Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aspects of Africa

The area of South Africa where Steve and Hannah live has many other beautiful and interesting things to see apart from the wild animals. Above is a strelitzia which is often called the bird of paradise flower and you can see why. I took this photo in the Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit but it grows wild on the Eastern Cape. As always clicking on the photos will enlarge them. This is a long post but since it's nearly 4 months since I returned from South Africa I thought that it's about time I drew a line under things this time!

Another trip up into the Drakensbergs took us to the Mankelexele Massif. Inside this dolomite mountain are Sudwala Caves which were formed about 240 million years ago, making them the oldest known caves in the world. No-one knows the true extent of this huge cave system and legend has it that there is no end to them.
The caves were used for shelter in prehistoric times, probably due in part to a constant supply of fresh air from an unknown source in the caves. This flow of air maintains the temperature at a constant 18C.

The caves are full of the most amazing stalagmites, stalactites and flowstones. Many of them have names and the one above is known as 'The Screaming Monster' and has taken 160 million years to form. A stalactite in the Sudwala caves grows at about 2.5cm in a hundred years. In case you are wondering there is a simple way to remember which is which - a stalagmite grows up from the ground and a stalactite grows down from the ceiling

This formation is called The Three Nuns because the shadow cast on the wall looks like three nuns kneeling in prayer.

Here we have the Lowveld Rocket. In this case a stalagmite and a stalactite have formed a single column which is about 150 million years old.

I think this was my favourite of all the spectacular formations in the caves - it's a piece of flowstone in the shape of a horse's head. Flowstone is formed when water is flowing down a wall or along the floor but it is made of the same calcite deposits as stalagmites and stalactites.

These are stromatolites - fossils of the first oxygen producing plants on earth called collenia. They were a type of blue-green algae that floated in the oceans of the world over 2 billion years ago!

Back to the present and it's time for some lunch. Important decisions to be made here!

Mine's a chocolate ice lolly please!

Me too - but it's melting faster than I can eat it.

This is the beautiful view we had as we ate our lunch, we could see for miles from our perch high up in the mountain. The drive up to the caves was quite something and going back down was even more breathtaking in more ways than one - you just hoped that the brakes wouldn't fail!

This orb spider was one of many in the area around the shop and cafe. Steve took this close-up - I wouldn't have dared to go that near to it.

Hannah spotted these 'whatever-they-ares' and their nest on the ceiling in the Ladies loo! It made me wonder what other wildlife was lurking about in there - we certainly saw a spitting cobra disappearing into the rocks on the opposite side of the path. Steve spotted it and it was much smaller than I expected. He had a very close encounter with one a couple of months before we arrived when it got into their washing machine (which lives on the verandah) and he had to deal with it - fortunately thanks to help from an African friend all ended well except from the snake's point of view.

The following day we went up to Hoedspruit to the Endangered Species Centre. Here they focus on the conservation and breeding of rare and endangered species particularly cheetahs. They also care for orphaned and injured animals.

This is the African Wild Dog or Painted Wolf which is Steve's favourite wild animal. The Wild Dog is an endangered species because of loss of habitat, they hunt in packs and require very large areas of territory and much of this has been taken over by the ever expanding human population. Once there were about half a million Wild Dog in Africa, now only somewhere between 3000 and 5000 of them remain.

One of the features of the Endangered Species Centre is the 'vulture restaurant' seen in this photo with some of the clientele. The long-legged birds are Marabou Storks, these can be up to 3 feet in height with a wingspan of 10.5 feet. Along with the Andean Condor it has the largest wingspan of any landbird. I confess that I find them rather cute:)

This handsome pair with the beautiful blue eyes are Hooded Vultures - believe it or not they are among the smallest of the African vultures! Vultures get a very poor press but they are actually extremely important ecologically. They are scavengers and keep natural and man-made habitats free of carcasses and waste and by doing this they restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism. The different types of vulture each have a different role to play in stripping the carcase of every scrap of flesh, those with the strong sharp beaks opening it up the others taking their turn until finally the smaller ones clean up the remaining scraps.

Mpumalanga's sub-tropical climate makes it one of the best areas in the world for growing bananas and everywhere you go you see banana plantations with the trees all apparently growing a fine crop of blue plastic bags! Actually the bags are there to protect the fruit from damage by sun, wind, birds and insects:)

These are my favourite road signs in the whole world! It's a poor photo as it was late in the afternoon and the sun was shining straight into the camera but I had to take it while I could. The sign makes me smile but it is a very serious sign indeed as hippos are extremely dangerous animals.

Our last day and as the girls were both in school/nursery and Hannah had to work, Steve,Juliette and I had a day on our own. We decided to drive up to Sabie to visit a couple of the waterfalls, I love this photo of Steve and Juliette standing in front of Lone Creek Falls.

Lone Creek Falls pour over a 222ft high cliff covered in trees, moss and ferns.

Steve said I should take an 'artistic' shot of the Falls so here it is:)

I think that this photo of the water hitting the rocks at the bottom is rather good though I say it myself!

As we were driving from Lone Creek Fall to our next stop the sky was beginning to look rather threatening.

After parking the car there is a stiff climb of about half a mile up a narrow track through lush forest and you can hear the waters of Bridal Veil Falls long before you see them.

The Falls are 192 feet high and get their name from the resemblance to a bridal veil, this is Juliette's photo which caught the delicacy better than any of mine.We kept hearing a rumble of thunder in the distance and I saw Steve keep glancing up at the sky. Suddenly he said "Time to go" and we set off back down the steep track. I was picking my way carefully as befits a lady of a certain age when there were a couple of cracks of thunder closely followed by lightning flashes and I was off down that track like a young mountain goat! Suffice it to say that I arrived back at the car ahead of both Steve and Juliette:):)

Just in time too - African storms can be both violent and spectacular but I'd rather see them from inside a car than from halfway down a mountain. The windscreen wipers were going full belt when I took this photo. We headed back to Sabie and the Pancake House where the staff dashed out with golf umbrellas to shelter us as we raced for the entrance. We sat and watched the storm as we ate our pancakes, there's a huge choice of fillings and they are really good, Steve and Hannah go here quite often.

Finally the storm began to pass and the Drakensberg Mountains started to reappear through the mist. It was a pretty memorable end to a brilliant holiday.