South African Honeymoon, 2016
I figure I might only make it to Africa once in this lifetime, so I better make a few notes to keep it as fresh as possible in my mind and to honor the opportunity. Because I took thousands of photos, I divided these posts up into geographic regions. A note on the photos: many people who visit Africa to watch wildlife have fancy lenses so that they can nicely photograph animals from a distance, but these are all point and shoot (a lovely one) and iPhone 4s. My wildlife photos are taken through binoculars and are terrible quality, but provide me with a memory that I once got to feast my eyes on such creatures. The photos are also totally lacking many of the things I found to be most wonderfully interesting about the people and the culture.
Our general route took us to Johannesburg where we rented a car and drove up into the Drakensburg escarpment to the Magoebaskloof region near a town called Haenertsburg for a couple of days, through Tzaneen for groceries, and then into Kruger National Park via the Punda Maria gate. We then took 10 days/9 nights to drive south stopping at various rest camps for a night or two. We stayed at Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Olifants, Lower Sabie and Skukuza. After leaving the park, we explored more of the escarpment near Sabie and then up to some native remnant forest to find the Gurney's Sugarbird before driving to Old Joe’s Kaya for a wonderful night’s rest and then on to Joburg to fly down to Cape Town. We spent a couple of days in Cape Town and then two more in Simon’s Town before heading home.
NYC under our wing
We had a funky couple of months before leaving and some travel for work so I was overwhelmed with the thought of making plans for this epic trip, but I tried. There were quite a few details to get together just hours before leaving. After a mad-dash at making last minute reservations and plans we were as ready as we were going to be. We left Ellis Hollow in the middle of the night to head to New York City for our flight to Johannesburg. We navigated rush hour while making further last last minute plans before settling in for our fourteen-hour flight. We enjoyed “Totally Anura” wine, aka sleep juice from a flight attendant with perfectly shiny dark periwinkle fingernails. Wine and frogs are a better match than I would have thought.
After landing in Joburg, we drove up into the most amazing mountains for a couple of nights and some serious birding. Lesson number one in how dumb my iPhone has made me was with navigation. We were smart enough to get a GPS for the car because I didn’t have an international data plan and Eliot didn’t have tons of data. We didn’t have a paper map, but the GPS got us close and some directions from helpful people got us to destinations eventually. Just outside of Pretoria, we got a look at African culture and we saw so many beautiful fruit stands, lots of baby wearing, children playing, very young children caring for other children, women balancing giant cases of yellow soda or 5 gallon buckets on their heads and men drinking at these little pop up stores under the shade of expansive trees, roadside car washes, older women with wheelbarrows stacked high with branches and the trees (just like the ones in my textbooks that always used African examples). Acacias, or at least the family formerly known as acacias. Acacias, oh my gosh, we were in Africa. We had to keep reminding ourselves.
We stopped for a few groceries and directions in the adorable town of Haenertsburg and then on to our quaint lodgings at Diggersrest. You see, I tried to book a little bungalow for us, but only the “main lodge” was available and it wasn’t much more, so we took it. It was giant and absolutely delightful! We swam, we lounged, we battled our jet lag and we birded our hearts out!
One of my favorite sensations is to leave winter and arrive in a blooming and sunny warm place. Well, this ticked all those boxes. The grounds were full of various Sunbirds and flowers and nooks and crannies and fairy crowns. We wondered around in the sudden warmth wearing our swimsuits (with binoculars) looking like the giant tourists that we were. That is the official relaxation cue: swimsuit/binocular wondering.
Agroforestry is a pretty big deal there. Lots of pine and eucalyptus.
My dear friend Taryn, who I was in grad school with at CU, is South African AND a birder, so she gave us some materials that helped us plan our Afromontane birding adventure.
I often get distracted when Eliot's birding enthusiasm outlasts mine and I look around for other stuff to check out. That day, I found a chameleon!
We spent a nice solid day in Afromontane forest. It reminded me of afternoons on Mauna Kea when the clouds would roll in or Pojo, Bolivia with the cotton clouds flowing over the mountains or near the divide in Costa Rica where the fog hangs out with the Quetzals, but no, we were in Africa (pinch yourself). We could drink the water, drive on amazing roads, and we had a wood fired pizza for dinner in an English pub where everyone was watching a cricket match.
A hike in Woodbush Forest
Watch out! If the American Dipper is the reigning bird king of your heart, this Grey Wagtail might steal its thrown. It was bobbing and dipping and hanging out in white water.
Leaving the escarpment (highveld) to head down into the lowveld.