Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland

Southern Africa

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Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t posted for a while. Well, my family and I have just been to southern Africa and recently returned. I know my blog is usually to do with S/E Victoria but I thought I’d post here anyhow. I literally took thousands of photos on our trip, most being of wildlife, and below are some of these.

It was the first time any of us had been to Africa and we did have a few concerns before we left. These were mostly to do with our safety and health, especially travelling with our two girls aged 7 and 9 in a campervan for most of the time. We were relieved that these weren’t as much as a worry as we thought as long as we were smart about taking all the necessary precautions.

Our basic itinerary included four countries in almost three weeks (South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana) and we began by flying in to Johannesburg (or Jo’burg as the locals call it) in South Africa. Here we hired a campervan and began a two week drive along the eastern part of the country. In our view this was better than going on a tour as we had the flexibility to visit wherever we liked and to stay the night at spots which looked nice.

Map of holiday

Map showing the areas we visited.

There were some mind blowing sights in SA and the highlights of the two week drive were the Drakensberg mountains, Blyde River Canyon, St Lucia, Hluluwe Umfolozi NP and Kruger NP.

The first major highlight was the enormous Drakensberg mountains west of Durban. Rising out of the rolling hills this mountain range extends hundreds of kilometers north and south but some of the biggest peaks surround the tiny mountainous country of Lesotho. We unfotunately didn’t have time to visit this landlocked country but apparently it is beautiful and the way of life has similarities to some parts of highland South American cultures.

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Drakensberg mountains near Winterton, South Africa. Beyond these peaks is the highland country of Lesotho.

The escarpment below Lesotho in South Africa was an awe-inspiring sight with towering peaks and deep valleys. As it was winter it was very cold (often well below zero at night) but it was also dry as most of the rain falls in the summer period. This area is a good spot to observe the endangered Bearded Vulture but unfortunately we didn’t have much time and didn’t get to see any. We weren’t going to spend the night there in sub-zero temperatures in a campervan!

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As you can see road safety is taken very seriously in South Africa

Another fantastic spot was the area around the forested seaside town of St Lucia. This area includes the World Heritage listed iSimangaliso (Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park. We touched on the southern part of the park and the area was abundant with birds and mammals. Hippos apparently were known to regularly walk down the main streets at night in St Lucia and occasionally their droppings were seen in the streets around houses and on lawns. They probably find the lawns very tasty.

We were lucky to see two male Hippos fighting in the water. There was some immense power in the fights but they didn’t seem to inflict much damage on each other, more bluff I think. Still wouldn’t want to mess with one!

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iSimangaliso wetlands near St Lucia.

 

St Lucia

Clockwise from top: Vervet Monkey, Red Forest Duiker, Crested Guinea-fowl and Banded Mongoose.

Inland from St Lucia our next stop was Hluluwe Umfolozi National Park (actually two National Parks joined together). This relatively small park was loaded with an array of plants and animals and this was our first glimpse of the larger mammals iconic with Africa. The girls had their faces almost permanently plastered to the windows of the campervan as we drove through the park looking at them.

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Hluluwe Umfolozi National Park, South Africa.

 

Hluluwe Unfolozi NP

Clockwise from top: Chacma Baboon, Burchell’s Zebra, Elephant and Impala.

Next on the list was the small country of Swaziland. This country has a lot going for it such as several game parks, traditional villages, beautiful scenery and relatively good infrastructure. The border crossings in and out of the country were mind-numbingly slow though.

Sophie with frog

Sophie with a Reed Frog.

 

Driving back into SA we visited an unexpected highlight of our trip and one which is not very well known outside of Africa, Blyde River Canyon. We never imagined we would see something like this on our holiday and it left a lasting impression on all of us. Unlike Australia they don’t believe in many safety barriers at places like this so we had to keep an eye on the girls a lot of the time!

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Aloes growing precariously on a cliff face at Blyde River Canyon.

 

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Spectacular scenery at Blyde River Canyon.

 

Blyde River

Some of the flora and fauna around Blyde River. Clockwise from top: Jameson’s Red Rock Hare, Rock Hyrax, Aloe species and Pseudoselago serrata

Not far from Blyde River Canyon on the lowveld (plains) was Kruger National Park, a massive 19,500 square kilometre game reserve and SA’s first national park. We entered just above the central part of the park and travelled south staying at four camp sites over five days. There was no camping outside the designated, fenced campsites for obvious safety reasons but during the day we did our own game drives in the campervan. One thing that slightly disturbed us was the fact that the campsite gates were left open during the day so anything could wander in! They did too! Some antelopes, monkeys, baboons and warthogs were regularly seen inside the camps.

Almost every kilometre travelled in the park resulted in a new sighting and a tick off our list. Occasionally a herd of elephants or some zebras would wander seemingly oblivious to our presence across the road directly in front of our campervan with squeals from our girls. Animals and birds were used to seeing gawking tourists and we could drive up to them pretty close before they ambled away. As the speed limit was 40km/hr on dirt and 50km/hr on bitumen there was not a single roadkill seen over the five days.

Lilac-breasted Roller. Kruger NP, South Africa. 28.7

Lilac-breasted Roller, Kruger NP.

Black-headed Oriole on Aloe flowers. Kruger NP, South Africa. 2.8.2016 (1)

Black-headed Oriole feeding on Aloe flowers, Kruger NP

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Baobab tree with Giraffe in background. Baobabs are close relatives of Australia’s Boab tree.

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A shallow river in Kruger NP.

 

Birds, Kruger

Clockwise from top: Go-away Bird (Grey Lourie), Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures, White-bellied Sunbird and Helmeted Guinea-fowl,

 

 

Birds, animals, Kruger

Clockwise from top: Hyaena, Variable Skink, Tree Squirrel and Crested Francolin.

 

Above: Leopard Tortoise and Blue-headed Agama

Southern Ground Hornbill. Kruger NP, South Africa. 30.7.2016 (3)

The enormous Southern Ground Hornbill. This species is highly endangered and we were lucky to see two separate groups of them in Kruger. This one has leg bands and was reported to ranger staff.

 

Kruger 1

More of the animals seen in Kruger. Clockwise from top: Klipspringer (a species restricted to rocky outcrops), Wildebeest, Giraffe and Kudu (male).

We managed to spot some lions which were high on our list to see. This was on a safari tour we took from one of the camps in Kruger during the late afternoon and in to the night. The second photo the female has her cub with her.

Burchell's Zebra.  Kruger NP, South Africa. 29.7.2016 (3)

Zebra at sunset

We often knew when there was a good sighting up ahead as there were usually a few cars parked haphazardly across the road with cameras out the window. Road rules were completely thrown out the window when something amazing was seen.

It was always good to see the critically endangered White and Black Rhinos but sad to read that in Kruger NP alone a few hundred are killed by poachers each year despite a major effort by wildlife rangers to catch the culprits.

White Rhinoceros. Kruger NP, South Africa. 31.7.2016 (3)

White Rhino, Kruger NP.

Kruger and a lot of other parts of southern Africa are unfortunately in the midst of a mild drought so many rivers and waterholes were low and animals tended to hang around these areas. It was the middle of the dry season as well so much of the vegetation was in the process of dropping their leaves. These two factors meant many of the animals were easier to see.

After reluctantly leaving Kruger we had to get back to Jo’burg in a couple of days to return the campervan so we could fly up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Vic Falls township was our base while we went on a four day package tour of Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The first night in Zimbabwe we visited a large restaurant called Boma where they served up traditional meals. Many of the dishes though included a lot of the game animals we saw in the wild such as Kudu, Buffalo, Ostrich and Crocodile so it felt wrong to try these! One thing I did try (with a lot of encouragement from the girls!) was a mopane worm, actually a caterpillar of the large Emperor Moth similar looking to the Witchetty Grub. I don’t recommend it!

The next part of our package tour was a boat trip down the Chobe River in Botswana. This was fantastic and allowed us to get very close to a lot of animals and waterbirds. There was also no shortage of Nile Crocodiles, some of which were pushing 4m in length, and the tour operator wasn’t shy about getting our dinghy close to some decent sized ones.

Many of the water birds were very similar to, and some the same as, Australian species. Birds like Glossy Ibis, Great Egret and Little Egret are the same species as ours. There were also Darters and Cormorants which superficially looked like our ones too but were African species.

Chobe 1

Clockwise from top: Glossy Ibis, Great Egret, Little Egret and African Darter. Chobe River, Botswana.

 

P1140066 Red-billed Ox-peckers on Impala.Chobe River, Botswana. 5.8.2016 (2)

This female Impala seemed like it was enjoying the attention from these Red-eyed Ox-peckers who were eating parasites off it. Not so much in its ear though!

 

This part of Botswana is one of the best places on the African continent to see huge numbers of Elephants and they didn’t disappoint. At one stage large groups of Elephants appeared out of the dry scrub and assembled along the banks for miles. They were used to seeing tourists so we got relatively close to them in the boat.

Elephant. Chobe River, Botswana. 5.8.2016 (8)

Elephants on the Chobe River.

Several groups of Elephants started to nervously enter the water, most likely checking for crocs first. They then began to swim across the river in single file to reach the green grass on the islands in the centre. One young one who couldn’t reach the bottom was coaxed along by the mum at the back who occasionally dived under the youngster and lifted it out of the water while it alternated between using it’s trunk as a snorkel and or holding onto the dad’s tail with it’s trunk.

 

Video screenshot- Elephants, Chobe

A still photo taken from a video showing the young Elephant holding it’s dad’s tail while being pushed by the mum. Chobe River, Botswana

Birds, animals, Chobe 2

Clockwise from top: Nile Crocodile, Slender Mongoose, Kori Bustard and Grey Heron.

Birds, animals, Chobe

Clockwise from top: Pied Kingfisher, Hippo (definitely male!), Waterbuck (male), Waterbuck (female). Chobe River, Botswana.

 

 

Yellow-billed Stork and Black Heron, Chobe

This Black Heron had an interesting relationship with the Yellow-billed Stork. It would follow the stork around and when the stork probed the ground it would fan its wings. Any small invertebrates or fish would try and seek shelter from the stork under the heron’s wings which it would then eat.

 

After the boat trip we piled into an open-aired safari car and went on a game drive of Chobe National Park. This park was much drier and sandier than Kruger so it was interesting to see a lot of different species. Another species seen which is similar to an Australian one was the Kori Bustard, Africa’s largest flying bird and national bird of Botswana. This is very much like the Australian Bustard’s plumage but is larger than our species.

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Game drive in Chobe NP, Botswana.

 

On one of the days we went on a three hour paddle in an inflatable raft down the Zambezi River which bordered on one side with the country of Zambia and the other with Zimbabwe. Apart from our guide and a rower we were the only ones in the boat so it was good to sit back and take it slow for a change. We didn’t see as much wildlife as on our boat trip down the Chobe but we all had a nervous moment when we came out of a set of small rapids into flat water to find a Hippo not far away from us. The guide and rower exchanged some nervous looks and hand gestures and they managed to move us away without any trouble.

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Hippo footprint on the edge of the Zambezi River.

One place high on almost every visitor’s list in Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall. It’s native name is Mosi-oa-Tunya which means ‘the smoke that thunders’. This comes from the enormous cloud of mist thrown into the air by the force of the water hitting the base of the gorge. Nothing could prepare us for the enormity of the falls and halfway along the top of the walking track it seemed like it we were caught in a windy rain storm as the billowing mist saturated us in seconds. On our last day we went on a helicopter flight over the falls and got to see it and the town in a different perspective.

In the township of Victoria Falls wild animals were free to wander into town and we saw a few different species in the streets including a small herd of elephants one night wandering on the edge of the main street. Talking to one local he said lions have been known wander the streets but they know that if there are buffalo moving into town there are lions around. This is because buffalo feel protected from lions in towns. A very crude early warning system and not one I’d trust 100%!!

The town is set up primarily for the tourist trade and is not all that big in size. It’s a bustle of activity for both tourists and locals but not far out of town life is much slower and the way of life more traditional. We visited a village where families still live in grass and mud huts.  One family showed us around their small patch of land of about 1 acre and it opened our eyes to how difficult it is for them to live off the land and support their family. Water needed to be carried from a well nearly 1 km away and food was a struggle to grow in the very impoverished soil. Not only that but they had to deal with bird flu a while ago where all the poultry in the village died. To make an income so they can buy extra food and other items they can’t produce themselves many of the villagers make crafts to sell at Victoria Falls markets or they transport animal manure to local farmers with donkey and cart. We definitely take our own luxuries and way of life very much for granted.

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Our girls checking out the village.

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The village ‘mobile phone’. This drum was used to communicate with other nearby families. Certain drum beats indicated different things such as a lion is nearby or if it’s party time. This guy had a great sense of humour despite many of the hardships his family faced.

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Weight lifting on the cheap. This was made by pouring concrete in milo tins.

 

Southern Africa was well worth the visit and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been yet as it will blow your mind. As long as you research the areas you will travel and speak to locals if you have any concerns it’s reasonably safe and hassle free.

..and yes, if you’re wondering, we did see the big five (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Rhino) but were amazed how much it was plugged at every tourist place we travelled!

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