Penguins on St Croix Island

A little while ago I had the fantastic opportunity to go on a cruise on Algoa Bay with Raggy Charters and it felt like we hit the jackpot that day. Whales, dolphins, bait balls, penguins, and the cherry on top, a killer whale.

The cruise was the first opportunity for me to see St Croix Island up close. St Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. At one stage there were 60 000 individuals on the island, but the population in our bay has dropped down to about 22,000 due to various reasons. The island houses roughly half of the entire world’s population. The African Penguin  (Spheniscus demersus) is only found on the southern African coastline and is also called a  jackass penguin due to it’s loud, donkey-like bray. Their conservation status is listed as Endangered.

St Croix Island along with Bird Island across the Bay were both utilised for food and supplies since the first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in 1488.  Both islands were targeted for bird meat by ships passing the bay and it was soon discovered that African penguin eggs were actually a highly tasty treat and became a delicacy. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries egg collecting was so extensive that penguin numbers dropped to a shocking one thousand individuals in 1937. Guano (penguin dung) was also collected from both islands to be used as fertiliser and gun powder until 1955 on St Croix and until as late as 1989 on Bird Island. This was extremely disruptive to the birds but more importantly, it robbed them of important nesting material.  

Today the African Penguin is a protected species

Source – Algoa Bay Hope Spot – NMBT website 

Darlington Dam

A few months ago we spent a weekend on a friend’s farm near Darlington Dam and he took us for a quick drive to see what the dam looked like. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the dam wall itself, so my picture is of the runoff below the wall.

Darlington Dam, also referred to as Lake Mentz is located off the main road between Kirkwood and Jansenville and was completed in 1922. The primary reason for the dam being built was to provide an adequate supply of water to especially citrus farmers further down in the Sundays River Valley with irrigation water for their trees.

The story of the land on which the dam is located goes back to 1905 when P.W.F. Weyers settled on Darlington in the fertile Sundays River Valley and planted fruit orchards and vineyards. Later a hotel, post office, shop, smithy, house and several outbuildings were established on the farm, but these all disappeared under waters of Lake Mentz when it was established in 1922.

The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3, but the high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m in 1951. By 1979 the reservoir had lost a total of 41.47% of its design capacity.

The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam in view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area.

In the 1990s the ‘lake’ was renamed the Darlington Dam and today it has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park.

Aloes in the Karoo

One of the things I realised during lockdown that I was missing out on was seeing the aloes in bloom while driving through the Eastern Cape’s Karoo Heartland. It’s definitely one of my favorite things to see on a road trip and the thought of missing out on it this year kinda depressed me. Business travel opened a little while ago and suddenly I had the opportunity to make a quick trip up to Nieu-Bethesda for work. Yay, yay, yay! Outside Jansenville I just out to stop to stretch my legs and take a couple of photos.

Aint they pretty?

Flowering Noors

One of my favorite things about driving through the Karoo Heartland during the winter is seeing the aloes in bloom. But there is another Karoo succulent that grows between the aloes that most people don’t really notice called Noors. The Noors is a type of euphorbia and found especially around the town of Jansenville. They are smallish, thorny plants with milky sap and the reason that the region is called the Noorsveld.  

The origin of the name noors is uncertain but is believed to originate with the British whom the prickly plant with its yellow flowers reminded of gorse.  It is supposed that “gorse” evolved via Dutch speaking settlers into “noors”.

The noors is frequently chopped as fodder for stock with the result that Noorsveld farms can carry one unit per morgen compared with one unit per three morgen in Karoo conditions where the noors does not occur.

Rearview sunset

A week or two ago I had to go on an urgent work-related road trip and popped into two of my favorite villages, Nieu-Bethesda and Hogsback, before heading down to East London for the night. It was literally whistle-stop visits with no sightseeing. All business. Barrelling along the N2 between King William’s Town and East London the sun was setting behind me and the best I could do was snap a pic in the car’s side mirror at a hundred and mumble mumble kilometers an hour.

Langkloof Proteas

The Tsitsikamma and the Langkloof is linked by a short pass over the mountain between Oudebosch and Kareedouw on the eastern side. The pass only has 7 bends, all of them are minor. It does offer sweeping views of the Tsitsikamma mountains to the left (west) with the green valley on the right dotted with dams. The vegetation changes very suddenly as one crosses over the top and you enter the Langkloof. 

After a day in the Tsitsikamma I decided to detour via Kareedouw before heading back to Port Elizabeth and just had to stop on my way down to the town to take some photos of the beautiful proteas flowering right next to the road. The important thing to always remember is that you are not allowed and should never pick the flowers to take home with you.

The endangered African Unicorn

“Look mom, tourist types!”

One of the most precious things one can probably see in nature is a mother and her baby. Even more precious if it is an endangered animal like the White Rhino. The sad part of spotting and photographing rhino is that people get all up in arms when you publish your photos to show off these magnificent animals. I took the photos in this post somewhere in 2018 and as much as I would like to use them to promote the reserve I have decided to keep the location anonymous. It was fantastic though to sit and watch mom and baby out in the open just after they had a bit of a mud bath

“Wait for me mommy!”

The white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is the largest extant species of rhinoceros with about 18 000 animals left in the world. A popular theory of the origins of the name “white rhinoceros” is a mistranslation from Dutch to English. The English word “white” is said to have been derived by mistranslation of the Dutch word “wijd”, which means “wide” in English. The word “wide” refers to the width of the rhinoceros’s mouth. So early English-speaking settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the “wijd” for “white” and the rhino with the wide mouth ended up being called the white rhino and the other one, with the narrow pointed mouth, was called the black rhinoceros.

“Now that was refreshing!”

The white rhino has a gestation period of 16 months before a single calf is born. The calf usually weighs between 40 and 65 kg. When threatened, the baby will run in front of the mother, which is very protective of her calf and will fight for it vigorously.

Information courtesy of Wikipedia

Tsitsikamma cattle roadblock

We decided to break away to the Tsitsikamma for the day and rather than just driving in and out on the N2, we took the scenic R102. The three biggest industries in the area are forestry, tourism and dairy so everywhere along the way you pass plantations, dairy farms and accommodation and activity establishments. What we didn’t expect to encounter was a roadblock made up of cattle. As we crested a little hill I realised that there was something in the road about a kilometers ahead. And not something like a car or a person, but a lot of somethings. A herd of cows being moved down the road from one farm to another with the herdsman in front leading the way.

Rather than just sitting in the car I pulled over and we all hopped out to experience something that is very unusual for city slickers like us, being surrounded by a herd of cows in transit.

Being an 18 year old teenager, Chaos Boy didn’t really show any interest, but Miggie was a lot more excited and inquisitive about the whole thing.

We barely got going when the next herd appeared in the road. This one was moving a little faster with the two guys in the lead breaking out in a jog every now and then with the cows nipping at their heals.

This is what road trips and exploring on country roads is about. Experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

Grahamstown’s Bible Monument

Depicting an open bible, the monument faces the direction the Voortrekkers departed in

Grahamstown has some very well known monuments and historic buildings. The 1820 Settlers Monument on the hill, the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, the Angel Statue, Observatory Museum with it’s camera obscura and many more. One I didn’t know about was the Bible Monument on the outskirts of town and I would never have known of it if it wasn’t that I went in search of a Geocache at the site.

The story of the monument is one of Brits and Boers coming together at this spot. In April 1837, a Voortrekker party led by Jakobus Uys was encamped just outside Grahamstown on their way into the interior. At this spot they were met by a group of British settlers from the town who presented them with a Dutch bible. The monument represents an oversized open bible and is said to face in the direction which the Voortrekkers departed. The monument itself was unveiled by the State President C R Swart on 17 December 1962. The bible is now kept at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.

Edited – Pete Wentworth commented on Facebook – The bible is displayed in glass case in the lower floor of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Also in the glass case is the local press article describing the event (I think the newspaper may have been the Graham’s Town Journal).

Plaques on the monument depicting the story

By Ralph Goldswain: ‘DID YOU KNOW that relations between the frontier Boers and the British settlers were excellent in spite of marked differences in their ways of life? The Settlers never forgot the ‘roughly kind carriers’ who had taken them to their locations. After the 1835 war, during which frontier Boers and British were particularly close, the Settlers became increasingly alarmed as they heard the word ‘trek’ on the tongues of their neighbours. They were particularly shocked and concerned to see one of Grahamstown’s most distinguished, respected and popular citizens, Pieter Retief, getting ready to lead the Boers out of Albany.

As a building contractor, Retief had played a central role in developing the settler town, and had distinguished himself as northern commandant through the difficult time of the 1835 war. So distinguished had his service been that the governor himself named the main defence point in the Winterberg ‘Post Retief.’

The Boers had too many grievances to outline here but more than enough to make them determined to leave the jurisdiction of the Cape and British governments. The Settlers were concerned because the absence of the Boers was going to create a dangerous vacuum on the frontier. Many of them, too, were going to lose close friends. Led by two prominent surgeons, the Atherstones – father and son – they tried to dissuade Retief, but could not.

On the day the Boers left the trekkers and Settlers gathered on the northern outskirts of Grahamstown to hold a farewell ceremony. Thomas Phillipps presented the Boer leader, Jacobus Uys, with a bible and W.R.Thompson made a speech. He said: ‘We regret, for many reasons, that circumstances should have risen to separate us; for ever since we, the British settlers, arrived in this colony, now a period of 17 years, the greatest cordiality has continued to be maintained by us and our nearest Dutch neighbours; and we must always acknowledge the general and unbounded hospitality with which we have been welcomed in every portion of the colony….’

And then the Settlers watched for a second time as the Dutch wagons trundled away from them, into the distance, leaving only a cloud of dust….. ‘

Unfortunately three of the bronze plaques on the monument were stolen in 2017 with the fourth one being removed for safe keeping. The plaques were replaced in 2018 with stone one and the inscriptions were lazer cut onto them.

Aloes growing around the monument

It’s easy to bypass the monument as it blends in quite nicely with the countryside, but it’s really worth a stop at this spot that is linked to both the Afrikaner (Voortrekker) and English (British settlers) heritage in South Africa.

EDITED:

I have received a number of comments that contained additional information that I would like to add to the post for reference purposes:

Marion Mangod(Bowker) commented the following – The bible monument was erected at the behest of my grandfather Dr Tom Bowker. I attended the unveiling with my parents and descendants of the Voortrekker leader and of Phillips who handed over the bible, were presented to CRSwart.

John Turner commented on Facebook – Hockly’s book “The story of the British Settlers of 1820 in South Africa” has two plates opposite p129 with reference to presenting this Bible to Jacobus Uys in 1837.
Poor copies are attached for purposes of reference.

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Rob Smith posted the following as a comment on Facebook – THE PRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL BIBLE

In April 1837 patriarch Jacobus Uys was found with his followers camped near Grahamstown making tracks out of the colony, heading north. This profoundly affected the British settlers who, knowing Uys, could not be dissuaded, thought they should mark the event in some way. They commissioned an extremely large leather bound Bible, paid for by public subscription, and, en masse, proceeded to the temporary Boer encampment to make a ceremonial presentation. The following inscription was printed inside the front cover:

‘This Sacred Volume is presented to Mr. Jacobus Uys and his departing fellow-countrymen by the inhabitants of Grahamstown and its vicinity, as a farewell token of their esteem and heartfelt regret at their departure. The anxiety they have evinced of an endeavour to obtain a Minister of Religion and their strict observance of its ordinances are evident proofs that in their wanderings in search of another land they will be guided by the precepts contained in this Sacred Volume and will steadfastly adhere to its solemn dictates—the stern decrees of the Creator of the universe, the God of all Nations and peoples.’

Prominent settlers handed over the book with a full explanation expressed by William Richie Thompson:

‘We offer this book to you as a proof of our regard and with expressions of sorrow that you are going so far from us. We regret for many reasons that circumstances should have arisen to separate us, for ever since we, the British Settlers, arrived in this Colony, now a period of seventeen years, the greatest cordiality has continued to be maintained between us and our Dutch neighbours; and we must always acknowledge the general and unbounded hospitality with which we have been welcomed in every portion of the Colony. We trust therefore that although widely separated, you will hold us in remembrance, and we wish that all will retain for each other the warmest sentiments of friendship.’

In response Uys said:

‘I thank you gentlemen, most heartily for the gift you have presented to us and still more for the very good wishes with which the present has been accompanied…’

and his formidable and popular eldest son, Pieter:

‘…begged to thank the deputation for the very kind manner in which they had expressed themselves. He felt the deep regret at parting with so many kind friends, but he hoped that as long as they all remain united in heart.’