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Western Cape 2018: New Year with Friends and Birds


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While mammal sightings were not that good as we have had them before hand, in other parks, it was also not a complete wash, at least judging by above photos. What we have had more fun with was birding. Mostly smaller birds, and they came relatively close. This little fellow has his home and family just above the entry door to our chalet. Based on the amount of the food he (she??) and his (her??) partner were delivering throughout the day, relentlessly, the family was an extended one :huh:.


Familiar Chat




Several birds have "Karoo" in their names, like:


Karoo Chat



Karoo Long-billed Lark


Karoo Koorhaan




I was hoping to see more birds of prey; several couples of Verreaux's Eagles are nesting in the cliffs near Klipspringer Pass but we have seen only one nest. Maybe we should try more of the 4x4 tracks; on the Afsaal Loop this one posted as a true pro model.


Rock Kestrel




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Camping site (with bungalows) is positioned about 2 km away from the main building and chaltes, and it is more green area, with larger trees. We should try to bird there also. However, as there is a bird hide much closer, about 500 m away, this was our regular afternoon stopover point. The hide is positined above the (natural??) waterhole; dense reed on closer side of the waterhole while the other side was too far for taking photos of smaller birds.


Reed area has its set of warblers; these never stay put, and when the hide was empty of other birders, I was running left and right to point out where this or that warbler is showing itself, for Zvezda to get an unobstructed shot.


African Reed Warbler



Lesser Swamp Warbler



Dusky Sunbird




The most prolific birds were also the more colourful ones. By far in numbers were the yellow ones, Southern Masked Weaver:


Male standing proud on his newly constructed house



Female inspecting the quality and the comfort of the construction



Male after being informed that also his attempt #5 has failed




On the red side of the spectre life looks to be much calmer, and males have all the time to work on their presence; specially the haircut was almost perfect:


Southern Red Bishop






Edited by xelas
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I have started this chapter with the words that Karoo NP can be seen as Plenty Of Nothing. Somehow I have denied myself with further posts; Karoo is no Kruger or Etosha or Kgalagadi, but it does have its own flair. Mammals are not that easy to encounter but then, we have seen one lifer, and one "alpinist" :D. I should have mention that we have also seen a rhino; well, it was about 5 clicks away, and even through binoculars (10x42) I could say it is a rhino only because a rock of that size cannot move :lol:


I am sure that more time in the park, and having a proper 4x4 vehicle that would allowed us more comfortable and reassuring drive on 4x4 tracks, we would appreciate the vibe of this park even more. For sure not for any first-timer that looks to see Big 5 on first safari but very interesting location for those that are looking after a different African experience.


Ending Chapter 4 with two photos that describes how each of our two days in the park ended :rolleyes::






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An excellent way to end any day Alex! :D


Karoo National Park to my mind is more about the ambience and is a great place just to unwind. As you've pointed out, it isn't a Kruger Park experience but your photos show that there is still enough there to be of interest for birders and new-comers to an African wildlife experience who haven't got the opportunity to go deeper into the sub-continent.


By the way, when I refer to your photos I of course include Zvezda...You are both an integral part of a fine team! 

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After some beautiful birds, not a bad ending of the day at all. Well deserved, my friend!

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Sorry, way late to this wonderful report.  The flower photos in post #13 are fantastic. I will keep reading with anticipation. 

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Love the photos of the first New Year’s in the Southern Hemisphere. What a great time, and a good reminder that there’s more to life than the wildlife. 

Edited by Alexander33
Repeat post.
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Sorry. Post somehow repeated twice. Edited. 

Edited by Alexander33
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Some beautiful photos from Karoo - stunning landscapes, in mammals and lovely birds. All rounded off with a sunset and a cold beer!

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There are around 400 kms between Karoo NP and Franschhoek, and much of them on the main Highway 1, thus reaching Franschhoek directly from Karoo is entirely feasible. However @PeterHG and his trip report again provided me with a great place to check out in Montagu, and I have booked it for 1 night.


Firstly, we will come back, for more nights and for more chilli sauce :lol:. 360 on 62 ( http://www.360on62.co.za/ ) is one of those places where guests immediately feel like being a part of the family; even house pets were "adopting" us in a minutes. 360 on 62 is a working farm with self-catering cottages, owned and run by Elsje and Johan. They moved here a couple of years ago, to start a less hectic life, and to pursue their personal goals. Elsje is an artist; every corner of their home shows it, and so also the guest cottages. Johan hobby is fermentation, and latest business is producing chilli sauce. And they are both very warm and very friendly and communicative persons.


There is a tortoise at every location we visit :huh:



Our cottage from outside ...



... and from inside.



Porch and braai area




We have arrived late afternoon and were shown to our cottage, and introduced to dogs. Also here we have been invited to share the dinner with hosts, and also this time we have accepted the invitation with broad smiles! What better way to get acquainted with local life then sharing a couple of hours with people living there, with a braai and a bottle (well, bottles) of fine wine?! Before dinner we have had some time to go around property in search of the local birds. While Zvezda has finally been released of her photographic duties to enjoy some off time by the pool, I have walked around the perimeter of the dam which was a welcome refugee for many water birds. More about this in next post.


Pool is large and inviting in hot days; our cottage is the white house in the background



Local dam is prime birding area



Montagu mountain provides for constant breeze (and sometimes for strong winds)




Elsje and Johan lives in farm house which they have completely renovated on arrival (same as they have done also with guest cottages), and Elsje was kind enough to give us a tour of the house. One word only: wow! 


The evening was another of those excellent welcoming easy going events we are liking so much when in South Africa (or Namibia). Braai food of course, with excellent chilli sauce, and great wine. We have started the dinner around 20:00 .... and finished it in the wee hours of the next day :o!! Warning to others: never ever ask Alex to start telling you about travels :rolleyes:; he has way too many stories on stock, and want to tell them all :D.


Ejsje and Johan home



Johan, Elsje, Alex ... and pets



Dinner is ready!



All photos in this post by Zvezda.

Edited by xelas
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Main birding area is the water reservoir/dam, just a few steps from guest cottages. On one side of the dam Johan has constructed a floating ponton; there is also a water pump instalation on top of the dam. Now here is a funny story linked to this pump:

Elsje warned us that there are snakes around (not that we have seen any), and that we should walk carefully around the dam. Which was good news for me as that gave me the opportunity to "kidnap" the camera while Zvezda decided that pool area is much more inviting (and safer).

So carefully I have walked on top of the dam wall, slowly descended the steep bank to the pontoon, and took several decent photos of water birds from their eye level. Upon returning up the bank. almost at the top, I have heard a loud hissing noise! Immediate reaction by my body (while my brains were still occupied with something else) makes me jumping from top of the bank almost to the bottom of it!! Good luck for me I have had the camera firmly gripped in my hand and was able to avoid plunging myself into the pond. Composed after a few deep breaths, the task of coming back to the cottage did not looked promising at all. Then I heard the hissing noise again! Loud but no snake visible?! I have grabbed a reed and tried to make as much noise myself as possible while getting up slowly and carefully. On top of the bank the "snake" turned into a faulty water pipeline; a very small puncture produced a loud his when the pump has started to move water B). Oh well, always better then trying to move a puff adder out of my way.


Pontoon and the pond



Cape Wagtail



The most unexpected user of the pond




Several birds photographed from water level:


Lttle Grebe



Yellow-billed Duck



Red-knobbed Coot




Also the reeds had its own birds:


Little Bittern



Purple Heron



I think that below photo represents this place very well: 





Next time we will stop at 360 on 62 it will be for more nights, and I hope Johan will construct a hide on the other side of the dam. 


All photos in this post by Alex.

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wow @xelas that looks like a wonderful place-and with added otters! South Africa does seem full of splendid places to stay and explore

Edited by Towlersonsafari
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I am enjoying catching up to this TR - thanks for the info @xelas, I am taking notes for when I get to South Africa!



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Good to read about Montagu, @xelas and it sure brings back fond memories. Elsje and Johan are wonderful people indeed and, just like you, we also had a great rome with them, playing the guitar in the evening and enjoying the stories they both can tell. That otter in the pond is fantastic!

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12 hours ago, PeterHG said:

Good to read about Montagu, @xelas and it sure brings back fond memories. Elsje and Johan are wonderful people indeed and, just like you, we also had a great rome with them, playing the guitar in the evening and enjoying the stories they both can tell. That otter in the pond is fantastic!


I am assured that with you two and your guitar, that evening would end up in the morning! The otter was a surprise also to Elsje; it was absent/not seen for about a year.

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Franschhoek, together with Stellenbosh, is all about fine dinning and wine tasting. So what on Earth have lured me to stop there?! Well, I recon a bit of fine living does not hurt, and Zvezda would need some of street walking and window shopping also :D.


Our route was via Aston and Villersdorp and passing by Theewaters Dam we have realised why Cape Town was about to dry up! (Update: since our return some rainfall have lifted the imminent Red Alert for Cape Town and postponed it till August).


 What used to be a lake is now reduced to a river








Franschhoek is full of upscale accommodations, with related price tags. Based on recommendation from TripAdvisor I have booked a standard room at Plumwood Inn. While the least comfortable (and expensive) room it surely is given us all the comfort, and to me even the luxury we would ever ask for. Its location on a very calm side street but only a few minutes walking from the main road was perfect. Two buildings immersed in green gardens, state-of-the-art breakfast, and very welcoming owners makes our stay even more pleasant.


Building with standard rooms



Nothing says standard in our room





Only the starters of the breakfast



One happy guest



Even the Cape Sugarbird enjoyed the place



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Town life is determined by the wine tasting excursions during the day and fine dinning during the evenings. All around the valley and the town many wineries are offering both wine tasting and accommodations. Everything is geared towards the more demanding clients, which on the other hand makes Franschhoek a very clean, bright, and safe town. It only has one main road, lined with many restaurants, shops and galleries.


When we got out in the early afternoon the town was almost empty, as majority of the visitors were either still somewhere out, or were preparing for the evening dinner. For not "drink & drive" there is a wine tram offering visitors to really indulge in probably the best wines in South Africa if not in the world.


Main road before the rush hour



Wine made this town



Wine tram




A few snapshots from exploring the town = walking along the main road













Zvezda was impressed by one shop where fabulous colourful painted ceramics were exhibited. I cannot blame her for deciding to buy this year souvenir there, as those are truly all masterpieces, and all hand painted by locally trained artists. For more look here: https://orgaribyhs.com





Plenty of bars, restaurants etc. I was intrigued by the name so we have had our refuelling station here:







This one also looked very cool

WC 258A - FranschhoekA.JPG


Edited by xelas
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There is a very nice walk on the outskirts of the town, passing by wine estates and vineyards.


View toward mountains



A sure sign the area is a special one



Cape White-eye couple in love






Flowers were all around:









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As always....your story telling and comments are very entertaining and makes me longing to visit those areas as well. 

All photos are top of the class as usual. 

Thank you

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To be honest, not much of a story has been given for Franschhoek. So to add a few words to above photos, we have found F to have a very calming effect on its visitors. All houses gives the impression of style, and so do shops, art galleries and restaurants. During the day the town is almost empty as majority of the visitors are out visiting wine estates. During evening the main drive looks like a corso at a seaside town, filled with dressed-up folk.

We did not eat out as most of the eateries requires a booking, and to what I have read, dinners might be an expensive event. But those that we have stopped at (Tuk Tuk) and I have examined the menu posted, were just normal price. It is a specific travel destination, yet even people like me, not attracted by those high-end places, will have a relaxing time here.

As long as you will not be persuaded by a smartly dressed person that the ATM machine also doubles as a parking machine :huh: and he can help you out with using it the proper way :blink:! Because that one is a known reported scam which ends up in your credit card being stolen and cleaned before you try using it at the next cashier :angry:


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We only visited Franschhoek as a day trip from Cape Town on a rainy day. Wished we had more time and weather like yours :-)

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What a wonderful trip, I loved South Africa and the Swartberg Pass was one of my favourite parts of the two weeks we spent there.

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I have had no fixed plans for our full day at Franschhoek. I knew in advance that wine tasting is not an option. Thus we have been quite happy to learn that there is a safe and nice walk which I have described in post #93. It started at our inn, then we walk Daniel Hugo St, Dassenber Rd and La Provence Rd. It really is a lovely walk, and there is a path that follows the river parallel to the Dassenberg Rd. By returning through the town, our first half day was consumed


For the afternoon we have decided to visit the Babylonstoren Garden. This one is a well visited attraction, and I did have some second thoughts about sharing the garden with a busloads of other visitors. Yet the place put me wrong, only a handful of other visitors, beautiful gardens (although again, not the right time for more flowers), very green and refreshing, with an excellent Greenhouse Restaurant for late lunch. We have enjoyed the place very much, almost being too late for the restaurant opening/closing time (but still got in and get served), and yes, I would go there again. Birding was good and photo ops, also those less usual, enough to keep us entertained for that lovely sunny afternoon. 


Babylonstore opening hours



Garden is divided in several sections; this one is Fruits Section





Prickly Pear Cactus with an extra flower



And a proper flower



A lovely fountain



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Birding was what we were hoping for, and although already afternoon there were enough birds to make us happy.


Cape Canary



Hadeda Ibis



Cape Robin-Chat



Red-faced Mousebird



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It was our intention to have our late lunch in the public Gardenhouse Restaurant. Why public? Because there is another restaurant on premises, named Babel, and this one is with pre-booking only. So we made our way slowly towards the far end of the gardens where the restaurant is positioned, and we were almost too late to enter. The lady at the entry must have seen the sorry look in my eyes so she let us in. The menu is very different to what is usually offered in South Africa, and also served in a different way. It was a different experience, and if I would have someone to prepare me such type of food at home, I would not be reminded of my weight every time I step on the wight-scale (not that I do this often :P).


Greenhouse Restaurant opening hours (the greenhouse is visible in the back)




This place was full of clients not more then 15 minutes ago



Our lunch ... yummy



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