Tag Archives: nature reserve

Wild Flower Watching in the West Coast National Park near Langebaan (2019-09-01) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 10 APR 2020

With the start of each Spring, the months of August and September see our West Coast region bursting with colorful carpets of wild flowers, instantly transforming this laid back and generally quiet part of South Africa into a total tourist mecca. With people streaming in from all over Cape Town and its surrounds, the West Coast and its sister Namaqualand are simply put, the places to be if you want to go flower watching.

The West Coast National Park (one of the few national parks that I’m actually older than seeing as it was only officially proclaimed in 1985, a full 5 years after I was born) is a 36,000 hectare strong nature reserve centered around the Langebaan Lagoon. Lying 120 km north of Cape Town, the park is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the R27 coastal road, and stretches from Yzerfontein in the south right up to Langebaan and its lagoon in the north. (It also has a few islands in Saldanha Bay attached as well).

The park is home to a number of antelope species, including eland, red hartebeest, bontebok, kudu, gemsbok, steenbok, and duiker, as well as ostriches and a host of smaller animals like the bat-eared fox, caracal, and Cape gray mongoose. Bird life is of course abundant (a bird watcher’s dream to be sure) and many Palearctic migrants spend their winter months around the Langebaan Lagoon. The coastal islands at the mouth of the lagoon are important breeding colonies for Cape and Hartlaub’s gull, Cape gannet, cormorants, terns and even the African penguin.

Then there is the flora of course, and coastal fynbos and scrub aside, the Postberg Flower Reserve (privately owned land situated within the national park’s bounds and which is included as a “contractual national park”) is the site where the majority of the annual Spring wild flowers bloom, making it the focal point come flower season.

The lack of big predators means that much of the park is open for human outdoor activities like walking, hiking, mountain bike riding, and jogging. There are a number braai facilities scattered around at sites like Tsaarsbank and Preekstoel (named after a large uniquely shaped rock found there), as well as spots to cool down on both the banks of the lagoon and the ocean. (The lagoon is also home to house boats that you can rent as accommodation).

I took Chantelle and the girls out for a flower watching jaunt last Spring, and as expected (due to the lengthy period of drought that the Western Cape had just emerged from), the flower bloom really wasn’t nearly as good as what we’ve encountered before, with many previously blanketed swathes of fields and koppies devoid of any of the characteristic carpets of colour that we’ve come to associate them with.

Nevertheless, it was a delightful drive through nature, and the lack of large crowds (because of the decreased amount of flowers on display) meant that it was slightly less stressful and we had a lot more opportunity to stop and explore than what we have had before.

We ended off our day of flower watching with a slightly overpriced lunch at the onsite Geelbek Restaurant (love its historic Cape Dutch building though!), before heading back out of the park to hit the long road home – but only because by this point Chantelle had had enough viewing for the day and wouldn’t let me traipse over to the bird hide on the lagoon!

I’ve mentioned before that the West Coast National Park is probably not the most exciting of our national parks to take a self drive through if you are interested in actual game watching, but regardless of that, the wide open space, the fresh air, and the long empty views do make for an excellent break from city/suburban life. Plus, if you go there during flower season (on a good year and somehow manage to miss the big crowd that comes along with it), it truly is an amazing natural sight to behold!

Hunting for Proteas at the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West (2019-07-27) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 08 APR 2020

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. I can’t convince, bribe or coerce my wife or either of my girls to head out for a walk with me. Mind you, not that it bothers me in the slightest – it is their loss after all and in any event, it just gives me an even greater opportunity to randomly stop and take a picture or three!

Residents of Somerset West are really fortunate to have a very nice, accessible and well run City of Cape Town managed and operated (with support from the local Friends of Helderberg Nature Reserve NPO) nature reserve right on their doorstep in the form of the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

Situated on the southern slopes of the Helderberg mountains (the peaks of which remain under the protection of Cape Nature), the Helderberg Nature Reserve originally came to be as a wildflower garden (and to protect the water resources in Somerset West) in 1960, following a period of lobbying by the local Rotary Club of Somerset West. Since then the area has morphed into a proper nature reserve with the now 402-hectare reserve protecting a swathe of Swartland shale renosterveld, Kogelberg sandstone fynbos, Cape Winelands shale fynbos and Southern afro-temperate forest pockets.

The lower reaches of the park is home to large tree shaded lawns, popular with families and perfect for the hosting of picnics, birthday parties and the occasional music concert, as well a small coffee shop and the Maskew Miller Educational/Visitors Centre. As you would expect, there are walking and hiking paths scattered around the reserve, catering to nature lovers of all fitness levels (and particularly popular with those who like jogging up mountains for exercise).

Surrounded by all manner protea species and birds galore, there is tranquility, majestic mountain landscapes and a sweeping view over False Bay below – what more could one looking for a break from suburban living possibly still need?

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and the Southernmost Tip of Africa (2019-03-23) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 APR 2020

In March of last year I decided to drag the family out on a spur of the moment day trip to the see the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and visit the southernmost tip of Africa marker in the Agulhas National Park. Of course, seeing as we were headed out that way anyway, I also managed to throw in a visit to the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum – but only in exchange for a light breakfast in Bredasdorp first. (Chantelle and the girls drive a hard bargain!)

Much like say Strand and Gordon’s Bay, the two small coastal holiday towns or settlements of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas have pretty much merged into one another these days (i.e. you can just about get away with using either name synonymously), and is a particularly popular coastal holiday destination for many Afrikaans speaking families.

Built around a natural harbour and with some of the best fishing waters on offer, the area has done well to maintain a very laid back, undeveloped charm and it is quite easy to see just why this is such an attractive weekend getaway destination for a lot of Western Cape folks.

Operated by Transnet National Ports Authority and sitting at the entrance of the SANParks-operated Agulhas National Park, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse holds the honour of being the third ever lighthouse to be built in South Africa and is the second-oldest still operating (after the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town).

Built in 1848 and operated until 1968 before being taken out of service due to its crumbling sandstone walls, the lighthouse (with its design inspiration taken from the Pharos of Alexandria) was declared a national monument as well as a Western Cape provincial heritage site in 1973, leading to a restoration and reconstruction effort lead by the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum and local council that resulted in its recommission in 1988.

The red and white banded lighthouse welcomes visitors and as such has become a popular tourist destination, a fact made quite apparent by the number of people squeezed into the small building on the day of our visit. That said, I don’t exactly have the body circumference conducive to climbing up lighthouse tower stairs, so I did give this one a skip.

SANParks and the Department of Tourism have put a lot of effort into making the Southern Tip of Africa (and the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) as tourist friendly as possible, going so far as to lay out a boardwalk that you can follow just about all the way from the lighthouse to the official (and photo famous) marker.

Last year also saw the unveiling of a large 3D relief map of Africa known as the Iconic Map of Africa Monument. Part of a project funded to the tune of R15 million, this monument pays homage to the African continent. The map is aligned with the earth compass (with the tip of Africa pointing to the south) and to represent the differing landscapes across the continent, the map has been sprayed with various metal powders that over time will react with chemicals in the environment and atmosphere to change color and represent the different biomes and vegetation across different regions of Africa. (Bonus, this makes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a heck of a lot easier than what it would normally be!)

The open access Agulhas National Park itself isn’t one of South Africa’s largest national parks, covering an area of around 20,959 hectares. That said, it does boast some 2,000 native plant species (hello fynbos) and a wetland that provides refuge to birds and amphibians.

The waters are of course teeming with Southern Right whales over the November to January whale watching season and there are plenty of sea birds like the Damara tern and African Black oystercatcher for birders to tag.

Apart from all the scenic rocks, crashing waves and fynbos, the treacherous, fish rich waters of Cape Agulhas is of course infamous for its many shipwrecks over the years (aka the reason for a lighthouse in the first place), with names like De Zoetendal, HMS Birkenhead, and HMS Arniston all counted among its victims. (This is also then why we have a shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp of all places).

In fact, just a short drive into the park (or about a 20 minute walk from the southern tip marker) will lead you to a rusted prow resting on the rocks, the final remains of the Meisho Maru No. 38, a small Japanese fishing trawler that met its end at Cape Agulhas in 1982.

Picture perfect, untouched, rugged, unbridled coastal views that stretch out in every direction that you look. Tranquil, fresh sea air and fynbos everywhere. Can’t say then that I didn’t love our visit to this most southernmost tip of Africa.

Traipsing about Rooi-Els Nature Reserve (2019-01-19) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 04 APR 2020

At the start of last year I managed the unusual in that on a rare weekend morning without Helderberg Cake Company orders to fulfill, I got Chantelle to agree to come out for a nature walk with me and the girls – my destination of choice being the quiet little settlement of Rooi-Els. Of course getting there means tackling all 77 potentially nausea inducing twists and turns of the extremely scenic Clarence Drive as well, something Chantelle is not overly fond of on the best of days either!

Known for its fishing and diving opportunities, not to mention the fact that it is constantly being bashed by the sea winds and raided by the local Chacma baboon troop, the mostly holiday home littered little settlement of Rooi-Els is pretty quiet, has only a handful of tarred roads, and thus very little in terms of commercial ventures. (Mind you, they do have a popular bikers’ pub and two rather nice restaurants all of a sudden).

One of its claims to fame is that Rooi-Els falls within the vaunted Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, the 100,000 hectare UNESCO designated area whose landscape is home to one of the most complex biodiversity regions on our planet – featuring more than 1,880 different plant species, 77 of which occur nowhere else on earth. This sweeping sea of fynbos and mountains is home to a variety of animal species like leopard, caracal, baboon and antelope, as well a particularly rich selection of bird life.

As a conservancy, there are no fences around Rooi-Els to keep people out or nature in – instead it is the commitment of the local communities, farmers, conservation agencies and local government to protect and nurture the land and its biodiversity.

(For reference, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, which interestingly enough was South Africa’s first ever registered biosphere reserve, encompasses the entire area from Gordon’s Bay to the Bot River Statuary and inland to Grabouw and the Groenland Mountain.)

As for our little excursion, we found ourselves first picking our way through the fynbos over the small picturesque area marked as the Rooi-Els Nature Reserve, before extending our trip with a drive out to Betty’s Bay in order to take in the devastation of the recent fires that had ripped through the town, devouring anything and everything in its path, after which we turned back and stopped for some coffee and a light lunch at Pringle Bay’s always pleasant Bistro 365 & Simple Coffee eatery.

So a proper mix of an excursion then. The tranquil quiet beauty of nature in the fynbos rich area of Rooi-Els, the sobering reality of the fire risk that comes from living so close to the mountain in Betty’s Bay, and then the mad vibe of people enjoying the weeked at a bustling Pringle Bay town center.

Soaking up some Sun in Rooi Els and Pringle Bay (2020-02-08) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 29 FEB 2020

I am doing a lot of walking these days, primarily because I enjoy it but also to try and at least somewhat counteract the insane amount of time I spend sitting in a chair behind a screen thanks to my chosen profession of software development. Of course it doesn’t help that I work from home either.

Unfortunately, I seem to be the only person in our house that loves heading out for random strolls, so pretty much the only way that I can get any of my girls to join me is by means of a treat bribe – which then is exactly how I got Emily and Jessica to join me for a morning walkabout in Rooi-Els at the start of February.

So off we headed on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, leisurely winding our way along the jaw-droppingly scenic Clarence Drive until we dropped down into Rooi-Els, grabbed a parking in front of the newly built (beautiful interior, but terribly named) Gossip Corner restaurant and strolled off down the road.

The dirt roads of Rooi-Els, its diminutive stature, and its proximity to mountains, fynbos and sea, all combine to make for the perfect morning walk location, and so the girls and I happily trudged around, discussing all the houses hiding among the bushes, taking in the fynbos, and enjoying all that fresh sea air.

Disappointingly we didn’t run into the local baboon troop (like we did last time), but secretly I suspect that Jessica was RATHER pleased about that. I did however quite enjoy taking the photo directly above this text, which very much looks like a lizard about to catch a fly. Thank you random passing by bird for making this image possible!

Rooi-Els done and dusted, it was now time for aforementioned reward, and so off we drove to Pringle Bay, where after a quick spot of lizard watching and yet more photos of rock and sea (before being shouted at to hurry on up), I treated the girls to Belgian waffles, ice cream, milkshakes and tea at our new small town favourite, La Galerie. (As expected, it was delicious!)

From there it was the drive home back along stunning old Clarence Drive, though I did make sure to stop at the Shark Spotters hut above Kogel Bay to show the girls what this excellent initiative does, as well as to take the opportunity to watch the surfers and bodyboarders having a ball in the waves down below.

So a perfect morning/afternoon out and about in yet another one of South Africa’s seemingly endless spots of natural beauty. (And yes, the girls made us take selfies!)

Antelope Spotting at Bontebok National Park in Swellendam (2019-09-27) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 29 DEC 2019

Bontebok National Park is an unusual SANParks site in that it is a species-specific national park, originally established in 1931 to try and ensure the survival of the relatively rare Bontebok antelope. In this they succeeded and today the park is home to around 200 Bontebok, the maximum amount of antelope a park of this size can support.

Situated 6 km south of Swellendam in the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains and bordered to the south by the mighty Breede River, the Bontebok National Park is the smallest of South Africa’s 19 national parks, covering an area of about 27 km².

In addition to Bontebok, the park is also home to Cape Mountain Zebra, Grey Rhebok, Cape Grysbok, Duiker, Red Hartebeest and the African clawless otter. Bird species thrive, with over 200 different types recorded, including Stanley’s bustard, Secretary birds and Blue Cranes (South Africa’s national bird).

The park also serves as a protected area for the conservation of coastal renosterveld and other endangered fynbos veld types, with a total of nearly 500 grasses and other plant species on the books. Home to some of the largest remaining ‘renosterveld islands’, the park also contains several plant species that are found nowhere else in the world.

With no large predators prowling the grounds, this park is open for self-guided drives, hiking, picnics, fishing and all manner of other outdoor recreational activities, and with both camping and accommodation options available (at the Lang Elsie’s Kraal Rest Camp), the park welcomes both day and overnight visitors.

September saw Jessica and Emily join me for a little long weekend up in Mossel Bay, and on the way up I decided to take the opportunity to swing left and first head off for a spot of Bontebok spotting – marking the first time that I had actually ever visited this particular park.

(We were successful in our antelope spying mission and in the end, despite the heat, enjoyed a lovely drive and stroll around the area.)

Much like the West Coast National Park, the Bontebok National Park is certainly not the most thrilling of national parks to visit (unless of course you are REALLY into birding), but if you are looking for veld, wide open space to enjoy, and the tranquility that comes with all of that, then this site certainly ticks all the right boxes!

A Stroll through Jan Marais Nature Reserve in Stellenbosch (2019-03-31) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 25 OCT 2019

I’m quite fond of the extremely accessible Jan Marais Nature Reserve in Stellenbosch. Situated within the town itself, the park is compact, has well marked out paths, gives gorgeous distant views of the Stellenbosch mountains, and really is a breath of fresh air and tranquility for any nature lovers out there.

This particular trip to Jan Marais saw me riding solo, with Chantelle busy with cakes/and or relaxing on the couch, and neither of my girls wishing to abandon playing with their friends in order to join me for a healthy walk. Not that this bothered me in the slightest though – the perfect opportunity then to take my time, first stopping to do some plane spotting at the Stellenbosch Flying Club, then tracking down the sports club and Danie ‘Doc’ Craven bronze statue that I remembered from my twenties, before finally setting out to explore the little nature reserve at my own gentle pace.

There is public art to behold, renosterveld fynbos to experience, a kids play area (which for a change I didn’t have to stop at), an outdoor gym for the eager beavers, enough space for both cyclists and walkers to enjoy at the same time, and it always makes for a great photo walk.

Perfect really.

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Birding on Intaka Island in Century City, Cape Town (2018-11-04) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 23 JUL 2019

You will discover Intaka Island about 7 km out from the Cape Town CBD, tucked away behind the tall buildings of Century City and its Canal Walk shopping mall. Built by Century City developer Rabie following an initial project environmental impact assessment, Intaka Island is a 16 hectare large wetland conservation area.

As such, it serves as a crucial bird sanctuary for the area and the nature reserve itself is setup around this idea, filled with a well maintained walkway that features plenty of hides and viewing platforms that are perfect for local birders. It’s a great way to step into a little nature without having to go out on a full blown hike!

This particular visit saw me leave Chantelle and the girls behind and instead ring up my brother to join me for a stroll among the reeds. Pleasingly, he agreed – and didn’t even moan at all the pictures I kept stopping to take! ;)

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Hiking up the Hill at the Tygerberg Nature Reserve in Bellville (2018-04-29) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 30 APR 2019

Bellville’s 300 hectare large nature reserve in the form of Tygerberg Nature Reserve offers a great opportunity for locals to stretch their legs in nature without really having to go anywhere. And while it may not be a mountain, Tygerberg Hill still rises high enough to give you a great view of Cape Town, the mountain and its suburbs.

Home to around 500 different plant species, a large number of birds and a couple of small animals to be spotted, Tygerberg Hill also serves as a popular environmental education hub for local school excursions.

There are quite a couple of short trails that criss-cross all over the reserve, meaning that in theory you can put together just about any walk to suit your needs. The hill also has a trail accessible by wheelchairs, as well as a couple of simple picnic spots dotted around.

Last year Ryan, Chantelle and I went for a nice and sweaty stroll around the hill, and these are the pictures that I ended up with. (Always a good excuse for micro stopping when the going gets tough!)

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