Long exposure, wide angled images. This one is Venus, Saturn and Scorpio.
The Southern Cross
I love passes, mountain passes that is. Just recently we traveled up the Gannaga Pass which is on the eastern edge of the Tankwa Reserve.
It is a spectacular pass carved the Master Artist of Passes, Bains. The man had an eye for sweeping, spectacular lines and his passes show his skill. His dry walling is spectacular too. Join us on a trip up and down the Gannaga Pass.
The Guardian of the Pass. Looking like an escapee from a SciFi movie, this rock formation faces up the pass.
The pass sign board. You gotta have this picture to show you were there!
Botter Bos halfway up the pass which you can see sweeping down the right of the picture.
Life clinging to the rocks
Those Bains dry walls still standing.
Gannaga Lodge at the top with a nice storm cloud.
All the modcons
Looking back at the Lodge.
Amanda at the top.
Verneuk Pan is approximatel 100 km from Brandvlei, a small town in the middle of the Namaqualand semi-desert. Brandvlei is approximately 600 km from Cape Town and it looks like this:
Gardening is not a favourite pastime in Brandvlei. Well with soil like this, who wants to dig in the garden? Not much water either for that matter.
The local pub called is called Die Windpomp – directly translated the Wind Pump, more correctly The Windmill. It has a friendly atmosphere and a suitably cheerful and chatty owner.
You notice the fire in the fireplace? It gets achingly cold in Namaqualand. This is not the coldest I have seen the temperature on the Subaru.
But it does come close and, when you consider that I was baking in 40 degrees the day before, it has got to be the most extreme. It looked like this when the temperature was 6. And yes, you can see camera shake. At 6 degrees in a light jersey, you shake.
Anyway when a friend heard I was going to Verneuk Pan he insisted that I visit a small settlement called Granaatsboskolk. He gave me a GPS and the co-ordinates and sent me on my way rejoicing. Why, I hear you ask do you need co-ordinates? Well simple, look at the pictures and you decide how you know if you have found Granaatsboskolk.
And no, there isn’t a place called Lus 10. I couldn’t find it so I had to ask. It is the special cell phone station for the Sishen Saldhana Railway line. More of the line later. By the way, the locals didn’t ask why I needed a GPS, they just wanted to know why this mad englishman actually wanted to go to Granaatsboskolk.
Half way there I found a hill. Mind you in this type of country, a hill can be just a gentle rise in the road. This picture was taken from a rise that the road prudently went around. The hill was huge. At least 10 metres high and about 500 metres long.
That is the way back to Brandvlei.
And then I was there. Uhm, correction, I drove straight through the place and when the road curved which it hadn’t done much that day, I knew I had missed Granaatsboskolk. So I drove back. Checked the GPS and the road signage and decided where to stop. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Granaatsboskolk. It is a cross roads, one clue that you have arrived.
Back to Brandvlei.
Off to Kakamas.
A Telkom installation.
The only dwelling in Granaatsboskolk.
And if you don’t have a GPS, how do you know you have made it?
Simple. The sign boards stop talking about it.
Actually there is some interesting geology on the way which I didn’t mention.
And now, the Sishen Saldhana Train. The train is well over a kilometre long.
And now, off to Verneuk Pan, but first a short history lesson. Malcolm Campbell was a man who specialised in breaking speed records. Verneuk Pan is flat and long. Two attributes that you need for a high speed race track. The race track takes a smallish portion of the Pan. The original racetrack, marked out by halfsunken car tyres is 19 km long and over its entire length drops 15 cm. Verneuk Pan is 53 kilometres long, so the race track fits easily. It is also covered in the finest dust I have ever experienced. About the only time I ever got dust into the car when it was sealed was at Verneuk Pan.
The Sooby at the starting point.
That glimmer on the horizon is not water. It is what gives the place its name. Verneuk Pan translates as the The Cheating Pan. Early travellers got out onto the flats of the pan.
The heat shimmer appears to be a kilometer away. It surrounds you and you end up in a circle of heat haze.
Everywhere you look is shimmer, as you advance toward it, the shimmer retreats, luring you on to your death from dehydration.
It is easy to go into the centre of the pan and then get lost. In places you cannot see the sides of the pan, just that heat shimmer.
I left the track and headed out into the unmarked pan to experience the unmarked pan.
When I turned around to find the track I must admit that I was glad that the GPS was still on and functioning.
The end of the race track and the end of the pan.
Did Malcolm Campbell succeed? No, he didn’t. You see that black line running across the pan?
There are thousands of those lines, mostly smaller than that one, made up of the local shale. It raises a lump about 2 or 3 cm high on the track. There is a cross line of shale every 200 metres or so. As the vehicle speed increases, so does the instability of the car. Each time you hit a lump, the car bounces slightly. The faster you are going, the higher you bounce and the sooner you hit the next one. At 185 km/h the Subaru was airborne longer than the wheels were on the ground. Very disconcerting, believe me. At the 400 km/h that Campbell was aiming at it would have been impossible to control the car.
Interestingly, the Sooby did not like accelerating on the dusty surface and the take off from the start was slow and sedate.
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.
And art pic and a bird at once.
White backed mouse birds.
And a moonrise to finish off.
If you haven’t travelled the Swartberg Pass you have missed an amazing South African experience. The Lonely Planet books rate this pass as the best in South Africa and I am inclined to agree with them – and believe me I have seen some amazing passes in my life. The pass is 25 km long and we took 2 hours 30 minutes to get to Prince Alfred from the foot of the pass. Why, well come with us, and do see why and what you have missed in not following it.
The Swartberg pass is a Bains pass and, as with all Bains passes has an almost artistic flow to it. It also has a a prison on it, reminding us that the passes in early South Africa were constructed with convict labour.
The pass starts off slowly and the local (Oudtshoorn) backpacker lodges provide bikes and transport to the top and you can ride down the pass on a bike. Not something I would recommend to the faint heartd or those who do not like being shaken.
Pretty flowers, calm slopes lure you into the pass.
Why is Amanda holding the flowers? The wind is already blowing strongly here.
The ruins of a toll gate.
Typical of a Bains Pass, dry walling is the norm, not the exception. Where he got his dry wallers from, I do not know, but the dry walls still stand.
The road as Tolkein wrote, “Goes ever on.”
And then we met the time waster. A golden banded sunbird. We stalked it for nearly half an hour before getting these pictures.
And then the top. Note the effects of the wind. The tripods were being blown over.
Looking down the other side of the pass.
Flowers. The wind is gone again.
A clever depth of field picture.
This what those curves look like properly focused.
And then it just keeps on dropping.
Looking back up the way we had come.
How did we get some of those pictures. Simple we climbed.
Cape Fold Mountains. You can see why they are called that.
How does one relax on Swartberg Pass? Tai Chi of course.
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 megaâ€‘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.
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 â€“ 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!
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.
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!
Wet, dirt roads, wild weather. Just the best way to travel.
Getting across the Breed River is done at Malgas by pont. The only still operating pont in South Africa
The flood waters from the last floods left debris high in the trees
Still pulling as the sun sets
The reserve lying before me.
Fiscal Shrike Bath Time
Weird shapes of trees caused by wind
Rock eroded by wind and water.
Don’t disturb me. Can’t you see I am basking.
Chalet on the Beach.
Grey headed gulls