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A Report from

Cape Town - 12 Feb to 21 Feb 2000,

Dianne and David Lucas

We'd been promising ourselves a visit to Cape Town for years, but always seemed to end up in The Kruger National Park. This time, however, we were to fly straight to Cape Town for 9 days before Kruger could take all our time and money. But before we could even think about boarding the aircraft, we had to call in at the medical station, for David had somehow managed to collect an eye infection between our house and the airport. That sorted, our South African Airways flight from Heathrow was pleasant but uneventful, and a charming young man met us at the airport with our hire car. We shamed ourselves by getting lost in the airport car park (it was single story, excellent visibility, drive on the right, well signed in English - all the usual problems associated with foreign travel .) We eventually located the exit and headed south towards False Bay where we hoped to find a guest house called Windy Ridge, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and some penguins. Since it was a Saturday, we also hoped to buy some supplies, since South Africa tends to close down on Sundays.

Day 1 - We found the Windy Ridge Guesthouse up on a hillside overlooking the bay, and checked in for 2 nights. The delightful couple who owned this place were also birders and gave us many tips and much information regarding the area. For example, one of the key roads was closed, due to very bad fires over the hills, so we saved ourselves a long detour. After much small talk and exploration of our room (which was bigger than our house back home), and making the mistake of opening the huge glass patio doors - the gale force blast of sea breeze almost knocked us off our feet - we ventured out to Cape Nature Reserve. The place seemed deserted. We passed only a couple of cars on the road, and saw a few nice birds and wildlife along the way - Orange-breasted Sunbird, Bokmakerie, Spotted Prinia, Steppe Buzzard. There were plenty of monkeys and baboons around, and signs everywhere asking people not to feed them. They were recognised pests in the reserve, and we saw a ranger shoot one monkey that was hanging around a picnic area. (We also had read about a group of travellers who stopped and opened their car windows to take photos of baboons. The next thing they knew, the baboons were in the car and the people were out of the car. It took about half an hour before the baboons were satisfied they'd thoroughly trashed the interior, and the group drove back to the rental agency in a car full of baboon shit.) We continued on to the reserve centre and found the crowds. Millions of them - in the restaurants, bars, shops and toilets - like a swarm of ants. We didn't hang around long, and went for a wander.

We found a huge rocky outcrop which housed Cape Gannets and Cape Fur Seals, and nearby was a type of whirlpool created by the Atlantic Ocean meeting the Southern Ocean. We suddenly felt tired and headed back towards our guesthouse. On the way we passed Boulders Bay where the Jackass Penguins lived, and decided we simply had to stop and see them ! There was certainly a good number of penguins, each one of them doing something different, like a little community. Some were leaving the water, some were entering it. Others were running along the beach, some were snoozing. Many were, er, courting. Others were having little arguments. Most were squawking. But, each one of them was a delight, since these were the first penguins we had ever seen, and we were simply thrilled. This was pure enjoyment. We found a pub that served reasonable food, and later, back at the Windy Ridge collapsed into the huge, soft bed, and opened one of the bottles of agreeable South African reds from the wine rack. We reflected on our first day and the birds we'd seen. Red-winged Starling, Black Oystercatcher, Cape Gannets, Cape Wagtail, Hartlaubs Gulls and Lesser Double-collared Sunbird. It had been a good start, and sleep wasn't far behind.

Day 2 - Normally, David's first move would be to open the patio windows, but we knew better !! We enjoyed the morning view over the bay, and David spotted a whale that had swum right in the bay. Dianne was painting her toenails, and missed this wonderful sight - what can you say ! However, we set off out back down to the seafront to explore the gardens near the penguin area and see if anything was on the golf course. 6 am on a Sunday morning, and all was quiet. We parked on a street in a residential area and spotted the first penguin immediately. He was literally leaning on a lamppost on the corner of the street, just like a little man. Then there was another penguin walking along the footpath. We were thrilled at this !! We passed a house where the up-and-over garage door had been left open, and two penguins stood inside the garage alongside the car. Further on there was a sign that read, "Please check under your vehicle before driving off". We found the golf course and yes, there were one or two penguins wandering around the place, plus we found Crowned Plover. We had a quick look at the gardens and spotted Cape Sugarbird and Cape Canary. A bit quiet, so we drove on to a couple of other sites called Wildevoelvlei and Kommetjie to look for waterbirds. We found Sandwich and Swift Terns, Grey Heron, Sacred and Glossy Ibis, Egyptian Goose, White-fronted and Blacksmith Plover, Barn Swallow, Whimbrel, Sooty Shearwater, Darter, Stilts and various ducks and odds and sods. We the decided to visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and see what was happening there. We eventually found somewhere to park and waded through the crowds to look for the birds. The gardens are quite nice, really, set in the foothills of Table Mountain which looms over you all the time. They have various walks that lead up high, tempting you to climb the mountain itself, but we weren't to be fooled. We were in flip-flops, but some eager chaps were sporting tough, sensible climbing boots, and were racing along, their water bottles a-clanging. It's possible to climb up the mountain from the gardens, but since over 300 routes have been established, that's no surprise. We watched these hardy walkers while we relaxed with fish and chips and a beer. Hmm. Anyway, we had our own mission to get on with, but try as we might, we couldn't find any birds !! We decided that the crowds were to blame, since half of Cape Town appeared to be in the gardens, so we decided to head back to the guesthouse and plan tomorrow. On our way out, we spotted an official-looking guard and asked if there were any birds of interest around, and he proudly informed us that there was a family of Spotted Eagle Owls lurking above the toilet block. We trotted off to find the toilets, and sure enough - there they were !! There were 5 owls in total, and no-one had noticed them !! What a treat. We left them in peace and found our car in the swarm and drove back to sanity. After a shower at the guesthouse, we headed out for a drink, a quick check on our penguins and then to find something to eat. We ended up in The Penguin Café, no less, where we had a light dinner and a chat about the day, then back to the room. Once again, we crashed into the enormous bed and this time took 2 bottles of the wine. Before half of the second bottle had been drunk, we were both asleep.

Day 3 - Had we really only been in this room for 2 nights ? We seemed to have a huge amount of packing to do, but it got done, then we said goodbye to our hosts. They gave us some tips for our journey ahead, and when we told them we were heading off to Kruger for a week after touring the Cape, the man gave us a wry grin. He told us to take our swimsuits, for Kruger had had a lot of rain. We've been to Kruger in heavy rain before, so we weren't alarmed, but for some reason we couldn't forget his expression. Anyway, we paid up and left. Yes - straight back to say goodbye to our penguins - a rather tearful affair. We followed the coast road which was a beautiful route - the turquoise sea thrashing against pale sand and huge rocks, the sun beaming down and the sky azure. It was truly beautiful. Then we saw our turning, and left the shore for the sewage ponds. Mr Windy Ridge had told us about this place, but we hadn't expected anything like this - it was enormous. There must have been thirty huge lakes, all absolutely brimming with birdlife. We could have easily spent a day here, but this was only supposed to be a stopping off place. We stayed for as long as we could, having the time of our lives and the place to ourselves - I guess not many tourists visiting Cape Town get to see such sights - or such sites !! We picked up over 30 species here. Our next stop was different. We'd read of a small site about 6 miles down a road, look for a bridge, next blue gate, park 30 yards on right, cross road, look for gap in hedge, walk past several clumps of prickly plants, bear left through another hedge and start searching the rocks to your left. Our chap here was the Cape Rockjumper, and we searched and searched, then eventually hawk-eyed David spotted him standing on a rock !! A couple of other birders appeared, latching on to our find. They couldn't even see the bird when it was pointed out to them !! We then spotted a family of Rock Dassies leaping around the rocks. We continued on, and the scenery changed. We passed several Ostriches lurking around in the fields, and spotted a pair of majestic Blue Cranes - their long tail feathers wafting gently in the breeze. The road ran out, we turned down a dirt track and found ourselves on the edge of De Hoop Nature Reserve. We bumped along the road and came to the camp we'd been told about. As we parked up, a blond guy strode out towards us, grinning broadly. He held his hand out and firmly shook ours, as if he'd known us all his life. We'll call him John. We followed John through to the bar/reception area, booked in for a night and had a beer with him. He explained the camp to us. It transpired that 'John' and a team of 12 others built the camp entirely by hand from sustainable timber. It was stunning. The dozen or so wooden chalets were on stilts and very African, but had everything you could ask for, including a fridge, clean linen, fans and showers. They were all connected by a rustic walkway some 3 feet above the ground - just enough room for a crocodile to skulk - which would have gnarled high-heels and walking sticks. The main building was again on stilts and made from the same rustic beams of pale wood - looking almost Scandanavian. It was beautiful. We relaxed and David politely listened to John's life-story, while Dianne went for a wander. She found a steep slope which suddenly dropped from the kitchen area to the ground - it was about 10 feet wide, and about 10 feet long. It was also about 10 feet high, which meant the slope ratio would be about 1 in 1. Very steep indeed, but what was it for ? Anyway, later she asked David what he thought, and he suggested wheelchairs. We laughed, and the inevitable jokes followed. We wouldn't have wanted to go down this on foot, let alone a wheelchair, but when we asked John later, he confirmed our ominous suspicions. We decided to walk out, and saw Black-necked Heron, Capped Wheatear, Lanner Falcon, Black Korhaan, Black Harrier and Southern Booboo. We got back to the camp and met with John in the bar (at this point it suddenly occurred to us that we were the only 3 people in the whole place !) so he got us a drink and asked us about dinner. Would steak be OK ? Yes, steak would be good. He told us he did a very tender steak, so this all sounded fine. After a while, he explained that his wife was out shopping with his brother, and they were expected back soon. We hung around for quite some time, then suddenly he ran out as a car appeared on the track. Hopefully now we could get some food. The three of them were milling around the kitchen, chop, chop, chop, but each time John's back was turned, the wife and the brother seemed to be gazing at each other. Surely it was our imagination. Surely ? Eventually John brought the steaks. Then it started. How's your steak, Dianne ? Is it tender, eh ? How about you, David, is your steak tender enough ? Yes, they're both very tender, thank you. Is steak tender back home in the UK, David, and on it went, all through the meal, with John grinning and watching every mouthful - almost as if he wanted a bit -  and what with the carry-on in the kitchen, it was like Play for Today. We finally escaped and went back to our chalet, laughing so hard we forgot about the skulking crocs .

Day 4 - Up bright and early, skipped breakfast, packed and fled the madhouse. It had been very entertaining and a stay we'll never forget, but we had a full day ahead. We drove all over the Nature Reserve which has a scenic coastline with lonely stretches of beach, cliffs, a freshwater lake, sand dunes and lowland fynbos, although few flowers were in bloom at this time of the year. We saw Cape Rook, Karoo Prinia, Cape Francolin, Hoopoe, Black-shouldered Kite, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebirds, Red Bishop, Pintail Wydah, Fish Eagle, White Stork, Black Night Herons, Cape Vulture, Cape Batis, Pearl-breasted and Black Saw-wing Swallows, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin, Malachite Sunbird, Cardinal Woodpecker and Marshall Eagle. On the mammal front, we saw Cape Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Klipspringer, Eland, Red Haartebeest, Steenbok, Bontebok, Cape Fur Seal, It was such a good day, and if we return to the Cape, we'd definitely visit this park again. We picked up 80 bird species today, and it was very easy birding. We left De Hoop and drove east and found ourselves at Mossel Bay where we found a B & B and a town - the first we'd encountered.

Day 5 - Still heading east, we soon came to Wilderness National Park, which we immediately liked the look of. This is owned by South Africa National Parks and the standards are high. The main area had chalets, a lake where you could hire a boat, cycle hire, fairly touristy, but we liked the feel of the place. At the reception there was a small shop so we bought a few provisions. Suddenly we had the idea to enquire about the conditions at Kruger, since that also is SA Nat. Parks, and the lady confirmed the Windy Ridge man's warnings. Some of the roads were closed, since bridges had washed away. We were stunned. I showed her our reservation and she made a phone call, and had to change a couple of our camps, but apart from that it was OK. We were glad we'd asked, and thanked her, but that was a long time off, so we drove on through the park and found a beautiful lake where we sat and had lunch. We took a stroll up a track and were amazed by the numbers of birds this place held. We easily found amongst others Black Sunbird, Fiscal Shrike, Sombre Bulbul, Forest Canary, Knysna Lourie, Olive Bush Shrike and Dusky Flycatcher, but there was a problem. The mosquitoes were very bad, and we hadn't any repellent with us (Dianne's fault, as always) so we turned back. And as we headed back down the track, David stood on a branch and somehow managed to impale his heel on a large, sinister-looking thorn. He yelped and limped back to the car. This was serious, for we had to get the thorn out, but we couldn't budge it. We decided to drive out of this lovely park and find a chemist, so headed to the next town which was Knysna. This place was full of tourists, but we managed to find a chemist easily. The lady listened to Dianne's tale of woe about the thorn, and suggested black. What ? Black. Put a little black on the thorn, cover with a plaster and it should easily pop out. We'd never heard of  black before (we'd heard of black magic - could it really be ?) but with nothing to lose, did as instructed. (Black is a tar-like substance, which the lady sold us for pence.) Anyway, on we went, and decided to head to Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve where apparently we could have fine birding and good accommodation at Natures Valley. It was a long drive, but David's foot was sore, so that was OK. We easily found the chalet we'd read about - it was owned by a kindly lady who fussed over us like a mother hen. We got sorted out, and were pleased to see several birds in the garden. David suddenly exclaimed that his foot felt better, so we went for a walk around the village. We found Black Flycatcher, Bar-throated Apalis, Fiscal Flycatcher, Giant Kingfisher and several others, but what we really wanted was Knysna Woodpecker. It wasn't to be, however, and we decided to have a barbecue (braai) in the evening, since there were excellent facilities. The shop was a fair walk away, so Dianne popped back to the chalet to check what we needed and to drop the camera bag off, and while she was in the kitchen, a Cape Wagtail boldly hopped in to scrounge a feed. Sadly there was nothing suitable, but when we bought our braai stuff we bought some bread especially for him, since he was obviously resident. We had a relaxing evening at the chalet, but the wagtail didn't show up for supper, which was hurtful since Dianne had specifically invited him.

Day 6 - We had a quick walk around, but had a long drive ahead, now heading north to Karoo National Park. The scenery changed and became flat, dry and brown, and we passed numerous Ostrich Farms, and drove through Oudsthoorn which is the place to see Ostriches. There were literally thousands of them. We continued north, now really in no-man's land - the place totally deserted. At last we reached Beaufort West (BW), and just after that the park. We saw Cape Siskin, Cape Rock Thrush, Chat Flycatcher, Masked Weaver, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Mountain and Familiar Chat, and one of David's favourites - Cape Sparrow, or Mossie as he prefers to call it. The park didn't have any vacancies, unfortunately, so we had to leave the park sooner than we wanted to find somewhere to stay in (BW), and that wasn't easy. The only place we could find was a Formula 1 Hotel - one of those production line places where instead of a room, you sleep in a capsule - at least it felt like it. We decided to cut our losses and spend the whole of the next day in the park, so we went out for dinner and had an early night. But not before David decided the black should have had time to do it's magic on his foot. We tentatively peeled the plaster off his heel, gently squeezed the thorn and it shot out cleanly and easily before you could say 'Chihuahua'.

Day 7 - We actually had breakfast in this tasteless hotel. Not because breakfast looked so wholesome, but because the park didn't open until 8am. Back to the park we went, and birded until we dropped. Sabota Lark, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, White-backed Mousebird, Red-eyed Bulbul, Black Eagle, Sabrewing, Karoo and Tractrac Chats, Pied Barbet, Layards Titbabbler, Short-toed Rockthrush, Spike-heeled and Karoo Larks and Fairy Flycatcher. Part way through the day, we'd asked at reception if they had accommodation for that evening, for we couldn't handle another night in the capsule. They said they couldn't confirm it until 4pm, so this looked hopeful. We'd eyed up the freezers in the park, and they were stuffed with lamb chops. pork chops, steaks, sausages and chicken pieces. The fridge's were stuffed with cold beers, so the plan was a hearty braai and a comfortable bed in the park's modern surroundings. We hung around until 4, getting well hungry, only to discover that they couldn't accommodate us after all. The lamb chops would have to wait. Back to BW we went, and this time searched the back streets for a guest house. Eventually, we learned of a camp site that had chalets. This sounded OK, so off we went to look. We found it, checked in and moved in - then discovered that there were braai facilities !! And we had no food !! Feeling weary, we trundled back to the main street to find something - anything - to cook, for we hadn't the energy to go all the way back to the park again. We found a café that had a sad selection of cheap and nasty meats, so that's what we settled for. Shattered, we lit the braai, threw  the meat on it, ate it and went to bed. And during this feast, a South African who was in the next chalet introduced himself, plonked himself down and wouldn't stop talking. Hmm.

Day 8 - This was one of those days that got off to a bad start. We wanted to pack up and leave quickly, because we wanted to get back to Cape Town and it was a fair drive. But - we couldn't find the car keys. We wasted about an hour, searching everywhere, then finally found them underneath one of the beds. This was odd, because there were 4 single beds in the chalet, and the key-bed hadn't been slept in. (At least not by us - perhaps our South African friend had invited himself in). Anyway, off we set. It was a good road, and there was little traffic. But there were 2 problems. One was the weather, which was turning rather nasty, and the other worry was David, who was feeling increasingly queasy. We tried to ignore things, and the weather did pick up, but David was getting worse. We passed a sign for Karoo Botanical Gardens and David suggested we take a walk in there to stretch legs and for fresh air. As soon as we got in the place he felt a bit better, and the gardens were pleasant to wander around. There were a few birds around, and as we sat on a bench we casually mentioned that we still hadn't seen a Southern Tchagra - a bird we should have seen by now. And guess what popped out from under the next bush ? Yep, Mr Tchagra himself. We decided to press on with the drive, but instead of getting back to Cape Town, instead chose to find a room nearer. The closest large town was Stellenbosch, and it was here that we found the Ryneveld - a small but very comfortable (and expensive) guesthouse. We checked in and David collapsed on the bed. He was getting worse, so Dianne took him to the Medical Centre. The doctor took one look at David and put him to bed and immediately on a drip, identifying his symptoms as being a virus. Dianne had been convinced it was the meat from the previous night, although she was OK. This was 'better' bad news, since it meant that Dianne wouldn't be affected as well - better one ill than two. While David was kept in the centre on various tubes and bags, Dianne went back to the guesthouse for a beer. Anyone knowing David when he is ill knows what a handful he can be - and considering this was his THIRD medical incident of the trip in just 8 days, she'd had quite enough ! A few hours later, Dianne went back to collect David. (She was sorely tempted to leave him there, but she's a kind woman, really.) He was feeling a bit better, but spent the rest of the day and night in bed.

Day 9 - David survived the night and was feeling slightly better, but very hungry, so we tucked into a wonderful breakfast before setting off to what our map called the Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve - only to discover that it had changed it's name years before and was now a tourist trap. We had a slow wander around the place, but there was very little in the way of wildlife. We picked up Paradise Flycatcher, Steppe Buzzard, Helmeted Guineafowl, Spurwinged Goose and Swee Waxbill. David was still feeling a little wobbly, so we decided to go back to Stellenbosch and the guesthouse and chill out for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we intended going up the west coast of the Cape - West Coast National Park was the nearest, and if we had time - Lamberts Bay. We'd have to see how the day progressed, for tomorrow was also our last day in the Cape, and we were to fly to Johannesburg in the evening.

Day 10 - Breakfast, pack, goodbye to our friendly host at the Ryneveld guesthouse. The now familiar pattern before a new little venture. Despite David being ill, we both agreed that the bed in this guesthouse was the most comfortable of the whole trip. The softest white linen in the world. But - we must get on, so we headed up the road, spotting a Lanner Falcon, Jackal Buzzard and a Yellow-billed Kite on the way, and went into the National Park. There was plenty going on in here, with antelope all over the place. It was a pretty park, too, with plenty of attractive shrubs, trees and grasses. Then the park opened out on to a beach with a splendid view over the bay - once again that piercing turquoise-blue sea and snow-white waves thrashing around. The sea breeze was doing David the power of good and he felt almost back to normal. We enjoyed watching Cape Fur Seals leaping around, and saw one catch a fish and toss it back and forth, just like the TV always shows ! Birdwise, we saw Osprey, Turnstone, Crowned, White-fronted and Grey Plover,  Cape Cormorant, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling and the inevitable White Pelican. We drove into the village of Langebaan to find a bit of lunch - this small fishing village didn't quite have the desired atmosphere, being rather new, clean and modern, but it was OK. We looked at our map and sadly realised that we'd not have time to go any further north, so we headed back towards Cape Town. Along the way, we stopped at a reservoir which looked promising, and found Three-banded Plover, Ethiopian Snipe, Brown-throated Martin and Shoveller amongst others. We had to press on, and managed to find the airport without too much stress. Our flight was uneventful, we found our bus easily and before we knew it were in the comfortable City Lodge in Johannesburg. This may be one of the most violent cities in the world, but Dianne is always very happy there. We slept like logs.

Day 11 - Awoke with a renewed sense of adventure, for today we were heading up to The Kruger National Park - home sweet home !!!


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