Domkrag Dam lookout

One of the spots you can get out of your car in Addo Elephant National Park is Domkrag Dam. It was named after a mountain tortoise called Domkrag that used to walk under cars and looked like he was trying to lift them up. Domkrag is the Afrikaans word for jack, as in a jack to lift a car. Other places you are allowed to get out of your car includes Zuurkop, the Spekboom enclosure, Jack’s picnic spot, Algoa Bay lookout and the Ndlovu lookout. At each of these you get out of you car at your own risk and need to stay alert at all times.

The Van Stadens Bridge

Last Saturday we went for a walk at the Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve and followed the River Walk up to the point where you walk under the Van Stadens Bridge. It truly is a sight from below, but I think I’ll keep that photo for a second post.

The bridge was completed on 12 October 1971 and stretches 198m across the gorge and is 125m at its highest point. The bridge was designed by Italian engineers and the two halves of the arch were constructed simultaneously from both sides. As one walks up next to the bridge on the northern side there is a cement block that was used as the point from where all the measurements were done.

A CCTV system was installed in 2005 with a 2,7m high steel mesh pedestrian barrier constructed on both sides of the bridge in 2013 to deter suicide jumpers. You aren’t allowed to stop on the bridge to enjoy the view, but you can view the bridge from the bottom of the Van Stadens Pass as well as from the wildflower reserve.

Crossing the Great Kei River by Pont

Crossing the Great Kei River by pont into what used to be the old Transkei has always been on my South African bucket list. That was until I got to do it about 6 years or so ago.  Since then I’ve had the opportunity to do it a couple of times and I always look forward to it.  It’s nothing fancy or out of this world, but it is special because there are so few ponts left in South Africa. In fact, the only other two in South Africa that I know of is the one at Malgas over the Breede River in the Western Cape and the one at Sendelingsdrift crossing the Orange River into Namibia.

The Pont began operation as a vehicle transport in it’s current form in 1990 and has become a vital lifeline for the communities living in the Centane area. Before the Pont, it was either a dice with death in a rowing boat or a 154km round trip via Butterworth, just to get a few hundred meters to the other side. In fact, travelers getting to the crossing point too late on their way to their holiday destination often have to do the detour to get to their hotel for the evening.

The Pont is in operation seven days a week, 365 days a year. They only close when the river is in flood or the tide too low. There is usually only one Pont in operation at a time, but during holidays there would be two, or sometimes three, in action. Each Pont can carry two vehicles at a time and the first crossing of the day is made at 7am, when people from the Transkei side make their way across to work in Kei Mouth.

Update: I asked the members of the Wild Coast Holiday Association if they had any information on the ferry’s history and I received the following:

Sonny Taylor used to row people across the river before the pont, as we know it today, existed.

Russell Kruger from East London – “My dad used to run the ferry until 1977 or there abouts . There was no pont in those days and the crossing was first with a rowing boat then he got two boats with Seagull motors.”

Richard Warren-Smith from Morgan Bay – “I remember before the red ferry got a motor and the guys rowed across with a full ferry of Black Label quarts. Back when we were at the little school above the municipality. Between 72 and 80.”

Andrew Baisley (one of the original partners in the first pont) – “I moved to Kei Mouth permanently in 1981 and at that stage the only way across the Kei was by rowboat. After a few years, the business community came together and purchased this red boat to replace the rowboat.”

Graham Roebert, Andrew Baisley and Peter Myburg went into partnership and launched the first pont in March 1990. The pont from 1990 is no longer in service today. It has been replaced by newer models over the years, the most recent one having been launched in Dec 2020. There are currently 3 ponts.

Julie-Anne Gower of Kei Mouth – “We use to drive down the beach from Trennerys/Seagulls with the Hulley’s landie, and off road to the top of the hill. Park at the top of the hill and then wade through the muddy salt flats to the boat. We would then walk through to the Kei Beach hotel and the shop to pick up the paper and get the Matric results for the kids that were staying at the hotels over the holidays. Then reverse the process going home. When my hubbie and I were dating in around 93/94 we went over on the ferry, and it was just a rough 4×4 track – that has now become the tar road. It was a bundu bash of note

Walking up Lady’s Slipper

In a way, walking up Lady’s Slipper has become for Port Elizabeth like walking up Lion’s Head in Cape Town. At one stage only a few people did it, but lately it has become a very popular outing. Not very far distance wise, but a tough cookie as far as terrain. It has been on my “To Do” list for so long and the other day I decided to tackle it with the family in tow.

As the trail and mountain peak falls within private property under control of the Mountain Club of South Africa, you can’t accent without a permit. We left our car at the parking area at Falcon Rock Adventure Centre and this is also where you get your permit. The trail is open Tuesdays to Sundays (and public holidays) from 8am to 4pm with the latest ascent permitted at 13h30. Its best to walk early though before it gets hot or the wind comes up. Oh yes, and if you think you may need a rest stop in the next three hours, then do it here cause there are no facilities on the mountain.

The first section of the walk is fairly easy through the gum trees but once you hit the fynbos it starts to get steeper. About a third of the way up, we came to an open rock platform from where there are great views. This is also the ideal spot to take a breather.

When we got going again the gradient eased for a short while and then the big climb began in earnest as we make our way up a rugged section to the base of the rock cliffs. At this stage the kids went up ahead as the Damselfly and I just weren’t fast enough for their taste. Up to now it felt like we were walking away from the summit, but now we were heading eastward (towards Port Elizabeth) and the summit was waiting for us.

At this stage you can see the Telkom tower and all the radio masts to the left on the other summit. That wasn’t the summit we were heading to though. That one you reach walking up the access road from the back of the mountain and a mission for another day.

Although the path to the top is easy to follow and well maintained, it’s often just a rough track with lot’s of loose stones and quite steep in places, i.e. not something you’re just going to do in slops and with no water. In actual fact, you need to be at least walking fit, otherwise you’re going to really struggle to the top.

Reaching the top takes about an hour to hour and a half over a distance of about 2.5km. It may not be that far, but the climb starts at 265m above sea-level at the parking area and gains 338m to the 603m high peak. That’s an elevation gain of 1 meter every 5 meters, but hey, if the Damselfly and I can do it then so can you.

The view from the top is magnificent. To the west you can see Jeffreys Bay, the Kouga Mountains and all the way to Cape St Francis,

to the south the N2 is visible below, you can see the wind farm at Blue Horizon Bay and Van Stadens Mouth is that bit of white water in the valley, …

and to the east you can see Port Elizabeth on the horizon.

Turning around looking north you get glimpses of Uitenhage with the Groot Winterhoek mountain range dominating the skyline to the north with the Cockscomb at its western end.

What goes up must come down and when you go down you have to take it easy not to slip. There is also a second route (the red route) up (and down) which is much steeper, so if you’re a leisure walker like us, then it would be best to keep to the easier (green) route. But before heading down I just had to have this photo taken. Very nearly took the quick way down thanks to the wind that day.

I can definitely recommend the walk and even more so the view. Really worth the outing up.

More information on the hike up Lady’s Slipper can be found on the Falcon Rock Adventure Centre website

DIRECTIONS FROM PORT ELIZABETH

Driving on the N2 towards Humansdorp, take exit 713, R102 (R334) Uitenhage/Van Stadens Pass. Turn right and continue towards Uitenhage, 200m after crossing the railway line turn left onto a dirt road. Look out for the signs to Falcon Rock (1.2km).

Maitland River mouth

The view of Maitland River mouth as you come down the road from Beachview side

The Maitland River west of Port Elizabeth really isn’t much to write home about. It originates somewhere between the N2 and the sea so isn’t very long. Probably not even close to 20km in length. It flows down through Sleepy Hollow farm and then the Maitland Nature Reserve before the last little bit past the famous Maitland sand dune to the sea.

The small lagoon and river mouth as seen from the Maitland dune

The river and nature reserve was named after General Sir Peregrine Maitland, GCB (6 July 1777 – 30 May 1854). He was a British soldier and colonial administrator as well as a first-class cricketer from 1798 to 1808. Sir Peregrine became Governor of the Cape Colony in 1844, but was removed during the Xhosa War that started in 1846.

The view from Dam se kop

Today’s post isn’t one of a well known or even public spot, but I do want to show you the expanse of the Karoo in the Jansenville / Darlington Dam district. A couple months ago we spent a weekend with our church cell group on the farm Wortekuil of Willie de Wet. Willie farms with goats and sheep, but also offers a bit of hunting on the farm On the Sunday morning we all piled onto his bakkie and off road buggy and off we went to Dam se Kop.

Dam se Kop is the highest part of the farm and named so because you can catch a glimpse of the Darlington Dam. The walk up to the top wasn’t anywhere as bad as I thought, but perhaps the fact that it was a cool morning and slightly overcast helped a bit. Wouldn’t want to do it when the temperature pushes the late 30C’s.

Once at the top this was the view. You can see for miles and miles across a typical Karoo landscape, flat, dry and hauntingly beautiful.

Chokka Boats and the source of calamari

Chokka boats in Algoa Bay

Fishing boats out in Algoa Bay and St Francis Bay are regular sights to residents and visitors of Port Elizabeth, Jeffrey’s Bay and St Francis. These boats can often be seen taking shelter in the bays when bad weather is forecasted and at night it looks like a town out on the water with all the bright lights out there. The majority of these boats are chokka boats with the region being home to the South African chokka industry.

The crew of the Silver Taurus fishing for chokka with their handlines

The squid (or chokka) industry started in the early 1980’s with boats landing fresh chokka in Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth and later in St Francis Bay. The export market developed very quickly as the South African species – Loligo Reynaudii –is very similar to the Mediterranean squid and fetches a higher price in Europe and Japan than it would on the local market.

According to Wikipedia, Loligo reynaudii, commonly known as the Cape Hope squid, is a 20–30 cm long squid belonging to the family Loliginidae. In South Africa it is known as either calamari or chokka. It was previously treated as a subspecies of Loligo vulgaris, the European squid

The industry began with a few operators and grew over time with many of the original skippers buying their own vessels and becaming owner operators. By the early 1990’s the first freezer vessels were being built that could stay at sea for up to 21 days. Squad could be landed, graded and frozen for export while sea, making these vessels virtually floating factories.

A fisherman showing off his catch still hooked to the dollie

Chokka, often referred to as white gold, is caught by means of a hand line attached to a special coloured lead jig with a multi hook head and a plastic colourful float, called dollies. The dollies are connected to fishing line wound around a piece of wood, giving the fisherman something to control the line with. Crew can catch with two lines at a time, but an experienced crew can manage up to four lines at once.

The chokka is caught on the sea bed as well as just a few metres below the surface when they are in a feeding frenzy. Crews catch mainly at night, with the huge halogen lights on the boats attracting the different species of fish the chokka feeds on. These are the bright lights you can see out at sea at night. When the fisherman lowers the jig into the water, the little hooks catch the chokka’s tentacles and when he feels the weight on the line he pulls it up. The fisherman throws his catch into a crate and tries for the next one. The chokka is then neatly laid into a stainless steel pan, sorted according to size and blast frozen to -20°C on the vessel. Once frozen, it is then packed in a plastic bag and stored in the holding room until it is offloaded.

People are often concerned about overfishing of chokka. The chokka season is closed for close to 5 months a year and there are protected areas where they aren’t allowed to fish at all any time of the year. They also catch with hand lines as opposed to nets plus fishing is restricted to a number of permits issued. The squid also lives for a “year plus “naturally so the life cycle is short.

Suddenly I feel like a lekker plate of deep fried calamari, onions rings and chips. Plus now you know where your calamari comes from.

Penguins at SANCCOB

The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds or SANCCOB centre at Cape Recife in Port Elizabeth does an amazing job as part of the conservation of the African Penguin, especially here in Algoa Bay. The centre was previously known as SAMREC and doesn’t just play a huge role in conservation, but also in educating locals and visitors alike. Because of this the centre has become one of Port Elizabeth’s main tourist attractions.

The activities SANCCOB do include the rescue and rehabilitation of injured or polluted seabirds (not just penguins exclusively), research, training and then education of both school groups and general visitors to the centre. The rehabilitation process is always done with an eye on releasing the birds back into the wild, and one of SANCCOB’s most popular activities is release day when visitors can go and watch the penguins getting released back into the sea from the beach at Cape Recife.

The importance of centres like SANCCOB at Cape Recife is even more clear when one looks at the following statistics. There are only 13,000 breeding pairs of African penguins left in South Africa. The biggest breeding colony for these birds is at St Croix Island in Algoa Bay and Bird Island. The penguin population in Algoa Bay has fallen sharply, from 10,900 breeding pairs in 2015 to only 6,100 in 2019. Of the breeding pairs lost in Algoa Bay between 2018 and 2019, St. Croix Island accounted for 84% – with only 3,638 breeding pairs remaining on the island. No wonder the African Penguin is listed as Endangered.

So why this post? Two reasons. I had some nice penguin pictures taken at SANCCOB before lockdown that I wanted to share with you and to encourage you to support SANCCOB in any way possible. Even if its just visiting to learn more about these flightless tuxido’d sea birds and paying the entrance fee.

This is not a sponsored post