At 39°C the air was breathless even in the shade. A drive into the country was called for and so we headed along the Fort Beaufort road to the 45 000 ha Great Fish River Nature Reserve in the middle of Sunday afternoon.
As there was only time to briefly explore the wilderness area we used to know as the Andries Vosloo Kudu Reserve, we paid our modest entrance fee and entered at the Kamadolo Gate. Our journey began along what looked like a smooth gravel road brightened on either side by bright displays of the orange and yellow flowers of the finger vygie (Malephora crocea), growing in the large open sandy patches of the veld.
These plants can clearly withstand the extremely harsh conditions that prevail in this section of the nature reserve and look beautiful in bloom, especially being highlighted as they were by the unrelenting sunshine.
The rugged terrain and the vegetation of the valley bushveld is harsh at the best of times. On Sunday, however, we could feel the heat coming in waves as it bounced of the rocky ground along with an airlessness as if the breezes had forgotten how to blow in that part of the world.
The road soon deteriorated into a rough, narrow track, deeply rutted and uneven in places. Sections of it are overhung with thorny acacia trees; at times it dips through dry water courses; and leads one bumpily up hills and around sharp corners.
With the recent rains has come a softening of this harsh terrain in the form of a flush of green grass, leafy trees and the flowering of that very important fodder plant, the spekboom (Portulacaria).
The stands of Acacia karoo are also in bloom, their puff-ball yellow flowers emitting a wonderful scent carried across the veld in the hot air.
They bear ‘no-nonsense’ thorns too!
We were not expecting much in the way of birds or animal life in that wilting heat. Nonetheless, a few female ostriches passed us as we headed for the Kentucky Bird Hide.
It was wonderful to see water at the hide along with a number of yellow-billed ducks sitting along the edge, in the shade cast by the nearby hill.
My bird list, compiled in barely legible script as we bumped and lurched our way forward, is a modest one:
Coming out of the hide, I happened to look up at the enamelled blue sky and saw this spider sitting in the middle of its large web, just above the height of my head. I have no idea what species it is, but it had no intention of moving.
Other surprises lay in store during the limited time we had left before the gates closed (we were told) at 5 p.m. Among these were several majestic-looking kudu bulls. Unfortunately, they all appeared to be skittish and moved off quickly at our approach. Given the condition of the road, I imagine they could hear us coming way before we even spotted them! Another was a steenbok crossing the road ahead of us. It obligingly stopped a little distance away so that we could get a reasonable view of it before it disappeared behind some shrubs.
Several iconic Shepherds trees (Boscia albitrunca) with their characteristic white trunks cried out to be photographed in the late afternoon light.
It seems odd to see old man’s bear lichen (Usnea) growing out in the open, where it is exposed to the relentless rays of the sun. I tend to associate it with the dampness of the forests along the Tsitsikama coast.
And, how lovely to see these pretty creamy flowers gracing the weathered fence posts.
The biggest surprise of all though, and one which made our trip in the heat even more worthwhile than we had imagined, was coming round a corner to find two black rhino watching us!
Judging from the tide-marks along the flank of the right-hand one, we must have disturbed them while they were cooling off in a shallow mud pool. Despite having come across several middens along our drive, we never guessed that we would be privileged with such a close-up view of these magnificent creatures. They made our day.