A couple of surprises in the Camdeboo National Park

No visit to Graaff-Reinet will be complete without a visit to the Valley of Desolation yet I wonder how many people actually realise that the Valley of Desolation is located within the Camdeboo National Park, which actually reaches all the way around the town, and that you can also go game viewing in the park.  On our long weekend in Graaff-Reinet we spent our Saturday exploring the town’s historical heart on foot and kept the Sunday to explore the Camdeboo National Park.  The plan was to spend the Sunday morning doing some game viewing, head back to Camdeboo Cottages, where we were staying, for lunch and some R&R before aiming to the Valley late afternoon for sunset on the mountain.    

The entrance to the game viewing area is just past the turnoff to the Valley of Desolation and takes one straight into a typical Karoo landscape of low Karoo bush and grassland, mountains in the distance and the Nqweba Dam on the other side towards tow, and big skies.  Lots of big skies.  The park has about 19km of gravel roads which we found to be in a very good condition and no problem for the Polo to navigate.  

The Camdeboo National Park isn’t quite Kruger or Addo, but if you are in the area and enjoy game watching then it’s well worth a drive through.  The Game viewing area is home to buffalo, which we unfortunately didn’t encounter on this trip, and game species like eland, black wildebeest, gemsbok, red hartebeest, blesbok, springbok and mountain zebra.  Friends of ours in the park the same time than us even spotted the elusive rooikat (linx) near one of the waterholes.  Our timing seemed to have sucked and we missed it.  The park is also home to over 240 listed bird species of which we did spot a few so I imagine the twitchers would love the park. 

After a quick picnic at the park’s picnic site, which we had all to our own, we took a drive to the bird hide next to the Nqweba Dam.  The dam level is quite low at the moment which means not a lot of animals or even birds around.

After a bit of kicking our feet up at the guesthouse, we took the road out to the park again in the late afternoon and made our way up the mountain towards the Valley of Desolation.  After a stop at the toposcope lookout it was time to show the KidZ what the Valley looked like.  I’ve been up here many times over the years and it never gets old.  Ok, just wait.  The Valley is old, over 200 millions years old, but I mean I never get tired of it.  Hahaha….     

It is an awe-inspiring feeling standing there looking at the towering dolerite columns with the vast Karoo stretching out beyond.  The dolerite pillars rise up to a height of up to 120 meters and were formed by volcanic and erosive forces over a period of 200 million years.  It’s hard to explain the beauty of the place and not everybody who visits “gets it”, but the Valley of Desolation is a truly special place.

I made sure we got there early enough to go for a walk along the Crag Lizard Trail, a 1,5 km sircular trail that shouldn’t take you more than about 45 minutes to walk.  I want to say the only reason I did it was to go and find the Geocache located just beyond the turning point, but for the first time I got to see more of the Valley of Desolation and some of the further columns which you don’t get to see from the main view point.  We made it back just in time for the sun to start setting and found that it was disappearing behind the mountain and not over the valley as it does in summer. Darn!

We quickly hopped back in the car and made our way a bit down the mountain to an alternative lookout point I was told about on my last visit, making it just in time as the sun disappeared over the distant mountains.
And with that sunset our long weekend in the Gem of the Karoo also came to an end.  So what do we take home from the weekend?  That Graaff-Reinet is the perfect weekend destination for people living in the Eastern Cape with a variety of historic and natural attractions to keep you busy with during your stay.  I also came to the conclusion that people from the interior passing through and heading to the coast and don’t realise what they are missing.  But that really goes for anybody who hasn’t had the opportunity to explore Graaff-Reinet and the Camdeboo National Park.

So many activities to do around Addo

When you mention Addo, most people think elephants.  They wouldn’t be wrong though BUT, these days Addo is so much more than just elephants.  Crisscross Adventures is a tour and adventure activity company based in the Sundays River Valley and they offer a wide range of activities from tours to the Addo Elephant National Park to quad biking, canoe safaris on the Sundays River and sand boarding.  Check out their new promotional video and tell me you don’t want to go and explore and experience the valley after seeing it. 

Head-on with a Sable antelope

Mount Camdeboo Game Reserve outside Graaff-Reinet has a Sable antelope breeding program and while on the game drive we stopped next to the camp for a closer look.  This young male came walking towards the fence and stood still watching us long enough for me to get a nice head-on photo of him.  Just a pity for the fence wires in between.
Some info about the Sable courtesy of Wikipedia:
The sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) is an antelope which inhabits wooded savannah in East Africa south of Kenya, and in Southern Africa.

The sable antelope is sexually dimorphic, with the male heavier and about one-fifth taller than the female. The head-and-body length is typically between 190 and 255 cm.  Males reach about 117–140 cm at the shoulder, while females are slightly shorter. Males typically weigh 235 kg and females 220 kg. The tail is 40–75 cm long, with a tuft at the end.

Sable antelope live in savanna woodlands and grasslands during the dry season, where they eat mid-length grasses and leaves. They visit salt licks and have been known to chew bones to collect minerals. They are diurnal, but are less active during the heat of the day. They form herds of 10 to 30 females and calves led by a single male, called a bull. Males fight among themselves; they drop to their knees and use their horns.

When a game ranger goes above and beyond

A lot of people have the policy that if you want something done you have to do it yourself, especially if you don’t really have anybody to delegate to.  But even then you need somebody to push a rock out of the way for you every now and then.  I had a funny “push a rock out the way” moment on a game drive at Mount Camdeboo Game Reserve outside Graaff-Reinet the other day.  We weer driving up the mountain when we found this boulder lying in the road.  The ranger immediately hopped out to roll it out the way and clearly underestimated its weight… or his own strength, because it just did not budge.  Perhaps it was the rocky equivalent of Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, and nobody can move it no matter how hard you try.  Oh well, if you can’t get it out the way then you just drive around it like we did.

Port Elizabeth / Nelson Mandela Bay – An African Wildlife Hotspot

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism has a brand new destination marketing video promoting the fact that Port Elizabeth with Algoa Bay and all it’s adjacent game reserve truly is an African Wildlife Hotspot.  At a recent tourism conference I attended, a representative of Kruger Lowveld Tourism in Mpumalanga implied during one of the panel discussions that the Eastern Cape doesn’t offer visitors an authentic wildlife experience.  So let’s see what Nelson Mandela Bay and surrounds have to offer.   
Algoa Bay with it’s 40 km of magnificent golden beaches has one of the most diverse marine eco systems in the world.  Bird Island is home to the largest Cape Gannetry in the world (110 000 breeding pairs) while St Croix Island has over 50% of the world’s African Penguin population.  Add to that the fact that Algoa Bay has been proclaimed as an International Hope Spot for the African Penguin, is the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World and offers whale watching and excellent scuba diving opportunities.  
The area offers everything from rocky shores to indigenous floral fynbos, stretches of golden beaches and unspoilt sand-dunes (the Alexandria Dunefield is the largest coastal dunefield in the Southern Hemisphere) to lush indigenous forest and untamed wilderness areas.  This all means that the nature reserves in and around Port Elizabeth offer a wonderful range of options to the great outdoors. 
Then there is the cherry on the cake.  Addo Elephant National Park, home to the Big 7, and number of excellent Big 5 private game reserves within an hour and a half from the city means that this region has developed into one of South Africa’s main game viewing destinations.  Who needs Kruger and the Lowveld when the Eastern Cape has such an awesome and very much authentic (and malaria free) wildlife experience to offer visitors?  

A Kragga Kamma photo safari with Chasing the Rainbow

I’m still working my way through Chasing the Rainbow‘s videos featuring Port Elizabeth and the surrounding areas as I find them excellent material for my Video Friday posts and at the same time (hopefully) getting more of my followers to follow them as well.  Today’s video features Kragga Kamma Game Park and shows how awesome an attraction it is to 1: take kids; 2: take photos and 3: take kids and encourage them to take photos.

A visit to Kragga Kamma Game Park

I was browsing YouTube looking for a nice Port Elizabeth clip to use for this week’s Video Friday and found this video of a visit to Kragga Kamma Game Park uploaded by Niezwykly Swiat – Wonderful World.  Unfortunately the rest of the text in the description looks like it could be Russian so I can’t really tell you more about the person who uploaded it.  Have a look at the video, pack a picnic and head over to Kragga Kamma Game Park this weekend.  The park is looking stunning after all the rains we’ve had and there are lots of babies around.