Tag Archives: prince albert

Mossel Bay to Pretoria – not just a Journey

One of the benefits of reaching that age where they automatically give you a pensioner’s discount at the supermarket check-out without asking for an ID, is having the time – and the good sense – to turn a potentially mundane trip into a mini-holiday.

And this is exactly what we did when travelling between our Mossel Bay and Pretoria homes during March this year – instead of rushing to complete the 1250 kms road journey in 2 days with one overnight stop, we decided to stretch it out with a two night stay in Prince Albert, Western Cape and a further night in Springfontein, Free State, turning it into a four day, three night adventure.

Day 1 Thursday

After spending most of the morning packing, loading and preparing our Mossel Bay home for a lengthy hibernation, we left around lunchtime and set off on the familiar route to Prince Albert via the scenic Robinson Pass then through the town of Oudtshoorn and the winding road that takes you through the spectacular Meiringspoort. No matter how many times we drive this route, I still end up driving through Meiringspoort with my jaw in a dropped position – it is that special.

But this time there was a twist – just beyond the last of the 25 river crossings (it’s the same river each time) we encountered the first of many swarms of locusts that filled the air and pinged and ‘thunked’ against the grille, windscreen and roof of our SUV as we drove. The arid parts of South Africa have been plagued by swarms of biblical proportions through the summer, due to good rains after years of drought conditions.

This video was taken after stopping at the roadside and gives an idea of the numbers of locusts – a tiny fraction of what we drove through for tens of kilometres

Once we reached our destination I spent half an hour carefully prising locust bodies from every nook and cranny of our car, at the same time providing a veritable feast for an army of ants that descended on them as they dropped to the ground.

Our usual B&B in Prince Albert was fully booked so we had booked into one we had not tried before – De Bergkant Lodge – which turned out to be an excellent choice – lovely spacious room, good breakfast, efficient management and a super 15m pool which I immediately tried out as the temperature was hovering in the low 30’s (deg C)

De Bergkant Lodge, Prince Albert
De Bergkant Lodge, Prince Albert – our room was the one in the corner

After the swim and relaxing a while we had dinner at the Rude Chef (No – he/she wasn’t) restaurant. Prince Albert has always had an amazing selection of quality restaurants for a small Karoo town, but like so many other places Covid has had a devastating effect on the tourist industry which is only now recovering. So the choice of eating places has reduced but the quality is still there.

Day 2 Friday

After breakfast at the pool we set off late morning to visit the Weltevrede Fig Farm about 30 kms outside Prince Albert, along a gravel road that made its way through the mountains in spectacular fashion providing beautiful views over every rise.

Road to Weltevrede Farm, near Prince Albert

Weltevrede appeared at the end of the road, like an oasis in the arid countryside, the fig trees spreading up and down the valley in a broad green ribbon.

Road to Weltevrede Farm, near Prince Albert

We had a look around then settled at a table under a tree and lingered over a light lunch and coffee, just enjoying the ambience while farm workers carried out tray after tray of prepared figs and set them out to dry in the pure Karoo sunshine, where the air is dry and devoid of any pollutants.

Weltevrede Farm
Weltevrede Farm – prepared figs drying in the sun
Weltevrede Farm – their Fig Tart is delicious!

We took our time travelling back to Prince Albert and relaxed for a while before I set out to add some species to the pentad list that I had begun the previous afternoon with mostly the species visiting the garden. Heading out of town in a northerly direction I soon found Pririt Batis, Namaqua Dove, Pied Barbet and White-necked Raven and a swing past the small Waste water treatment works added SA Shelduck to take my pentad list to a modest 30.

Pririt Batis / Priritbosbontrokkie

After another invigorating swim we walked across the road to La-di-dah restaurant for a meal – our first choice was grilled Karoo lamb chops but disappointingly they had just sold the last ones and we had to revert to other meat dishes.

Day 3 Saturday

A longish drive lay ahead so we left after breakfast and made good time via Prince Albert Road where we joined the N1 National road to Beaufort West, Richmond and Colesberg, with comfort and coffee stops at Three Sisters, Karoo Padstal and Chargo Farm Stall at Colesberg.

As we left Prince Albert a Booted Eagle flew over the road ahead and I quickly added this welcome raptor to my pentad list.

We reached our overnight stop – Prior Grange farm near Springfontein – just after 5 pm and settled in to the Garden Cottage.

Prior Grange near Springfontein Free State
Prior Grange – the main house
Prior Grange – the Garden Cottage

It was time for my birding/relaxing walk to stretch my legs and with not much daylight left I headed straight to the dam behind the farm house and found it fuller than I had ever seen it, in complete contrast to our last visit before Covid when it had held a fraction of the water it now had.

Prior Grange dam

The dam had a single Grey Heron and small numbers of Red-knobbed Coots, Moorhens, Cape Shovelers, Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teals, Little Grebes and SA Shelducks, while the reeds were busy with Bishops and Weavers and a single African Reed Warbler which had me puzzled for a while as it was making an unusual sound (for me, probably not for him)

Prior Grange dam
Cape Shoveler / Kaapse Slopeend

Heading back to the cottage I added Karoo Thrush, Pied Starling and Fiscal Flycatcher before dusk fell, taking my pentad list to 32 after an hour’s atlasing, leaving the next morning to complete the two hour minimum atlasing to count as a “Full Protocol” card. Dinner, served in the cottage, was roast lamb and veg – what else on a Karoo farm?

Karoo Thrush Turdus smithii Geelbeklyster, Prior Grange
Pied Starling Lamprotornis bicolor Witgatspreeu, Prior Grange

Day 4 Sunday

I was up early to complete the pentad card with a walk around the garden and along the road, adding Cloud Cisticola, Lesser Kestrel (on the same pole as I had seen it a few years ago), Cape Glossy Starling and Anteating Chat.

Lesser Kestrel / Kleinrooivalk

The grassland next to the road was waterlogged in places after substantial summer rains

On the road out after a full English breakfast I added a few more including a Black-headed Heron at a mini wetland in the town, taking the pentad total to 44 and raising my personal tally for the pentad to 98 species after completing 6 cards since 2014.

All that remained was a drive of around 550 kms to our home in Pretoria – we arrived just after 4 pm, glad to be ‘home’ (Pretoria version)

A Frog’s tale


Prince Albert – gem of the Karoo

Since our first visit to this charming Karoo town a number of years ago, Gerda and I have made a point of stopping over in Prince Albert on our way back from Mossel Bay to Pretoria, particularly in January after our annual long stay in the Southern Cape. We generally try to stay at least 2 nights so that there is a full day to explore the town and it’s attractions.

We have tried a few B&B’s but keep going back to the one that fits our preferences best – Saxe-Coburg Lodge in the main street, which is run by Dick and Regina and offers pleasant rooms set in a long narrow garden with big trees and a pool. The rooms have aircon (essential in this part of the world) and all the other comforts you would expect of a decent B&B as well as a patio which is perfect for relaxing with a book or magazine in the afternoon when you have done enough exploring.

Saxe-Coburg Lodge in Prince Albert
Saxe-Coburg Lodge in Prince Albert

Cape Bulbul on nest, Prince Albert
Cape Bulbul on nest, Prince Albert

Breakfasts are served in the main house – a Victorian style cottage from the mid 1800’s – and Dick and Regina are always there to chat and advise on the best restaurants and places to visit.

One of our visits was in January 2013, when we had booked to stay 2 nights at Saxe-Coburg Lodge and then proceed to our next overnight stop between Colesberg and Springfontein at the Orange River Lodge, a convenient halfway stop on the way back to Gauteng.

We had settled into our room at Saxe-Coburg and I had placed the potted plants, which we had bought in Mossel Bay and were taking with us to Pretoria, on the patio of our room so that they would enjoy some shade.  I was doing some birding in the garden when I noticed a small frog on the patio, also sheltering from the hot sun and took a photo with the intention of identifying the species from the frog book that I usually have with me on trips.

Cape River Frog on the patio, Prince Albert
Cape River Frog (I think) on the patio, Prince Albert

I thought was able to ID the frog as a Cape River Frog, a common species in this part of SA, and once I had a photo, I let him get on with his existence.

Next morning we did the round of Prince Albert’s attractions, which includes some excellent restaurants, speciality shops, an Olive farm a liitle way out-of-town, a small wine farm in town that produces some good fortified wines and Gay’s (that’s her name, to avoid confusion) Dairy for some really good cheeses and yoghurts, rounding off the day with a dinner at the Karoo Kombuis which serves a small selection of basic but very tasty dishes. On Saturdays there’s a market with fresh produce and other goodies.

Home weavers shop, Prince Albert
Home weavers shop, Prince Albert

Array of pumpkins at the Saturday market, Prince Albert
Array of pumpkins at the Saturday market, Prince Albert

Birding is always interesting in the area around Prince Albert :

Pale Chanting Goshawk, Prince Albert
Pale Chanting Goshawk, Prince Albert

African Pipit, Prince Albert
African Pipit, Prince Albert

A Frog’s Perspective

So there I was, a young frog finding my way in the world with not a worry other than the one many of us face on a daily basis – where is my next meal coming from?

I was getting to know my surroundings, since escaping from that pond where I seemed to spend an awfully long time just swimming around, waiting for my legs to grow and let me start exploring the garden in which I found myself (see, even frogs can avoid the trap of ending a sentence with a preposition).

It being a typically hot summer’s day in the Karoo, I made sure that I stayed in the shade as far as possible and found that one of the rooms had a nice shady patio with some plants to shelter under (OK, you can’t always avoid that preposition trap). I duly found a nice cool nook in and amongst the foliage and used this as my base for the next day or two…..

Next Stop Orange River Lodge

After breakfast under the vines the following day, we packed our vehicle, with the plants being the last to go in so that they would not get damaged, said our goodbyes to Dick and Regina and set off on the road to Colesberg and beyond, a distance of some 600 kms, where we arrived at Orange River Lodge, close to the N1, by about 5pm that afternoon.

Orange River Lodge
Orange River Lodge

Orange River Lodge
Orange River Lodge

As this was a short overnight stop, I left most of our baggage in the car and just unloaded the essential bags as well as the plants which I placed outside the car so that they could get some fresh air …………

The only thought that went through my head was that the people in the room were quite considerate in placing these fresh young plants on the patio – how did they know this was my home and that frogs just love cool foliage to hide behind.

Next day was quite pleasant – a bug or two came my way and the plants provided a good spot to while a way the hours.

The following day seemed as if it would be a repeat and I found a great spot in one of the pots itself where the soil was moist and cool. The day had hardly begun when I found myself and the plant that I had made my new home being lifted up and placed in the back of a large vehicle and very soon after we were on the road to goodness knows where ……..

Just as I was putting one of the plants down, I noticed a small frog, partly concealed by the foliage and on closer investigation I realized it was the same frog I had found and photographed on our patio at Saxe-Coburg Lodge!

Not wanting to take him even further from his birth place, I looked around the garden for a suitable spot and found one near a dripping garden tap which was grassy and moist.

If he ever has grandkids this frog will have a memorable tale to tell of the day he went for a drive across South Africa.

There was still time to fit in some birding in the gardens and surrounding typical Karoo habitat :

Rufous-eared Warbler, Orange River Lodge
Rufous-eared Warbler, Orange River Lodge

Northern Black Korhaan, Orange River Lodge
Northern Black Korhaan, Orange River Lodge

Ant-eating Chat, Orange River Lodge
Ant-eating Chat, Orange River Lodge

African Fish-Eagle (Juvenile), Orange River Lodge
African Fish-Eagle (Juvenile), Orange River Lodge