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.


Anonymous said...

Such wonderful pictures. South Africa is such a beautiful country.
It's nice to read all that info.
Have a wonderful day.

George said...

What a gorgeous country, Rowan! All of the photos are terrific, but my favorite, I think, is the first one — the bird of paradise. Also like the waterfall pics.

Lynda (Granny K) said...

What an adventurous day you had. Very interesting, but i'm with you when it comes to creepy crawlies - best viewed from a distance!

Diane said...

What a beautiful adventure Rowan - breathtaking. Not too keen on exotic spiders and snakes though!! The caves look interesting. xxx

Roy said...

Another interesting insight of your trip Rowan and you can never have too much of a good thing.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

What an amazing country! We know so little of the rest of our glorious world - thanks for the nice trip. The age of the caves astounds me - and how long it takes for those formations - quite unbelievable if my mind tries to understand it - but understand or not, I am awed by them. The photos are fabulous.

Rosie said...

What super photos, Rowan! The ones you took in the cave and of the waterfall are wonderful. I know someone not to far from me here who would love to visit that cave! Like you I'd keep a distance between me and the spiders and snakes although I expect it isn't always possible. Thanks for sharing your photos and adventures with us:)

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

What great photos of a great adventure. You certainly needn't apologise for the length of the post; I loved every word of it.

Mac n' Janet said...

As always loved your pictures. How hard to have you son and his family half a world away, I moan about the 650 miles between us and our daughter. Looks like you had a wonderful trip though.

Dartford Warbler said...

I did enjoy your post and feel as though I have been traveling with you!

The cave formations are amazing. I was taught to remember that stalagTITES "Hold on tight" to the ceiling and that the stalagMITES " Might reach the ceiling one day, if they keep growing!".

Wonderful photos of the waterfalls. I expect that the mountains, caves and waterfalls help your Yorkshire son to feel more at home in his chosen place, half way across the world.

Anonymous said...

Hello Rowan ~
I can imagine how fantastic this trip must have been for you, Rowan your photography is beautiful you really capture what you feel at that very moment.
Hugs Rosemary...
P.S. I love the autumn also but I thrive in the summer our winters are too long here. XO

Jane said...

I don't know quite where to begin, this was such a fascinating post! Really great pics - expanding them is a must. Love the caves. I don't think I'd venture too far in though - I guess I've seen too many movies with people getting lost in cave systems. Was there any smell to speak of? I expect a lot of bats overhead? I wonder if those are some kind of wasp building that nest on the ceiling? Your grandchildren are adorable :)

Wanda..... said...

That was a memorable post, Rowan! Enjoyed viewing the caves, waterfalls and wildlife, but may disagree on the cuteness of the vultures, but agree they have important jobs to do!

Mary said...

So much of interest here Rowan, touched with a few of the little dangers lurking in South Africa!

The Wild Dog was the only only animal I missed - think they were all hiding out in Kruger when we were at Mala Mala.

Hippo crossings - a fond memory of the 'hippo crossing guard' with the rifle at our camp in Zambia - scared the heck out of us the first night as we were walking to our tents in the dark. He was guarding a low crossing on the walkway where hippos entered and exited the Zambezi!!! They are such dangerous animals both in and out of the water.

I only saw Marabou sitting high up on dead trees - they are huge. Vultures not pretty but, as you explain so well, necessary.

The waterfall pics are beautiful. I can't wait for my next African adventure.............going back next year! Know your family miss you but hopefully you'll be heading back again too.

Hugs - Mary

Hearthwife said...

Yet another excellent 'travel log', Rowan :)

Lovely, lovely photos- not so sure about the wasp nest looking thingy on the ceiling of the loo though, eek! lol

Pomona said...

It really must have been the most amazing trip for you - lots and lots of wonderful memories for you to treasure.

Pomona x

Dog Trot Farm said...

Rowan, your adventures are just amazing. Your photographs wonderful, waterfalls, caves, spiders, eek!!! What does one order in an african restaurant? For me, visiting Africia would be a dream come true. Thank you for sharing your faimly and this most wonderful adventure with us.

Campbell Kids said...

Wonderful photos! I feel as if I've been on an adventure - maybe someday I'll get there in person. The caves look cool and maybe just a bit scary for one who has claustrophobia! ;-)


Gracie said...

I'm just back from my vacation and your photos made me wanting another one! Such a beautiful place and nature!
I've updated my site with a first bunch of pics take a look if find the time

Granny Sue said...

Oh my! What a place. Your photos and stories are fascinating, Rowan.

kerrdelune said...

This is a place I have always wanted to visit, Rowan, and thank you for showing it to me.

Ruthie Redden said...

What a wonderful trip, so full of interesting things, so many lovely memories. Thank you for sharing Rowan.

trump said...

I was passing through different blogs and thought id just say hello. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon,Pa.

Mary said...

HOPE ALL IS OK ROWAN. Missing you - just checking in now I'm back from the West coast.

Hope you are back blogging soon.
Hugs - Mary