Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Misty dawn on the Crododile River, at the Malelane Game Lodge, Kruger National Park, South Africa. The birds are Egyptian geese. A Goliath Heron was nesting just below the verandah where we sat.

This blog post is inspired by and dedicated to Arabella Sock.

The answer to the giraffe sex question is at the bottom of this post.

I've been trying, for the past few mins, to choose which of the myriad enduring, pulse-racing, tear-jerking memories with which to launch this piece. It's a tough one, not merely because it's always exciting to touch down in another continent, but because South Africa will probably provide more rich, life-changing experiences per square metre than almost anywhere else.

My sweetest floral memory was being driven, knackered and jet-lagged after a crowded flight, out of Cape Town and up the nearest decent green bump, Signal hill. It was the first week in September and the ground was carpeted with rain daisies, Dimorphotheca pluvialis. When I got out to walk among these, I discovered masses of treasures: Babianas, Homerias, Pelargonium lobatum - an extraordinary species with purple and khaki flowers, Lachenalia orchiodes and loads more. All this within an hour of coming through Customs!

For animals it's a toss-up between the whales - yes, in Hermanus, but also in False Bay and all along the coast - or the young female leopard which I watched for nearly an hour stalking a Kudu in the Kruger.

But the nesting pair of Paradise Flycatchers at Malelane were pretty fantastic, as were the Bataleur Eagles laying on aerobatic displays. And they were only pipped for wonderfulness by the pair of African Fish Eagles whose trysting tree was opposite the verandah where we sat for almost two solid days, watching everything that moved. Their beautiful and haunting cries, when one partner arrived at the tree where the other was waiting, literally moved me to tears. It is one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. These birds pair for life and their scientific name, Haliaeetus vocifer is apt.

Rain daisies, Dimorphtheca pluvialis on Signal Hill, just outside Cape Town.

The view, of the Crocodile River which forms the boundary to the Kruger in those parts, was memorable (see top piccy). So was our nightly lullaby and dawn wake-up call from the hippos, grunting in the river. Their deep-bellied roars sang out in antiphon to the eerie cry of the ubiquitous Hadedah ibises which seem to be yelling in terror every time they fly.

A typical piece of wild countryside, in the Western Cape. Postberg Wildlife Reserve.

People? Oh, some wonderful acquaintances. Several local guides and naturalists, the staff and volunteers at places like Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden, the gazelle-like guide who led us on foot to the top of Table Mountain - forget that bloody cable car, it's far better on Shanks's Pony!

Food: don't forget that the Cape has an amazingly rich culture. It was the world's crossroads before that French Engineer built the Suez Canal and has Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malay and Chinese cultures all pasted on top of its own original ones. Cape Malay food is excellent; the fish is perfect, especially at a seaside restaurant at Hout Bay - ask for King Clip and help it down with a bottle of Boschendal Blanc de Noirs.

Fruit and veg - well, it's as you'd expect, perfectly fresh and delicioius. Wines? Some of the nicest in the world.

If you like Jazz with your supper, dine at The Green Dolphin, near the Victoria and Alfred Centre (yes, Alfred, son - not husband) on the Waterfront.

Well, that's just some off-the-wall impressions. Now for some practicalities.

The recommendations given by others, on Arabella's blog seem as sound as a bell, so it's pointless to repeat. But here are a few, very personal views.

Must visits for planty people - in addition to those already menched:

The Little Karoo - your only likely taste of SA's dry interior. When they try to persuade you to visit the horrible Ostrich Farms at Oudtshoorn, decline, but do give yourself time to enjoy the Karoo flora outside the town. Avoid the Kango Caves, unless you love crowds, King Solomon's Mines and touristic nastiness on a par with Wookey Hole. For easier Karoo Flora studies, go to the Karoo Botanic Garden at Worcester.

All SA's botanic gardens are beautifully curated and hold rich collections. All are worth visiting, both in the south west and up in the subtropical (Kwa Zulu Natal and the Transvaal, or whatever it's called these days.

The Fynbos. It has to be seen to be believed, especially at this time of year. There's lots of it, all different, from tiny fragments near Port Elizabeth to masses of waving restios, proteas and all the other stuff that goes with them, along the Garden Route and up the Western Cape. Best first experience of SA flora is found at the Cape Point National Park. In an area of roughly 500 square kilometres there are over 2,600 species of wild flowering plant - more than the entire UK flora.

The Podocarpus (Yellowwood) forests near George and Knysna. The storms river. (Knysna is where the Coelocanth was first reported. It's all there, in the museum.) There's also a moderately good nature reserve with interesting flora at the Knysna 'Heads' called Featherbed Reserve. You can take a boat there

A Yellow-billed Hornbill looking like an angry, retired general

Namaqualand. Only seriously flowery in late-winter, early spring. The first week in September is your best bet. They have a glorious wildflower festival and display that week, in Clanwilliam Church. Not to be missed. Clanwilliam also has a fine botanic garden, enabling you to identify many of the wildlings, before you get into the bush to see them untamed. Acres, no, thousands of acres of mesembryanthemums, ursinia and gorteria daisies, bulby things, quiver trees, Aloe ferox - it's all absolutely spectacular.

Animals. For Birders, SA is a world class place. For general naturalists, its unbeatable. The flora apart, there are wonderful creatures to observe.

It is ESSENTIAL in my view to get across to the east, to work through Natal, up through Swaziland and to see the Kruger National Park. It's so huge, so full of interest, and so superbly managed. There are plenty of lodges to stay at, within the park, and it is worth giving yourself three or four days, just for wildlife watching. BUT, you never know how much or how little you will see.

The Impala Lily, Adenium multiflorum knows when the rains are about to come and flowers in advance but produces no leaves until the ground is damp. It's common in the Transvaal.

Therefore, forget the 'Big Five,' species and just be grateful if you spot anything that lives. Enjoy the small game, even the insects, the Lilac Breasted Rollers, picking up dung beetles - that alone is better to see than driving fifty miles on dirt tracks to spot a mangy lion fast asleep under a cloud of flies. Mind you, my leopard was the first since I was 8 years old one Sunday Morning in Kenya when I was out watching with my baby bro and my father.

The east side, bordered by the warm Indian Ocean, has a different weather system with summer rainfall. The Western Cape is chilled by cold currents coming up from the Antarctic, and has winter rain but hot, dry summers. The Namaqua blooming is not guaranteed and depends on cold fronts bringing rain to the semi-desert in August.

Regarding yesterday's post - the giraffe is a male. When the dangly bits are out of vision, as here, you can tell by the horns. The male has broad horns with bare tips; the girl's horns are thinner. I photographed yesterday's giraffe in the grounds which surround the Malelane Game Lodge, near Nelspruit. You can fly from Jo'burg in a small passenger aircraft.

I'm listening to Beethoven Sonata for Violin and Piano in F.

I'm reading Hard Times which is not Dickens' best but still a rollicking good read.

This week's film was Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Well sorry, but I was bitterly disappointed. I can't believe my comic hero could succumb to doing a French style, voice over narrative type plotless threesome thingy. But perhaps he was having a laugh.

Sorry for the boring length, the poor quality of English, the crap spelling and all that. Done in a bit of a rush. Byeeeeeee!


  1. Did you like Africa then? ;)

  2. Fantastic! Mega-big virtual hugs to you. This has really inspired me and I absolutely agree about the wildlife. We are keen birdwatchers and I will be more than happy to forget the big 5 and add a few more places to VP's proposed 'Birdwatching from Bed' (perhaps we should add balconies to that) book.

    The Bedsock has been slightly un-enthused at the proposed holiday - it has never been high on his agenda mainly because he knows little about South Africa. He will become considerably more interested when I tell about the different cuisines on offer.

    The advice is invaluable, just what I wanted. I'm sure your enjoyed the opportunity to revisit in your mind. Fab photos too - I feel all excited and it will be months before we get to go.

    Ta muchly. Arabella

  3. Arabella
    Whoops - when I said you can fly from Cape Town to Nelspruit, I meant from JO'BURG.

    And if the Bedsock is more interested in non-planty things, try a tour of Soweto at which lunch is provided in a local Soweta eatery. It was all a fascinating and educating experience which included sitting in Nelson Mandela's house for a coffee.

  4. Me again. I should have said:
    This day 37 years ago (10 November) I got married to the person who is now known, on this blog as the PG. More than 13,500 wonderful days.

    We had our honeymoon in Torquay. How adventurous is that?!!

  5. Wow. Can I hide in your suitcase next year please Arabella?

    And it would be great if 'Birdwatching in Bed' went international! :)

  6. PS Very many, many congratulations Nige!

  7. Blimey PMN... I m trying to get settled in the UK... All this talk of foreign loveliness is making me yearn to take off again.. Great Blog!
    Good to see that Giraffes have different head gear.. So That s how you tell!
    Tell me.. Is Wookey hole where Chewbacca lives?

  8. I totally agree... I thought I d made some foolish mistake when I first started watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona... I thought I d got some accidental commentary on... A really disappointing film. I hated the commentary and I hated characters. When it finished I genuinely sunk into a gloom about not being able to get the lost time back... ever...

    Bring back Sleeper I say!

  9. Congratulations on 13,501 wonderful days of marriage. Luckily the Bedsock's and my interests coincide so he is more than happy to see plants and gardens and I'm equally pleased to wander around local food markets and restaurants. As 'chief holiday-planner' I always make sure that both our interests are included thus ensuring that we will have (hopefully) at least 13,501 wonderful days together too.

  10. As Mr B & I are both crap at holidays I really enjoyed your descriptions & I think that's probably why he'll doofer (do for now!)Well done!

    I could not get on with Hard Times & I'm afraid gave up on it!

  11. Never short of a handy tip, is our Nige.
    I never knew that about giraffes - I will probably forget when the time comes for me to nonchalantly show off that knowledge and will have to resort to surreptitious glances at the ungulate undercarriage.
    Congratulations to you and the PG.

  12. Hi Nige, I am linking tomorrow's post back to this one of yours. We live in South Africa.