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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!