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Western Cape 2018: New Year with Friends and Birds


xelas
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This whole trip revolved around friends and birds; it was born when @Peter Connan invited me (Alex) to join him on an off-road adventure through Botswana. That required a shift in our usual winter travel timing. South Africa was chosen, and Western Cape mostly for the chance to meet some friends there ... and to have a leisure birding days. Both we have had, plenty of both.

 

Itinerary was also based on our friend's advices, or better, on theirs trip reports I have read here. Thank You, @michael-ibk (for De Hoop), @PeterHG (for Wilderness and Montagu), and once again @Peter Connan (for Cape Town and specifically, for introducing me to @Elsa Hoffmann). 

 

Having my mind set on finally shaking hands with my dear travel agent Emma Dry in Hermanus, to see how an Iveco client is living in Mossel Bay, to get out birding in Cape Town with local birders Eric & Fran and John & Sherlayne, and above all, to sit down and chat with one guy I am admiring so much since I have read his first trip report by @Davesg, the itinerary completed itself easily and quickly. Here it is:


29-Dec       LJU-IST    
30-Dec       IST-CPT; CPT -> Hermanus / The Big Blue Boutique Cottage
31-Dec       Hermanus / The Big Blue Boutique Cottage
01-Jan        Hermanus -> De Hoop / Cormorant rondawel
02-Jan        De Hoop / Cormorant rondawel
03-Jan        De Hoop -> Wilderness / Kingfisher Country House
04-Jan        Wilderness / Kingfisher Country House
05-Jan        Wilderness -> Karoo NP / Karoo NP cottage
06-Jan        Karoo NP / Karoo NP cottage
07-Jan        Karoo NP -> Montagu / 360 on 62
08-Jan        Montagu - Franschhoek / Plumwood Inn
09-Jan        Franschhoek / Plumwood Inn
10-Jan        Franschhoek -> Cape Town / Marina Da Gama Studio
11-Jan        Cape Town / Marina Da Gama Studio
12-Jan        Cape Town / Marina Da Gama Studio
13-Jan        Cape Town / Marina Da Gama Studio
14-Jan        CPT-IST    
15-Jan        ST-LJU

 

As always on our travels, we have rented a car. This time it was a Renault Duster from Europcar. A sturdy vehicle that served us well (with minor adaptation). No flat tires or any other damages done. I did not bothered mrs.Gemma for such an easy task so I have booked all by myself.

 

I have promised Zvezda that this one will be a relaxed journey; I did not promised her that we will not woke up at sunrise each day. Birds don't wait. Coffee at sunrise taste the best. The air is freshest early in the morning. All good reasons to get out of the bed much earlier then I do at home.

 

I hope my words and Zvezda's photos will add something useful to the now already respectable collection of excellent trip reports from this part of the world.

 

 

Edited by xelas
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Welcome back home! Can't wait to see the photos and read the stories, you both make a great team!

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Thank you Alex for the kind words.

 

Looking forward to the rest of the story.

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Chapter 1: Hermanus

 

 

We are using Turkish Airlines as much as possible. They are the only major airlines that is using Ljubljana airport. And on top of this, Turkish is quickly becoming the biggest airliner in the world. How lucky we are, having to drive only 30 minutes till where the door to the world opens?!

 

They are also very dependable, and affordable airliner. We have had a short layover at Istanbul Ataturk international airport. I remember this airport 15 years ago, it was located in the mid of the fields. Now is enclosed within the densely populated suburb of Istanbul. That is why a new international airport is due to be completed within end of 2018.

 

Our flight arrived on time (12:35) and we were out of the immigration (with our luggage) within mere 60 minutes. Even faster was the pick-up procedure at Europcar. Not only there were more officers working at the counter, they were also very efficient. 30 minutes later we have left the CPT airport in Renault Duster 4WD; it was my wish to get this exact model as I wanted to test it if we could save some money on renting a bakkie next time in Namibia.

 

Plan for the day was to do the Clarence Drive and to stop at Betty's Bay to check out the penguin colony. I was warned to skip the Strand by turning off the Hiwy 2 only when close to Lowry's Pass and using M165 to connect to the R44 at Gordon's Bay. Unfortunately the GPS "knows better" so we ended in a traffic jam on the main road through The Strand; this must be the main beach holiday area of Cape Town. Cars were moving at pedestrian's speed. Becoming a bit nervous as the Stoney Point closes its entry gate at 16:00 (and last visitor has to exit by 16.30), so I have turned the car away from the coast and there the traffic was much faster.

 

The Clarence Drive is one of the Scenic Drives in South Africa but we were a bit under time pressure so no stopping (this time). We have arrived at Stoney Point entry gate at 15:55 ... and have about 5 minutes discussion with the young guy at the entrance which did not let us enter the boardwalk. Luckily for us the manager was on his way out, and after hearing that we have arrived all the way fro Slovenia only to see (and photograph) the famous African Penguine at the famous Stoney Point colony, he let us in ... and for free 8obviously the cashier already counted the daily income).

 

There is no shortage of penguins at Stoney Point, and they are easily observed and photographed from a wooden boardwalk. Beside penguins there are also many cormorants, and rock dassies. 30 minutes were long enough for us, and as last visitor we have left the colony, to arrive at Hermanus well before sunset.

 

 

This friendly penguin showed us the way to his brothers and sisters ...

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... who are using the old pier close to the parking lot (no need to pay for the entrance fee if only target is to get a photo of a penguin).

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After the gate the wooden boardwalk follows the coastline, with penguins all around

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Adults and youngsters, on the rocks and in the water ... they are everywhere

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Stoney Point is also home to 4 different species of Cormorants

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A lovely Rock Hyrax - Procavia capensis is sunbathing on the warm afternoon sun

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This way to Hermanus

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Edited by xelas
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A great start, Alex, and I look forward to seeing South Africa again through Zvezda´s lens. Love that final landscape shot, simply beautiful.

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Hermanus is an a small charming coastal town. It is famous for its whale watching, and within South Africa, as a desirable retirement destination. For the whale watching we were visiting it at the wrong time. For the retirement we are still too young. But we liked the town. It is easy to navigate, looks safe enough, is clean, and has many small places like galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants, etc. Its main attraction is the Cliff Walk, a path that follows the cliff above the ocean. Unfortunately there were several muggings attacks a week before so our host advised us not to walk it. i would disregard her sound advice but Zvezda knows better. 

 

The walk passes by the town centre so we could explore at least a small section of it. And we liked what we saw. Great views (although no whales for us), many seabirds and smaller birds living in the lush scrubs, and even some larger mammals down at the coastline. We did not dedicate enough time to Hermanus this visit yet it deserves a day or two more. Next time.

 

 

The Cliff Walk has benches to sit on, and great views

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Ocean is not a right place to swim but there are several rock pools, similar to what we have seen on Azores

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Main square and one local you should visit when there ... Gelatto Mania

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Old pier offers great photo ops

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On the rocky shore there were seals

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This Whale Caller sculpture is representing well the essence of Hermanus

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Edited by xelas
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Hermanus was chosen because there is where my (and not only mine) preferred travel agent lives. After using her services for several trips to Namibia, and receiving nothing but top notch attention, I wanted to meet her "live". Not only that this happened, she was also our host, as she operates a Big Blue Boutique Cottage, a lovely annex at her house.

 

On our arrival day, she and Tyron invited us to join them at nearby pub. Harbour Rock is a seagrill and sushi bar, with lively atmosphere and live music on some nights. It surely must be a popular spot as it was already full when we arrived. Gemma and Tyron must be a regular visitors as it was no problem for them to get us seated. The beer and the food was good, and although it was noisy inside, we have chatted long and came home late.

 

Below are some photos of the cottage; on the walls are all subaquatic photos done by Gemma. She is a passionate, and very good at, subaquatic photographer. Cottage has two rooms / 4 beds, a large living room, a small kitchen and a backyard patio with grill. All very clean, comfortable, lively colours. Location is in the calm suburb, close to the Cliff Walk.

 

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Meeting you guys - the pleasure was all mine - we had a wonderful time. 

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I always enjoy the combination of your writing @xelas and Zvezda's words and the Cape and Karoo are splendid places to explore

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31st December is the last day in the year ... and also the last day to add more birds to Big Year. Upon advice sent to us by John from Hermanus Bird Club our first birding location was Rooisands Bird Hide.

Rooisands hide is located within the Rooisand Nature Reserve, an area that encompasses both Rooisands Estuary and Botriver lagoon, the largest natural lagoon in South Africa. turn-off from R44 is well signed so no problems to find it. A gravel road follows the fence on the right side, and there are bushes on the left hand side, so we have encountered our first birds already there. When we have arrived at the parking lot where the wooden walkway starts, I was surprised that no other cars were parked there. Obviously I have forgotten about the date of today; even the most enthusiastic birders have had better or more important task on the last day of the year.

 

As every hide we have been to in South Africa also this one is well designed both for observation and for photography. The recent drought shows impact as the water of the lagoon was far away, and only a few birds were visible from the hide. At better times the place must be full of waders and similar water-related feathered friends. We have not spent too much time as it was obvious our total count will not be increased.

 

Our Duster on the parking lot

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Start of the wooden walkway towards the hide

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Hide is positined at the end of another wooden walkway on stilts; surely there must be more water there

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The view from the inside of the hide; not a promising view for any birder

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Then we moved further down the R44 to Betty's Bay; not for penguins but for other birds we were certain to see in Harold Porter Botanical Garden. There are 17 botanical gardens across South Africa, 5 of them located in Western Cape, and all of them were on our route. The first botanical garden we have been to, Walter Sisulu near Jo'burg, really impressed us. And although smaller in size, Harold Porter was another example of how a botanical garden should look like. Not too many manicured lawns, paths that are good to walk but not "overdone", description tables everywhere. And with acceptable entry fee of R25.- cca. 1.75 Eur also gives you "best bang for the buck", if I may say so for a nature attraction. Side note: checking the entry fee I have seen that seniors - 60 years plus - only pay R15.00!! Heck I should look at my personal ID more often :rolleyes:!

 

As the day was quite windy our main targets were difficult to find. Mostly they have stayed well inside bushes and trees. However that wind also makes the heat of the day less oppressive, and walking around the garden was nice. Many benches in shade offers much needed relax, and for more active visitors there are also some tracks that leads into the mountain ... not high but up anyway.

 

There is a restaurant on site. The burger was not the best we have eaten in South Africa but miles better than what one gets at various fast food chains. While we were very active till late lunch, we have been much less active after it :D. The view toward the mountain side, with sun setting behind our backs, birds chirping (the wind had calmed down a bit in the afternoon) ... how better to end the already impressive year 2017?!

 

 

Main building with restaurant and restrooms (very clean!)

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General layout of the place; woods at the right was where the birds did seek refuge from the wind

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Info table describing the paths and trails

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Alex enjoying the view

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Watch the grass on the bottom right; the wind was strong but refreshing

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Our progress with birds was monitored :ph34r:

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While most of the birds found at Harold Porter Botanical Garden (and also at Roiisands Bird Hide) have been posted on our Big Year 2017 - http://safaritalk.net/topic/17046-alex-zvezdana-big-year-2017/?page=19 - botanical gardens are made to represent the plants. I should buy the Plant Guide book at the entrance, to be able to ID them. Therefore I will just post them here (a small selection, not all) hoping that other readers will help me out with naming them.

 

January (summer) is not the best time for flowers in South Africa, September is and we will come back next time in September, however there was one flower very famous that can be seen only between end of December till February. It also grows naturally only in aptly named Disa Kloof:

 

Red Disa - Disa Uniflora

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Another one, I hope I am not wrong, is the national flower of South Africa.

 

King Protea - Protea cynaroides

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And the rest of the pick; I am adding numbers for help with the naming

 

#1

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#2

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#3

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#4

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#5

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#6

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#7

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#8

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#9

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#10

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A great start (we will be taking notes!). The flowers are amazing- especially as it is not the "best" time of year.

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Glad to be of help, @TonyQ. Let me know if any specific info is needed to be added, at each location.

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Excellent start, great information to help anyone's trip in SA. How did you find the Duster or is that to come?

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Thanks Dave. No problem with discussing Duster also now. It is a sturdy enough vehicle, with enough space for 2-4 persons to be comfortable. It is also quite noisy one; driving on corrugated roads sometimes I was afraid that it will come apart, hearing all the screeching and rumbling. No major problems with the car itself. As a driver, I was annoyed by the door box where the buttons for windows are installed; it sticks out right in the height where my right knee was; maybe also due to me seating "on the wrong side" but it was really uncomfortable. On longer distances I was "padding" the knee with a fleece. Of course this specific depends on drivers height and his/her position of right leg when driving. I need to calculate the consumption, this info will be given at the end of the report.

 

I have used https://www.billiger-mietwagen.de/ who used Cars&Campers who used Tempest Car Rental who used Europcar ... a proper recipe for a disaster.  But as to prove me wrong, it all ended up as one of the best rental car experienced overall. The documentation by B-W was precise as Germans can only do, the voucher was confirmed by Europcar (and the lady on the other side of the mail was extremely friendly and quick with replies), the pick-up and drop-off proccesses quick and efficient and zero extra unexpected costs were added to my c/c. 

 

Saying this, I would rent a Duster again for Kruger (if not Toyota Avanza) but will not rent it again for either Kgalagadi or Namibia. There were a couple of badly corrugated roads around Wilderness and I was at all not happy to drive Duster on those.

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hurrah! @xelas the Harold Porter gardens are one of our favourite places in that part of the world.-it is a lovely place for a stroll and we have had good views of Veruaux's eagles as well.did you read about the leopard that either last year or the year before found the penguin colony and as you can imagine, helped himself-it seems so unsporting leopard v penguin!

On a entirely trivila note in the Uk the Duster goes under the Dacia brand and is marketed as a no nonsense good  value brand.there was a terrible advert where a lot of posh folk would see the duster driving by and sing to the tune of "another one bites the dust" "another one drives a duster"- so every time  i saw one i would sing out--my wife loved it!!!! 

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Just realised we had an X-trail Nissan for Namibia which I thought was great. I had a Duster in Iceland where it was all tar roads but the steering wheel was on the wrong side and I quite liked it!

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@Towlersonsafari, also in Slovenia Duster is Dacia. But looks like Renault is willing to give this vehicle its brand name in South Africa. Go figure. Yes same spot was aired also on our TV.

 

No, I have not read about that leopard. There is mention of mountain leopard (a smaller version of the other, savanna ?? leopard) beig observed with trap cameras in the hills above Harold Porter. Probably as elusive to find it as a Snow Leopard, only in much nicer climate.

 

 

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@Dave Williams if I am not wrong the X-Trail is one class higher then Duster; bigger, more comfortable, etc. But yes, Duster is a sturdy working horse and I think would be ideal option for Iceland. Which reminds me I need to finally find time to go there :huh:.

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6 hours ago, xelas said:

@Towlersonsafari, also in Slovenia Duster is Dacia. But looks like Renault is willing to give this vehicle its brand name in South Africa. Go figure. Yes same spot was aired also on our TV.

 

No, I have not read about that leopard. There is mention of mountain leopard (a smaller version of the other, savanna ?? leopard) beig observed with trap cameras in the hills above Harold Porter. Probably as elusive to find it as a Snow Leopard, only in much nicer climate.

 

 

 

Dacia released a few pick-up trucks here in SA about 15 years ago. They were terrible, and I think that is why the Duster and Sandero are sold under the Renault brand name here in SA. Nobody here who remember those trucks would buy a Dacia.

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@xelas there is a website for the Cape leopard trust that you may like to have a look at-camera traps have revealed a surprising number-although still small-of leopards that seem a bit smaller than those found in say the kruger although I do not think they are a subspecies-presumably just adapting to the smaller and more scarce prey.

the link is hopefully here;

https://capeleopard.org.za/

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Not to be without any birds in the Chapter 1, here is one photo story you might like

 

My friend, what are you doing in there?

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You should really get out before the owner returns!

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Now what, are you making fun of me?!

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This is simply outrageous!!!

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Have you seen this model?! What a douche!!

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Now me, I am better looking than Emily is.

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All photos taken at Hermanus. Acting by Karoo Prinia. Car model not important.

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Beautiful series!

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