Day 4: Mossel Bay and Gondwana Game Reserve - Wed 27 Jan 2016


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Africa » South Africa » Western Cape » Garden Route
January 27th 2016
Published: February 14th 2016
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Up with the lark for our fourth day of adventure. Again a lovely breakfast of cereals, eggs, tuna, cheese, bread, salad and fruit which was eaten in a private part of the dining room. And of course the making of our packed lunch.

During our breakfast time, Don and several of the other men crossed the road from the hotel to daven in the current Oudtshoorn synagogue. This shul on Baron van Reede Street was built in the 1880's. (See photos in overflow below.) Unfortunately the combination of tourists and local Jews were insufficient for a minyan (quorum) of 10 so they prayed the morning service together silently.

On the coach by 7.45 am and Amos told us about our next port of call. We drove south from Oudtshoorn on the R328 via the Robinson Pass to Mossel Bay. Our first stop in Mossel Bay was the Dias Museum and the Post Office Tree.

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In 1496 Vasco de Gama landed at Cape Point and initiated the first trade in the area with the Hottentots - vegetables and water in exchange for beads. On 25 December 1497 the first ships set sail for the Durban to India trade route.

The Dias Museum contains a life sized model of the boat Caravel in which Bartolomeu Dias set sail. We queued there just behind a party of school children. These were black and white kids out for the day enjoying themselves. Their native language is Afrikaans and that is what their teachers were speaking to them. The Caravel ship replica held some suprises such as modern toilets and kitchen fixtures. somehow we doubted their authenticity, and that led us to wonder similarly whether the crew beds were indeed originally like the bunks we saw or whether they would have been hammocks.

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After perusing the inside of the Dias Museum, we walked over to the tree with the post box in the shape of a boot. The legend is that in 1500 Pedro de Ataide on his return journey from India left an important letter under a boot near a tree. The letter was found in 1501 by Joao de Nova en route to India and thus the first Post Office in South Africa was founded. I do hope that the letter warning about problems near Calcutta was not so urgent that when it arrived it was no longer relevant. The large tree is a Milkwood, now a national monument called The Post Office Tree.

It was a glorious day and walking around in the sunshine looking out to sea was a very pleasant experience. We also briefly looked in at the shell and fish museum which was very uninteresting. The word Mossel means a shell and there are many varied shells along the coast.

This area is where the first explorers to South Africa made contact with the local indigenous people.

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Then back on the coach to the Gondwana Private Game Reserve. Gondwana means Genesis. The owners, Mark and Wendy Rutherford started the project in 2004. They bought up several farms and allowed them to go back to their natural vegetation and encouraged the wild animals to roam freely. They own 11,000 hectares or 28,000 acres of land. The whole area is surrounded by 400 kilometres of fencing.

We drove many kilometres down a gravel path to the main lodge. This was like “Something out of Africa”. We sat down to drink tea on the deck looking out over a vast expanse of greenery, breathing in unpolluted air. However, this wasn’t enough for some of our party, whose only question upon arriving at all of the hotels including this one was “Is there Wi-Fi here?”

At lunch we were served fish and salad and fruit-salad. The tour group revolted en-masse about the food especially as there was one member of our party who didn’t eat fish, and we were promised that things would improve.

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Then we boarded large 4 x 4s and went on our first safari drive. We were to stay inside the less dangerous area. The security is incredible. The rangers are constantly on the lookout for poachers. A plane flew rather low over the park and our ranger scanned it through his binoculars, noted the plane's number and reported it in. Security will call in that number to the nearby airport and if it is ordinary then that is fine. If not then the police will be on the lookout for that plane and treat it as carrying suspected poachers.

The first thing we saw were wildebeest roaming around. It is difficult to believe that the land that we were driving over full of fine bush, ericas and heathers, proteas and cape cross was once an agricultural area of pea farming and cattle farming.

The Reserve works with the local people. It pays them to come in and cut down the Australian wattles. Nothing can grow under them and they are a nuisance. The local people get to sell the wood and whatever profit they make is theirs. This is so Talmudic - if you want to give a person a livelihood don’t give them money, give them the fishing rod to enable them to fish and to be independent and productive. The reserve is also involved in water conservation. Each lodge (which I will describe later) has water butts to collect the rain water.

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In the skies were steppe buzzards, common summer visitors, circling slowly overhead.

We were taken into a “nursery” enclosure which contained a lion (a free alpha male) and two new-to-the-Reserve lionesses. The females were being released softly into the wild and the male lion was in there to make their situation realistic. The lion was obviously very keen on one of the females as she was pregnant. Unfortunately this was our only sighting of lions on the whole trip.

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On our drive we encountered hundreds of Burchelle zebras. These zebras have a brown strip between their black and white stripes. The stripes are for merging into the background. You can tell the male from the female by a stripe by the tail. If it is thin then it is male and if it is thick it is female. They are funny creatures. There is one male for a harem of females. The male nudges the females into the order that he prefers them. If one of them gets into the wrong place then he nudges her into her place!

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Then white rhinos. They are not white but their Dutch name means wide lipped. The male is obviously bigger. Rhinoceros are magnificent creatures.

Whilst watching the rhinos we saw a jackal buzzard. To the uninitiated (like us!) this is difficult to distinguish from the steppe buzzard. The jackal buzzard has chestnut markings.

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Then we saw a herd of impalas. These beautiful creatures can jump 3.5 meters high and 12 meters forward. Only the males have horns. Impala is a Zulu word meaning “born in November” in recognition of the gestation timing of these animals.

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We passed a lake and saw black headed herons and grey herons and small grebes. Then we had a real treat. Chris, our ranger, thought that he heard a roar and he was right. There in the lake we could see the snouts of a couple of hippos. We were sitting watching to see if we would get a better viewing when a lorry went thundering past and lo and behold the male hippo reared his head and opened his mouth wide in a posturing position as if to tell the lorry to vacate his territory! An interesting factoid - the hippopotamus can’t swim - he walks across the bottom of the lake. He can hold his breath for 6 minutes and then has to lift his snout out of the water to breathe.

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Other birds we spotted - the scarlet chested sunbird, a little Cape wagtail, 2 black shouldered kites and crowned lapwings. The lapwings nest in the ground and the nests are in danger of being harvested by farmers unaware of their existence. We also sighted a few springbok and the grey rhebuck.

In the middle of this game drive we had a drink stop with lots of drinks and nibbles provided. Some of the boys took advantage of the 'bush toilet' during this break. A gin and tonic near sunset with just the cry of the animals and a mere 25 humans was such a magical experience.

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That evening we had a chicken and meat meal delivered from a kosher caterer in Cape Town. Most breathed a sigh of relief at having a tasty meal.

We went to bed in our beautiful lodge in 'Red Rocks Valley' which we shared with Jeff and Miriam our tour leader and Ruth, in two double bedrooms and a single. However, we were all too exhausted to socialise, all we wanted to do was hit the sack. So it was shower and bed as quickly as possible.

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Scroll down to see many Additional photographs and then beneath those you can click Next to proceed though all the overflow pictures of this day's blog.

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