From Diary 6
13/6. Wakes up a bit cold in Karoo National Park. The breakfast is served from seven, and I grab a fast bite, before I drive out in the park, to use the first daylight. Not that much life than I have expected, but a few red hartebeest, a gray rhebok and some fast duikers. The temperature is just between five and ten, and the wind does not help. Figures I have to stay in the car with my best friend: The heater, until the sun appears.
The park is made of a group of table mountains and the lowland between them. Low land might not be the right term; it starts around 1000 meters above sea level, and the peaks are around 1400 meters. I drive up through a narrow gorge, and reaches a plateau. Almost no vegetation and no animals. Can't blame them; it is uncomfortable cold!
Drive slowly back, and jumps out of the car numerous times to photo. Probably a waste f time: The light is still faint, the mountain walls I can see is in the dark, and way to large for my camera's lens. Meets the sun around a corner, and get out. Sun in my back, a fantastic view in front. Can se for kilometres to the side, and around 200 meters in front of me are a steep but vegetation covered mountain.
There is not a sound! After some time, the kudus and some klipspringers on the other side of the gorge feel safe enough to start grazing again, and I can hear their hooves hit the rocks, hundreds of meters away. A few birds starts to sing, and some cold insects buzz. I hit further down, passes the centre and drive out on a road in the lowland.
On this stretch of road, it is prohibited to get out of the car. I am sure they don't mean it. Why should they else grow their few flowering plants 20 meters from the road? You just have to take a little walk! On this flat and open land, some zebras grazes. They call them Quaggers, a species that was extinct in 1883. Later DNA analyses have discovered it was a subspecies of Plain's zebra. Animals with "quagga-futures" were selected, and intense breading might lead to an animal resembling the original Quagga: Brown stripes on the front, none on the back.
A large group of ostriches grazes in safe distance from the road - for me. I guess they most be the most dangerous animal in the park.
Here are also cape mountain zebras and some springboks. I make a fast round at the picnic area. A bit ghost-like: Nice lawns, newly painted tables, perfect grills and even a nice blue swimming pool - but no people at all. Meet one old geezer in the mountains, that is all. Bit strange considered more than half of the 40 houses in the lodge were occupied.
I drive back to the camp, and have a look at the small, but modern museum. The temperature have reached a nivaux, making a longer walk realistic. I chooses the long tour, which brings me up the mountain upper site the camp, in over the plateau, over a ridge to an other plateau, and down from that mountain.
There are fare from the vegetation I have hoped for. Mainly small scrub, with almost no leaves. A few ultra small plants flowers, and a few succulents hide under neat the dense bushes. Find what I think can be a Ornithoglossum viride. The flower is weird! The views are magnificent, but I doubt I can get photos of them; here is a slight mist, and I have the sun against me.
On the way over the ridge and on the top of the other mountain, vegetation starts to be interesting. Monsonia crassicaulis (or something looking quite that way) and Pachypodium bispinosum are spread around a small area. A bit further down, some Avonias is growing in bare grit in a small area. Looks a bit like this Avonia, but more scaly.
It is one o'clock, and if I'm lucky; the gorge I was in this morning will be light up by the sun. Drive all the way back to the back of the park, only to find the gorge is too deep to be reached by the sun in mid-winter. Well, the tour was not a waste of time; along the road, on the rock-wall, some of the quite dassies basks in the sun. As with so many other animals, you can pass in meters, but if you slow down, they are gone!
I only have a wake idea of the distance to next destination, and absolutely no clue to the condition of the road. Better leave now... That is; with a few stops on the way out. In one place, I find what looks to me as a Cussonia sphaerocephala.
On the way out, I notes a line of what looks like terrariums. Turns out to be the "Fossil Walk". This area is famous for it rich findings of fossils from the real early dinosaurs. Around 95% of all known species were extinct 251.400.000 years ago, when Gondwana were the world. Interesting, well displayed along an interesting walkway, but I better be going. Turns out I have driven 65 kilometres within the park!
In to Beauford West, where I might as well can gas. Petrol stations are not found along the minor roads, although they might stretch for several hundreds kilometres. 365 kilometres for 200 ZAR is not bad - unless you work in a South African nursery. It is around 4,40€ for 100 kilometres.
I leave the highway, and turns off towards Aberdeen. The area I drive in is flat and very dry. Only small scrub and a few succulents can make it out here. In a small area with even lesser vegetation, I spot some thick Euphorbias, and when I stop and climb the fence, I also see some Brachystemma and - eah - an other succulent.
The road it a straight line - and under maintains. Luckily, they have decided to let both directions use the one free lane in both directions. Except for some of the maintainers crew's trucks, I meet no one for the 50 kilometre roadwork. The rest of the 160 kilometres to Aberdeen have been made, and I keep a good speed.
Just outside Aberdeen, I turn left against Graaff-Reinet. The area is a bit more rich in vegetation, I see a lot of vervet monkeys, springboks, kudus, other boks and even a group of suricates. I reach the town a little to five, and find the Karoopark Guest House, I booked on the web. They have not heard of me, but I think I'm their only guest. I get an nice large room for 20€. The bathroom is larger than my Danish home and my rondawel, there is a small, but efficient heater and coffee on the room. I might extend my stay for a day or two, if I can find something and entertain me with in the surroundings.
Take a short walk back to the centre and the very nice church. The light should be right for the church with the up lighten mountain in the back. It is a Dutch Reformed church from 1886, and it is a replica of Salisbury Cathedral (scale 1:5?) The old (fourth oldest in ZA) and very cosy town is located in a horseshoe of the Sundays River. The Camdeboo National Park covers 15.000 Hectares all around the city.
Dinner in a mansion house from around 1850: Garlic bread and spareribs. Then back to the PC to write and have a fast look through the 285 photos of to day..
14/6. Fast breakfast, and then out in the park, to catch the morning rush. Had an idea of where the entrance should be, but drive all the way out of the city without finding it. Finally, a sign shows off to some sort of centre. The gate have to be opened by hand, might caused by winter shortest og tourists?
Several kilometres in, I meet a ranger. He seems a bit puzzled about what I'm doing. It turns out, it is the maintains- and training centre, and not part of the public areas. He explains to me, I have to go back to town, make around ten turns, find a yellow building and buy my ticket at second floor.
Of cause I get lost, but I find my lodge, and they provides me with a good map, and tells me I can obtain the ticket at the gate, which is in the other end of town. Can't win them all... On the way, I passes the large artificial lake, made by Ngweba Dam, which leys within the park.
Have to pay one €, and I'm in. Well, that is; in the "Valley of Desolation" part. Due to the parks layout, there are eight entrances, some with fee, some free. It is the same ticket that give access to all. The park is approximately 15 times 25 kilometres, with a pocket containing Graaff-Reinet city.
The lowland seems dry and brown, but as soon as I start to descent, the vegetation changes to green. Bushes, Portulacaria afra and Acasias with a lot of smaller plants underneath. Here are an abandons of animals: The park have 1000 kudus and I see a good part of them. Springboks, duikers, dassies are among the animals that are visible - till I get close enough to take a photo. My camera is perfect for plants, but not that brilliant for larger animals or the great views.
Among the interesting plants are huge Crassula ovata, Cussonia sphaerocephala and a lot of species I can't remember the name of. I get higher from the 1000 meters in the valley below, and some awesome views displays them selves around every corner. One point: Topscope, revels the big lake, a table mountain, the city and Spandaukop; an other table mountain. The sun is right for half the views, but it is hard to capture the magnificence of this waste area.
Few succulents hides between the rocks, and the bushes that stands free, have been "bonsaied" by dassies for generations. I lean out to see the wall, and get a 200 meter vertical fall as well.
A big shadow passes me, and it is made from a pair of the large Black Eagles. I had the camera adjusted for close-up, but they turn back, and I get some absolutely amassing shoots! They passes back and forward several times, until the dive down underneath me. Would love to get a shoot from above, but there is too much gravel on the angles rocks.
I drive further up the road, and reaches "Valley of Desolation". It have been breathtaking until now, but this takes the price! A massive wall of basalt, around 200 meters high and the same distance away, made of columns and larger parts - and with the sun perfectly flat in! Start to shoot photos, walk a bit by the path, and starts all over again. End up shooting a video - and I'm still sure I have not been able to capture the greatness of this awesome place. I am so glad the days of negative films are over!
I am convinced the path I have to follow continues over some huge boulders, and is rewarded with some real quite small plants. One of them could be my favourite Ornithogalum multifolium, even though it is a bit too fare east for it. The other could be Crassula picturata?. Hard to tell without flowers. The bulbs are less than four millimetres, the single leave around 40 millimetres long.
The view is even better from out here! The unfortunately happens; I get lost, and even though I really would like to, I just can't follow the path ;-) A consolation is the absolute perfect views I find along the edge of this mountain. And I even get lost into a small gorge, which revels new plants, among them; a Erythrina humeana. Realising the fact that I will have no chance to choose from the amount of photos a make from this site, I forces my selves back. The combination of just being here, not photoing in not an option!
The only invasive plant I have noticed in the park is some Opuntias, which the park management should do something about. They are not plentiful, but one I find is more than four metres high, and they have a bad habit of spreading.
There is still some animals grazing, and I even get some descent shoots of the dassies. Just before the exit, an gravel road leads to - something. The rocky area is more ore less covered with Aloe striata. I have never figured that as a groundcover! A few Sanseverias hides them selves under other more rough plants, and I find a single Pachypodium bispinosum.
Out on the plains, the scars vegetation suffers from doubt. Round the corner, I find a Agava farm. They are grown for their fibres. Nothing else to see, unless one still can be amassed by large groups of springboks, vervet monkeys, kudus and...
There is an other part of the park a bit further out the road: Gamedrive. Lowland along the lake side with 19 kilometres of gravel road. I am sure "Only 4WD" means you must have all four wheels on the ground at all time. I succeed most of the time... My plan is just to get an impression of the area, and get some shoots of the area with good light. Than I can come back to morrow and see the animals.
To my big surprise and pleasure, quite some animals are still active. The first I see is a group of suricats. A light gray falcon, king fisher, kudus, black wildebeests, ostriches, springboks and bar eared foxes. I have considered to make a little (banned) tour out of the car to make a close-up of a flowering succulent, but then I passes the sigh warning about Cape Buffalos. Well, I have done my walking for to day...
Hits back to the town to find the Mountain Drive. It starts in the other end of town, and to my big surprise: I'm not alone! Have only meet two cars in the park to day, but this small gravel road is packed with running people. It is the cadets from the police academy in town. Several hundred people in blue cotton uniforms are running in formation and sinning. Guess I don't have to look for animals on this stretch!
Probably a nice road, but I'm being a bit hard to impress! Drives through with only a few stops, and hit back in to city. The Obesa Cacti Nursery, which should be big, leys in the back of town, and I thought I might have a fast look now, and come back later, if it is worth it. Wow: It is! It is huge, and the plants themselves are massive. It was started by Anthon as an private collection, and then turned into a nursery. Now, the nursery and the display garden covers 10 hectares.
Unfortunately, Anthon is away for three weeks, and Johan who manages is Anthon's absent is just leaving, and won't come in to morrow. But I'm welcome to walk around and photo. Shoots a few, using the low light, and walks a bit around. It is massive! And caudiciforms larger than members from those species, than I ever have seen. This will take some time to get morrow! And I still miss some of the park - 2/3 to be more precise. I better take one more night here.
Strangely enough; I have only driven 100 kilometres, and taken 375 photos. Never the less, it is going to be a long evening, sorting them out. Make a break for dinner, which tonight contains og crumbled mushrooms followed by a tender kudu steak. Delicious! Try to get through all the photos, and finally; I get through yesterdays.
15/6. Heads out for the Gamedrive in the first light. Strangely enough, I don't see more animals than yesterday afternoon. In the low trees and bushes, the duikers are jumping scared around. A kudu mother and calf are more relaxed, and I get some great shoots. A few other red-brownish shadows disappears like lightning between the dense vegetation.
I reaches the open land. Seems quiet deserted, but in the back corner, a group of black wildebeest grazes. Unfortunately, they have the same security range as the other animals out here: 4-500 metres. I guess a 3-500 millimetre lens would have been better than my 5,8-17,4. But, as they say: The best camera it the one you have, when the motive emerges.
And when the wildebeests runs cross the road in a big cloud of dust, I'm ready! There are several groups of animals on the floodplain. First I encounter some kudus, then a group og fighting blesboks, some springboks. The all keep a rather long distance. I guess they simply are not used to cars. I have not meet any other visitors, and many of the animals in this park comes from outside. The park is only fenced to keep cattle out.
Back in the bushes, I see a black ibis. It have a fantastic metallic reflection on the wings. In a clearing, the suricats have their burrow. One is sitting guard on the mount, and he is jumpy! I would like to go out of the car, and sneak closer, but this is the area with the sign even I respect: Cape Buffalo. A group of helmet guineafowls run in safety, a single ring-tailed mongoose is visible for a split second - like all it's relative.
Finally, I find one of my favourite animals: The Oryx/Gemsbok. The live all the way up from Arabia to here, many places where is is too dry for anything else. Some birds and a large group of vervet monkeys, and I have been this part of the park through. On the way back to town, the road is being crossed by groups of ostriches, springboks and harterbeest. Onyxes along the road and all much closer to me, than in the Gamedrive. The main road to town passes through the park, and it is not that strange to see animals here. The problem is the traffic; I stop to photo a buzzer, but cars pops out of nowhere.
I passes through town to find the entrance for the larger part of the park. Fumbles a bit around, and when I finally finds is, it is closed. Need a special permit from the office and a 4WD with good clearance. I doubt they will buy my definition of 4WD, and even I can't really clime the twelve centimetres clearance the bakkie have is "good". Does not look that interesting anyway; just a rather flat area and a couple of table mountains...
Heads back to town, and
Nursery. But it is closed? Johan said I would be welcome, and after a tour
around it, I find a way in. A few workers weed and federalizes with chicken
shit, and I feel back in New Plant. Had an idea of shooting some photos of the
big sceneries and one of each cacti. After a while and 2-300 photos, I shift to
plan B: Get a few highlights and advice people, interested in cacti and in
It is just awesome: Thousands of cacti, most bigger than they ever grow in Americas. The area is around 110x160 meters, and it is NOT the pass ways that is taking up the room! In between the five to ten meter plants, small species hide them selves. Here are hundreds of species, many of which I never have seen. The only ones I don't see, is the one spreader around in the wild.
Many of the gardens in town, the gas station, empty lots, public areas are planted with huge cacti as well. The area in front of the nursery would be an attraction by it selves! And this is just the old nursery, the new one is real large, right out of town. I drive out to see a bit more, while I'm here, and wow, again! Endless lines of all different sorts, a enormous garden, shadow houses and cacti! Try to get it on photo, but to really show those ten hectares, one should use a helicopter, I guess.
I give up, and find the walking track near bye. It heads up the lover mountains of the park, on the backside of what I were yesterday. Can't take the car, but I can walk around (well, on the track) with good containce (wow, I can't even spell it!). And the "new" Monsonias are not close enough. Here are not many human footprints, but an abundance of hoof imprints. The eatable plants are almost bonsais, and they would make some great potplants. Even though the clock only is around three, the sun is low. Make some great shoots sometimes, and makes it impossible others.
I have heard Portulacarias should have different tastes, and now I believe. Some are just thick stems with little bonsai branches and leaves, other are massive dunes, and I believe all are P. afra. Not much new, but a single Dioscorea, and I'm not sure of the species. The leaves are round, bluish and not mere than one centimetre.
Get some great shoots - I think, but head back a little past four. The town should have some interesting museums and old buildings, but that must wait till some other time. Have only driven 80 kilometres, but there are close to 500 photos to go through. I prefer to sort them while I have just a wake idea of, what they should resemble. And those from yesterday are not done.
I am still the only guest, but I have nine employees this evening. I decides to try their Sirlon, which turns out to be a good choice.
16/6. The forecast said -4C, but I think it have been slightly warmer. Check out, and get away with paying 100€ for those three days and nights. I can highly recommend this Guest House, it is absolutely perfect!
Heads home, but baring in mind; I have the whole day, and only 350 kilometres to go. The first part is through the high, but flat, brown plain. Make stops at at least ten kilometres. First, I find (or re-find) an Euphorbia horrida, Monsonias, a Cucurbitaceae (the fruit looks surprisingly much like Marah) Pachypodium bispinosum, some huge bulbs and some tiny and very nice flowering bulbs.
To my surprise, I find a small colony of what I think is Boophane disticha. They should not be found his fare east, I think, but they seems to do really fine; small seedlings next to one of them. The next valley is more or less covered with Asclepiadaceae, some are just starting to flower. On other fields, I find the usual mix of Hoodias and Euphorbias, looking almost the same. They can only be found few places, but almost always together.
There are not that many flowering plants, but those there are, are extreme bright in their colour. In Aberdeen, I passes through the centre of town - in about one minute. It is a vide but deserted street. I pass bye Willowmore, which looks he same from distance. On one of the brown fields along the road, two large bustard walks around. It is the also the worlds largest bird - that is: The heaviest flying bird.
I reaches the mountains, and start the descent to the lower part of the country. After the pass at 910 meters height, it slowly starts to get greener, and eventually, I reach the farm land, with lush green fields and milk cattle. I reach the familiar Herold area, which now seems green. I guess it is a combination of the recent rain and me coming from even dryer areas.
Arrivals at the nursery around four, with additionally 173 photos. The five day tour have given a total of 1500 photo, 1100 km and I have only spend 240€. Ought to do it more often... That thought last to I try to do the final sorting of the photos, up-loading them and write text... The little bakkie have done real good; except from a broken key for the gas-lit, all is perfect, it haven't even used any water or oil!
17/6. Spend a better part of the Sunday getting the photos sorted through, and uploaded with text.
20/6. Have offered to drive Linda home to Port Elizabeth, and we leave the nursery around eleven. Take it nice and easy, enjoying the landscapes and the company. Make a stop at a farm stall, selling the most delicious homemade cookies and sausages rolls. I have to find a way to avoid that place on my way home; I am not able to control my selves in a place like that!
On the way, we more or less passes the nursery I tried to visit last time, and turns in. Weltevrede Succulent Nursery is a very nice and neat whole sale nursery, mainly with succulents and cacti, but also quite a few caudiciforms. We spend a couple of hours talking with the owner, until it gets dark. I'm glad Linda knew the way! I would have spend a lot of time finding Blue Water Bay from there.
A nice supper, and then I help Linda back-upping her PC.
21/6. Leave Port Elizabeth around eleven, and tries a new way home, driving through Langkloff. It is between two mountain stretches, where the fertile valley in-between is the fruit garden of South Africa. Not many of the plants I'm interested in, but some nice views and a change from the normal N2 highway (and I avoid the farm stall).
Perfect timing back home: Bo's Sct Hans Aften dinner is just about ready. This is the longest night of the year on the southern hemisphere. Not celebrated in modern societies due to religion, but luckily, some Viking traditions have survived in Denmark, and we know when to celebrate nature!
22/6. Repacking my suitcase, and off again. This time the upper site way; Bo and I are heading for Cape Town. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, The Cape, Greenpoint Marked and other nice places, known by Bo. On the way home: Karoo National Botanical Garden, Sheilam Cactus Garden and Soekershof Walkabout and if we got time; Bontebok National Park.
The Cape Tour starts at noon with the familiar road pass Mossel Bay. (Map of this tour.) The landscape slowly changes into enormous fields; several kilometres wide and even deeper. Few sheep- and ostriches groups, but mainly wheat. First stop at Breede River. The steep cliff on it's side is covered with Aloes, but they will unfortunately first flower in a week or two.
The road is very well laid out and maintained, but a small bakkie and a huge road train with milk manages to take several rolls right in front of us. Add a new dimension to "split milk"! The driver in the car behind us seem to know what to do, and we leave the locals to take care of the unlucky drives.
On several fields, pairs of the South African national bird: Blue crane wanders around (their national flower is said to be the plastic bag). Even though we started rather late, we reaches Cape Town comfortably early. Passes Kirstenborsch Botanical Garden, but I can't remember where exact the real nice B&B I sleep at last is located. Pick up a folder at the closing garden, and find a place nearby.
Huge private villa, transformed to six units, each with separate bedrooms and a nice kitchen/living room. Drive down to the shopping area, and find a fish restaurant. I dive with fish, I don't eat them, but their spareribs are great in any way. Sit an chat to midnight, and faint.
The last bit is in Diary 8