Sunday, August 23, 2009

Springbok - Part 4

We wanted to visit another flower zone on this trip so we set our sights on visiting the Atlantic coastal area in the Northern Cape. Initial investigations led us to believe that we needed a 4x4 for the trip. Pricing out that option led us to another – hiring a guide and their car for the day would save us money. It turned out that we didn’t need the 4x4 but we did need the guide.

Leaving Springbok, we drove west toward the Diamond Coast and the company-owned town of Kleinzee. De Beers has been mining there under strict security for 80 years. It didn’t take us long to get into the security zone and we began to feel comfortable with our decision to take a guide.

We drove through a small town whose inhabitants all worked at the mining operations. It was quite some distance from the mines so they were bused to and fro.

The weather toward the coast was cooler than inland so the flowers were not as far along. Nevertheless, there were some spectacular shows.

This compound bloom is about twice the size of your thumbnail.

As we approached the mining area itself, security became tighter. Our guide talked us through this guard and gate into the town of Kleinzee.

The mining operation in this location involves huge machines scooping tons of river deposits into trucks which then drive to the processing facilities.

There are towers, conveyor belts, heavier security and the eventual towering mine dumps.

The glittering diamonds are almost gone and desperate ghost towns are left clinging to the last signs of life. The only customer in a Kleinzee supermarket said the industry had left the area looking as if a nuclear bomb was dropped on it. De Beers has cut operations, reducing staff from about 3,000 to 250.

Schools, recreation centers and houses stand mostly empty. This empty house in Kleinzee is one of many. The town waits for De Beers to “proclaim an end to its life as a privately owned mining town.” Then the individuals will be able to purchase their homes from the mining company and get on with their lives.

De Beers is spending in the area of 60 million dollars in a restoration effort. Grappling with how to leave the town, De Beers is partnering with conservationists who are working to reinvigorate the area through tourism, fish farming, wind turbines and other industries. It is estimated it will take 30 years to get to the point that you can’t see that mining happened in Kleinzee. Isn’t it amazing what we are doing to the earth we have been given?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Springbok - Part 3

I promised animals. There were no lions, tigers, wildebeest, elephants, hippos or crocodiles available to us on this trip. However, we did encounter herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. You can explain those words to your offspring – or they can explain them to you.

Since the trip was to Springbok, it is only appropriate that I show a picture of a herd of Springbok. They differ from Impala (the fast food of choice for predators in
Kruger) in that they are smaller and more strikingly marked. They also taste good.

While inside Namaqua National Park we saw termite mounds and dassies, but you’ve already seen pictures of those so these are just reminders.

On the way out of the park we encountered a plant that those familiar with the genus Hosta might find familiar. Of the many varied interactions between plants and animals, one of the most unexpected is pollination of flowers by rodents. Flowers of Massonia depressa (Hyacinthaceae) are visited at night by at least four rodent species, including two gerbil species.

I found the plants quite interesting, but then, I have a collection of Hostas. These are large plants with a single leaf as large as a foot across. It’s difficult to believe they can survive in the blazing-hot summers in this area, but they do and they thrive.

An additional spotting as we left the park was a streak across the road. At least it appeared as a streak until I stopped the car and got out the camera. Many times a Meerkat will appear in a group but this one must have been out hunting. It was nice of him/her to pose for me. (This is the carnivore.)

A bit further down the road we found our omnivores. Goats will eat anything but this baby was doing what nature designed him/her for.

Back in Springbok, in the Geogap Nature Reserve, we were extremely lucky to see this magnificent animal. There is a small herd of Oryx in the park but they are a bit camera-shy. No, I don’t know how they taste.

What happens when the visitors leave at 4pm and the park closes? Do the animals come out to graze in peace and quiet?

I’m really stretching for material here by showing this cluster of caterpillars munching on foliage. Life goes on in large and small scales.

Only one more critter sighting on this trip. We stopped to fill up with petrol and noticed a small pond with some trees and a lot of activity. A colony of Weaverbirds had set up their nests and were busy with whatever it is they do.

Next journal – DeBeers


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Springbok - Part 2

Namaqua National Park

Visitors from around the world come to this place every year for the late winter - early spring flower show. We have been twice and touched only a very small part of the park. There are campsites and roads accessible only to four-wheel drive vehicles and ours is a station wagon with very low clearance.

Access to the park is a process. We leave the lodge in Springbok and drive 65km south to the little town of Kamieskroon ( The N7 is a main highway, two lanes for the most part, through hills and small mountains in this section, so the drive is not taxing.

We did a drive-thru in Kamieskroon. It seems a quite normal small town with this picturesque church. South Africans take the security of their children seriously as you can tell by this fence around one of the local schools.

At Kamieskroon we exit onto a gravel/dirt road toward the park for another 17km. This is a much more exciting drive past farms and through streams and puddles.

The flowers are the big attraction for this park and for the entire area. The weather becomes quite hot and dry in the late spring so these blooms are taking advantage of the winter rains and cool temperatures. It’s time to bloom, be pollinated and reseed. Mats of orange, blue, yellow, red and white cover the flats and hillsides.

That rock in the picture? It’s really a termite mound as you can see below. When the termites finish with the mound other critters move in. No, we didn’t see which critters.

Aardvarks, porcupines, snakes, rodents – all tend to use shelters like these.

There are some great vantage points within the park. Here Betsy is taking advantage of one of them.

Meantime I’m taking pictures of some of the other wildlife who are trying to catch some rays. These are dassies (yes, there are two – see the one peeking over the rock ledge?), rock hyrax, the closest living relative to the elephant. They’re about the size of a big housecat.

Let me close with a few photos of the daisy-like flowers from the area. Cape Daisies (Osteospermum) and Gazanias are two that can be bought at garden centers in the US.
I’ll deal with some of the more unusual flowers in a later journal edition.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Springbok - Part 1

This will be part one of three or four or five, I haven’t decided yet. The overall series covers our late July trip north into Namaqualand for the late winter flower season. We did a similar journal last year and may accidently repeat some of the photos – but they are beautiful and bear repeating.

Part one will cover our trip to the lodge and our accommodations. Part two will cover the trip into Namaqua National Park. Part three will get heavily into plants and flowers. Part four, should that be necessary, will cover some of the critters seen. Part five will cover our trip to the coast and the DeBeers diamond mines.

It’s a 500km, 5.5 hour trip from Cape Town to Springbok. That’s if you don’t stop to take pictures. So it takes us a bit longer. The flower season varies depending on the weather and latitude. We were quite early in the season this year and the locals told us that the displays were “not so good.” You be the judge.

Most of the flowers are in the daisy family. There are a number of species on display and I won’t bore you with their names. Marshal sells some of them at Village Flower & Garden in Lisle (unpaid ad).

We stayed at this B&B in Springbok. Betsy is unpacking while I’m working the camera. Daisy was not new for us – we were there in 2008 as well. Nice digs, good people, nice landscaping.

Our “room” for this stay was the honeymoon cottage – fireplace, air conditioning, private patio, private braaii area, king-size bed – the works.

We were entertained by the resident showboat. We were much more impressed than the peahens. He did his best. Reminded me of my childhood and my grandfather’s collection of peafowl. Good memories.

There were also flocks of geese, guinea fowl and sacred ibis.

The Daisy Lodge is also in close proximity to the Geogap Nature Reserve. Geogap boasts beautiful sweeps of early spring flowers (we were too early), animals (another journal), one nice three-bedroom cabin (we’ll book into there sometime), an excellent stand of quiver trees (a variety of aloe), and a garden surrounding the visitors’ center containing some unusual specimens.

This guy, for instance, is about an inch tall.

And this friendly fellow.

There were flowers blooming in Geogap, just not the daisy varieties the area is most known for. This orchid-looking bloom appears a bit like our own toad lily (Tricyrtis).

I was intrigued by the appearance of this spring bulb (I think). It almost appears to be a candlestick in shape. I can theorize that the bulge is a food storage vehicle, but it’s only my theory.

That’s all for now. More of nature’s wonders on the next installment.