Those of my readers more used to tarred highways, fast traffic and concrete bridges might like to pause a while to come on a journey with me to see some of our roads. We will start on the corner of the tarred road below my home (hidden behind the trees) where, having crossed over a bridge we are halted by part of the Urban Herd taking a rest from grazing pavements and any shrubs or flowers they find during their daily trawl through the suburbs.
If we were travelling during December, we might wish to stop in at the local supermarket to buy some refreshments. As we drive out of the parking area we would halt again to admire the street and pavement strewn with jacaranda flowers.
We would have to cross over a disused railway line that once carried good and passengers to Alicedale and on to Port Elizabeth.
You may prefer to eschew the highway and drive through some of the farming areas. We would be travelling along the dirt road, but you may wonder at some of the tracks, such as this one, on some of the farms we pass by.
Occasionally, on what you think of as a good tarred district road that will give us a clear run to our destination, you might be surprised at having to halt once more by this typical rural scene.
At last we reach the Addo Elephant National Park where we turn off some of the main tarred roads to explore the dirt roads – one of which will lead you to the well-known and much photographed waterhole known as Hapoor. The spectacle of hundreds of elephants milling about drinking, bathing, or enjoying each other’s company will cause us to halt again. They are so interesting to watch that more than an hour could easily pass before I could persuade you that we should drive on for there are other animals to see.
We came upon this herd of cattle quite unexpectedly, after having been the only vehicle on the country road for several kilometres. They had just emerged from the farm gate ahead of us. The rider on the left turned back and lifted his whip in a gesture of futility: the road is fenced on either side leaving no room to manoeuvre. We would have to be patient.
We watched them move through a thickly wooded area, giving them plenty of space. Now and then a couple of animals in the rear would dart this way or that, disappearing into the bush on either side of the road.
The horseman on the right spent much of his time riding up onto the steep bank to bring the errant animals back to the road.
The one on the left sometimes wielded his long whip with a well-practiced thwack on the ground – never once directed at the animals – that cracked so loudly we could hear it from our car.
We paused at the top of the hill to let them get well ahead, guessing correctly that they were being moved from one farm to another. We knew there was a gate on the right once they had got through the trees.
The four kilometre trip took 45 minutes. As the animals were ushered into their new paddock and the sliding gate was being closed, the two riders waved as we passed. These pictures have all been taken on my cell phone through a dusty windscreen.
I never cease to feel a sense of awe when coming across a kudu in the wild. These majestic horns of a mature male are beautiful to see.
An interesting aspect of kudu is that they often stand stock-still when surprised. We have witnessed this behaviour time and again in game reserves: they might take a long look at you before moving a little further away or into the relative safety of a cluster of trees and then stand still to look back at what has disturbed them. It is equally wonderful to come across the females.
Look at their large ears and … this one is clearing something from her nose with her dark tongue.
Her companion chews a blade of grass whilst contemplating our presence in the late afternoon light.
Now this is the thing about kudu outside of protected areas: they pose a very real danger on roads throughout a great deal of South Africa – particularly from dusk until dawn. One reason for this is that they apparently have a compulsion to leap in front of approaching headlights. They are not easy to see in the dark either and so one has to drive very carefully and be on the alert to avoid a collision which could prove to be fatal to both the motorist and the kudu.
We once surprised a kudu along the nearby country road during the late afternoon – beautiful to see, but not an experience to risk again as we watched it run back and forth along the road; run along the high fences on either side and crash into them while attempting to leap over them. Kudu have a reputation of clearing a normal fence with ease – and we have watched one clear a high game fence with grace too. The latter had been running across the open veld and simply leapt over the high fence as if it were a bush in the way. Such fences are more of an obstacle if there is no ‘run-up’ space and there is an annoying vehicle in the way. We have since been much more cautious about getting off that road well before dusk. What we did not expect was to come across this sight as we came around a corner mid-morning.
This photograph and the next are not of good quality as they were taken through the windscreen. As you can see, the road is narrow and bordered on either side by tall trees. What makes there even less room for these three to escape is that high game fences run along both sides of the road too. The trio would run ahead and stop to look at us; run ahead and disappear into the bushes lining the road; presumably run along the fence line out of sight and then appear in the road further ahead to cross it and try the other side.
I crawled along, eyes wide, until at last the kudu decided to turn back. I glimpsed them running along the fence on my right, back the way they had come. Having seen them standing in the road behind me, I knew it was safe at last to continue on our way.
We have been held up by an errant herd or two of cattle before; we have slowed down to allow cyclists to pass; hugged the bushy verge in the face of the odd oncoming vehicle (because this country road does not carry much traffic at any particular time); braked cautiously in the face of a kudu about to jump over a fence; stopped to watch warthogs, black-backed jackals or even baboons cross the road. There is nothing unusual about this on the country roads.
Wind turbines were erected along the ridge of Waainek some years ago and we have got used to seeing them on the skyline. Their heads sometimes disappear in the morning mist; they might loom unexpectedly large from behind a grove of trees; at first one might be taken aback by their whooshing sound as the blades turn in the wind; we acknowledge that there is a certain elegance about them.
The width of the road that turns off the narrow dirt country road towards the wind-farm is an indication of the gargantuan size of the vehicles that have brought them to this point in sections. These are not vehicles to be trifled with – as we were reminded today.
We set off for a pleasant drive late this afternoon in the hope of enjoying the views (altered by a combination of smoke and dust – which is not surprising as a fierce Berg Wind has been blowing all day) and perhaps seeing some wildlife along the way. Our timing has to be spot on in relation to the setting of the sun in order to avoid kudu on our way home. A general rule is to get back onto the tarred road well before dark.
Two graceful waterbuck and a family of five warthogs made the trip worthwhile – as well as a herd of pretty Nguni cattle and a large Bonsmara bull. I was admiring Fork-tailed Drongos catching insects in the last of the light, looked at the silhouette of a raptor soaring high above a hill, and was already wondering if the power would have come on (it was off for six hours today – cables snapped in the wind) by the time we got home when we had to break sharply to avoid hitting a vehicle that slewed across the road ahead of us and came to a halt at an angle. I am sure the driver – Tattoo Man – didn’t even notice us as he got out and walked towards the drivers of two enormous vehicles cosying up to each other on the turnoff to the wind-farm.
We waited. The darkness crept closer. We waited. Tattoo man deigned to indicate that we were not to budge. We waited … and waited. It seemed an age before a third leviathan bearing a bright red crane came rumbling towards us. These vehicles are all so broad that there is no way another vehicle would be able to pass them on such a narrow road. We waited.
Tattoo Man got into his vehicle, reversed and straightened it. We thought we’d take the gap but he held his hand up in an authoritative manner. We had to wait. All signs of the setting sun had vanished. At last Tattoo Man appeared at our window. “When the next truck arrives, take the gap and drive like hell because we are waiting for four more to come.”
We waited. At last we could see the headlights bouncing along the road ahead and the flashing orange lights that crowned each of the trucks. It stopped short of its target. Tattoo Man and another approached it in the near dark. We could see the driver’s door open. Men walked back and forth. We were poised ready to move. The truck crept forward painfully slowly until the gap finally appeared … we were off like a shot – not that one can drive at speed along a narrow dirt road in the countryside at night – and were relieved to have got out of the unexpected traffic jam at last.