Monday, July 10, 2017

St. Lucia Horseback & Boat Adventures - South Africa

This weekend we went to St.Lucia, South Africa. We stayed at the Elephant Coast Guest house which has been our favourite accommodation while visiting South Africa, so far. Owned and run by a very friendly dutch couple the place is exceptionally charming. The room was very nice and beautifully decorated, but the back porch/lounge area where breakfast is served has a fabulous view onto a beautifully cared for garden. Yeah.. one of many reasons I didn't want to leave. ;)



 St. Lucia is a small tourist town right at the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. The iSimangaliso Estuary is South Africa's first world heritage site with 8 ecosystems coming together in one place. The number one reason we traveled to St. Lucia is because we wanted to see some hippos. We got our wish! But first we went on a fantastic 2.5h horse-back ride with Bhangazi Horse Safaris at St. Lucia Beach and in the game reserve.



Earlier that day we had been joking that Scott's horse will be badass, probably with only one eye... Little did we know then that he would actually ended up on the one horse with only one eye. He likes to nickname him "killer", whereas the stables like to call him Pirate, as he now wears a pirate eyepatch. In truth the horses name is uGandaganda, which means Tractor in Zulu... because he is big and slow.
The horse I was riding was called Lesotho (pronounced Lesutu) because she was a Lesotho mountain pony.





Now heading to the Game reserve to check out what we can find in the bush...



There is a warthog (you may know him as Pumba from the Lion King) under that tree. He wasn't sure what to make of us on the horses.



This is our excellent guide explaining to us how to open monkey oranges, and then we got to taste them. They are like a citrus fruit but have the consistency of mushy banana with big seeds. Quite tasty, though the one we tried was tart. 



They are these perfect spheres and they have quite a hard shell, like a nut protecting the gooey inside. These ones stay always green, so the only way to know that they are ripe are by waiting until they fall off the tree. Then you have to just be quicker than the monkeys to collect them. 



Impala



Zeeeeeeebra!!! 






Three female (on the left) and one male (on the right) waterbuck, sometimes they are nicknamed toilet seat for the round white marking on their butts. 



I have been wanting to see Zebra's up close forever and I couldn't believe that we were able to get this close to them on horseback. What a fantastic experience. This is a plains zebra, recognizable by it's brown stripes, mixed in with the black and white. 



A small herd of wildebeest. 

This one had an itch...



Oh you know, Scott and I just chillin' with the wildebeests out in the bush. (Note Gandaganda's eyepatch!)



After our fabulous horseback adventure we had lunch and then headed to the jetty to catch the Fannas boat on a great tour of the wetlands park. Now finally we get to see hippos... but wait there is a African Fish Eagle...



...oh and over there ... hippos poking their heads out of the water. 



and over there.. 



....there is another one.



Here a baby hippo with mommy. Baby hippos can suckle their mothers milk under water. 


A crocodile sunbathing.


This river is lousy with hippos!



Egrets 




Just having a yawn with its 10 absolutely huge and very deadly teeth.
Hippos are hugely territorial and very dangerous animals. They like to walk the town's streets at night and a few months ago a tourist was attacked. According to our boat captain, hippos can bite crocs in half.







Baby hippos like riding on Mommy's back, but it never lasts long, she shrugs them right off. 







I wish we could have seen any of them out of the water but this is the best close up I was able to get. This one has attitude ;).



And to finish it off another African Fish Eagle. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve - Africa Adventures

As many of you know Scott is working a 6 month assignment in South Africa of which I will be with him for 4 months. I would like to share some photos from our weekend visit to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve which was possibly our favourite adventure here to date. We stayed at Hilltop camp, which is a small resort at one of the highest points in the 96000 hectare park. We took a 6 am safari drive in one of the open safari vehicles. The game reserve is teaming with wildlife, from countless colourful and interesting birds, to the famous Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo) as well as countless antelope, warthog (remember pumba from the lion king), zebra, giraffe, and so much more. We saw most of them on our safari drive which is a mix of being extremely lucky, endlessly searching the bush and hillside for animals that are beautifully camouflaged and spread out over a huge distance of land. The drive through the park is part paved and mostly one lane dirt road. You can explore the park by yourself during the day but our little rental car would have had lots of trouble on the dirt roads and in the safari vehicles you are perched much higher up and have an excellent vantage point to search the bush for wildlife. 

The first animals we came across where buffalo, which have those amazing centre part horns. It was still mostly dark outside as the sun had not fully risen yet.
Next we encountered a white rhino female with her 2-year old male young, what an impressive sight!

Then we came across a herd of elephants with their young. 





Early morning breakfast.



He was modelling for the camera. 






A male Nyala, probably one of the most interesting Antelope we saw, the markings on their fur are extraordinary.  


These are vultures. They also put on a beautiful show by stretching out their wings while we observed. 







Beware Elephants X-ing.
When you come across elephants, especially in your little rental car you want to stay at least 50m away from them, especially while they are crossing the road. Elephants are known to sometimes sit on or turn over your car. Not nearly as problematic in the huge safari vehicles. 



Giraffes.







The fabulous male buffalo and their horns, there are thousands of them in the park, and they usually can be found in larger herds of hundreds at a time. According to our guide they are the most dangerous of the Big 5, as they are the only ones who will not give you warning signs before they attack. Though attacks are rare.







When you look closely here, you can see Giraffes, Zebras and Antelope all blending beautifully into the landscape. 






What a magnificent landscape!


Lions are some of the most illusive animals in the park, there are only around 100 of them, and they blend perfectly into the grass especially when they are having a nap. So we could have driven by all 100 of them all morning and never known. Finally we passed another safari vehicle that had sighted lions. At this point we were only supposed to have 3 minutes left in the tour. Our tour guide decided he needed to show us the lions, he called the camp told them to hold our breakfast as we will be delayed and of we went. Instead of the 40km/h speedlimit, our safari vehicle flew down the dirt road at 80km/h to get to the spot in time. Scott's head got almost taken out by a branch flying, but he reacted quickly and ducked to avoid major injury. Finally we arrived about 10 minutes into the bush at a grouping of at least 10 other safari vehicles. At first we only saw the ears stick out of the grass and the occasional swishing tail. Then this male lion got up for a stretch, shook himself, licked his chops, yawned, turned around and padded over to his friend and just like our cat Erma Turnip he plopped himself down in gracious cat style.





Our safari guide got us back in time for breakfast! What a fabulous adventure!


On our stroll back to the rondavel that we were staying in we noticed the monkeys had taken over the camp. Vervet monkeys and the Samango monkey (see above) where around. We also saw Bushbaby monkeys, little monkey with big eyes later during our night drive. Below a Baboon, these are the more dangerous trouble makers and it became clear why, there are significantly larger than the monkeys.



The different types of plants, trees and foliage has been incredibly inspiring. 




This is one of countless different kinds of Aloe plants. Best part they are all flowering in winter and it's currently winter here.

The park has been in operation for 122 years. 22 years ago Nelson Mandela gave it an anniversary plaque.


We originally hoped to go for a guided afternoon walk in the park, but it was cancelled so we did the sensible thing and signed up for a night time safari drive which left not long before sunset.


Before it got dark we saw more buffalo.


Bath time for the White Rhinos.


And we got a close up look at this female Giraffe. You can recognize it being a female by the dark tufts of hair on its horns. 

This was the last daylight photo I was able to take, after this it got dark very quickly and the Safari continued via Spotlight. The driver would hold a big spotlight on the right and hand one of the passengers a spot for the left to search the hillside and the bush. This way we encountered Elephants, Buffalo, Bushbaby monkeys and a serval cat in a tree. By far the most memorable moments of the night time safari happened early on. The driver had reports of Lions, and as we knew from the morning, when you hear there are lions you get there as quickly as possible as they are rather illusive. When we got to the area we didn't find any lions but instead we saw conservation officers with their trucks parked in the bush and our driver said they must be working with the lions tonight. Whether or not that night's work entailed attaching a tracking collar or not we aren't sure. So we drove off, after a few minutes the guide said he is going to try back again and we looped around to return to that spot about 15 minutes later. He searched the hillside with his spot light and found them. Lion cups, they quickly came closer. 6 of them, but where are the adult lions? The six lion cups crossed the road right in front of our vehicle, and we were just about to inch closer to see if we can drive up next to them when there where more lions crossing, this time 2 adult males with at least a third trailing behind, at least one of whom was wearing a tracking collar. By this collar the guide was able to recognize that these are the two new males that they recently introduced to the area. And he explained: "Oh no! Those are not their fathers, those two males are stalking the 6 cups to kill them." They had just crossed the road and we had put our spotlights on all of them when the two mothers came bounding towards the males from the direction of the conservation officer vehicles. They pounced on the male lions, right in front of the safari vehicle's headlights. The male lions turned around and bolted into the bush. Much roaring and barking ensued for a few minutes and they continued to chase and fight the males. The other passengers in our safari vehicle were getting scared and the conservation officers signalled us to get out of there so we left. This was no doubt a once in a lifetime moment to witness. The driver who has done this for years says he has never seen a lion fight before. We saw 10 lions out of the 100 in the park, that evening, in a most violent three-act play of mother nature.

***

We departed Hluhluwe with all the emotions. What a beautiful place. But before heading back to Umhlanga (Durban North Coast) we stopped at the Emdoneni Lodge with Animal Care and Rehab Centre which is home to the Emdoneni Cheetah Project.
To raise awareness and educate the public the project has one or two of each (Cheetah, Serval, Caracal and African Wildcats) for the public to meet, the Serval Cats and the African Wildcats are very friendly and you can touch them. The only cats used for human interaction seem to be ones that where found as kittens without mothers and were raised by humans. They are already socialized to humans. All cats born at the project get prepared for release into the wild without human interaction. You are able to go into the enclosure and see the animals up close with all of them. The Cheetah Project does many amazing things, from rehabilitating injured and rescue animals to breeding endangered species for release into the wild.


This Caracal is similar to what we would consider a lynx and it has the most magnificent ears, which can determine wind direction and the little tufts at the top are also used to communicated with the young. Someone kept this caracal illegally as a pet which went well for a few months before it started destroying their dining room, after which is was given to the Cheetah project to care for. As it's already socialized with humans you are able to go into the enclosure and visit him. He doesn't like being touched though. So looking only.




This lovely Serval is very cuddly, she loves attention and getting petted. Servals are unique that they have stripes and spots to make it harder for predators (like eagles) to find them. They can be socialized and trained as pets but they shouldn't as inevitable that will lead to breading them with domestic animals which will lead to their extinction. As all animals with beautiful pelts, this is also one that is in danger of being poached.







Finally we met Moya. Moya and his brother Juba were two of the original rescued cheetahs at the Cheetah project. They have been around humans the most and enjoy the attention. While we were with them Moya purred loudly the entire time. Across the enclosure from Moya was a space that has been covered with material that you can't look through which protects a mother cheetah with her two cups that will be raised for release in the wild with the least amount of human contact possible. 





Scott and Moya


Moya putting on a show for my photo.