A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT CAME TO VISIT

A Cape Robin-chat perched on top of a garden lamp to observe the newcomers to its territory in a Drakensberg resort.

It flew down and stepped closer.

Then showed us its rear view.

It studied the newcomers carefully for some time.

Satisfied, it got down to the business of looking for food.

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MOODY CATHKIN

Here Cathkin Peak in the KZN Drakensberg is bathed in the afternoon light – a glorious sight.

It takes on a darker hue as puffs of clouds begin to gather early one morning.

Cathkin once disappeared completely  behind a screen of smoke from a grass fire.

A closer view of that basalt peak is awe-inspiring.

Cathkin Peak (3 149m) dominates the scenery.

WILD FOXGLOVES

The Wild Foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba) reminds me of summer and early autumn in the Lowveld. Ceratotheca refers to the horned capsules and originates from the Greek kerato (horned) and theke (a case), while triloba refers to the plant having three leaves.

It might not be as ‘showy’ as the exotic ones favoured by gardeners, but it has a beauty of its own – especially when seen growing in clumps, as we did in the Kruger National Park.

The bottom flowers bloom first and form fruits while buds are developing higher up. Here a plant is being given a thorough going through by a Baboon.

This process left many of the tall spikes stripped of their blossoms and the stems bent and broken.

It is always pleasing to see them on our infrequent visits to KwaZulu-Natal too.

Here it is easier to get a closer look at the trumpet-shaped lilac flowers with their characteristic dark streaks at the throat. The latter are easier to see from close up as the flowers hang in clusters – hiding this beautiful aspect from the average passer-by.

They tend to grow in disturbed soil and so are commonly seen along the side of the road and in grasslands. Despite its name, this ‘foxglove’ actually belongs to the ‘sesame’ family!

SHARDS FROM THE PAST

When our forebears travelled from their countries of origin – initially by sea – to South Africa and then – by ox-wagon – to settle in various parts of the country, they had to be completely self-reliant. That meant packing for the future: clothing – and the means to make more; tools (so many initially unsuited to this part of the world); seeds; furniture; basic domestic goods and so on – including all their crockery and cutlery.

Now when we go camping we take unbreakable plates, cups, and even wine ‘glasses’ – these people travelled with the real McCoy: real glassware, and real crockery. Imagine packing those precious, breakable things for a journey into the unknown with the knowledge that they would not easily be replaced!

We have visited sites all over the country where early settlers would have made their homes, be it farm homesteads or early fortifications. A careful survey of the veld around these areas generally reveals some shards of the domesticity of those days.

This first example comes from Fort Willshire, in the Eastern Cape, which was erected by the British military in 1818-1819 and abandoned in 1836. Left to the elements, it is now a ruin that has become overgrown by natural vegetation.

The next comes from an area close to the old stone homestead at Hell’s Poort, a farm not very far from Grahamstown.

These shards of crockery have been picked up from various places in KwaZulu-Natal.

With the exception of the pink piece, the others all show various patterns of blue and white. Notice how thick they are. These shards are typical of the porcelain brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company and by the early settlers and give us an inkling into the domestic lives of those who came before us.

SPIOENKOP GAME RESERVE

We arrived at the Spioenkop Game Reserve adjoining the Spioenkop Dam in KwaZulu-Natal under a leaden sky.

Spioenkop Gate

Although it was too late to sign in at reception, the cheerful security guards waved us through to follow the narrow dirt road winding through thickets of acacia interspersed with open grassland until we found an ideal camping spot overlooking the dam.

Spioenkop

campsite

It was so peaceful watching the play of light on the water, first as the sun set and then as the reflection of lights on the opposite hill skittered across the dam. All too soon the balmy night became alive with insects of all shapes and sizes attracted to the lamp outside the tent. There was hardly room for the wall to be seen in the ablution block either, it was so covered with insects.

stick insect

moth

The level of the dam is low. It nonetheless hosted a sizeable group of Egyptian Geese, Darters, and even a Fish Eagle. A herd of impala came down to drink at the edge of the dam and a herd of wildebeest shuffled away in the darkness next to the ablution block as I approached, torch in hand.

Spioenkop Dam

impala

A terrific storm blew up seemingly from nowhere during the night: thunder rolled across the sky, lighting flashed brightly, and a strong wind buffeted our tent as the heavens opened in a deluge of rain – setting the pattern for the next two nights. Fortunately, we remained snug and dry within the tent.

We used the Spioenkop Game Reserve as a convenient base from which to explore historical battle sites, graves, forts and monuments within the districts of Estcourt and Colenso. Each day we encountered wildebeest, impala, zebra, eland and giraffe as we drove to and from our camp site.

wildebeest

zebra
giraffe

One of the more amusing sights was that of a female employee walking nonchalantly through a herd of about eight giraffe gathered near the reception block. When one seemingly blocked her path, she merely waved her hand at it as one might swish away an annoying fly. They must have grown accustomed to each other.

It was with a degree of reluctance – despite the wet weather – that we broke camp, watched closely by a herd of eland and wildebeest nearby. We had enjoyed the serenity and natural beauty of the reserve and look forward to spending more time there in the future.

eland