PeterHG

From Cape and Coast to way up North (SA 2017)

83 posts in this topic

With both of us retired ( well, semi- retired for my wife), we decided to escape the Dutch winter and spend some 8 weeks travelling parts of South Africa we had not visited before. On our previous 3 visits we had always flown to Johannesburg and from there explored Wakkerstroom, St Lucia, Kruger, Mapungubwe, to name a few and even ventured into Southern Botswana. This time we would fly to Cape Town to see the southern areas. We booked our tickets with British Airways some nine months before, giving us a good rate: €600 euros pp for a return ticket, with a stopover and change at Gatwick. After this we started putting together an itinerary for our stay. Apart from seeing the Cape Town area and south coast we decided to spend the last three weeks travelling north to visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, something we had been thinking about for a number of years. We'd throw in a few days in Fish River Canyon for the scenery and to get a taste of Namibia. In fact we had also looked at the possibility to combine the Kgalagadi part with a much longer Namibia trip, but the cost and the long distances had made us decide to leave that to a later date. At first a tough decision as it meant abandoning many great birding areas, but it was definitely the right one.

We got many great tips from ST members, by reading trip reports and @@xelas added a lot of information in our email exchanges. We approached a Dutch/South African travel agency to arrange these 3 weeks for us: accommodation and the rental of a 4x4.

For the first 5 weeks they booked us a sedan and the first three nights in Hermanus. We were going to book all other accommodation ourselves when we we in SA. This would give us more freedom to extend our stay at places we really liked and leave whenever we felt like it. We had googled a lot of possible places to stay in the various regions we were gong to visit, looking at reviews and rates. Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? Only it turned out quite a few places were fully booked even later in January and in the end we did not get to see a few places that had been high on our list. Well, to be honest we also did not get to see all the areas we wanted anyway as our trip did not last the planned 8 weeks. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll fill you in about that later. So in a nutshell, this was the plan:

From 8th January till 12th February ( roughly 5 weeks):

Start with a few days in Hermanus, then follow the Garden Route eastwards. Furthest point east would be Addo Elephant park. From there ease back west and then take the R62. Probably a detour north to visit the Karoo NP and then back to Cape town to spend a week exploring the area.

From 12th February till 3rd March

With a 4x4 travel north in 3 days to Fish River Canyon and spend 3 nights there. Then via Keetmanshoop (1 night) to the Mata Mata gate of the Kgalagadi TP. There we would be for 9 nights: 2 in Kalahari Tented Camp, 2 in Mata Mata, 2 in Nossob, 1 in Kieliekrankie and finally 2 in Twee Rivieren. On our way back to Cape Town we would spend two nights near the Augrabies Falls NP. Then to CT and back home.

Birding opportunities and sites had been a major consideration in the planning. One of the highlights, I hoped, would be a pelagic trip from Simon's Town, which I had booked with Cape Town Pelagics. Was I really going to see an albatross?

My photographic equipment: Canon 7DII with the 100-400II. I did take a lightweight tripod with me, but 99% of the shots were handheld. I also had a spare body, my 'old' 7D. Looking at myself struggling out of bed in the morning I could use another spare body, but unfortunately the Peter MarkII is not yet on the market. My wife, Jeannette, brought her trusted Sony A77, mainly for scenery shots. Although not as dedicated a birder as I try to be, she shares my passion for birds, animals and nature in general.

Would this trip, longer than any we had ever done before, bring us what we hoped for? Would our marriage hold when we had exhausted our conversation topics ( this proved to be a theoretical question, we did not run out of topics ;) )? Well, let's wait and see...

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Perfect timing, @@PeterHG ! And great photos to start with :o !

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8 Weeks - wow , bring it on @@PeterHG

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What a splendid start @@PeterHG you are very barve not booking all the accomadation before you flew-we would be worrying we would have to sleep in the car! And you are exactly right-you never run out of topics to talk about when on Safari!

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Wow - @@PeterHG I am really looking forward to this trip report, especially the pelagic trip!

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@@PeterHG looking forward to following your trip - especially KTP. Also interested in southern Namibia, an area I have yet to visit.

 

8 weeks is a great length of time to spend between these 2 countries.

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@@PeterHG looking forward to following your trip - especially KTP. Also interested in southern Namibia, an area I have yet to visit.

 

8 weeks is a great length of time to spend between these 2 countries.

That's definitely a long time. One of the main reasons was escaping the winter here for health reasons. In the end it didn't last 8 weeks, but 'only' six.

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Posted (edited)

Part 2: Hermanus

 

On 7th January we are all set to go. Escaping the Dutch winter, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Snow, black ice and code orange. Motorists are advised to stay at home as some 250 road accidents have already happened in the early hours of the morning. We decide on the train. Even getting to the station is risky, so a helpful neighbour ( we still have one) and our son help us drag our suitcases across the slippery roads. Once on the train we actually leave and we breathe a sigh of relief. Not for long. After two minutes the train stops and an announcement makes clear that we are going to return to the station. One of the switches is frozen over. We do have a reliable railway system, but mostly when I am not using it. Our son risks his life and our car by driving us to the airport after all. Piece of cake as there are very few other cars to get in the way.

The flight with BA is smooth and uneventful. The only mistake we made was opting for the lasagne. Even I can do a better one. People who have tried my cooking will now raise an unbelieving eyebrow, but I am serious. We arrive at Cape Town airport, collect our car and drive off Hermanus. We are a little early for checking in at the B&B, so we decide to spend an hour or so at the beach, soaking in the South African temperatures. The suntan lotion is still in our suitcase, but hey, it's only for an hour. We are painfully reminded of this oversight for the next few days. I do get my first lifers, though. First of all the Black Oystercatcher. A carbon copy of its European cousin, except for the beautiful shiny black coat.

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Cape Sugarbird

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Then the Hartlaub's Gull. Extremely common here, but I'd never encountered one before.

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Our B&B is 78on5th, on the outskirts of Hermanus, a mere 10 minutes’ walk from the Cliff Path.

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We have dinner the first night at Lizette’s Kitchen, a Thai restaurant close to the B&B. The Thai kitchen is not really our thing, but that’s a personal matter. Another good option is Dutchies, near Grotto Beach. We only have lunch there the next day, but it was a very nice play on the coast. Our room overlooks part of the garden that has a birdbath and a feeder, attracting some nice birds in the days we are there. One of them is a Cape Robin Chat

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Another is the Speckled Mousebird

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Speckled Pigeon

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And a familiar sight: the European Starling

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Edited by PeterHG
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I've been to Cape Town three times already,but I'll be going to Hermanus for the first time this summer. I'm looking forward to it.

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Posted (edited)

3. From Hermanus to Montagu

 

The next day in Hermanus we walk along the cliff path, offering beautiful views of the coastline and the sea. The numerous benches along the path testify to the fact that a lot more visitors flock to Hermanus in the whale season. Not a whale to be seen now, of course but we do get birds instead. Again the handsome Oystercatcher:

 

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A Sombre Greenbul

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and a Cape Batis that shows briefly.

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Later in the day we spend a hour at the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Potentially a really nice place with varied vegetation and flowers to attract sunbirds, but now they only attract a host of visitors with children and dogs. Back in our B&B, we have some more garden visitors, such as Cape Weaver

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Fiscal Shrike

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Cape Sunbird

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and some Cape Spurfowl that monopolize the birdbath for a while.

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On our last day in Hermanus we visit with the Cliff Path and Fernkloof again.

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Our plan is to move further east and spend some days in De Hoop NP and after that in Wilderness. Accommodation in de Hoop (De Hoop Collection)is more expensive than is allowed for by our budget for the trip, but we give it a try anyway. Fully booked, no chance. This also holds true for one or two alternatives we phone. Ok, so we’ll skip De Hoop and drive straight on to Wilderness. I have read positive things about the Kingfisher Lodge, but so have others and they have no room left. We then decide to make full use of the freedom in our itinerary and do the planned route clockwise, instead of anti-clockwise. This means we’ll start with the R62. We phone one of the options in Montagu and, yes, we can come!

The drive to Montagu via the R316 takes us through vast wheatlands, which hold species like: Blue Crane, Capped Wheatear, Jackal Buzzard and several larks. The Large-billed Lark is a lifer:

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Edited by PeterHG
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@@PeterHG

A great start with beautiful pictures - I look forward to following the rest of your trip!

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Beautiful pictures @@PeterHG I do like the four flying ostercatchers and the Cape Batis especially. We were in roughly that area in February-a place called Farm215 where we saw our first ever Black Harrier and we also saw Jackel buzzards and Blue Crane and of course European Starling!

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4. Montagu and back...

The property we’re staying, 360on62, is some 7 kilometers from Montagu. A farm with 4 guest cottages, beautiful views and a welcome pool. It will be hard to find more welcoming and gentler people than the couple, who own and work the farm. They are both avid birders and keep a list of all the species seen at their place. We immediately feel relaxed and at home there. The cottage is simple but more than adequate and the bed is quite comfortable. I have bought a guitar in Hermanus, just for the trip and this is the perfect atmosphere for a few chords in the evening.

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The dam on their farm attracts Darters, Reed cormorants, Yellow-billed Duck and even a Little Bittern. A fleeting glimpse, so no photo. The Catlle Egret shows itself a lot better.

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The farm grounds and surrounding klein Karoo produce some nice birds and even lifers for me, however common they may be to the people living here:

Karoo Scrub Robin. Lifer.

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Cape Sparrow

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On the 13th of January at 4:00 am I get a call from Holland that my mother is seriously ill. She is 91 and demented, though she still recognizes us and she was reasonably well when we left. She even had one of her more lucid moments on our last visit with her. When, seated in the restaurant downstairs, we spotted a Kingfisher, she exclaimed what a 'lucky find' that was. She dies just three hours before we land in Amsterdam. After the funeral we talk about a possible return to South Africa, but we hesitate. In the end we do decide to go back, accompanied by my sister and brother-in-law, so after two weeks we find ourselves back in Montagu. The welcome is, once again, heart-warming. They have looked after the guitar and in the evening we sing and play together. Good for the soul after the past weeks.

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@@PeterHG I'm sorry to hear about your mother; however, at the same time I'm delighted that you enjoyed South Africa so much. I think that your photos of birds are just charming.

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@@PeterHG, condolences on your Mums passing. Im glad you were able to return and carry on, I like the idea of the guitar purchase. Looking forward to your story and of course, excellent photos.

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@@PeterHG

Sorry to hear of the death of your mother. Montagu looks like a wonderful place to return to after your sad loss.

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@@PeterHG so very sorry to hear about the loss of your mother.

 

I'm pleased that you were able to return to the peace and space of the Karoo to be with your family on safari at this sad time.

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again please accept my condolences @@PeterHG the Karoo is indeed a beautiful place so i hope returning helped a lot

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5. Wilderness

 

In Holland I have managed to book a few nights at the Kingfisher Country House in Wilderness. It is labelled as birder friendly accommodation and that’s exactly what it is. All the English style bedrooms have doors leading to a large covered verandah where breakfast is served each morning. Within arm length of your table there are several bird feeders that attract lots of visitors. The birds are fed at fixed times, so both at breakfast and later in the day when you’re having tea, you can enjoy the company of Turacos, Waxbills, Lemon Doves, Sunbirds etc. Photography, however is not easy. The feeders are hanging from the branches of big trees, so you are faced with patches of both deep shade and bright sunshine. The spectacle is wonderful,though, and with some patience and high iso settings you do come away with a few good ones.

Knysna Turaco, the star of the feeders...

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Greater Double-collared Sunbird

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Amethyst Sunbird

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Chorister Robin Chat

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Lemon Dove

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Forest Canary

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Cape White-eye

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And Swee Waxbill, one of my favourites

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We also drive out to the Rondevlei nature reserve to pay a late afternoon visit to the bird hide. A very nice area with water, reedbeds and trees. A friendly driver of an oncoming car alerts us to the fact that a Greater Painted Snipe should be visible from the hide. To our excitement we spot it between the reeds. Taking a good picture a impossible, because the reeds get in the way of a clear view, but we do get good looks through the binoculars.

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Also present were:

African darter

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and Reed Cormorant

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@@PeterHG very sorry to hear about your mum.

Your pics are top notch mate, well done.

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Already loves this report @@PeterHG! Sorry to hear about your mother, my condoleances.

 

Stunning photography and always nice to read the experiences of a fellow Dutchman exploring my beloved country!! :)

 

Cheers,

 

Michel

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@@PeterHG - I would like to add my condolences and to thank you for the excellent report. Great to see how you have managed to get some of these excellent photos on the big bird blog

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@@PeterHG I'm very sorry to hear about the death of your mother, especially being away at the time. I'm glad that you were able to continue your journey and seeing some of the bird photos that you've already posted I can't help but feel that it would provide much solace for you.

 

The turaco, oh my goodness how beautiful.

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Posted (edited)

5. Malgas and De Hoop

We are waved off by the kind owners of the Kingfisher Country House and head west. Because of the two weeks’ return to Holland we have decided to skip both Addo and the Karoo NP. We have to be back in the Cape Town region for the scheduled pelagic and we also want some extra time there. Again we try to book the (rather expensive) De Hoop accommodation, but again we fail. Lesson learned for next time. Instead we find an alternative on the Breede Rivier near Malgas, the Tides River Lodge, where we book the ‘Boat House’. Als a little over our budget, but as we’ve lost two weeks, we’ll manage anyway. And, as the location is not too far from De Hoop, we can still do a day trip there. Tides River Lodge exceeds our expectations. The view is lovely and the area is remote enough to feel perfectly relaxing.

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The 40 km dirt road to the accommodation leads us through wheat fields and plains again, ideal habitat for the Blue Cranes.

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On arrives at the lodge we are greeted by the cries of the Fish Eagle. Two of them show regularly over the river and, though quite far, still allow a few shots.

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A walk on the ground produces Blacksmith Lapwing

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Cardinal Woodpecker

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Black-Romped Swift and Greater Striped Swallow. I know, I know, I can never resist the temptation of a flight shot...

 

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And even a Lesser Honeyguide.

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The day after we decide to visit De Hoop NP, about an hour’s drive form Malgas. before entering the park we spot a Denham’s Bustard in the fields. We’ve seen one or two before but never close enough for a decent photo.

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Of course one of the specialties of De Hoop is the Bontebok, a graceful antelope in warm colours. They are very common in the vicinity of De Hoop Collection, the cluster of cottages we have tried to book. It’s a little zoo-like to see Bontebok and Eland grazing so close to the cottages…..

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We take a very pleasant walk along the banks of the Vlei, with great views, though not many birds in the middle of the day. Jeannette calls out to me and, when looking down I see a large Cobra with raised head. Even at my advancing age I apparently look scary enough for it to retreat into the shrubs. I do not manage a photo somehow…

Later in the afternoon we drive the trail to the sea and admire the impressive coastline and the Oystercatchers on the little beach. A Stonechat is quite confiding for a little while.

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I must say the Bontebok we see on our return in the gentle light appeals more to our feeling of being ‘in the bush’ than the herd at the cottages. All in all a very pleasant day.

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Edited by PeterHG
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@@PeterHG, your last posts have reshaped my tentative itinerary for next year! Beautiful photos, as usual. Looking forward for more. Specially the boat tour :D .

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