Coldest May day in 40 years

On Wednesday morning (May 28th) the minimum temperature as reported by Metservice was about 1 degree Celsius (http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/coldest-may-morning-in-auckland-almost-40-years-5983750). The coldest it’s been in May for about 40 years. Our lawn was transformed into a green, white and glittering patchwork. The ice crystals have formed mainly on hairs on the plants leaves. This protects the plant from frost damage.

 

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Part 3 – First Ever African adventure

We ventured out for a night tour from Olifants. Early in the evening the driver switched off the engines and the chatter melted away; we listened to a lion roaring. A little further on and we espied a leopard patrolling a riverbank. It was a good night for cats but sadly not photos of them. We also saw some lovely birds-a spotted eagle owl and a red crested korhaan. The spring hare hopped away from us quick smart. We were impressed by the eye shine even though it was facing away from us and presumed this indicated good vision of anything in pursuit. A handy feature with all the predators likely to be lurking in the undergrowth!
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We said goodbye to Olifants as the sun rose and did a small backtrack along S44 to the lookout. Some yellow daisies caught my eye, I think they are Geigeria sp. and a steinbok was kind enough to pose for us.
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We stopped at N’wamanzi and the caretakers showed us a lovely Scops owl. Our journey south was interrupted by some ostriches who decided to cross the road. The car gives a fabulous perspective of their size. We turned off the main road and onto the S39 which winds along the Timbavati River. One of culverts along this road was a tantalising tease. There were huge cat paw prints in the moist sandy mud. Another culvert was occupied by a terrapin.
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There were lots of beautiful browsing and grazing herds, including an inquisitive young male kudu. He was very handsome and was kind enough to strike a fine pose. We saw lots of guinea fowl on our trip generally hanging out in big family bunches. They were amusing to watch especially when we tried to pass them and they had a big panic, zig zagging along in front of the car briefly then finally scrambling into the bush.
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A kettle of vultures heralded a dead elephant. It was gut wrenchingly stinky but the vultures were having a wonderful time.
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We spotted this zebra – the one that got away…well most of it did.
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Around Orpen we managed to see some lovely birds: A southern carmine bee eater, a European roller, sandgrouse and the very comical looking southern ground hornbill.
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Our rooms and verandah at Orpen camp had some wildlife delights and surprises. A frog was living at the back of one of the chairs. We think this species of frog is the one that lays its eggs in white foam bundles on vegetation above ponds. A gecko was darting about the wall and catching insects.
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Our first night at Orpen was restless. One of my daughters was woken by what they described as the hugest spider they had ever seen. I fumbled around in semi darkness looking for the source of consternation. I thought it was a mouse at first-scuttling across the floor. Slowly I realised it was a bat. I shooed it into the other room and hastily shut the door. Eventually we all settled down to sleep. Later I was woken again, another jolt of adrenaline. The window next to my bed was open (with screen closed to keep out nasty biting bugs) and a lion was roaring nearby.
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The following morning yielded a gorgeous sunrise. We set off past Rabelais hut and onward down S140. A family of dwarf mongooses were dallying on the road and in the grass verge. A couple of cars were stopped ahead just past a dip in the road. We didn’t see what they had stopped for until we were quite close. It was an elephant having a lie down in a muddy pool. He got up we reversed to give him space – we couldn’t go forwards because the two cars ahead were abreast. He stepped forward onto the road and we reversed some more, expecting him to move right into the bush in the direction he was facing. However this was not his plan. He suddenly turned, flapped his ears and raised his head slightly. There was no mistaking his ire. My husband didn’t hang around; he reversed at high speed as the elephant charged forwards. We were all very scared of this huge elephant with enormous tusks. He followed us for a long way and we decided not to take the S140 that day. Instead we drove to Satara for lunch where a big monitor lizard kept us company.
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A night and day of thrills was followed by a peaceful evening watching visitors to the waterhole at Orpen. A zebra was hosting an ox-pecker conference.
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Part 2: First Ever African Safari

Part 2
On our last evening at Punda Maria we had a night drive and saw a magnificent chameleon. It was quite a damp evening so unfortunately there wasn’t much else out and about for us to see.

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The morning of our departure was also wet. We came across some vervet monkeys who seemed very agitated. A little further on was the reason for their distress – a hyena.

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We waited for Ms Millipede to get to the other side of the soggy road. Ms is a guess by the way!

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Morning tea was at Babalala Picnic spot. It was still drizzly and very sombre. Nevertheless there was an albino magpie shrike and some noisy yellow billed hornbills to watch while munching on rusks.

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A little way away from Babalala along the S56 the rain cleared and the sun came out. We saw quite a few squirrels along the way enjoying a reprieve from the rain.

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I liked the rocky outcrops and scrubby vegetation along this road. According to our map it is Mopane/Bushwillow woodlands on granite. I had a sense I was being watched by predators unseen but failed to get a glimpse of any. There was a young elephant some distance from the road but we didn’t notice it until it trumpeted as we idled by. We all got the giggles – it took us by surprise and three of us had never heard anything like it.

We wound for a long time along the river, stopping at many of the viewpoints. However we didn’t see much until we were quite close to Shingwedze. Elephants won the day. We waited awestruck as a huge herd of at least 40 elephants crossed the road ahead of us.

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Back on the main road we came upon another large herd. It was a short drive to the bridge and we were pleased to alight. The view from the bridge was marvellous; turtles, hippopotamus, a buffalo, a saddle billed stork and spoonbills. This is where we met Viking for the first time I think. My daughter also composed a ditty entitled “Happy Hippo” which stuck with us for the rest of the trip and beyond.

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Whilst strolling around the Shingwedze camp ground we came across a group of grumpy monkeys. They were harassing a giant eagle owl in a tree. Much to our delight the owl decided that we might be less irksome company than the monkeys and plopped down on the ground beside us.

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This immature hoopoe looked at us quizzically.

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From Shingwedze we set off south-west along the H1-6 then the S144. The vegetation, labelled on our map as Mopane shrubveld gradually opened up to vaster expanses of grassland. I quite like spiders….from a distance. Their webs are magnificent…when viewed from the car.

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We dallied a while at Tihongonyeni drinking point. Here we watched a large herd of wildebeest, zebras, warthogs and Egyptian geese.
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There was a set of elephant bones including its huge skull, a buoy on the gently rolling sea of grass.

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Further along were ostriches and more elephants.

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We reached Mopani in the heat of the day and it was welcome relief to sit in the shade with cool drinks overlooking the lake.

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The road to Olifants S93 seemed to have herbivores at every bend including several giraffes, an impala with an oxpecker and a grysbok. Finally an eagle who seemed a bit grumpy with us. I think it is a tawny eagle.
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Watching the sun set from the lookout at Olifant’s was magical. I looked across the bend in the river to the bushy plain and saw giraffes browsing in the distance. The bush and river stones took on a golden halo. The river, in contrast, sparkled with a silvery light. This is a memory to treasure.

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