired legs and a rather exorbitant entry fee put us off going inside the cathedral and instead we were content with a slow amble around the palace precinct.

Prague Castle – St George’s Square
Prague Castle – St George’s Basilica
Prague Castle – the Courtyard
Prague view from the Castle

The curious thing I find about some ancient cathedrals, as with St Vitus, is the gargoyles (rainwater spouts) at all the corners featuring some strange figures often with really grotesque forms – they just seem so out-of-place on a building supposedly designed to bring inner peace……. here are some examples of those found on St Vitus.

St Vitus Cathedral has an interesting history – the foundation stone was laid on the Hradčany Hill in 1344 at the behest of Charles IV, the future king of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperor. The architect Petr Parléř gave the cathedral its late Gothic style, but construction was not completed until 1929.The martyred Prince Wenceslas I (the “Good King Wenceslas” of the Christmas carol) was interred in 932 in the Church of St. Vitus, predecessor to the cathedral dedicated to the same saint

Prague Castle – St Vitus Cathedral
Prague Castle – St Vitus Cathedral
Prague Castle – St Vitus Cathedral
Prague Castle – St Vitus Cathedral

Eventually, after treating ourselves to a take-away coffee which we enjoyed on a nearby bench like true tourists, we found our way to the tram stop where we soon caught the right trams to within a short walking distance of the Old Town Square and the comfort of our hotel for a welcome rest.

So what happened to the Charles Street bridge visit, I hear you ask? Well, we saw it from the tram, lined on both sides with tourists, and having seen and experienced so much else we weren’t too fussed about not actually standing on it and taking a selfie like a zillion other people.

Taking to the streets

Dinner was a street affair, at one of the many food stalls along one side of the square – a Czech sausage (klobása – much like a frankfurter) with a side of a potato and sauerkraut mixture.

The latter was far too much for us, mainly due to not understanding what quantity we were ordering, but we noticed a “gentleman of the road” standing nearby with his dog and he was more than happy to take our leftovers. Funny how sometimes you feel things happen for a reason, even something as simple as ordering too much food – end result was we fed a hungry soul.

Our visit to Prague was over and the Danube trip lay ahead – we were happy that we had decided to spend the time to experience this handsome and interesting city.

Map of Prague

Central Drakensberg – Champagne Valley

For no other reason than to utilise our expiring RCI points, we booked a long weekend getaway from 9th to 12 th February this year at Champagne Valley Resort near Winterton in the area known as the Central Drakensberg.

Friday

We departed from home in Pretoria at around 9.30 am, late enough to avoid the peak hour traffic as we made our way through Johannesburg’s eastern side and headed south on the N3 towards Harrismith, where we had arranged to meet up with Koos and Rianda for a “padkos” brunch of hard-boiled eggs, frikadels (courtesy of Woolies) and jam sandwiches. Padkos is long-standing South African tradition, translating literally to “food for the road” and tastes even better when you stop at one of the large roadside service centres where there are umpteen choices of take-away and sit-down fast food restaurants – a nose-thumbing at conventional practices. (Just to show we’re flexible we stopped at the same spot for a Wimpy breakfast on the way back)

We reached Champagne Valley by 3.30 pm after a fairly relaxed drive from Harrismith, the scenery progressively becoming greener and prettier as we got closer to the central Berg area. On checking in we were allocated a chalet overlooking the dam with pleasing views of the Drakensberg range in the background and we quickly settled in. I had a refreshing swim in the crystal clear pool then joined the others on the stoep for beverages as we all spotted a few birds to get our list going in true keen birder/atlaser fashion.

Champagne Valley chalet

By sundown there were 18 species on my list including a Black-headed Oriole calling sweetly, Cape and Village Weavers busying themselves on the lawns, as well as Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot and White-faced Duck on the dam.

Village Weaver (Male)
Cape Turtle-Dove

Saturday

After a late rise (after all we were there to relax and are of the age where a crack of dawn start is not always first choice) we were back on the stoep in pleasant but humid weather to savour our first coffee along with Gerda’s health rusks. Before long we were entertained by no less than 3 different raptors – Cape Vulture at high altitude soaring majestically in wide circles, a Yellow-billed Kite cruising just above the tree tops delicately adjusting its flight path with twists of its distinctive broad V-shaped tail and a Bearded Vulture so high that I could only ID it from a magnified photo. They were joined by a group of White-necked Ravens calling from aloft in their croaky fashion.

Cape Vulture

Yellow-billed Kites were a feature of the weekend as we came across them several times in different localities. What struck me when looking at the photos I had taken of one individual was its rather un-fierce look which I deduced was because of its dark eyes and fluffy feathers on the head, creating a look unlike most large raptors with their piercing eyes.

Yellow-billed Kite
Close-up of the Yellow-billed Kite – a less than fierce look unlike most raptors

Mid-morning Koos and I braved the humid weather for a walk around the resort, starting with a walk through the grassland area along a mown path then wading through knee-high grass pods down the gentle slope until we found another path to take us back to the resort proper.

Champagne Valley grassland

Grassland species such as Fan-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds, Zitting Cisticola and Streaky-headed Seedeater were active and visible, while an unusual “chip-chu” call had us puzzled until we discovered an Amethyst Sunbird calling from a tree – not the call we are used to, so something new added to our birding knowledge.

Fan-tailed Widowbird
Amethyst Sunbird

A passing Martin caught my eye and the white rump said Common House-Martin – one of those birds seen infrequently, although we came across a few more in flocks of Swallows during the weekend.

By the time we got back to the chalet I was drenched in sweat from the humidity and mild exertion – a cold drink was most welcome and stoep-based birding became the order of the day.

Late afternoon we drove to Monk’s Cowl camp, stopping  on the way to see if we could coax a Bush Blackcap to show itself, but to no avail. Nevertheless we had good sightings of Steppe Buzzards and Yellow-billed Kites, a Dusky Indigobird and a Black-backed Puffback with a Juvenile in tow.

Dusky Indigobird
Black-backed Puffback (Juvenile)

Sunday

Another relaxed morning for me starting with a quiet walk along the edge of the dam where odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) were almost more numerous than the avifauna so I spent a pleasant hour or so chasing them down and taking a few photos.

Dragonfly
Dragonfly

Late morning we set off on a drive along the R600 towards Winterton with the main purpose of popping into Scrumpy Jacks for coffee and a taste of their recommended cheesecake. On the way Koos pointed out the Long-crested Eagle he had seen on his earlier walk, perched in the open for all to see.

Long-crested Eagle

Soon after we arrived at the small farmstall with a few tables outside, a parking area fairly muddy from earlier rains and a notice on the flimsy gate to “please close the gate to protect the dog”. The only visible animal in the garden was a large pig with an even larger pot belly dragging on the ground – presumably the “dog” referred to in the notice. It seemed a strange pet to allow near guests – such as us – coming for coffee and honey-baked cheesecake, however we did not let it detract from the treat.

Said coffee and cheesecake did the trick of turning on the switch in the brain that says “I am contented with life” and we ventured further down the R600 with the intent of doing a “bit of birding”. At the signpost indicating “Bell Park Dam 8 km ” we turned left – this was a route Koos and I had explored a year ago and it turned out to be a good choice again as we were soon into rolling grasslands and farms planted with tall green mielies (corn). Amur Falcons were numerous, perched at regular intervals on the roadside wires, sometimes in small groups, scanning the fields for their next grasshopper or termite alate meal.

The attractive farm dam where we had seen Grey-crowned Cranes landing the year before, was occupied by various waterfowl including SA Shelduck, Spur-winged Goose and a complement of the usual Egyptian Geese and Red-knobbed Coots plus a lone Grey Heron.

Farm dam in the distance

We continued in the same slow fashion past the Bell Park dam wall with cascading overflow creating a nice picture, then turned off onto the road leading to the dam’s entrance gate. After a brief leg-stretch accompanied by yet another Yellow-billed Kite eyeing us from his perch on top of a pole, we decided to turn back and head for the resort.

Farmlands with mountains in the background
The road to Bell Park dam

On the way back Koos spotted a flock of Geese and was elated when he found two Grey-crowned Cranes amongst them. A small Cisticola like bird in the top of a tree had us puzzled for a while with its grey breast and white belly, until we decided it was a form of Neddicky – later reference to Roberts showed that there are no less than 7 subspecies of Neddicky in southern Africa so I deduced that a wide variance in appearance can be expected. (another snippet of added knowledge).

Neddicky

Amazingly our “bit of birding” had been so absorbing that we found we had spent the required 2 hours in the pentad for a “Full protocol” card – and we all had an enjoyable afternoon of birding in a beautiful environment along a quiet road – what more can one ask for?

Monday

Time to return to Pretoria – Arrow-marked Babblers visited the chalet while packing and I couldn’t resist a quick photo…..

Arrow-marked Babbler

By 9 am we were on our way, this time choosing the scenic route via Winterton and Bergville then via the spectacular Oliviershoek pass to Harrismith. What a good choice it turned out to be – the scenery was quite stunning for most of the way, certainly the greenest we have ever seen this part of our country, both cornfields and grasslands alike, stretching into the distance in checkered patterns.

We’ll be back! Sooner than you can imagine – in a couple of weeks we return to the same area but a different resort when my brother visits from the UK.

My Photo Picks for 2017 – Part 2

Here’s a further selection of my favourite photos taken during 2017 – from our travels, holidays and birding trips 

If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!

The Birds (Continued)

Southern Ground Hornbill, Chobe Game Reserve, Botswana
Kelp Gull, Vleesbaai, Western Cape
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Mossel Bay
Chinspot Batis, Verlorenkloof in Mpumulanga
White-fronted Bee-eater, Verlorenkloof
Capped Wheatear, Chobe Riverfront
Yellow-billed Stork, Phinda Game Reserve in North Kwazulu-Natal
Pied Kingfisher, Phinda
Red-capped Robin-Chat, Pigeon Valley Durban
Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Chobe Riverfront
Malachite Kingfisher, Chobe River
Reed Cormorant, Chobe River
Little Egret, Chobe River
African Spoonbill, Chobe River
Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Chobe River
Long-toed Lapwing, Chobe River
Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe River
Pied Starling, Vlaklaagte near Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng
Mountain Wheatear (female), near Oudtshoorn
Hottentot Teal, Marievale Gauteng
Booted Eagle, Mossel Bay
Fork-tailed Drongo, north of Herbertsdale, Western Cape

The Reptiles

Mole snake, Delmas area
Boomslang, Bushfellows Game Lodge near Marble Hall
Skaapsteker (?) near Mossel Bay
African Crocodile, Chobe River

The Butterflies

Guineafowl (Hamanumida daedalus), Mabusa Nature Reserve in Mpumulanga
Poplar leopard butterfly (Phalanta phalanta aethiopica), Vic Falls NationalPark
Butterfly, Mossel Bay (No ID yet – can’t find it in the book)

Mauritius

Air Mauritius sunset
Snorkeling – Geraldine
Snorkeling – Moorish idol
Snorkeling
Snorkeling – the view from the sea
Sunset, Le Victoria hotel, Mauritius
Le Victoria hotel, Mauritius -early morning

Flock at sea cruise

Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Cape Town harbour early morning

Other stuff

Snail, Boschkop Dam near Potchefstroom
Fine flowers, Verlorenkloof
Sea shell, Mossel Bay

Wishing all who may read this a 2018 that meets all of your expectations!

My Photo Picks for 2017 – Part 1

Here’s a selection of my favourite photos taken during 2017 – from our travels, holidays and birding trips – chosen from my collection of over 2500 photos for the year. Each one has a story attached which I have tried to capture in a few words………..

If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!

The Places

Kasane Forest Reserve – lush after good summer rains
Early morning, Delmas area – on my way to do some bird atalsing
Champagne Valley – a weekend in the Drakensberg
Drakensberg grassland
Bourkes Luck Potholes – on tour with our Canadian family
Thaba Tsweni lodge – near Sabie, Mpumulanga
Victoria Falls National Park – more touring with the canadians
The bridge at Vic Falls National Park
Kingdom Hotel Vic Falls
Chobe sunset, Kasane – incomparable
Flock at Sea Cruise – back in Cape Town Harbour early morning
Sandbaai near Hermanus
Victoria Bay surfer action
Top dam, Verlorenkloof – our favourite breakaway spot
Kasane, Sundowner spot
Bronkhorstspruit area – another early morning of bird atlasing
Spring Day in Mossel Bay
Kuilfontein near Colesberg
Atlasing north of Herbertsdale, near Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay golf estate – our home for part of the year
Gamkakloof near Calitzdorp – Klein Karoo
North of  Herbertsdale

The Wildlife

Klipspringer, Prince Albert
Chacma Baboons, Chobe Game Reserve
Zebra, Chobe Game Reserve
Hippo, Chobe Game Reserve
Lions, Phabeni area, Kruger National Park
Hippo, Zambezi Cruise
Impala, Chobe game drive – M for McDonalds
Chacma Baboon (Juvenile), Chobe game drive
African Elephant greeting, Game cruise Chobe
Lion, Chobe Riverfront
Chobe Riverfront
Black-backed Jackal, Chobe Riverfront
Hippo, Chobe River
Cape Buffalo, Chobe River
African Elephant, Chobe River
African Elephant, Chobe River
African Elephant, Chobe River

The Birds

Familiar Chat, Prince Albert
Amur Falcon, Garingboom Guest farm, Springfontein
Long-tailed Widow, Mabusa Nature Reserve
Double-banded Sandgrouse, Chobe Game Reserve
Common Sandpiper, Delmas area
European Roller, Satara-Nwanetsi
White-fronted Bee-eater, Zambezi Cruise
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
Bronze-winged Courser, Kasane Airport perimeter
Lilac breasted Roller, Chobe Game Reserve
Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve

Part Two includes more birds, the reptiles, butterflies and other stuff

 

Wishing all who may read this a 2018 that meets all of your expectations!

Kuilfontein near Colesberg – Long-legged Tortoises and Doctor No

After a long day’s driving, there is nothing I look forward to more than going walkabout and doing some birding. When travelling from Pretoria to our “other home town” of Mossel Bay, we like to make at least one overnight stop, and during our recent trip we decided to try a new (for us – it’s been there a long time) guest farm near Colesberg called Kuilfontein, just 11 kms beyond the town and close to the N1 national road.

Our route included a slight detour to allow for a mid-morning stop at son Stephan’s house in Potchefstroom in the North West Province. He was at work but Liesl was on hand to refresh us with coffee and banana bread before we pressed on. This part of the trip left me with mixed emotions as we passed through several small towns along the R30 route, which traverses the farmlands and goldfields at the heart of South Africa. The summer rains had not yet come and the wind was whipping up the fallow farmlands creating small dust storms, while the mining areas were equally dusty but from the mine dumps being scoured by those same winds.

This is not unusual after the winter and before the rains come (which they did subsequently) so one accepts that the landscape is not particularly attractive at this time of year. What really got to me was when we approached the towns along the way and on the way out again – the plastic bag litter strewn across the fields seems to be the norm nowadays (not just confined to these parts but more noticeable here) – very disheartening  and with a bit of effort so simple to rectify you can’t help wondering why nothing seems to be done about it.

Anyway enough complaining and back to the pleasant part of the day.

We reached Kuilfontein farm at 5.30 pm after driving some 760 kms and by 6 pm we were settled in our charming cottage room.

Entrance to Kuilfontein – an encouraging sign
Our cottage room for the night
Comfortable room

With the prospect of a good one and a half hours of daylight available, I set off with a spring in my step to explore the farm, wondering what I would find.

Starting around the main house, I followed the entrance road which is like a long verdant tunnel with trees both sides almost meeting overhead. There were Sparrows and Doves aplenty, joined by Starlings (Pied, Cape Glossy and Red-winged) and several Cape Robin-Chats to make the walk interesting.

Kuilfontein – the manor house
Kuilfontein – entrance road

A group of three Korhaans caught my eye in the fields and turned out to be Blue Korhaans – they have a curious way of walking, crouching so that when they are in longish grass, just their rounded backs and the top of their heads are visible, giving them the appearance of fast-moving tortoises as they move about.

Blue Korhaan, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover
Blue Korhaan (photo taken not far from Kuilfontein on a previous trip)

By dinner time I had recorded 25 species and called it a day – can’t be late for the Lamb pie!

After an early night and a good rest I was up before 6 am the next morning and was soon out for part two of my Kuilfontein birding, this time covering some new ground which soon delivered with Bokmakierie, Pied Barbet and Cape Clapper Lark amongst others.

Bokmakierie

From a vantage point on the top of the earth dam wall (bone dry) I could see far across the Karoo scrub – in the background the distant hills were washed blue / pink by the early morning rays. Two elegant Blue Cranes were just discernible in a distant field and as I scanned the horizon three Korhaans flushed about a 100 m away and flew off while calling what sounded to my ears like a very guttural “doctor no, doctor no, doctor no”. I couldn’t help chuckling at the thoughts that my interpretation of their call brought to my head.

It turned out That they were Karoo Korhaans and replaced the Blue Korhaans from the previous evening as my favourite sighting of the short stay.

Kuilfontein farm

Soon after, near the entrance gate at the end of the long entrance driveway, another call drew my attention and looking upwards I saw three Namaqua Sandgrouse flying by while calling “kelkiewyn” (pronounced “kelkyvane”) which is also their Afrikaans name. As I watched them they turned in a wide circle in the sky, almost as if acknowledging my presence, then carried on flying into the distance.

Namaqua Sandgrouse, (this photo is also from a nearby farm on a previous trip)

Time had also flown by and I headed back for breakfast, adding White-throated Swallow, Wattled Starling, Red-winged Starling and Fiscal Flycatcher on the way back. At the cottage a Malachite Sunbird was moving about amongst the Aloes lining the pathway, the emerald sheen of its feathers glinting in the sun. The garden sprinklers were on so the aloes had drops of water

Aloe
Malachite Sunbird enjoying the Aloes

After breakfast we greeted host Penny, who has the knack of making you feel like part of the family, and headed off on the next leg of our trip, but not before adding Steppe (Common) Buzzard and Red Bishop on the way to the N1.

As always I was atlasing (recording the bird species for submission to the database at the University of Cape Town)  and was surprised and very pleased when I discovered that my “full protocol card” (minimum two hours of atlasing) was only the fourth one for the pentad, “turning it green” in atlasing parlance – this is a way of tracking how many times a pentad has been atlased, green indicating that at least four cards have been submitted to provide a statistical base.

Atlasing Statistics

Pentad : 3045_2455

Full protocol cards : fourth for the pentad.

Total species recorded : 45 – out of 86 for the pentad to date which equates to a coverage of 53% of the species recorded to date

Pentad location :

New species recorded for the first time in the pentad :

Greater striped Swallow; Karoo Thrush; African Hoopoe; Cape Wagtail; Black-shouldered Kite; Cape Clapper Lark; House Sparrow; Karoo Scrub-Robin; Common Starling; Egyptian Goose; White-throated Swallow; Wattled Starling; Fiscal Flycatcher: Malachite Sunbird; Steppe (Common) Buzzard

Czech it out – Prague : the Old Town

We had heard good things about Prague and wanted to go and see for ourselves, so when planning a Danube river cruise in April 2016 (read about it in my earlier post Danube River Cruise – A Taster), we decided to precede it with a visit to this city and to make it worthwhile we thought a 4 night stay would give us enough time to explore at a relaxed pace and have time for a day tour out of Prague.

On the advice of a friend who had visited Prague a couple of times, we chose the Old Town Square Hotel right in the centre of the historic part of town, which is also the focus of most visitors to the city. This turned out to be an excellent choice as many of Prague’s attractions were within walking distance, while others could be reached after a short ride on the city’s user-friendly tram system. A bonus was being upgraded to a suite with a view of the square, the room being so spacious we could have swung a cat if we had brought one with us, with room to spare.

Prague - Old Town Square - north side
Prague – Old Town Square – north side as seen from our hotel room

Our first full day in Prague was the chance to explore the Old Town, so after a lazy in-room breakfast we set off on an extended walk.  By this time the Old Town Square was filled with visitors and buskers, as it was for the rest of our stay, and proved to be a constant source of entertainment.

Prague - bubble makers on Square
Prague – bubble makers on Square

A swing band was playing from early on in great style, elsewhere jugglers, fire-eaters and “living statues” were doing their thing, the latter rather comically taking a regular smoke break, while Segway riders and tour groups with pennant-waving leaders weaved their way through the throngs.

Prague - Dancing in the Square
Dancing in the Square to the swing band
Prague - Living statues
Prague – “Living statue” checking the takings during a break from posing (note the cigarette in hand)
Prague - Old Town Square
Prague – Old Town Square crowds
Prague - Old Town Square
Carriages are the only vehicles allowed in the square

The Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) dates back to the tenth century, when it served as the market place for the thriving town, is traffic free except for horse drawn carriages and is ringed with historic buildings. It is one of the finest public spaces of any city we’ve seen and has a constant buzz of activity starting early morning and extending deep into the night.

Prague Old Town-2
Rococo stucco work on Kinsky Palace now used by National Gallery for art exhibitions
Prague Old Town-3
Kinsky Palace window detail
Prague Old Town-4
Old Town Square  – Art Nouveau building from 1898 now houses a ministry
prague - Old Town Square : Church of St Nicholas
Old Town Square : Church of St Nicholas dominates one corner
Prague - Old Town Square - facade dates from 1696
Old Town Square – facade dates from 1696

Most famous of the buildings is the Old Town Hall with its impressive astronomical clock which draws a crowd every hour, when the mechanical figures representing the twelve apostles become animated and “walk past” two small windows in a fascinating mini performance.

prague - Old Town Square with Town Hall
Old Town Square with Town Hall
Prague - Astronomical Clock
Prague – Astronomical Clock
Prague - Astronomical Clock
Prague – Astronomical Clock

We started our walking tour by making our way slowly along the Old Town route shown in our guide book, but ended up following our nose, drawn into side streets by interesting buildings and features.

Prague - street scenes
Prague – street scenes
Prague - street scenes
Flowers on the sidewalk
Prague - street scenes
An interesting facade
Prague - street scenes
Prague – street scenes

The older streets of Prague have rows of intensely handsome buildings, the like of which we have never before encountered in our many travels, aligned for uniformity of line and height but each one adorned with mouldings and decorative elements to make them unique.  We wondered if there is another city in the world with such beautiful classical architecture. No wonder Prague is known as the “Paris of the East”.

Prague - street scenes
Prague – street scenes
Prague - street scenes
Prague – a handsome building
Prague - street scenes
Unusual decoration on this building

Every now and then a noteworthy building caught our eye – religious buildings in particular such as cathedrals and churches. Particularly interesting was the Jewish Quarter with several synagogues which seemed to be drawing groups of tourists who were clearly of Jewish origin.

Prague - Maisel Synagogue
 Maisel Synagogue
Prague - old Synagogue
The old Synagogue

The old Jewish cemetery was crowded with tombstones, commemorating individuals buried in layers of up to 12 deep over the centuries past, apparently due to severe restrictions on the area that was allowed for burial in the Quarter.

Prague - old Jewish cemetery
The old Jewish cemetery

Shops along the way varied from tourist kitsch to exclusive and expensive – Gucci, Burberry, Prada and the like – no prices on display, probably based on the old adage that says “if you need to ask, you can’t afford it”.

Prague
Upmarket shopping street

Cars outside these shops were equally exclusive – Bentley (ooh, I want one), Lamborghini and the like.

Prague - Bentley coupe
Bentley coupe

Come lunchtime we were in need of something light to eat – Gerda had spotted an interesting restaurant, U Gomela, so we retraced our steps for a couple of blocks and popped inside. We decided to try their potato soup (Plolevka nabidka den) accompanied by a pilsner and finished off with the coffee and apfelstrudel special (Jablecny zavin) we had seen advertised on the board outside – a very tasty choice as it turned out.

Refreshed, we continued our meander, coming across all manner of interesting sights.

Prague - shop windows
Puppets in a shop window
Prague - Spring blossoms
Spring blossoms
Prague - making the local speciality
Making the local speciality pastry which gets filled with your choice of ice cream or whatever
Prague - Church of the Holy Spirit
Church of the Holy Spirit
Prague - street scenes
Old gent on a bike

There was even an opportunity for some birding – Chaffinch, European Jay and Blackbird all drew attention to themselves with their song and we were able to track them down in the trees lining some of the avenues – signs of approaching Spring.

By mid afternoon we felt we had done enough walking and found our way back to the hotel, having been out and about for the best part of the day, stopping only to check out the food stall offerings around the Square and settling for a giant pancake (palacinka)  which was so large we shared one.

Later, after a good rest, we decided to dine in the restaurant attached to our hotel – called the White Horse and located on an enclosed “outside area” with views of the square and all its activities and heated by large gas heaters to ward off the evening chill. The food was good without being special, but rather expensive, probably due to the prime location.

Prague - White Horse Restaurant
White Horse Restaurant on the Square

With day one in this glorious city behind us we looked forward to discovering more of it – day two turned into a mild adventure of sorts, but more of that in the follow up post.

Spring Day in Mossel Bay

Spring Day is celebrated in South Africa (and the southern hemisphere) on 1st September, which is when the seasons ‘officially’ turn and the days are supposed to get warmer as winter comes to an end and we head towards summer again. No public holiday has been declared (yet?) but it’s just a day when many businesses encourage their staff to dress casually and people forget some of their problems or relegate them to the back of their mind for a while.

We were in Mossel Bay for two weeks leading up to the day and knowing how the weather can vary – up to 4 seasons in one day as our mother used to say of Cape Town –  I wasn’t expecting anything different from the typical August weather we had experienced so far. Chilly overcast days were followed by a chilly sunny days, followed by rainy, windy days and then the cycle more or less repeated itself.

So if you had the choice, what would your perfect day look like, weather-wise? If it was possible to choose the perfect Spring Day weather, I would make sure it was pleasantly sunny, the temperature would be not too hot, not too cold – say about 20 to 25 degrees C, there would be a whisper of a breeze to keep things fresh and there would be at most a few fleecy clouds to break the cobalt blue sky.

Well, apart from being a cloudless  day, Spring Day in Mossel Bay ticked all my boxes and turned out just about as perfect as it is possible to be.

Gerda had an appointment at the hairdresser in town mid-morning (all of 5 minutes from our house) so after dropping her off, I drove to the “Point” just a short distance away, parked and set off for a walk along the pathway which winds its way past seafront houses and apartments back towards the harbour.

The path leading from the tidal pool towards the harbour

Being the middle of the morning and out of season, it was quiet and I had the seafront virtually to myself, other than a few people walking their dogs,  a mother with her small kids at the swings and a lone fishermen on the rocks.

A lone fisherman enjoys the conditions

Scanning the seas I could make out two seals lazily swimming and flopping about just off the rocks, while a couple of surfers in black shiny wetsuits that matched the seals coats almost exactly were catching the smooth breaking swells, expertly guiding their boards along the line of rocks.

The tidal pool had hardly a ripple, the surface reflecting the historic St Blaize lighthouse in the background

The tidal pool which is crammed with kids in season
St Blaize lighthouse reflected in the tidal pool
The tidal pool
Looking back along the seafront pathway

I had my binoculars with me but didn’t really need them as all the birds I could see were large, familiar and easy to identify with the naked eye – Kelp Gulls wheeling overhead, skeins of Cape Cormorants flying close inshore and just above the waves, Swift Terns making their way to and from the harbour area and African Black Oystercatchers searching for food out on the rocks.

African Black Oystercatcher

The small stretch of sand between the rocks – I would hesitate to call it a beach – had a few newly washed up shells scattered about.

The views along the way were as perfect as the weather – Mossel Bay at its best – and my soul felt refreshed and calm just from taking in the natural beauty of the scene.

By the way, the photos (other than the Oystercatcher which was taken a day earlier with my “proper camera”) were all taken with my IPhone.

Spring Day in Mossel Bay
Spring Day in Mossel Bay
Spring Day in Mossel Bay

A memorable Spring Day walk!

 

Touring with Canadians – Part 5 : Chobe

The Story so far..

The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family, covered the time spent in Kruger National Park, the nearby Panorama route and the first leg of our trip to Victoria Falls and Chobe Safari lodge in Kasane, Botswana.

Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.

With our visit to Victoria Falls behind us, the transfer to Kasane including the Zimbabwe/Botswana border formalities at the border post just outside Kasane went fairly quickly and smoothly and we found ourselves settled in at Chobe Safari Lodge with time to relax for the rest of the afternoon at poolside.

Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge
Chobe Safari Lodge

Sundowners

One of my favourite “sundowner” spots is the riverside bar deck in the Chobe Safari camping area right next to the lodge and this is where I took our small group late afternoon.

Sundowner spot
Sundowner spot
Sundowner spot
Hit me again, barman

The weather obliged, making for a sensational sunset and the chance to savour our G and T’s while we watched the spectacle unfold.

Sundowner spot
Sundown
Sundowner spot
Gone but not forgotten

Later we made our way to the restaurant for the buffet dinner which was more than pleasant.

Chobe Game Drive

The game drive we had booked for the following morning started at 6 am when we met Bogatsi, our driver and guide for the morning, at the reception. With a vehicle to ourselves, we had plenty of room and we set off to the Sedudu gate just a few kms from the lodge.

Entering the reserve, we headed down the sandy, bumpy track (some call it the “African massage”) towards the river, through pristine woodland, which opens up at one point to allow a wide vista of the river in the distance. Just driving along the Chobe Riverfront route is an experience in itself, particularly for visitors from the northern hemisphere, with any game being a bonus.

Naturally, game sightings are welcome and there was enough to keep everyone interested, despite not having the added excitement of any big cat sightings, which were more than likely close by but hidden by the bush, still quite dense at the tail end of summer.

African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephants

Hippos were plentiful in the pools adjoining the main river, munching on the partly submerged grasses as only hippos can do, giving us the eye and an occasional yawn or two.

Hippo, Chobe game drive
Hippo, Chobe game drive

Hippo, Chobe game driveHippo, Chobe game drive

Other game we came across –

  • the inevitable and numerous Impalas, still enjoyable to see after so many sightings
Impala, Chobe game drive
Impala, Chobe game drive
  • Kudu
Kudu, Game cruise Chobe
Kudu, Chobe game drive
  • numbers of Baboons
Chacma Baboon (Juvenile), Chobe game drive
sChacma Baboon (Juveniles), Chobe game drive
  • Buffaloes, one of which had an interesting interaction with a Hippo emerging from a pool, the two eyeing each other cautiously before passing by and continuing with their lives.
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
Hippo meets Buffalo, Chobe game drive
That hippo has big teeth, think I’ll keep going

Our guide made a point of showing us the distinctive marking on the rear end of Impalas, intimating that this was where McDonalds got the inspiration for their famous “M” logo.

Impala, Chobe game drive
Cheeseburger with fries please

There was no shortage of bird sightings, but the birding tends to take a back seat (where I happened to be as it turned out) when on a game drive such as this, unless the majority on the vehicle are into birding. Nevertheless we chalked up a few special sightings :

  • a majestic Verraux’s Eagle Owl high in the branches of a tall tree
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah with its spectacular tail
Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Chobe game drive
Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Chobe game drive
  • African Fish Eagles seemingly every km or so along the riverfront
  • Red-backed Shrikes
  • Black Heron performing its “umbrella” shading act to help it find aquatic prey
  • Little Bee-eaters hawking insects in a small clearing

We continued along the river at a slow pace until we reached the picnic spot at Serondela, where coffee was served, after which we returned along the upper road to the exit gate and back to the lodge. It was time for lunch, some time to relax at poolside while the kids swam and before we knew it, it was time to board the river boat for the sun downer cruise.

Chobe Game Cruise

The cruise turned out to be more than I expected – having had the experience of small boat trips along the river in the past, I imagined a large boat with 40 or so passengers would not be anything like as enjoyable. Well, I was pleasantly surprised, with the boat hugging the banks of the river wherever possible and stopping for up close and personal views of everything from birds to crocodiles and hippos, as well as a group of elephants.

The weather played its part, with warm rather than hot conditions and just a light breeze causing hardly a ripple as we cruised gently along and into the Chobe game reserve, wending our way through the channels between the grassy flood plains which attract herds of animals during the winter months.

Here is a portfolio of some of the sightings ……..

Game cruise Chobe
Just cruisin …..
Crocodile, Game cruise Chobe
Crocodile, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe
African Elephant greeting each other

African Elephant, Game cruise Chobe

Buffalo, Game cruise Chobe
Sacred Ibis and Cape Buffalo, Game cruise Chobe
Hippo, Game cruise Chobe
Hippo, Game cruise Chobe
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
African Fish-Eagle, Game cruise Chobe
Little Sparrowhawk (Juvenile), Chobe Safari Lodge
Little Sparrowhawk (Juvenile), – Not on the cruise, this one was a great find in the gardens of the Chobe Safari Lodge
African Harrier-Hawk, Game cruise Chobe
African Harrier-Hawk, Game cruise Chobe
Hamerkop, Game cruise Chobe
Hamerkop, Game cruise Chobe

The stay at Chobe Safari Lodge was just two days in extent but seemed much longer, with lovely game experiences on land and on water and enough time in between to relax by the pool. A fitting conclusion to a successful couple of weeks touring with “the Canadians”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touring with Canadians – Part 4 : Victoria Falls

The Story so far..

The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family covered the time spent in Kruger National Park and the nearby Panorama route .

Now for the real Africa!

I had booked a package a few months prior for our small group, which seemed to meet their desire of experiencing Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve. The package included the flight from Jo’burg to Vic Falls and 2 nights in the Kingdom Hotel, followed by a road transfer to Kasane for a further 2 nights in the Chobe Safari Lodge`, ending with a flight back to Jo’burg from Kasane.

Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.

The Trip

In years gone by it would have been a major undertaking to get to the north-west corner of Zimbabwe in order to experience this natural wonder of the world – nowadays regular flights from Jo’burg to the modern airport some 20 kms outside town get you there in just one and a half hours flying time.

We left home in Pretoria on Monday 13th March 2017 with time to spare, so once we had made our way through check-in and the security and passport formalities at OR Tambo, we could enjoy a Mugg and Bean breakfast before boarding the flight.

We landed at 1.15 pm at Vic Falls airport and our transfer was waiting to take us to the Kingdom hotel, where two comfortable rooms awaited us.

Relaxing at the Kingdom Hotel

On the way we made a short stop to organise bookings for the afternoon excursion – a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi.

Sundowners on the Zambezi

There was time to chill before our 4.30 pm pick-up to take us to the river cruise dock upstream from the falls, where we boarded the Zambezi Royal for a “luxury cruise”, which turned out to be “super cool” in Sarah’s words. It’s worth paying the extra for the luxury of your own table and personal service on the spacious, smooth-riding boat, with drinks and gourmet snacks included ( canapés is what the grand people call them, I think).

Boarding the Zambesi Sundowner cruise

As the boat departed we sipped sparkling wine, nibbled on the canapés and tried our best to look the part – there were a couple of other, somewhat more crowded boats passing by at the time, so we had to let them know what they were missing.

Zambezi Sundowner cruise – the spacious boat
Zambezi

The boat headed upstream along Africa’s fourth longest river, with Siloka island on the right, skirting the riverside vegetation. The cruise manager kept us informed on what we were seeing and I was pleasantly surprised at his bird knowledge and spotting ability, with good sightings of White-fronted Bee-eater, Water Thick-Knee, Purple Heron, Pied Kingfisher and others. At each sighting he got the captain to take us close to the river bank for a close-up view.

Purple Heron
White-fronted Bee-eater
African Pied Wagtail

It did not take long to find the first Hippos and they obliged with their trademark big yawns,  showing us their massive jaws and fearsome looking teeth as we approached. We found more pods of hippos as we made our way up river, some with Red-billed Oxpeckers in attendance.

Hippo giving us the eye
Hippo
Hippo

These avian scavengers are tolerated by a variety of animals due to the ‘service’ they provide of  taking care of irritating ticks and other parasites. One Oxpecker was determined to stay put, clinging to the nose of a hippo despite its “customer” opening its jaws wide  , but eventually it got too uncomfortable for him and he flew off, only to land on the next available hippo.

Hippo with Oxpeckers taking a ride
Too much jaw for this Oxpecker!

A large Crocodile, resting on the bank and partly concealed by the long grasses, caused some excitement amongst the passengers as the captain edged the boat up to the bank to allow everyone to get a good view.

Crocodile
Crocodile
Zambezi Cruise

We continued for an hour or more until all that remained was to watch the sun slowly set as the sky turned different shades of orange and grey over the Zambezi as we enjoyed a beer of the same name.

Zambezi
Zambezi Cruise, Zambesi beer

All in all, a great way to start our visit to this world-famous corner of Zim! Just not sure how we can keep up the high level of excitement that the sightings and doings have caused amongst the Canadians.

A Walk in the Rain Forest

If it’s Tuesday it must be ….  time to ‘do’ the Falls, which is what the Canadians had come to see, after all.

After a good hotel breakfast in the large, open air dining room, we first walked to the nearby shopping area for a couple of essentials (a hat and sunscreen for me) trying not to make eye contact with the vendors with their billion dollar notes and wooden bowls etc. From there we headed back down the road past our hotel and along a pretty flower lined pathway that ended near the Falls entrance.

Kingdom Hotel Vic Falls
Kingdom Hotel Vic Falls
On the way to the Falls – something’s caught their eye
Flower along the path to the Falls

You would think that entrance to one of the seven ‘natural wonders of the world’ would be quick and automated, but no, the cashier laboriously writes out an invoice in long hand for each purchase of a ticket. Just a tad frustrating, but nothing could spoil the experience that awaited.

Victoria-Falls-Footpath-Guide

 The views were as breath-taking as my previous visit 18 months ago, more so for our visitors seeing it for the first time, but compared to my earlier visit there was a lot more water gushing in shiny brown torrents over the edge and into the steaming turmoil below. What power!

Devil’s Cataract (2 on the map)
Livingstone’s statue (1 on the map)
All the Canadians
Vic Falls

We meandered along the pathways, with the spray from the falls varying between barely noticeable droplets to the equivalent of a light summer rainstorm and by the time we reached the bridge at the furthest end of the walk we were pretty much drenched.

The rain forest
Viewpoint

There are a number of viewpoints along the way, each one numbered and each presenting the falls from a different perspective, all of them spectacular. The roar of the falls accompanies you as you make your way from one viewpoint to another.

Main falls

Birds were rather scarce other than a few in the rain forest, such as White-browed Robin-Chat, Tropical Boubou and Paradise Flycatcher. Butterflies made for a splash of fluttering colour amongst the greenery of the rain forest and a group of Mongoose moved through the undergrowth.

Garden inspector butterfly
Poplar leopard butterfly
Banded Mongoose

Our last stop before turning back was at the bridge viewpoint with its grand view of the man-made structure from the colonial era that is still impressive.

The bridge (16 on the map)

Back at the entrance, tired after the longish walk, we enjoyed a thirst quencher and Alex ordered a toasted sandwich which a beyond cheeky monkey decided to plunder, appearing out of nowhere and giving us all quite a fright. The restaurant brought a replacement and the “monkey guard” appeared with a catapult which settled things down again.

The afternoon was spent relaxing and for the evening meal we decided to try the nearby (nothing’s very far in this town) Mama Afrika restaurant which had a delightful African flavour and atmosphere enhanced by a jazz band and a short power outage.

Mama Africa restaurant

Some Birding

The next morning was our last in Vic Falls – I decided to take an early morning walk through the extensive gardens of the hotel and along some of the paths that lead to the Falls. It turned into an interesting walk when one William, curio seller, decided he had nothing better to do and accompanied me, showing me the quieter paths, where he also spotted and pointed out a few birds, although he didn’t know their names. In return I told him some of the names, showed him their illustrations on my Roberts App and played the calls – I could see he showed an interest and I suggested he learn more about the local birds so that he could perhaps help tourists with a birding bent in future. He asked that, if I came back to Vic Falls, I bring him a bird book to learn from – who knows, maybe that will happen – I would certainly love to help him.

William – prospective bird guide

The hotel grounds were good for Emerald Cuckoo which called frequently during our stay, Black-collared Barbet, Red-winged Starlings aplenty and Pied Wagtails at the pool. Village Weavers were nest-building in the reeds at one of the hotel ponds – at first I thought they were Lesser Masked-Weavers as the black on their heads extended well down their necks, unlike any Village Weaver I had seen before.  Checking my Roberts app I realised that they were a sub-species of the Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) we are accustomed to in South Africa, with the scientific name ploceus cucullatus nigriceps and occurring in the northern parts of our region.

Path to the Falls
The smoke that thunders
Village Weaver (Male race nigriceps)

After joining the others for another sumptuous, relaxed breakfast, we had some time to kill so walked to the adjoining Vitoria Falls Hotel, still magnificent in its colonial splendour. You almost expect Rhodes himself to appear on the verandah at any moment in his pith helmet and join you in gazing at the classic view of the bridge in the distance, framed by the gorge and forever shrouded by the misty spray.

Vic Falls Hotel
Bridge view from Vic Falls Hotel

Soon after our bus arrived to transfer us to Kasane for the next leg of our trip……..  more about that soon.