Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The ride of a lifetime

There's a small tree between my site and the showers that is shedding copious quantities of fruit, which the monkeys really enjoy.  This is the Kei apple Dovyalis caffra though the latter has probably been changed to appease certain elements.  The fruit is actually tasty in a sort of vegetable way but can be very tart.  I seem to remember Jo making jam from some which was excellent.

While headed along a back road to Chrissiesmeer, came across a patch of these yellow watsonias, Watsonia watsonoides if you can believe it.

Lake Chrissie itself which was named after a daughter of an old president, was a bit disappointing even though it has a reputation as a bird hotspot, they were not in evidence the day I was there..

On one of my morning ambles I noticed a canal from which water was being extracted as they have an on site purification plant, but the bulk of the water by-passed the extraction point.  Being a nosy engineer I followed the canal to where it disappeared into a steel header pipe a metre in diameter and dropped over a cliff.  A staircase led to the turbine house where presumably they generate most of the resorts requirements, cunning devils.

A long range forecast showed a three day window of sun sine in an otherwise very wet Sabie so I shot back to Boksburg jumped on the bike and zoomed back to Badplaas.  Unsurprisingly the forecast was wrong and the planned visit had to be postponed by a day.

On my first visit to Sabie, I thought it might be a good idea to come back on a motorcycle and nearly 40 years and a dozen bikes later I finally made it.   Three glorious days were spent riding 11 different passes a total of 18 times, some twice and one three times.  The first between Badplaas and Barberton provided a brief taste of what was to come.  From  the latter I decided to do the Pigg's Peak road along the Geo-trail which I've mentioned before. The picture below shows a small part of the road and I arrived back at the bottom with a grin which was difficult to wipe off.

I'd booked into Sabie Star Chalets about 3 k's from the village, very comfortable and reasonable,........

.................with a river running through it.  After lunch it was off to Long Tom Pass.............

............where I did the grand old Duke of York thing, but rode instead of marched.

Next day it was up into the clouds and over the top then down to Pilgrim's Rest, then over Robber's Pass to Ohrigstad......................

............with some fairly impressive scenery on the way.

Blydepoort was next on the agenda then a lovely swoopy bit to Graskop.  A nasty patch of potholes tried to spoil the party but fortunately I remembered them from previous visits.  Kowyns Pass down towards Hazyview was pretty abominable and potholes were the order of the day for about 15 k's on the road back to Sabie but then 30 k's of a road made for bikers - orgasmic.

Back at the ranch I made the mistake of feeding this monster a few tit-bits and Misty the Dane became my new best friend.

Unused to riding 350 k's in one hit, I chilled in the afternoon but simply had to do the Sabie to Hazyview bit again the next day, before setting off back to Badplaas via Mbombela.  Between there and Barberton the road drops down to the lowveld via a particularly serpentine stretch, which I would have enjoyed a lot more without the unbelievable traffic.  Being unexpectedly presented with the rear of a truck in the middle of a 120 kph sweep can make the sphincter a tad over-wrought.

Passing a little vlei on the way back I noticed these odd Pineapple flowers Eucomis sp. which are becoming popular garden plants.

A couple of nights in Badplaas, then back to Boksburg and the fun began.  First the rain, though Pete had lent me an enormous wet suit which was very effective but 50 k's out The Beauty,what do expect with a Beast in the stable, decided to croak.  Unfortunately the computers, fuel injection and other gizmos have rather left me in the dark as to how it all works, which necessitated a call to the cavalry in the form of Pete and the bakkie.  We towed it back and after I'd cleaned it up the next day, it started with nary a problem.............women!  Back in Badplaas I went to switch on the TV and realized I'd left the decoder in Boksburg - which meant another 600 k round trip.

I'd also picked up some neighbours, 300 sites and they have to park right next to me and sit on their stoep, no more than three metres from my chair and glare at me malevolently.  Figured I must be on THEIR site, so I moved................

.................to a much more private site where I have two sides open and the most stupendous view.  Just up the road is Vygeboom Dam which supplies water to Carolina and Machadadorp.  The outlook is so enchanting that..............

.........a whole community has populated one shore with two angling clubs, a yacht club and a large estate.  Pity about the totally diabolical 3 k dirt track to get there - it certainly wouldn't be very kind on a Mercedes.

Eventually found where the animals hang out in the adjacent reserve although there is not a lot of variety.  A couple of species that you don't get in Kruger though, black wildebeest with the interesting blond pony tails............

.............and Blesbok with their continuously nodding heads.

An abortive visit to Songimvelo Nature Reserve left me at a loose end in a very beautiful spot.  Not sure what they're hiding in there but I certainly wasn't about to pay R150 to see.  So I set about atlassing some of the surrounds which weren't wildly productive but did come up with
a few surprises...

Some way from the road I noticed what looked like a large cauliflower but zooming in showed it to be a  massive Yellow crassula,  Crassula vaginata, and no I have no idea why!

The weekenders really outdid themselves and my little corner that had previously only ever had a couple of tents was crammed with seven other vans of which three were Exclusives like mine. Then a sight never before witnessed a towing rig that dwarfed an Exclusive, a full house Unimog, double cab with 32 in wheels, one-upmanship at it's finest.  Unfortunately I was a bit slow on the uptake and only managed to get a pic as it was leaving.

My time at Badplaas is drawing to a close and a bird which will be a lifer is calling from Mkuse so will probably be heading that way soon.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Boksburg by the sea

There's this blasted sparrow, 4 am regular as clockwork he opens his beak.  While he appears to be convinced that his virtuoso performance is worthy of Pavarotti, my opinion is rather more jaded - someone suffering from a strangulated hernia rising from the couch more like.

Have perhaps mentioned in previous posts that there's not a lot to do in Boksburg which makes visits to surrounding areas almost compulsory.  Not too far off near the little dump of Nigel lie the Marievale wetlands.  Surrounded by mine dumps and farmlands it's a minor miracle that they still exist and continue to attract multitudes of avian visitors.  As water levels were high most of the dabblers were absent and waders few and far between though there were others worth looking at.  Below is a part of a group of over 30 glossy ibises (or is it ibi?) picking up tit-bits from the next door farmers maize field - never seen so many in one place at one time before.

As with my visit around this time last year the grass aloes were numerous though rather understated compared to their more garish cousins.

My namesake the yellow-crowned Bishop was strutting his stuff but wouldn't sit still long enough for a decent shot, still remarkably pretty - like me?

Initially thought that this was an ant-eating chat but the white vent just visible here, pointed to it being the dark form of mountain chat..............

...................which was confirmed when it's mate pitched up.  

Continuing with my new regimen required an hour's stroll every day and tiring of the suburbs I was driven onto the abandoned mine property nearby which boasts the grandly named Cinderella dam.  The dam itself is very much of the before Cinderella variety as  the municipality once allowed a lot of raw sewage to escape into it, though it is slowly coming right.  I found a number of walks around and near it though kept a wary eye out for shafts and sink holes - only one shaft actually and it was covered and fenced.  Discovered a patch of these which didn't ring any bells so assumed they were garden escapees which my sister confirmed -  soap-wort, ghastly name but apparently it was used to make soap in the days of yore.

Had a mail from Gina who lived next door to us in Forest Hills and as she now lives in Jo'burg she suggested a walk.  As my knowledge of the area is sketchy I asked if she could think of a place and she suggested Klipriveirsberg nature reserve in Mondeor south of the city.  What a revelation, I lived for six years in Brackenhurst a chip and a putt away and had never heard of it.  It's a hilly area of 640 hectares run by Johannesburg city parks and is really rather special and quite popular.  Gina dragged me off up something akin to Kilimanjaro and I eventually had to say sorry but I can't talk and climb.

Somewhere near the top some gorgeous  gladiolas allowed some respite as I had to take a picture.

On an adjacent hillside were small herds of zebra and blesbok and on the way back down we came across these unusual ipomea crassipes, or leafy flowered ipomea of all things.

Another favourite is Suikerbosrand near Heidelberg and as I was there rather late in the day the birds were a bit scarce but I did run into a massive herd of eland.  They were on a slope above the road and I got out for a better look and started a stampede.  It sounded like something out of an old western movie as at least a hundred of them galloped across the road and down into the valley - only just visible as a bunch of black dots between the bushy patch and the hill below.

Once safely down the valley they stopped running, an impressive sight indeed.

As my brother-in-law remarked I now have a beautiful, 20 year-old in my life and she's a real goer! Can't say that's ever happened before but we've been having a lot of fun together.  Spent a lot of time removing what looked like 20 years of road dirt and sorting a few minor niggles, and of course the authorities really love making you jump through endless hoops to get it registered in your name.  After three visits to the local traffic department, I finally managed to get all the paperwork right, only to have the machine go on the blink when they were printing the registration paper.  Of course being late afternoon there was nothing to be done but return again the next day - they did have the decency to apologise though.

Two months have flown by and it was time to collect the Beast and head off.  I really want to ride the passes around Sabie so have booked into Forever Badplaas, a massive complex with every imaginable type of accommodation and after a couple of attempts eventually settled on this site tucked away in the shade.  It's really tough making decisions when you haven't got a lady telling you what to do.

Unlike Boksburg where trees, tiles and tall walls conspire to hide the sky, I was sipping a sun-downer on the stoep on my second night, when I when I noticed a full moon creeping into the sky.  This was a blue moon as it was the second of the month and in some parts of the world it was a blue blood moon as there was also an eclipse which unfortunately occurred at 2 pm our time.

The reason for the resort is the hot spring but there is a game reserve attached, in which I've only seen impala so far but the surrounds are quite majestic.  The plan is to get the bike here somehow and use it as a base for mountain excursions.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Total Loskop

Loskopdam is a truly splendid place which encouraged me to walk every day and swim every afternoon.  It takes an hour to walk around the perimeter of the camp but there are other options, all of which offer spectacular views.  The dam wall was completed in 1939 and raised during the 80's and supplies water to farms all along the valley to Groblersdal and on to Marble Hall.

A large canal runs for over 60 kms feeding numerous reservoirs on farms along the way.  The range of produce is prodigious (sorry) and includes citrus, maize, table grapes, potatoes, cabbage, butternut and tobacco among others.

Most farms employ these massive centre-pivot irrigation systems which must cost a fortune but are obviously worth it.  Always assumed that they moved continuously but that's not the case, they remain stationary for a fixed period then roll forward for about one revolution of the outermost wheel.  As all the wheels will travel a different distance depending on how far they are from the pivot, I'm guessing there must be a computer involved somewhere.

The resulting crops are impressive, over a course of a week I passed a farm where they were harvesting potatoes which were loaded onto a constant stream of trucks. At around 20 tons a pop thems plenty taters.

I discovered the Guinea fowl trail quite by accident and this lead up one of the surrounding hills to a large communications tower and on a higher hill beyond the fence line sits Arend's Rus.

No idea who owns it but it appeared deserted so is probably a weekend hideaway which must have the most wondrous view.

In the camp a bougainvillea was in full, shocking pink bloom.  A benign alien that doesn't seed so I'll allow it!

This is better, a local asparagus fern in not quite as colourful or in your face...........

...........or how about a Tapinanthus, a parasite that features green-headed, matchstick flowers that eventually open to attract the sunbirds.

Mentioned being impressed with Middelburg just up the road so went to spend a weekend to try and find storage for the Beast and have a snoop. The first thing that hits you is how clean the place is, the second how pretty the suburbs are with any number of old houses that have been beautifully restored.

I stayed just outside the town at a place called Pienaarsdam which boasted a lion sanctuary.  Sorry but I don't see a hectare of electric fenced grassland as a "sanctuary" but they did have a magnificent white male.

On the other side of the dam is the Loskop Nature Reserve and while strolling around out of the car I happened to glance back down the road and just saw a flash of a pachyderms bottom as it disappeared into the woodland.  Later evidence of recently used middens pointed to rhino which was rather surprising and it was confirmed a couple of days later by Koos, a fisherman friend who saw two from his boat.

At one listening stop while atlassing I heard a weird growly sound that turned out to be a juvenile golden-tailed woodpecker pestering his old man (above) for food.  One road leads to the top of what appears to be the highest hill in the reserve, providing splendid views to the dam in the distance.

Have never heard a satisfactory explanation for this behaviour but when coqui francolins get to a piece of open ground, in this case the road, they go into stealth mode, flattening their bodies and creeping forward at a snails' pace.  I would have thought that they were making themselves more vulnerable than just galloping across or better yet flying.

Down at the waters' edge came a cross this pair of whiskered terns in their rather natty breeding plumage.

I'd never been to Marakele National Park as as it was fairly close I made a booking at Griffon's Rest a private camp on the border of the reserve.  Access is via Bekker's Pass, some 16 km of the most appalling road imaginable.  Three-quarters of an hour later I arrived at the gate and dialed the number given.  No signal so ended up back down the pass to the main gate where I took this looking back to the Waterberg. Griffon's Rest is below the cliff on the extreme right and as you can see, the lower sections of the reserve were bone dry.

Finally managed to get hold of Alois who met me at the gate after my third go at the pass - poor bakkie. That's the cliff which is host to the largest Cape vulture colony in RSA...........

.......and this was my abode for three nights, wonder why it's called Fig Cottage?

Had to do the pass again in the morning but when I arrived at the gate at around half six I was informed that it only opened at seven.  Bother said I and went for a walk.

As mentioned the lower reaches were not only dry but had been ravaged by a fairly recent fire, so though I was informed that it contained the big five, I certainly didn't see them but there were other distractions. Some time in the past someone said "I want to put a tower up there," the highest point of the Waterberg, "so build me a road."

The result is this......  Single lane tar that in places is so tight you'd never get past another vehicle and in others has such precipitous drops to the side you end up scraping your wing mirror trying to keep away from them.  Interesting to say the least, didn't meet anyone on the way up but coming down provided a few laughs.

Interestingly the only place that had any sort of grass was a valley through which the road passed on the way up but it was also devoid of animals.

The view from the top was sublime, stretching all the way to Thabazimbi 30 km distant.

Although the area had been burnt there were not many flowers in bloom other than these little Felicias.

Descending once more into the lush valley at last came across some animals..............

...............a pair of reed buck and later a few wildebeest.

Though there was plenty of evidence of elephant and some old rhino middens I suspect that they had cleared off to some other part of the reserve where more food was available.

Heading back to the cottage I had the pleasure of another drive up Bekker's Pass and the following day just chilled in the camp.

Sitting with a sun-downer I just happened to look up as something dropped from under the eaves and assumed it was a bird, but as nothing else happened I strolled over and found this little beaut.  A brown house snake busy consuming dinner - a large gecko.  It really is quite astounding to watch them ease their whole body around things much larger in diameter than themselves.  There was so much stretching going on that it appeared to be a powder blue house snake.

All done and as I didn't want the staff jumping up and down on it I gently persuaded it to take cover under some rocks to digest.

I met Koos when he noticed I was having a problem with my nose wheel, half of which had dropped out on a very bumpy road on the way to the resort.  He helped me unhitch and as he was going into Boksburg the following day offered to get a replacement, which he very kindly did.  I suggested dinner by way of a thank you and as I wasn't a fisherman he suggested a trip around the dam.  Really appreciated seeing everything from a different perspective.

On the way to Groblersdal I noticed something on another hill, this time below the dam wall.  Zooming in with the telephoto revealed..........

.............another rich mans' residence which must also have a view to die for.

Meet Bob, who apart from the colour is every bit as ugly as his namesake.  He's a blue-headed agama that lives in a large acacia above my van, descending now and then to wander around and do a lot of bobbing, presumably to lure the ladies.

One morning sat on the stoep doing a crossword I hear a call that's totally unfamiliar.  Wandering out I look towards the noise and "It's a f.....g Blackcap," says I and dive for bins and camera as I've never seen one in the flesh - feather? No luck, bird's ducked with only the briefest of views so I play the call which confirms the ID but doesn't bring the sod back.  Enough for another lifer this year though and in case you've never met one, compliments of the internet here you go.

Had to take the bakkie in for a service in Middelburg and my service advisor, a delightful Afrikaans lady went by the name of Krappie Ferrari, and I didn't dare to ask.  I know krap is scratch and apparently krappie is a fiddler though whether con-artist or musician is not clear.

Sublime spot but when the storms come in, take cover.  The wind howls down the valley and as I'd twice lost my awning I bought what's called a storm strap.  Riiiight.  My second last night I was hanging onto the strap and trying to keep my feet on the ground when the rain started and was coming in sideways.  Drenched in no time, then the wind whips off my glasses and I stood on them.  I gave up took the thing down and didn't bother with it again.