Addo roadblocks, big butts and all

Don’t you just hate a road block? A lady or gent in uniform with a reflector jacket walking around your car and then asking you for your license. Or the “in thing” lately, the burning tires and throwing stones type roadblock. Or the pothole in the road roadblock where you have to wait for cars from the other side to pass before you can drive around it. Then there are the roadblocks you encounter on the roads in the old Transkei part of rural Eastern Cape. They type manned by cows, goats, donkey’s and baster brakke. One roadblock I really don’t mind though is the one you are likely to encounter in Addo Elephant National Park.

Strange how it is possible to sit in a roadblock like this for ages (I sat in one for over an hour once) and you just don’t mind doing so. Even more so if you start humming… “I like big butts and I cannot lie, You other brothers can’t deny…” with the voice of Donkey from Shrek singing it in your head.

Mamma elephant in the lead

A group of elephants is called a herd and is usually made up of females and youngsters. As soon as a young bull reaches sexual maturity he gets nudged out and joins other bulls in a bachelor herd of some sorts. Each herd is basically a family group led by a matriarch, an older and more experienced female, and is made up of her sisters, daughters and their calves.

The matriarch needs to be a lady of wisdom, strong connections and confidence as she has to guide her family group and they look at her for guidance to find water or food sources when there is drought. They also rely on the matriarch’s wisdom and experience to find the safest solution when they are faced with danger. 

One of the things you notice when visiting a park like Addo Elephant National Park is how the matriarch takes the lead and the rest of the family group follows behind her when they are on the move, especially on their way to water. You can always spot her as she is usually the biggest female in the group and often not scared to stand up to pushy bulls.

When the matriarch elephant dies, her position is usually taken by the closest relative to her, typically her oldest daughter. 

Nieu-Bethesda accommodation at Outsiders B&B

The last couple of times I’ve been in Nieu-Bethesda I stayed with Ian and Katrien Allemann at Outsiders B&B every time. Outsiders is conveniently situated on the main road as you come into town and just about next door to the entrance of the Owl House. Everything is literally walking distance away and you can leave your car here and just explore on foot.

I stayed in the front room which is comfortable and spacious. Best is the fact that the door opens onto the front stoep and you can sit and watch the day go by with a hot coffee in winter, a cold drink in summer or a glass of wine at any time.

Breakfast in the dining room included stone ground bread from flour ground at the local historic watermill and bacon and eggs made to order by Ian. Local honey and jam, fresh fruit and a lekker cup of boeretroos (coffee) rounded it out.

Time to grab my coffee and go and sit out on the stoep to enjoy the morning sun. Hoping that it won’t be too long before I get the opportunity again.

Inspirational food in Nieu-Bethesda

One of the things you can always be sure of while traveling through the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape is that you will get good food, fantastic hospitality and a full tummy. Visiting Nieu-Bethesda one would expect your meal to be lamp chops, a hearty stew or something straight from granny’s kitchen. So finding a place with inspirational fusion foods straight out of something you’ll expect on a Master Chef cooking competition was totally unexpected. Enters Barbara and Johan Weitz of The Ibis. Their little restaurant is called Stirlings and all their meals incorporate indigenous medicinal herbs and plants harvested from the veld and their own vegetable garden as well as locally sourced meat and produce.

I was in Nieu-Bethesda for a tourism meeting at The Ibis and afterwards Barbara gave us a taste of what they have on their menu in the form of several mouthwatering snacks and titbits that had us begging for more. Not just was the plates put in front of us, but Barbara also explained what each item was and where the ingredients come from.

The lunch included the following items and is expanded on with a full 6 course meal available from the menu. Starting with the cup and going around clockwise:

🌱Roasted butternut soup with Wilde Als,

🌱 Babotie Tartlet with spekboom chutney,

🌱 Veldtroos, a digestive tea served with Wildmint, wildeals, Veldtee & lemon verbena,

🌱 Grilled Zuchini Parcel with Handmade Turmeric pasta, oyster mushrooms and a roasted red pepper & Nasturtium sauce,

🌱 Locally sourced cold meat,

🌱 Stoneground wheat seed bread with Karoo bossie Charcuterie, labne with Camdeboo Zataar spice. The flower for the bread is stone ground at the historic watermill in Nieu-Bethesda.

I could have had a plate of any of those items, but my item of choice was definitely the Bobotie.

The biggest surprise of the day came with the dessert

🌱 Roasted garlic ice cream with a veldtee shortbread, and

🌱 Wildmint infused Pannacotta tart with a bloubos coulis.

Yes, you read right. Roasted garlic ice cream. And before you say “Yuck!” That was my first thought, but it turned out to be anything but. It was the best home made ice cream with a sweet taste of roasted garlic hitting you in the back of your mouth just ever so slightly.

Next visit to Nieu-Bethesda Stirlings at The Ibis is definitely going to be on my list of things to do and then I’m having the full meal and an extra scoop of roasted garlic ice cream.

Nieu-Bethesda’s historic Dutch Reformed Church

The historic Dutch Reformed Church is probably the biggest landmark in Nieu-Bethesda. It’s perhaps not as famous as the Owl House or interesting as the Kitching Fossil Centre, but if it comes to landmarks, it stands out in town. I’m always in awe of the fact that such a magnificent building was constructed in such a small place and like to pop around when visiting the village.

The village of Nieu Bethesda was established in 1875 on the farm Uitkijk which belonged to Barend Jacobus Pienaar. The early inhabitants of the farm were always on the lookout for wild animals and raiding Bushmen, hence the name Uitkijk, loosely translated as Lookout. The farm was located in the well-watered valley of the Gat River within the Sneeuberge.

Although Nieu Bethesda is relatively close to Graaff-Reinet, the mountainous terrain and the treacherous weather conditions with summer temperatures in the 40C and heavy snow in winter, made it difficult for the farming community in the area to travel the 8-hour journey to the mother church in Graaff-Reinet. The land was purchased from Pienaar on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church council for the price of £4000 on 8 February 1875.

In 1878 Rev. Charles Murray from Graaff-Reinet made a few suggestions regarding a name for the village and at the founders meeting said: “Laten sy dese plaats nu Bethesda noemen.” These words are reported to have been minuted incorrectly as “Laten wij het Nieuw Bethesda noemen.” In fact, during the prolonged negotiations, the name Nieu Bethesda had been used frequently – probably because of the strong fountain and its biblical reference. (John 5: 2-4.)

The imposing church building, with seating for up to 700 souls, was consecrated in 1905 at a cost of £7000. Stones for building the church, some almost 2,5m long, were obtained from the town commonage and the problem of transporting the long beams by ox wagon was solved by placing bales of straw on the wagon so that the beams protruded over the hind oxen. The magnificent church organ was commissioned for the first time in June 1914 and built by Price and Sons in Cape Town. It consists of 16 registers and more than 624 pipes. The church is still lit by gas powered chandeliers that pre-date the arrival of electricity in the village.

As I stayed less than a block away on my last visit, I took a stroll to the church after dinner to grab a picture or two. The church is lit up by spotlights which makes it look quite haunting especially seeing that the village doesn’t have any streetlights lighting up the dark surroundings.

Even though the church hasn’t had a permanent minister since the 1960’s, regular services are done by ministers from Graaff-Reinet and visitors can see the inside of the church by prior arrangement.

The roads of Nieu-Bethesda

The village of Nieu-Bethesda is located about 30 minutes north of Graaff-Reinet and literally feels like another world. It is so different from most small rural towns as there is very little development around which makes the place feel sleepy and peaceful. The road to about 4km from the outskirts of the village was tarred a couple of years ago which makes getting to it a little easier, but town itself has no tar roads, no street lights, no petrol station or ATM, only really one little supermarket and barely two hands full of houses in the town itself.

This is the main road into the village and peak hour traffic means a car has to stop for a couple of horses, goats or geese to cross the road.

One or two of the roads still have wagon stones on the corners. These were put up to stop turning ox wagons to bump into the buildings. Not that there are any ox wagons around anymore. Only a donkey cart or three.

The old Dutch Reformed Church in town was consecrated in 1905 and stands out among the surrounding buildings.

One of the main intersections in town. Dead quiet on the busiest of times.

The road in front of the Nieu Karoo Country Restaurant was pretty busy as we walked past to the river bed on our fossil tour. Found out a little later that there was live music by a fairly well-known band on.

The main road through Nieu-Bethesda. Before crossing you look left, look right, look left again, stop in the middle to take a photo, walk back to get another angle, then across to where you are going and when you come back a little later perhaps one car would have come past.

Not really much use for cars in town…

Nieu-Bethesda and its roads are best explored on foot

The road out of town past the Tot Hier Toe Padstal.

The Van Staden’s River gorge road bridges

Van Standen’s Groge with the arch bridge crossing it

The Van Staden’s River west of Port Elizabeth is the boundary of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro and a major landmark in the area. Most people cross the gorge on the N2 in a couple of seconds using the arch bridge while others take their time and drive through the old pass. But where does the name Van Staden’s come from and when were the different bridges built?

The arch bridge, pass bridge and the remains of the original crossing can all be seen in this photo

Van Staden’s got it’s name from Marthinus van Staden who obtained grazing rights on the farm Kabeljouws a few kilometers from Jeffreys Bay in 1744. From here he moved further east across the Gamtoos River and established himself on a farm by the next river. This being the river that was later called the Van Staden’s River. Marthinus plotted a rudimentary track through the gorge and in 1852 the first crude pass was built. In 1865 a new pass was built but with a drift across the river.

The current pass was constructed in 1938 with a bridge across the river. Up until this time there had not been a bridge but merely a drift. To the right (looking east) of the bridge is the remains of a short bit of tar that may have been where the drift was located. The pass was eventually tarred itself between 1950 and 1953.

Things changed drastically when the arch bridge over the gorge was completed on 12 October 1971. It has a main span of 198 meters and is 125 meters above the gorge. Interestingly the two halves of the arch were constructed simultaneously from both sides.

Waterhole gatherings

The best places to watch elephants in the Addo Elephant National Parks are at the waterholes, most notably Hapoor, Domkrag, Gwarrie Pan, the Woodlands loop dam and Marion Bree. This is often where you see the biggest groups together as well as the most activity and interaction. So that it is possible to sit at a waterhole for literally hours observing and photographing them. Not that most people do. They enjoy the sighting and move on to see what else there is to spot.

As Addo doesn’t have rivers with natural flowing water, man made dams have been created that are fed by bore hole water. They are all close to the road to allow unobstructed viewing of the animals while they spend time by the water.

Elephants drink up to 200 liters of water a day and also need to cool down bathing and throwing the water over their backs. Because of this they spend a lot of time at the waterholes, especially in summer and you’re probably most likely to have a sighting there during the hotter part of the day.

As elephants are very destructive feeders, along with the fact that they spend so much time by the water, the vegetation around the waterholes are often very much thinned out. The park has a policy where the water supply to the waterholes are often rotated so that the elephants have to move around to other waterholes and give the vegetation a bit of a break.

Yawn!

It’s a lazy and hot Friday morning at Kuzuko Lodge. The sun’s already baking down without a cloud in the sky. The pride spots a kudu and the two female take the lead in the hunt. It’s a patient wait watching it through the spekboom as it stands browsing unaware. Then the chase is on. Adrenalin pumping. Excitement. Hunger. Fear. Everything happens so fast yet everything else stands still. The kudu stood no chance as she gets taken down in a cloud of dust. The boys move in first to eat their fill but the ladies doesn’t wait very long. Tummies full. Eyes heavy. Time for a nap. Yawn.