TSITSIKAMMA NATIONAL PARK

If you are seeking a place in which to relax in a pleasant environment, the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is a wonderful destination to consider. We recently spent four days camping at the Storms River Mouth and can attest to its natural beauty. The first hint of the spectacular scenery comes from the Paul Sauer Bridge over the Storms River on the N2. There is something magical about those deep, rocky gorges and the fynbos-stained water so far below.

I never tire of the distinctive smell of fynbos and seaweed as one drives down the road winding through the forest to reach the rest camp. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan word meaning, “place of much water”. There is plenty of it too, from the booming breakers crashing over dark rocks to the little streams one crosses on the forest walk – and the Storms River. The waves and the verdant landscape of trees hugging the steep cliffs are endlessly photogenic – especially at sunrise and in the late afternoon.

There is a lot to do too, from swimming in the pool watched by Kelp Gulls and dassies (rock hyrax), bird watching, exploring the rock pools, and walking through the forest.

On previous visits we have walked the start of the Otter Trail as far as the waterfall (a 6km round trip) but on this visit – in the company of very young children – we confined ourselves to the 1 km Loerie Trail through the forest and a walk to the suspension bridge over the Storms River Mouth. It was from this vantage point that we saw a group of visitors kayaking in the sea.

The latter walk is very pleasant for one follows the boardwalk through coastal forest. Every now and then one gets spectacular views of the sea through the trees.

The suspension bridge crossing the Storms River Mouth leads to a pebble beach, which is a lovely place for a snack.

The Loerie Trail is a very pleasant way of experiencing the indigenous forest. There are steps to help one up the steep slopes.

Steps leading down.

One can appreciate the patterns on tree trunks;

The colours of the forest floor;

Get a feel of the ancient legacy of the trees;

A pair of African Dusky Flycatchers took little notice of us as they perched on the fence nearby to hawk their prey throughout our stay. We were fortunate to see a pair of African oystercatchers near the pool late one afternoon as well as Paradise Flycatchers flitting through the coastal bush next to our campsite.

OBSERVATIONS IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK – 1

Camping in the Karoo during the winter is not for sissies: we pitched our tent in the pouring rain, experienced a light shower of hail, icy wind and bright sunshine. During our four days in the Mountain Zebra National Park the temperature ranged from below freezing to a pleasant high of 18°C.

Mountain Zebra National Park

The windy, wet conditions on our arrival had most animals seeking some form of shelter, like this herd of Springbuck huddled in the short grass with their faces pointed to the wind.

wet springbuck

These Cape Mountain Zebra were soggy.

wet mountain zbra

As was this Kudu doe.

wet kudu

Ostriches walked through the veld with wet feathers hanging limply from their bodies.

wet ostrich

Water shone in pools and ribbons in the wet landscape.

mountainzebranationalpark

In the days to follow there would be a lot of interesting animals, birds and insects to see – enough to make us eager to get out into the veld at the first opportunity!

EARL GREY TEA

In April last year I mentioned that I had been introduced to Earl Grey tea whilst on a visit to England (see THE TEN VIRTUES OF TEA) and in January this year that it has since become a staple offering in my home (see TIME FOR TEA).

It was my English aunt who introduced me to Earl Grey. On my first visit to her lovely cottage tucked away in the then small village of Bradford Peverell, she brought a silver teapot, fine china cups and slices of fruit cake to her pretty garden. The aroma was arresting. The look of the pale milky fare was not enticing at first. The taste with its Bergamot flavouring, however, had me hooked for life – even more so when I was able to make a slightly stronger brew, which brought out a bolder flavour.

At first, Twinings was the only variety of Earl Grey tea I could lay my hands on. Eyebrows would rise when I would put six or more boxes into my trolley when shopping in Johannesburg (it has always been more expensive than other teas). I had to. We were living in Mmabatho at a time when it was still a city-in-the-making. Purchasing anything but basic foodstuffs there was but a dream then.

Whenever I brew a pot of Twinings Earl Grey – more especially when I can use loose leaves – I think of my English aunt, her pretty English garden where a robin would regularly perch on the edge of the plate on the tea tray to peck at the crumbs, and of her tiny doll-like house. She will turn 90 next year.

With the Rand in a dizzying downward spiral, we have to look to local products if we want our ‘fix’. Liptons Earl Grey is firmly associated with camping in the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, for my dear sisters-in-law make sure to bring some along. They know me well.

At home I mostly use Five Roses Earl Grey tea for it is readily available at our local supermarket. Earl Grey is traditionally served black as an after lunch tea. I still enjoy it with a splash of milk at any time of the day as it is always refreshing and is a real pick-me-up, soothing variety of tea.

As a point of interest, this tea blend is named after Earl Charles Grey, who was the English prime minister from 1830-1834. He was also known as Viscount Howick from the Northumbrian seat of Howick Hall – I wonder if the town of Howick (and the waterfall of the same name) in KwaZulu-Natal is also named after that family?

MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

Visit the Mountain Zebra National Park if you want peace, spectacular view and wide open spaces. Granted there is the attraction of cheetah, lions and perhaps seeing a black rhinoceros, but you will not find wild animals around every corner. When you do come across them though, you are bound to marvel at their ability to survive in this arid environment.

It was heavenly waking up there to the beautiful calls of the fiery-necked nightjars before dawn, the cheerful chirping of the white browed sparrow weavers and the reassuring cooing of Cape turtle doves. The flocks of pied starlings also make their presence known from early in the morning.pied starling

Vervet monkeys made their appearance in the camping area as soon as it was light, moving effortlessly through the tangle of long-thorned acacias. They clambered over the caravan parked next to this thicket, inspected it from every angle and made off with whatever they could find before the inhabitants had even woken up!

vervet monkey

Nothing can be left out unattended – this is a situation one simply has to accept when camping here. It also explains the heavy wooden doors to the kitchen, laundry and ablution block as well as the lids to the rubbish bins provided. At least one monkey slipped into our closed tent while we were on a game drive in the afternoon and ate bits of the avocado pear I had been looking forward to consuming for supper. Ground squirrels did the same to me in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park!

While on the subject of gnawing, I noticed that several trees in the camping area are surrounded by low fences. These are clearly to protect the trunks from being ring-barked by porcupines.

porcupine damage

Our game drives were punctuated by stops at various viewpoints to stretch our legs, appreciate the panoramic views, and identify animal droppings. At one place we poured over illustrations in our bird books to identify a raptor perched on the top of a bush on a low hill above us. It turned out to be a black harrier – an identification finally confirmed when it flew off to reveal its distinctive wing and tail patterns.

Although the weather was too cold to swim at this time of the year, the rock pool fed by a mountain stream in the picnic area was a relaxing place for a light snack and to feel the warmth emanating from the large, smooth outcrop of granite. I walked around the perimeter of the area, looking out for birds, smelling the different vegetation, and enjoying the gentle roar of the strong breeze soughing through the valley. The clucking of a large flock of helmeted guineafowl added to the languid atmosphere: if our stay in the Park had been longer, I might have been tempted to spend the rest of the day there.

It was while we were watching a mixed herd of Gemsbuck and red hartebeest on the Ubejane Loop later that I spotted the handsome looking double-banded courser, well camouflaged in the tussocks of grass – proof that it is worth scanning the veld all around regardless of what might have captured one’s attention at first.

Double banded courser

At a micro level, back at the camp, it was fascinating to watch teeming harvester ants hard at work on the patch of lawn near our tent. They worked tirelessly, carrying tiny sticks and blades of grass to the entrance of their nest.

harvester ants

This reminded me of when we first moved to Mmabatho and tried to encourage a patch of grass to grow into a lawn. We saw these busy ants at work late one afternoon and thought nothing of their antics. By the following morning our carefully nurtured ‘lawn’ had disappeared!

JOCK OF THE BUSHVELD TEA POT

JOCK OF THE BUSHVELD TEA POT

I haven’t mentioned that I collect tea pots. This was never a deliberate intention – the collection ‘just grew’. They live on the windowsills of the windows on the short passage leading from our dining room to the kitchen and look lovely when they’ve been cleaned. It was while dusting off the cobwebs the other day that I was realised each tea pot has a story of its own that makes it special.

Jock of the Bushveld tea potThe tea pot I coveted since childhood and was delighted when my mother gave it to me is a Royal Doulton Jock of the Bushveld Westcott shape tea pot, the design of which is based on E. Caldwell’s illustrations for Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld. Such tea pots were manufactured between 1911 and 1942.

I have been familiar with that story since I was very young: it was my school reader in Standard Five! My father was once asked to make a metal gate for the fence surrounding the acacia tree that used to be known as ‘Jock’s Tree’ outside Barberton and relied on me to draw the pictures, which he later cut from metal and affixed to the gate.

We used to have an enormous wooden wagon, complete with wooden spokes, similar to those used by the transport riders of ‘Jock’s day’. This was housed in our farm shed and in season would be piled high with bales of cotton picked from the lands – a very long time ago!

To return to the teapot, however, it first belonged to my Granny. My Mother remembered using it as a young girl to take tea out for the tennis parties hosted at their home in Johannesburg. For years it graced the welsh dresser in our farm house and has probably lasted for as long as it has because the spout is chipped – my Mother told me that she had tripped while carrying the tea tray.

I have used it only once or twice for special occasions and find it still pours well. I love that tea pot most, however, for the memories it unlocks of my Granny, my Mother, my Father, the Eastern Transvaal where I grew up, Dunduff Farm (sadly now barely recognisable) and the many camping trips I have enjoyed in my life.

It is truly a tea pot to treasure!

back of tea pot