Return to India: Dehli via Singapore

I had my first visit to India in March 2009. The World conference on Tobacco and Health held in Mumbai. I was keen return to see more of India. So in April this year we set off in the school holidays to see a few of India’s most famous sites and some iconic wildlife. Air New Zealand in co-operation with Singapore Airlines gets you from Auckland to Dehli via my favourite airport, Changi. The warm, water-logged air declares itself as a bombastic, unmissable welcome every time you step into Singapore. I find it an antidote after 10 hours of dessicating, recirculated air. The transit hotel complete with pool, showers, spa and beds you can rent by the hour isn’t the only reviving delight offered. There is a butterfly garden, multiple imaginative amusements for children and if you are in transit long enough there is a free city tour. Standing out on this trip to Singapore were hanging gardens built into some of the city’s high rise blocks.

Just as the jet lag haze starts to imbue you with thoughts that Changi is some kind of heaven on earth – you start to feel hungry. The tantalising aromas of hot noodle soups draws you upstairs to a food court. This is where the fun begins. It isn’t a question of just rocking up to the counter, selecting, ordering then paying. No the system requires you to make your choices, add up the cost of your selection (in Singapore dollars then convert to $NZD), find the booth where you buy a token and credit your token with the amount needed to cover all your choices. Return to all the different counters that the various members of your family chose their meals from and place your orders – hoping you’ve done your sums correctly and that your children remember what they chose. You get sent back to the token booth, chided and unable to place the order if your credit is under!

Singapore to Dehli is about five hours. We arrived late in the evening. Outside the airport we stepped into a warm night, the hazy smoggy air and were surrounded by people and dogs. Some languidly reclined in groups chatting on small section of airport lawn, surrounded on all sides by roads and a constant stream of beeping and farting airport traffic. The route to the hotel, The Royal Plaza, took us through well appointed New Dehli, past consulates, manicured, lushly planted median strips and government house. There is no shortage of greenery throughout Dehli.

View from 17th floor Royal Plaza, Dehli, April 2017

View of New Dehli from Hotel, The Royal Plaza.

We had a spectacular view across Dehli. Our first taste of Indian wildlife was the oft overlooked urban wildlife, which thrives amongst city hustle and bustle. Black kites take advantage of the thermals rising amidst the concrete monoliths. A pair had a nest in the tree below our window. Ring necked parakeets clustered on the window ledges and rooves of high rise buildings. House crows with their handsome grey headscarves, dark eyes and showy beak frills patrolled the grounds. Indian palm squirrels dashed around in brief spurts then flaked out, exhaused, in the heat.

We caught the Dehli metro from the station near our hotel, Patel Chowk to Chadni Chowk station. There is a short walk through a mayhem of market stalls, tuk tuks, cycle rickshaws, taxis, motorcycles, cycles, to the Red Fort or Lal Qila. The final challenge is a road crossing which will make a frogger champion of you. This palace was host to the embers of the Moghul Empire in India.

The entrance is via the Lahori gate and a covered market (Chhatta Chowk). There is a hall of public audience, halls of private audience, expansive lawns and an “air-conditioning system” which was a network of water channels and ponds throughout the grounds. The buildings are constructed of richly red sandstone and marble. On the royal ‘throne’ in the hall of public audience and columns throughout the halls of private residence the marble has beautiful floral imagery. It isn’t painted – it is created by inlaying precious and semi-precious stones into the marble. The workmanship is mind blowing. Finally there is a mosque for the emperor.

Our next expedition was to Sultanpur National Park on the rural outskirts of Dehli. This wetland reserve is home to many beautiful bird species and Nilgai antelope. I was particularly delighted by the profusion of dragonflies. There were red ones, electric green and blue ones but the only one I managed to get a half decent photo of was a rather drab brown and black one! The next day we headed to Agra via an early morning train. More later…

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Blyth’s pipit

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Black-winged stilts (left and right) and a pheasant-tailed jacana (middle) showing us its bum

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Nilgai or Blue Bull

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Nilgai in shade at Sultanpur

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Sultanpur National Park, near Dehli, India

Pohutukawa and friends

I was inspired to do this post by the recent campaign to save six pohutukawa trees along Great North Rd.

Oh and by a beautiful day on Tiritiri Matangi Island.

???????????????????????????????The red pohutukawas stood out along the densely growing cliff face as you look North from the path that heads from the wharf. The red in the foreground on the beach is a carpet of pohutukawa flower filaments and anthers.

Here is tieke admiring pohutukawa from the branches of what I think is a Coprosma sp.


Here is profusely flowering pohutukawa being photo bombed by flax (so cheeky)


Here is pohutukawa, nestled in to look at the view across Hauraki gulf with cabbage trees.


I was so very lucky to catch a kokako enjoying itself bathing. Then to my delight it flew and perched directly above me.


Finally here is pohutukawa (this one opting for a less profuse but nonetheless elegant floral display) standing proud with kanuka


To the six pohutukawa’s on Great North Road we send our love & if our roots could move we’d be on that 360 degree ferry and down SH1 to stand with you…

Christmas eve 2014 skyscapes

Some views of Auckland from Maungarei

From top left 1. Looking south southeast across Panmure lagoon 2. Looking north toward Rangitoto

3. Toward summit & into space 🙂 with a little help from digital filters 4. Looking northwest to Auckland city

The clouds were posing nicely – cirrus or cirrostratus I think

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Part 5- First ever trip to Africa-Final forays from Skukuza

Our final days and nights in Kruger National Park were spent in and around Skukuza. There was plenty of drama. I was awoken on the first night by a bat which upon colliding with the ceiling fan was flung onto my hand. In a half sleepy, fumbling haze of fears about rabid bats I leapt off the bed. The sheet still had hold of my foot and I went flying horizontal across the room. Fortunately my fall was broken by the other bed; unfortunately my daughters were in it and had an almighty fright. What a lot of midnight pandemonium!

Nevertheless we were up at dawn and headed out along the H1-1 to Pretoriuskop. Our first new animal sighting was a Klipspringer, perched daintily amongst huge boulders. It posed for a few minutes then nimbly hopped up and away out of sight.
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It was very wet but this was an unexpected sighting far from the sea. A species of freshwater crab decided to take advantage of the recent deluge and get out and about.
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Further onwards we came across a devastating scene. There was a clan of hyenas on the road and two dead baby hyenas. An adult hyena was gently tugging at the neck of one of the babies as if encouraging it to stand up. Another closer hyena caught my gaze, we looked into each other’s eyes and I felt challenged for intruding on this grief. In our naivety about Africa we thought the cubs had been hit by a car but later discovered that the hyenas had been attacked by a pride of lions.

The landscape views along the S10 from Pretoriuskop were some of my favourite. We also spotted a zebra with very different markings and wondered if it was a Burchell’s zebra.
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We had a wonderful view of the Sabie River and old bridge from our cottage. This banded mongoose was scooting around nearby.
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We went out on a sunset tour as a huge storm was rolling in. This battered white rhino was one of many we saw on our travels.
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I recorded the sounds of frogs while on the tour. What a joyful cacophony as they celebrated the huge volumes of rain we had in those last few days. I have an unusual ringtone for my phone.

In the evening a painted reed frog (Hyperolius marmoratus) visited while we were eating our braai.
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Throughout the night lightning flashed, the sky roared, mumbled, cracked and groaned and the rain drummed as the Sabie river marched higher up its banks. We awoke to find the Sabie twice as wide. Unfortunately the rain meant significant deterioration of the unsealed roads and they were closed for everyone’s safety. We decided to visit Lower Sabie camp via the H4-1. The Sabie in flood was mesmerising. Huge logs and great clumps of vegetation floated and dodged round snags as if they were canapés on an expert waiter’s tray.

The weather seemed to suit some birds. We got a long distance shot of a hamerkop at the torrent’s edge, a goliath heron and a saddle-billed stork.
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The wall of the toilets at Lower Sabie had a great collection insects including a marbled emperor moth (Heniocha dyops), whose larvae feed on Acacia spp, and my favourite was a yellow moth with a very fluffy head. I’d be grateful if there is someone who can identify it.
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We headed out on our last evening for a sunset tour hoping desperately for a lion sighting but it was not to be. We watched a crocodile catch his dinner instead.
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I couldn’t resist putting in ANOTHER hamerkop – this one I love because of the shadow, the branch, the relatively uncluttered surrounds and the hammerkop’s feet in the shallow water.
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The next morning we left Kruger National Park via the Paul Kruger gate. We caught our final glimpses of impala’s, kudu, giraffe and zebra but sadly no lions. Ah well that just means it is crucial that I visit again.

Part 4: Southward from Orpen to Skukuza

We left Orpen and took the H7 for a short way then back along the S106 to the S140. We watched a pair of black backed jackals for a short while but the morning light was a bit too dim for our cameras to get good photos.

We wondered whether grumpy ellie would be there again and stopped on the crest of a hill to look at the road ahead. He WAS there again sauntering along the road- a huge gatekeeper. However we were at least a hill and valley away with good vision of most of the road ahead. We waited patiently until he turned into the bush and had wandered quite a way in. Then without delay drove steadily by – there may have been leopards, servals, lions, wild dogs, an aardvark, sable antelope, a yeti… but we did not pause until well past the spot where he had turned off the road. Is there a South African equivalent of a yeti or bunyip? I guess there are so many real enigmatic creatures that Africa doesn’t need a mythical one.

I think we were a little weary of taking photos on this stage of the journey. We did capture a leopard tortoise foaming at the mouth, a male steinbok and a white-backed vulture. I did a quick web search on foaming mouths in tortoises and in pet tortoises it indicates a respiratory infection such as pneumonia.

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The most memorable scene on the drive to Tshokwane from Orpen was this pair of duelling male giraffes. We were horrified at the violence and power in their blows. They have hitherto seemed such docile, gentle creatures.
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We stopped for a while on the bridge across the Sabie near Skukuza to watch a family of baboons and a very cute baby. Other visitors to the river at the bridge were a three banded plover and giant kingfisher.
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The next morning we took a trip to the edge of the park, the Albasini ruins, via the S1. It was drizzly. A hamerkop was striding out along the road.
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We saw some impalas and relatively small elephant who seemed agitated. It was swaying, throwing branches about, trumpeting and doing short charges at something we couldn’t see. However when we returned along this road there were three hyenas resting in the vicinity of the place we’d seen the elephant.
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I confess that prior to this trip I’ve never been particularly enamoured with hyenas. My favour has fallen on cats. This close encounter with hyenas changed my impression. They would have been about 1.5-2m at the most from my window. I think I was bewitched by them. They are beautiful now- absolutely magnificent creatures.

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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