How I fell in love 3 times in one week!

How could that have even happened you may ask!  I know its may be hard to believe the title of this post but I can assure you that it really did happen.  Actually it happens all the time to me.  Falling in love is a regular occurrence.  How anyone would get through a week, or even a few days in a row without falling in love actually escapes me.  It would be hard, after all, keeping up a blog called Passion Fruit if I didn’t already have many loves and if I didn’t occasionally fell in love all over again.

So how did I fall in love 3 times you may ask.  And with who?  To answer the second question and thereby give a clue to the first, its not one specific who, but actually 3 wheres.  You may recall my previous post, more than a month ago, describing my Sanparks challenge to complete all the Sanparks managed parks within South Africa (there’s 21 in total) in the next 3 years.  I can now gladly report that I can tick of the first 3 parks.  Well not just tick off, euphorically claim I have found myself 3 new loves, 3 different destinations that have worked their way deeply into my heart even after just one visit each.  Love at first sight is real I tell you!

So let me elaborate on the how and why.  Two things you need to know about South Africa first.  1) There are 12 public holidays in the year.  Plan it right and there are usually a couple weeks a year, every year that one could take 5 or 6 days of leave from work and actually almost two weeks off work.  My company counts the weekends as leave as well but Easter this year followed directly after the Human Rights Day holiday which allowed me to save 3 days to take a two week break.  2) South Africans love roadtrips.  Well actually I may be speaking out of turn, but there are quite a few South Africans do love taking to the roads whenever they get the opportunity to.  And with the many public holidays that opportunity arises quite a few times in a year.  My trip all in all covered some 4200km, but included a stop in Durban to visit the folks first.  To put that into perspective it would roughly be the equivalent of London to Rome and back in Europe or New York to Miama and back in the USA.  In Australia I guess its a Sunday afternoon drive!  But it sure was worth the drive…

Camdeboo National Park

The first stop on my trip was Camdeboo National Park, just outside Graaf Reniet in the Eastern Cape.  From Durban, its a  1000km drive on the N2 and 1100km up the N3 and then down the N1 again.  Having heard horror stories about the N2 I decided to take the safer route up the N3 even though it meant a few extra kilometers.  This route did allow a stop in the Free State for some shots of the cosmos (or easter flowers) that cover the veld in a blank of pastel pinks and white. I got to the park in the late afternoon, allowing me enough time to set up my tent and sleeping stretcher, prepare some supper.  Before going to bed I took a few shots of the Milky Way and in the morning got a few good shots of the local birdlife, which was surprisingly abundant.  The birds and scenery  made up for the lack of larger animals but there were lots of springbok and zebras and some eland around.  Just across the road from the park and the camping area is the entrance to the Valley of desolation which allows excellent views across the Camdeboo plains from the top of a what I think are the remains of a volcanic outcropping.  I want to go back and spend more time in the park and try out the walking trails inside the park as well as the trail at the top of the Valley of desolation.  I do think though that tranquil is a much better adjective than desolate when it comes to describing the park.

 

Addo Elephant National Park

After my layover in Camdeboo, I made my way down to Addo with a short stop in Port Elizabeth for lunch but more for having to buy a jacket as I had forgotten mine in Durban.  My GPS then got me a little lost as it had one of the smaller entrances marked out as the main entrance and while I was allowed into the park I had a drive of almost an hour before actually getting to the main camp.  I guess that highlights the importance of having a good paper map to cross reference when making these trips, a point I shall note for the next adventure.  I stayed in two different camps within the park, the Spekboom tented camp and the Matyholweni camp in the southern tip of the park.  The Spekboom camp is nestled between the dense Addo thickets and gives a sense of being immersed in the bush. With only the basics and communal facilities it was only a small step up from my own tent, but I will admit the soft linen being a welcomed sight after a night in the sleeping bag.  It also has access to a viewing area that overlooked a watering hole which was used by elephants early in the morning, who woke the camp with their low rumbling communications.  Elephants don’t really trumpet and for the most part are actually silent, coming and going with an ease that belies their great size, but they do use a low frequency rumbling sound that seemingly penetrates your bones when they do need to communicate.  The Matyholweni camp was more luxury self catering units overlooking a quite valley and very close to the entrance/exit point of the park bordering the small town of Colchester.

A shortcoming of both the camps I stayed in was that participation in early morning and late evening activities was either difficult or not allowed at all.  Spekboom is located towards the center of the park, some 10km from the main camp where the activities are run from, however driving within the park before 6:30am and after 7:00pm is not allowed.  Matyholweni is a smaller camp with a limited number of guests, insufficient to allow activities from the camp itself.  This meant a drive on the outside of the park to get to the main camp for both morning and evening drives.  However these proved worth the effort with some wonderful night time sightings and a chance to get some photos by the rangers spotlight.  I then also drove around on self drive tours and discovered more of the park for myself.  Seeing the elephants in the Addo habitat was new for me and the park is also home to lions and we managed to spot one lying in the road on an evening drive.  The air was already getting crisp so stopping for that jacket proved to have been a good decision.  Again though, the birdlife is what fascinated me most and my time in the park looking for the smaller creatures that inhabit it came to an end all too quickly.  I will definitely have to go back soon and spend more time just sitting and looking out for more species in the park.

 

Mountain Zebra National Park

Mountain Zebra National Park was definitely a case of having saving the best for last.  The location of the 3 parks I visited meant I was always going to visit it on the way in or out of Addo.  The availability of accommodation meant that I was forced to make it the stop on the outbound journey, after Addo and I think this made me appreciate the park much more.  The size of the park is much smaller than Addo, with Sanparks only recently having acquired land to increase the size of the park to allow it to sustain larger numbers of the unique mountain zebras as well as the re-introduction of lions and cheetahs to the park.  The park’s terrain makes for ideal leopard territory as well, however rather than introducing them it is hoped that they will slowly move back from surrounding areas and establish permanent residence in the park.  Due to the smaller size of the park, there is only limited accommodation in the form of family cottages, with the majority of guests staying in the camp site.  The morning after I arrived I was told they had found a boomslang in the camp so I was mighty glad that I had not chosen to camp.

The limited number of guests meant that one ranger took all the activities and allowed a more personal experience as he got to know the guests by the second or third game drive. I went on a sunset drive and a night drive on two separate evenings and again was fascinated by the night life which include seeing Bat eared foxes and a pair of Aardwolf, both a first for me.  I also went on the cheetah tracking activity which allows you to get out of the safari vehicle and track down collared cheetahs on foot.  After almost an hour of trekking down a steep valley we found the cheetah we were tracking but she was unfortunately on the opposite side of the valley.  We could only watch her graceful speed through the rough terrain from a distance.  The lions, or rather one male lion, proved to be easier to get closer to, not on foot though.  He was spotted not too far from the main camp lying in the shade of a thicket for most of the day.  He only got up late in the afternoon and allowed a good photo opportunity for a few minutes.

I must admit I was not expecting the Mountain Zebra to be much different from the plains or Burchell’s zebra normally found in the rest of the country.  However my first sighting of them and I was in awe of their striking beauty, with their coats more vividly black and white and covering more of their bodies, including stripey socks.  I think numbers within the park have risen to over 500 and they now also been re-introduced into some of the other parks that they previously occurred in, including Camdeboo.  The other strikingly beautiful part of the park, and I would like to think that mother nature put on a show in my honour, was the wild irises that had covered the veld.  While the whole country is in the grips of an intense and ongoing drought, the park and the surrounding areas had received some rain in the late summer.  Not enough to fill up the dams or get some of the rivers flowing again but just enough to make the park green and allow the wild irises to pop up and fill the veld with their purple brilliance.

 

On the last morning of my road trip I was woken up to the sound of the lion just outside the main camp, woefully roaring in an attempt to locate his brother and the female lions.  However I could not help but feel that he was lamenting my departure and saying come back soon!  Perhaps that’s taking too much poetic license, but I wanted to shout back and say yes, I will be back soon!

For the full gallery of my short adventure check out the gallery here Gallery: Easter Holidays in the Eastern Cape

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