ROADS OUT OF TOWN

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.

THE ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

Having mentioned the Addo Elephant National Park in my previous post, I delved into my folders to find a selection of photographs from a 2017 visit to give you an idea of some of the interesting things you can see there – apart from lions, hyenas, caracal and aardvarks that is. There are a number of carefully managed waterholes dotted about the park where, while exercising a degree of patience, one has the opportunity to see a variety of animals and birds. The Domkrag Dam is a favourite place to stop, for one is allowed to get out of one’s vehicle for a better view of the water over the low Spekboom hedge. On this occasion we were able to watch a small herd of Burchell’s zebra approaching from across the plain to drink.

Domkrag Dam is named after an enormous mountain tortoise that used to live in the area. What is significant about this tortoise is that it had the strange habit of walking underneath cars and lifting them up with its enormous strength! The shell of this famous tortoise is on display in the Interpretive Centre at Main Camp. Burchell’s zebra are frequently seen sharing the grassy plains with herds of red hartebeest.

Jack’s Picnic Site provides a welcome stopover for a comfort break and is well equipped with picnic sites, each containing a wooden table with benches as well as a place to braai if one wishes to cook one’s own food. Each site is well hidden from the one next door by a thick hedge of Spekboom and other indigenous bushes. It is a particularly good place to photograph a variety of birds from close up as most of them have become used to the coming and going of people throughout the day – and are always on the lookout for a fallen crumb or two! Something else that are a special delight to see there are the odd millipede or two, which we call songololos in South Africa.

The Spekboom Hide is also an interesting place to stop. Again, one can leave one’s vehicle here and enter a Spekboom thicket to peer through a strong elephant-proof fence to see what might be drinking from the waterhole on the other side. On this particular occasion a baby elephant caught my fancy even though it was part of a small family group of various ages.

Apart from animals, I am keen to watch birds in the Addo Elephant National Park. While waterholes are a good place to see waterfowl especially, there are often some interesting surprises along the roads too – such as this Spotted Thick-knee peering at us from the bush.

Much more easily visible are the Red-necked Spurfowl, the sight of which always brightens my day.

IT IS GOOD TO GET OUT

It is widely believed that travelling – whether locally or abroad – is good for us for all sorts of reasons. While I have been abroad a few times, most of our travels have been around South Africa – and we haven’t even scratched the surface of places to experience for the first time. Mention ‘travel’ and one or other ‘exotic’ location seems to spring to mind. There is a tendency to overlook what our home environment has to offer (forgetting that other people make the effort to come and explore our ‘home ground’) and to plan a trip much further afield.  Looking through my archives, I have chosen five nearby destinations and one further away to show how travelling can expose us to new things, and provide an opportunity to experience different parts of the country and ways of doing things.

Not even ten kilometres from our town we can enjoy completely different scenery as we drive along the Beaumont Valley road and on towards Bathurst. This is a wonderful place to see aloes blooming en masse during the winter, to view vegetables being grown under irrigation on a vast scale, and to see dairy farms close up.  Along the way one comes across this interesting vegetation on the steeply sloping, semi-arid, river valleys.

This Albany Thicket is comprised of dense impenetrable vegetation dominated by spiny, often succulent, trees and shrubs such as Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) and Euphorbia bothae.  Just over half an hour away is the interesting hamlet of Bathurst situated on the left bank of the Kowie River. It was founded in 1820 and still boasts some very old buildings. Among these is St. John’s Anglican Church, which is the oldest unaltered Anglican church in South Africa. This is a part of its tower.

Nearly 98 kilometres from home is the world-famous Addo Elephant National Park – an easy distance if we want to visit it for only a day. How can I not show you one of the hundreds of elephants one can see there? This one is standing on the edge of the Hapoor Waterhole.

Now, travelling a little further is the second oldest city in South Africa, Port Elizabeth (the name of which has recently been changed to Gqeberha). Here is where we go for medical reasons and to shop for items not available in our neck of the woods. There are so many interesting parks and places of historical interest to see there that I will highlight an unusual one, the bronze Sacramento canon at Schoenmakerskop.

A brief history of it can be read on this plaque.

Travelling just over 750 kilometres from home along the N1 takes us to the seaside fishing village of Arniston, established over two hundred years ago. There are numerous holiday homes hugging the shoreline and the hills above, alongside which is the Kassiesbaai Fishing Village, where the local fishing community live in a range of cottages built in a similar style to this one.

One really does not have to travel far in order to ‘recharge’, to experience new things, to meet interesting people, try out new foods, or to learn about the history of one’s country. There is no doubt that travelling is good for you!

ROADBLOCKS

We are used to roadblocks in South Africa. These could be the kind requiring you to wait for oncoming traffic to pass through a section of road that is being repaired or a police roadblock during which you are required to show your driver’s licence while they check your vehicle licence and may even make a cursory check of the state of your tyres. These days we have to be increasingly on the lookout for roadblocks caused by the Urban Herd taking a stroll around our town.

Much further afield, only 3km from the Mpofu Nature Reserve in fact, traffic was halted by this herd of cattle that had no intention of moving out of the way in any hurry at all.

Some distance further on, the road was blocked by this herd of sheep being moved from one grazing area to another. Two sheep dogs assisting the shepherd managed to escape being photographed. They were doing an excellent job of keeping the sheep together and on the move in an orderly manner.

We were deep into the farming country of the Kat River district, so it came as no surprise when traffic had to back up while this herd of sheep crossed the narrow bridge – led by three shepherds this time and a single sheepdog (which also slipped away before I could ‘catch’ it) – and made their way through a large gate into a field next to the road.

These are a lot less daunting than this roadblock though!