Tag Archives: an experience of nature

Towards an Italian Cross in South Africa!

Weekends when I drive home, I have to cross the mountains via the Du Toitskloof Pass. I  notice this trail’s starting point every time I drive past. Eventually an opportunity came and a friend and I made good use of it!

Some interesting history: The pass is named after Francois Du Toit who with the Huguenots (an ethnoreligious group of French Protestants ) arrived as refugees in the Cape colony, fleeing religious persecution in their own country. He and his family were the first people to farm on the mountain slopes nearest to the where the pass is today. The mountain pass was built in World War II by Italian prisoners-of-war for whom the cross was erected on Huguenot Peak. (Read more about its long and interesting history)

Setting out early isn’t always as easy in summer time. It was a struggle to get out of bed and prepare for the hike. Eventually we reached the start at 10 am, the day was already getting warm and everything nearly basked in the sun.

DCIM100GOPRO

The trail led us up the Miaspoort ravine where we scrambled over a rock slide and between some shrubs before we started to climb the Small Drakenstein mountains. The climb was slow and steady, taking breaks often to look back at the Cape Winelands which was quickly getting smaller and smaller.

On top of the mountains, the trail took us on a plateau where we had breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

On top of Huguenot Peak, it was already noon and the sun was beating down on us. We sat in the shade of a large boulder, absorbing the silence and vastness around us. The cross was erected in memory of the Italian prisoners-of-war who build the Du Toitskloof Pass in World War II.

While we sat there two falcons were circling us. How free they must be, we wondered, only concerned with the tasks of basic survival. Well rested, re-hydrated and re-lathered with sunscreen, we headed back.

Walking down the mountain, we took in the last bits of scenery and freedom before returning to our student existence on Monday.

Advertisements

A Coastal Snack

Some holidays we camp along the West Coast of South Africa. The area is an arid region with consequently evolved fauna and flora. Examples of these adaptations are the fleshy leafs of “vygies” and flowers that emerge and bloom only with the annual rains creating spectacular spring landscapes. You have to click here. Its an interesting landscape where the coast, buzzing with life, is merged with the arid Namaqualand which has much less ecosystem diversity and density.

 

Some Namaqualand photos:

Some coastal pictures:

Scattered along the South African coast are ample sites showing evidence of paleolithic (palaios = ancient and lithos = stone) life like stone tool workshops or rock art. I sometimes wonder how these people lived. Modern day technology can be so distracting and overwhelming that I often find myself longing for the primitive and more connected existence of our ancestors.

One early morning with most of the camp’s inhabitants still asleep, my grandpa and I made out escape for the coast. Our goal: to take only the bare minimum and try and relive what might have been a coastal snack for the ancient people that dwelled this land.

Mussels are bivalve mollusks (thus having laterally compressed bodies enclosed by a shell consisting of two hinged parts). It feeds by filtering water through its gills. In adult form they are permanently attached to rock via its byssus.

Male and female mussels reproduce by releasing eggs or sperm. These join and become free-swimming larvae which spreads through the water, attaches to fish’s gills and fall off once they are mature enough. The survivors eventually find a suitable location to attach to. Check out this article for more information.

Mussels come forth in densely packed colonies on the intertidal rocks. Their prey along the west coast include the beautiful girdled dogwhelk (see how it feeds on the mussels) and the African Black Oystercracker.

One prepares mussels by steaming them until the shells open. The male mussels appear pale white while females have an orange appearance. Mussels are rich in protein, Omega 3, good fats and the essential vitamins and minerals. Considering this and their abundance, mussels must have been a type of super-food for the ancient people that lived along the coast.

I enjoyed experiencing the whole process of selecting, cooking and eating. It gives one a better relationship with the food one eats as Mark Healey says in the series “Connect not Conquer”.

Stony Point Penguin Colony, Betty’s Bay, South Africa

An African penguin population at Betty’s Bay provides opportunities for the public to observe them in their natural habitat.  The African penguin is experiencing a catastrophic decline in its global population.   As a result it is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List.  Stony Point is the only mainland colony of African Penguins that is known to be expanding.

The penguin colony at Stony Point started in 1982 and has subsequently grown to about 150 pairs.  African penguins breed with one partner for their entire life. Each breeding pair will return to the same breeding colony and same nesting site each year.   The age at first reproduction ranges between four and six years and life expectancy is up to 27 years in the wild.

African penguins are flightless aquatic birds with reduced wings that are modified to form efficient flippers for swimming.  They have heavy bones to enable them to dive.  The feathers in adults are specialized to form a thick coat of overlapping layers that assists with waterproofing, wind resistance and insulation.  The penguin has a black bill and shortened tail. Each African penguin has a unique and distinct pattern of black spots on the white chest that can be used to distinguish individuals from one another.

The distinct pink patch of skin found above the bird’s eye helps the bird to cope with changing temperature.  As the external temperature around the African penguin increases, the bird’s body sends more blood to the glands found at these pink patches of skin, causing the pink patches to change color and turn a darker shade of pink. This in turn causes the glands to be cooled down by the air surrounding it.

The African penguin’s black and white belly coloration is an important form of camouflage at sea. The white belly deters predation from underwater predators looking upwards and the black deters detection from predators swimming above the bird whilst looking down onto the dark depths of the water.

African penguins is a charismatic species that is known for its loud donkey-like braying noises (hence the nickname Jackass Penguin), distinctive black and white plumage and large breeding colonies. They are very clumsy on land, waddling upright with flippers held away from the body as if they are drunk.

Written by Van As Jordaan, uploaded by Jacques Jordaan.

The Wild Horses of the Marshland

Ever heard of the herd of horses roaming freely on the marshland near the coastal town of Kleimond? Many call them The Wild Ones but where did they come from and how do they fit into their habitat?

Discover the answers to these questions and more in the mini documentary about these Wild Ones.

I hope you’ve learnt something and you’ve been motivated to go and encounter this unique herd for youself.

Table Mountain

On a clear, cool winters morning what’s better to do than be in the mountains? Where a better place to be than on Table Mountain, one of the new seven natural wonders of the world.

This is the first time I’ve hiked up Table Mountain. I realized why it’s one of the natural wonders of our world. We went up with Platteklip Gorge and down via the India Venster route.

P1290423
Three of us on top of Platteklip Gorge.

In retrospect we were actually surprised of how fun the trails in the mountain really are. I’ll recommend hiking up Table Mountain to everyone and not taking the cable car!

Kogelberg rehiked with a new twist.

The average student needs some time off every now and again. After a week of studying for a chemistry test, we thought it’s time to treat ourselves. Consequently we let ourselves loose on the Kogelberg 24km trail!

As seen in the video it was a clear and hot day. By the time we arrived at the beach our feet were aching and we were in desperate need of some refreshment before the last push home. Jumping into the cool mountain water after the long hike was a feeling I’ll never forget.

P1290222

Another special sighting we made was of the Red Cluster Disa (Disa ferruginea) hidden between the fynbos adjacent to the trail. Being a big fan of orchids, I considered myself very lucky to see this scarce and special flower.

P1290181

I hope you enjoy the video and the photos. Feel free to comment, like and subscribe. 

A Teenage Adventure!

Young, searching for identity and enjoying the world. That’s what we did. Behold the three teenagers’ big night out:

Not so many years ago two good friend and I went on a night out in the wild. We gained permission from a farmer to go camp on his uncultivated lands.

Treading our own path, picking our own campsite and spending the night under the starry sky by firelight was an experience to remember. The next morning we hiked towards the nearest road and caught a lift back home.

I hope you also enjoy watching our memorable experience!

Eventful Bike Ride

Racing on a single track bike trail with wind streaming through your hair and shrubs blurring past. This is freedom.

SUDDENLY a bright pink mouth with fangs deadly strikes from underneath causing a surge of adrenaline. The dreaded, yet intricately beautiful puff adder.

^Check out our morning ride on the 2 min video.^

In the video you’ll notice many shrubs, succulents and thorn trees. The floral region is known as the Robertson Karoo.

The climate is semi-arid due to the region lying in the rainshadow of large mountain ranges. Summers are dry with temperatures reaching maximum of 40 ‘C ( 104 F) while winters are cool and moist with minimum of  -1’C (30 F). It has a average monthly precipitation of 7,7 mm in winter months (Apr – Oct).

Consequently the biome is a succulent shrubland. The plants are adapted to prevent water loss in the dry season.

Small-leaved Guarri
Small-leaved guarri with wrinkled leaves so that the leaves are rarely fully exposed to sunlight.
Aloe microstigma
Aloe microstigma has thick and fleshy leaves, which are enlarged to accommodate aqueous tissue inside. The leaves are also covered by a thin wax layer preventing water loss.
DCIM100GOPRO
The juvenile puff adder that crossed our path.

Interesting fact about puff adders:Puff adders hunt by ambushing their prey, and can lie motionless for weeks at a single location waiting for prey to pass. This behavior makes them vulnerable to predation.

A recent study at University of Witwatersrand found that (except for its visual camouflage) it has a chemical camouflage. They observed that dogs and the tame mongooses used in the study walked directly over motionless puff adders with both predators appearing to be completely unaware of the motionless snakes.

One can experience this amazing landscape at the Vroljikheid Nature Reserve near Robertson or at the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden near Worcester.

Disas of Leopard’s Kloof revisited

Happy 2016 to all readers! May it be filled with lots of wonderful experiences!

Grandpa, my sister and I went on our annual expedition up Leopard’s Kloof to view the Red Disas in flower. See my previous post on Leopard’s Kloof to find out more about this stimulating route.

The Red Disas grow in the moist moss which covers the rocks surrounding the Leopard’s Kloof waterfall. We spotted one in bloom close to the base of the fall. This is considered lucky because in the past there were many more Disas at lower levels of the fall which have now gone because of environmentally harmful activities like the picking or total removal of these flowers.

AA P1280786

Orchids (like this one) are some of the most beautiful creations on Earth. Seeing the Red Disas again was an amazing experience. A good kick off  to 2016!

African Helmeted Turtle

Behold the African Helmeted Turtle (Pelomedusa subrufa), a.k.a. Crocodile Turtle, Marsh Terrapin or African Side-necked Turtle:

I found this turtle in out garden and was intrigued by its sideways retracting neck and golden, reptilian stare. It was had a flat body,  flipper-like claws and a highly situated nose. I assumed it was adapted to water and decided to take it to a nearby dam.

Afterwords, I did some research: It’s a fairly common freshwater turtle which prefers stagnant habitats like marshes, pools and lakes. They occur throughout Africa and has a conservation status of “least concern”. Man made dams and reservoirs helped them expand their roam and increase in numbers. They are also omnivorous eating from plant, tadpoles, small fish up to small birds coming to drink water.

These semi-aquatic turtles can easily be identified by their flat bodies, sharp claws, sideways retracting necks and the two tentacles underneath their chin.

P1280375

Apparently these turtles leave their homes in search of new habitats, especially after rain. We have our sprinklers on in the summer – which was probably what had attracted this fellow.

I went berserk with fascination upon seeing this turtle and had a royal time photographing it! What a pleasant surprise!