A trip to Namaqualand

This web page shows a few of the 600 odd pictures we took on our wandering through Namaqualand in Apri 2006.

A typical Namaqualand scene. Miles and miles of apparently nothing.

And yes, the road do just go on for ever. A bad picture. In the distance partially obscured by the picnic shelter is the Gifberg over Van Rynsdorp.

It seems as if there is nothing, but if you stop and look. . . .


The plant you are looking at is smaller than the palm of my hand. Approximately 5 cm across.

And it all grows in the impossible soil!

Like this! Baba boudjies no bigger than the tip of a small finger.

The sunrises are beautiful – Hondeklipbaai.

Quiver trees dot the landscape. The eland apparently like the leaves. You can see the trampled circle where they walk around and around the trunk getting at the lowest branches.

Communal nest are every where that is even vaguely elevated.

These Eland wouldn’t stand still for me to get closer. The eland? Those little dots in the middle distance!

Who says nature isn’t geometrical?

Rock formations are many and varied. The bones of the earth stick out all over. This one was interesting, not only for the layers of strata but also because it rang when hit with a hammer.

Messelaars Pass. All dry wall supports. A work of engineering in a dry, dry land.

This poor guy had lost a leg. Maybe one reason he stuck around to be photgraphed.

“If I lie still enough you won’t see me. At worst case you will see my gaudy tail!” This was one of many lizards that inhabited the walk to the most inhospitable setting for a jail that I can imagine.

The Jail. Again dry wall with a bit of mud work here and there. In summer the area soars to well ove 45 degrees centrigrade and this is in a valley. It must have been terrible in mid-summer and of course the winters aren’t exactly warm either. This is winter rainfall region.

I must admit, I did not expect to see quiver trees flowering. How I thought that they reproduced, I am not certain. The pollinator? Lots of little birds, but if you need to know aim that question at a botanist.

Me! Looking far too pleased with myself. The silence, the beauty of the area and the company made for a wonderful trip.

The company? Amanda, who is very easy to photograph!

Lunch in Springbok. Don’t you like the vivid colours. Possibly a buffer against too much dry dun coloured Namaqualand.

A broken flower. A pity, but a wonderful photo opportunity.

Here is a whole one. Amazingly they stand in this desert type sand and blaze out of the dun coloured landscape. The leaves don’t appear till after the flower is dead. Kinda back to front, but there.

The Kroon. The mountain that gives this little dorp its name. Kamies was apparently a chief in the area and the top of the mountain reminded his people of his hat. Hence Kamieskroon.

On the way home. Gifberg near Van Rynsdorp. If you are wondering about the colouring, it is because it was raining. Amanda snapped this one through the rain and it is a beautiful shot.

A trip to Niewoudtville for the Spring Flowers

Where is Niewoudtville?

Simply put, it is about 5 to 6 hours drive up the West Coast. As you travel the country dries out. The plants become drought resistant and eventually you find yourself in, what has been called “big sky country”. The horizon is far away and shimmers in the heat.

Niewoudtville is known for its flowers. It sells itself as the “Bulb Capital of the World” and rightly so. It also has a an amazing waterfall and so we are first going to visit the waterfall and then get to the flowers.

The waterfall is about 7 km out of Niewoudtville on the road to Loeriesfontein and would probably be more famous if it were not for the fact that it only has water for a short period in spring and early summer.

It kinda sneaks up on you. One moment you are walking through open veld,

Then a noisy, boisterous river appears but you stil cannot see a waterfall.

Then a couple of small waterfalls do appear.

You tend to be disappointed and to think, “Is that all?”

As you pass the small waterfalls you realise that the noise of falling water is not coming from the falls you can see. And then the world kind of falls away in front of you and you have reached the waterfall.

And then you are standing looking down 100 m (about 300 foot) following the water cascading into the gorge below.

And then it just ambles away without anymore fuss.

I found this lovely little waterfall that trickled its way to the edge of the canyon and then just disappeard.

We aslo found plenty of green slugs. They are remarkably difficult to photograph. If you think a slug moves slowly, try to take a picture of it with your camera set to Macro. But in the end perseverance paid off.

But you cannot go far without seeing the spring flowers.

Before we hit the flowers we stopped to fulfill one of my ambitions. To see the glacial pavement that was ground down when South Africa was part of Pangea and was at the south pole. The temperatures that day were not south pole values, but it wasn’t warm. Notice the jacket!

And then we headed out to see the flowers that colour the landscape of Namaqualand.

SASOL Tankwa Birding Bonanza

The Tankwa Reserve has intrigued me since the time I inadvertently drove the R355. How, you ask do you “inadvertently” drive the longest road between two towns in the whole of South Africa. Easy, is the answer, you just turn left just outside of Calvinia, looking for a quick road home after looking at the Spring Flowers. Simple really.

What I didn’t know was that the R355 has, to misquote the Eagles, “A nasty reputation as a cruel road.”

Problem is that there is this oil shale that litters the country thereabouts. From a distance it doesn’t look too bad. A bit black maybe, but not too bad.

Its when you get closer that it gets to look a bit more threatening.

Those shards are razor sharp and cut holes in tyres without much effort. To make things a bit more tense, the closest garage and petrol station is 150 km away. And to complete the picture, there is NO cell phone coverage. None of our national cell phone companies has got this area “covered’. Which can be a bit problematic if you slash your tyres in a place that looks like this:

And it gets awfully hot or awfully cold, depending on the time you happen to be there.
That is Skoorsteenberg in the distance and to quote Mike Lodge (who made some informed comments – thanx Mike) “It is the place where all the oil companies have been investigating fracking.” This will not be a fracking site, but has been part of intensive exploration by the oil companies.

This is picture of  Pramberg in spring. Picture supplied by Mike Lodge and taken by Carl Gerber. The spring flowers are, I am told superb and the picture gives some idea of the effect of the spring rains on this barren land.

Having thoroughly dissuaded you from visiting, let me change tack and insist that you MUST see this reserve. If you love drylands and what the Americans call “Big Sky Country” this is the place for you.

On the eastern edge of the reserve is the Gannaga Pass a beautiful, rugged Bains Pass and a must do if you are into mountain passes as I am.

The seer-oog flowers bloom in April and wait for the Spring rains in September for water.

Some more flower pictures

Hoodia. Nice to look at, but kinda smelly.

There are mammals in the Reserve and they are fairly easy to photograph.

And other critters.

The roads aside from having sharp tyre cutting shale are good and well kept and the country is photogenic beyond belief.

I even saw some humans.

Actually that is Amanda and our guide and mentor Johan, a voluntary ranger who showed us the Reserve with patience, courtesy and friendliness.

Here is Johan stalking Mountain Wheatears in the grass. And before you start wondering and worse still muttering, yes, I did play with the images. There has been some tampering. And to show my complete brazen cheek, a couple of art photos.

There are farmhouses and labourers cottages spotted all over the reserve. We stayed at Paulshoek.

Take a look in the SANParks website to get a better idea what the places are like. As with all SANParks accommodation, the place was clean, well stocked with equipment and comfortable. The next picture is not official accomodation, but it made a great hook for a landscape picture.

But we were there for the birds. And here are some of the pics we got.
Sparrows you will see aplenty.

Morning song

And art pic and a bird at once.

White backed mouse birds.

Rock Kestrel

Jackal Buzzard

Baby Martin

Sand grouse

Gabar Goshawk

And a moonrise to finish off.

Serendipity – A happy discovery

Serendipity (n) – a happy discovery made when searching for something else.

In this case I was looking for space on a portable disk to save a large chunk of data, so I selected a directory to delete, but being cautious, I checked what was in the sub-directories. Lo and behold, I found a bunch of photos taken 18 months ago while traveling, stored on the portable disk and somehow never transferred onto my photo store. If I had thought about it, I would have written the pictures off as being lost. Equally the kloof shown in this email came as a complete and happy surprise as well – so join on a trip up serendipity kloof in the newly opened mega-reserve of Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape.

A bit of background first. Amanda and I had been to the Grahamstown Festival and Amanda had to attend a workshop in the mega‑reserve which was on the way back from Grahamstown. While Amanda was busy the farmer on whose farm we were staying suggested I go up one of the blind kloofs on the farm. He told me how to find one and I set out. I was not very enthusiastic as the surrounding country was hard, thorny and, despite it being July, very hot.

The approach did not seem particularly encouraging.

Well at least there is a bit of water.

A bit more interesting! The kloof is getting narrower and narrower. Believe it or not, that is the kloof up ahead. It narrowed down to less than a metre in places.

Looking back.

There are arums all over the place.

Indigenous Mint. I was amazed to find that South Africa has its own variety of mint.

Water thunders down this kloof. You can see debris from the last heavy flood in this picture. This not a place to be during a heavy rainstorm. There is nowhere to go.

Many pools have to be waded through or climbed around. This one was climbable.

This is in the heart of the Eastern Cape Biome. The local vegetation makes the water a greenish colour. It looks strangely beautiful and tastes wonderful.

And an arty arum picture.

Trees grow out of any cranny that has some soil in it.

An otters breakfast.

The last picture requires a little explanation. The water in the kloof is extremely cold. Many of the pools are impassable except by wading and to prove that I had actually waded, I set the camera on 10 seconds delay and waded out into the middle of a small but impassable pool. The strange look on my face is because I was losing all feeling in my legs, was convinced that the brother of the crab above was munching my toes and equally convinced that time had ground to a complete, but painful halt – 10 seconds was beginning to feel like 10 hours. For reference, the water was just touching the soles of my boots. When I got back and looked at the picture I realized that, to get a correctly exposed picture I would have to set the speed and aperture of the camera and then go back and stand hip deep in the icy water again while the camera counted the seconds. As you can tell, I opted for comfort and against perfection!

Disas on Table Mountain

I climbed Table Mountain and found the red disas that endemic to table mountain. Red Disas or more accurately, Table Mountain Disas is the flower that the Western Cape sports teams use as their emblem.

Aside from nearly killing myself in the climb up, it was an amazing experience and well worth the sore legs.

The really nice thing about being in the richest floral kingdom on earth is that there are ALWAYS a number of species flowering, no matter what time of the year you go out looking. This trip was no different.

Just to give you some idea of the difference between our floral kingdom and the rest of the world, Table Mountain alone has more flowering species than the entire United Kingdom has.

Here are some of those pictures:

I went up Skeleton Gorge and you can see the steepness of the trek.

Me. I had to prove I was there and not looking too exhausted.

The top. At last! Muizenberg in the distance and False Bay in the background.

An unidentified blommie until I looked it up and lo and behold, another disa! Disa Ferruginea. Pays to do some reseach doesn’t it?

King Protea (Protea Cynoroides). The dew drops are for real. I was up there very early.

Campylostachys cernua. I was sorry I looked this one up. Blommie is so much easier to spell.

Gladiolus Monticola. I think. If you are a botanist, break it to me genly if I have gotten it wrong, but it is rather photogenic.

And here ladies and gentlemen is the star of the show. Disa Uniflora, the red disa, pride of table mountain. Take your pick. Pretty isn’t it and really worth the walk.

This guy came out to see what all the fuss was about and kindly agreed to be photographed.

More gladiolus? There were lots of them and they really look much better than the pictures make them out to be.

There were literally hundreds of disas. They are DIFFICULT to photograph. They live in dark holes surrounded by bright sunlight. Metering the camera is a nightmare and camera shake quite a common problem.

A waterfall. It had disas in it, but I couldn’t get disas and the waterfall, so just imagine disas!

He joined me for lunch.

More Disas!

This scene was so much like something from Lord of the Rings, I just had to take it. The End of the Road!

Agathapanthus Africanus. Growing wild on the Back Table.

Hely Hutchison reservoirs on the Back Table and the end of the disa route.

The way down. Nursery Ravine. And believe me it doesn’t nurse anyone!