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.

Paddling on the Sundays River

The Sundays River Valley and Addo is synonymous with the Addo Elephant National Park and have never really been a holiday destination unless you went to visit the Addo Park.  But this has all changed.  The Addo area is about so much more than just elephants these days.  It has actually developed into a holiday destination all on its own.  Addo and its elephants are still the big attraction, but the area around the park has also turned into an adventure and activity mecca.  Zip lining, ferry cruises, sand boarding, quad biking, horse riding and more.  One of the more, and one that should be on your to do list, is Crisscross Adventures‘ Addo River Safari.  Some time ago, and I’m sorry but I uploaded the photos and never did the post, I got to join a number of journalists on a media trip with Chris Pickles and his team down the Sundays River. 

We got picked up from our guesthouse and transferred to the starting point where we got giver the obligatory safety briefing.  Life jackets got dished out to those who didn’t feel that comfortable on the water and we were paired up for our journey down the Sundays.  My paddling partner was worried about not having paddled before, but Chris reassured us all that paddling experience wasn’t a prerequisite to go on the trip.  Turned out her was right, obviously, as stretches of flat calm pools were narrower channels with faster flowing water.  Never did we see water even hinting at a thought of turning white so this really is for everybody.  Our three hour gentle paddle down the Sundays River was one of beautiful scenery, sightings of birds, flowers, plants and even a water monitor dashing off into the reeds at our approach.

Two thirds along the way we stopped for refreshments and a walk up to a lookout spot over the surrounding valley with the river below while Chris showed us a couple of plants and told us some of the area’s history.  From here we were back in the water for the last stretch down the river to the pickup point.
The river safari really is for anybody who enjoys the outdoors and is keen to do something new.  The canoes are like flight deck ships and won’t capsize.  The only difference though is that these canoes are easier to control and handle than a ship loaded with war planes. Other than being splashed by you and your partner’s paddles, you won’t get wet, but the canoes do have water tight container for you to put your camera in if you want to take one. Photo opportunities there are lots.  Just a pity I was to slow to get my camera out for the water monitor.
Disclosure: I got to go on the Addo River Safari courtesy of Crisscross Adventures.  I received no further remuneration, wasn’t asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Sunset on the Zuurberg Mountains

An afternoon trip to Addo for an early evening meeting had me arrive in the area an hour or so early.  Problem? Not at all.  Doesn’t matter where you are, if you have a passion for travel and is a Geocacher to boot, there will always be something to see, do or find.  This day was no different.  I decided to take a leisurely drive up the Zuurberg Pass to pick up a Geocache I hadn’t done before plus it’s been a while since I’ve been up the pass and I was keen to see what the road is like these days.  For a start, the road is in excellent condition.  Secondly, I found the cache I was looking for.  Thirdly, and this was the special bonus of the day, I was greeted with this sight on my way back down.  A beautiful sunset over the Zuurberg Mountains.

Addo Palace Ndebele Private Reserve pictorial

Just before peak season hit us I was on a social media workshop road trip in the Karoo and Addo areas.  The night before the workshop in Addo I got to stay at Addo Palace in the Ndebele Private Reserve bordering the Addo Elephant National Park.  It’s always nice to stay and experience somewhere new and this was no different. Ndebele Private Resevre is a 2500 acre game farm in the foothills of the Zuurberg Mountains and about 30 minutes from the Addo main camp. 
Addo Palace consist of three thatched buildings decorated with Ndebele patterns outside and an African theme inside.

The main building, or Main Lodge, has five luxurious en-suit rooms and also accommodates the main lounge, dining room and kitchen.  Kudu Lodge has another 3 suites with en-suite bathrooms and kitchens while the Zebra Lodge is a family unit that can be used on a full self catering basis if necessary.

I stayed in one of the Main Lodge rooms with big spaces and high ceilings.  I had the option of taking the room at the end of the passage with the veranda that has a view of the mountains, but I gave that up to my travelling companion. Darn!

Although we had blue skies there was a nip in the air so there wasn’t a chance for me to try out their pool.  Would have loved to just float in the water and take in the surrounds….

I did get to do that though on the lapa wall though

Addo Palace would have been the ideal spot to just chill for a couple of days, but the road back to civilization was waiting the next morning.  Will have to make a plan to get back there some time.

Disclosure: I spent the night as guest of Addo Palace – Ndebele Private Reserve but didn’t receive any additional remuneration and retain full editorial control over my post.

A Pale Chanting Goshawk in Addo

I have never been a big bird expert.  When I started working as a tourist guide I went to a lot of effort to increase my birding knowledge, but a LBJ (little brown job) and an Overtheroadian were still the most common answers I gave when something flashed across the road as we drove along somewhere.  Addo Elephant National Park has a bird checklist of over 400 species with about 200 occurring within the main game area. In all the years that I worked as a guide and visited Addo, my favourite bird to spot was probably the Pale Chanting Goshawk.  Don’t ask me why.  I just liked this light grey bird with its bright orange beak and legs.
The Pale Chanting Goshawk is a bird of prey of the family Accipitridae.  It is found all over southern Africa and usually a resident of dry, open areas with low rainfall.  This species grow 56 – 65 cm long with a wingspan of about 105 cm.  They eat a variety of vertebrate prey, mainly lizards, but also small mammals and birds as well as large insects. This one I spotted on my last visit to Addo sitting on top of a thorn tree, but they often walk around on the ground as well.

I miss my ellie friends

Way back when I started working in the tourism industry I worked as a freelance tourist guide and one of the companies that used me had tours going to Addo Elephant National Park just about every day.  That means that I got to go to the park 5 or 6 times a week and I never got tired of it.  These days I don’t get to visit Addo nearly as much as I would like to and when I had the opportunity to drive through it on my way to a meeting I didn’t say no.  It was nice to spend some time with my old ellie friends, even if it was only for an hour or two.

Ziplining in Addo on the longest double zipline in Africa

The first thing people think of when they hear the name Addo is elephants.  On that front the Addo Elephant National Park is doing an awesome job attracting people to the Sundays River Valley.  But the Addo area is so much more than elephants and the rest of the big 5.  More than just animals for that matter.  The whole Sundays River Valley is a beautiful area with scenic drives and views, history, great eateries and a wide variety of accommodation and activities.  The new kid on the block is what everybody in the valley is talking about at the moment though.  Adrenalin Addo officially opened on 1 September and offers the longest double zipline in Africa.  A whole 500 meters long, up to 60 meters high and I got to try it on an educational organised by the guys from Addo Tourism.

Arriving at Adrenalin Addo in Sunland between Addo and Kirkwood, the first thing one notice is the platform up on the hill across the river.  That and the stunning surroundings with the Sundays River flowing in front of their centre, subtropical ticket on the hillside and citrus orchards all around.  While I waited for my fellow adventurers to arrive I enjoyed the view from the deck with a quick coffee to calm the early nerves.  Looking up I thought to myself that it looked seriously high but as a seasoned zipliner (or at least I would like to think so) I wasn’t going to allow that to stop me from doing it.  Once the others arrived we got kitted out in our gear and we were ready to go.  First up though was crossing the Sundays River on a raft.  Coming back we would be flying overhead.  The guides conduct a bit of a tour on the way to the top pointing out plants, fossils and the remains of the first irrigation channels.

Once we arrived at the top and climbed the platform I suddenly realized how high it really was and my fear of heights seriously kicked in. My fear took a back seat though when I started to look around. WOW! Looking down on the valley with all its farms and the Sundays River flowing through it is truly stunning.  We had seven in our group so the first three pairs went together with one solo zipliner coming last.  After watching the first two pairs go it was my turn.  I had Yvonne from Addo Tourism on my left and we were pumped.  As the guides hooked us up they explained what they were doing.  Two clips on the wheels (sorry, I have no idea what the proper word for this is) and a backup line behind us.  Step off the bench and… 3… 2… 1… GO!  

Stepping off and letting go was heart in throat time for me but once you are off and going all the fear is gone.  What an absolutely amazing sensation and something very hard to explain.  From start to finish the zipline takes about 30 seconds or so and once you hit the automatic brake at the end you just want to go again.  I’ve been playing around with video clips on my camera lately and has started to experiment with a video editor on my laptop.  This was such a great experience that I couldn’t help but to throw something together for this post.
Adrenalin Addo is situated about 15 minutes from the Addo Elephant National Park and a great add on for visitors to the park either leaving on the way back to Port Elizabeth or as a break before heading back into the park.  They’re also going to offer light meals some time soon so it would be a great lunch and zipline stop while on tour as well.  Other activities offered are a giant swing (which I didn’t get to do this time around) and canoeing on the Sundays River.
Disclosure: I enjoyed this visit as a guest of Ryan and his team at Adrenalin Addo, organized by Yvonne of Addo Tourism and the team at ECTOUR.  I received no further remuneration, wasn’t asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Tuskless elephant

The majority of the female elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park are tuskless.  The general opinion amongst laymen is that it’s because of selective hunting of the elephants with big tusks in the late 19th and early 20th century while others think it may be due to the vegetation (structure and/or nutrient composition) of the area.  Long term records have been used to assess trends and it has been found that although it could have played a roll, selective hunting solely cannot provide adequate explanations for the high frequency of tusklessness.  Non-selective genetic changes resulting from the population’s isolation, small size and bottlenecks (during the 1800s and 1920s) are suggested to be primarily responsible for the ladies in Addo not having tusks.