Totsiens, Hoe gaan dit ? That’s how we say it in Afrikaans !
Between oceans, mountains, deserts, and flowers, prosperous cities and townships, the Republic of South Africa is a nation made up of the colors of the rainbow. The vineyards and beaches of the Cape, the Cederberg peaks, the dry land of the Namakwa, the red dunes of the Kalahari, all this is only a glimpse of the great and beautiful, but also fragile, diversity of the country. Make the most of your discovery, get rid of your preconceived notions about South African history and society, take your binoculars, try to spot “Cheetah” – no, not the faithful companion of Tarzan – and prepare to travel in an ever-surprising country… surprising in its geography as well as in its diverse flora and fauna !
The Tsitsikamma National Park is nestled on the south coast of the Indian Ocean. In 2009 it was combined with the Wilderness National Park and surrounding lands to form the Garden National Route Park. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan word meaning “place of abundant water“… One is at first struck by the thousand-year-old rocky shore, formed of limestone and quartz, bordering the Indian Ocean. The view of the dramatic coastline from the Tsitsikamma National Park is spectacular, especially when the Ocean is rough and powerful waves break with ferocity upon the rocky shore. In this rocky setting, we encounter a close cousin of the elephant, but one without a trunk ! Hare-sized, the Rock Damask (called “Dassie” in South Africa and “Pimbi” in Swahili) resembles a big Marmot. It spends most of its time lazing in the sun and playing with others of its kind. A hard life for a Marmot on the beach ! Although small, hairy, and without a trunk this animal is, strange as it may sound, genetically close to the elephant. But it is all in the DNA ! Numerous hiking trails, including the famous Otter Trail (26 miles), make it possible to discover the park.
Besides the magnificent coastal landscape, this natural park includes seven rivers, of which the Stroms River and the Bloukrans are the most famous. In these cormorants and otters bathe and play. The park has deep ravines and a dense endemic forest, including 116 species of giant trees, notably the yellow wooden virgin of Outeniqua. The Park is also home to the smallest antelope in South Africa, the Blue Duiker which reaches 35 cm at its shoulders and weighs about 9 pounds. Its skin is brown with a bluish reflection… hence its name ! And from the same family there are some close relatives of more impressive size that we ran into on our way back.
On the way to the city of Knysna (pronounced “ni-zna”), well-known, at least to amateurs of the round ball and supporters of the French football team ! Knysna is also a Khoikhoi word that comes from Central Africa and means “a vast place of water”… Nyanga and Nyassa are two other lakes with similar names. The town of Knysna is especially famous for its 10-day oyster festival in late June early July. No visit is complete without savoring this succulent seafood, served with locally brewed beer… The town nestles at the edge of a magnificent, large warm-water estuary, known as the Knysna lagoon. The bay is surrounded by a natural forest paradise, the Outeniqua mountains, and a steep coastline. The Knysna Lagoon opens to the ocean between two towering sandstone cliffs called “the Heads”. The unpredictable waters between these two headlands caused the British Royal Navy to call the area the entrance to the most dangerous port in the world. In 1840 Captain William Cornwallis Harris wrote, “those twin pyramidical rocks defining the entrance to the Knysna Lagoon form a Scylla & Charybdis, whence issues the stuming thunder of never-ceasing breakers“. It seems that the littoral is watching the imprudent adventurers of the open sea… some rock formations resemble unconquerable fortified castles… We almost expected to see Passe-partout with his set of keys open the gate and invite us inside the fortress to meet the famous father Fouras… with his little enigma, “The ostrich does not roar, does not neigh, does not bark, does not cackle and does not lisp. She laughs, Which comic book am I ? “- Do not imitate the ostrich, pull your head out of the sand and think a little !
A skillful transition, no? We are now heading towards Oudtshoorn, THE land of the ostrich! Home of hundreds of ostrich farms, Oudtshoorn is the “ostrich capital of the world” since the first boom in 1864. The town of Oudtshoorn is the thriving tourist center of the Little Karoo region. Across these vast stretches of land, you can recognize the feathers of an adult male by their black color, with white at the end of the wings, and a white tail. The adult female is grayish-brown… The chick, meanwhile, is light brown in color, black, with dark silver spots.
Generally ostriches avoid human contacts since they perceive humans as a potential predictor. However, if ever an ostrich decides to chase you, even if your name is “Ben Johnson“, you have lost before even starting the race… It is the fastest bird, able to run at 45 miles per hour over a distance of 2 miles! But does this bird have a spark of intelligence… To answer, consider that the bird’s eyes are each the size of a billiard ball and weigh just over 2 ounces, but its brain is the size of a walnut and weighs 1.5 ounces. Enough said ! To the question “To beef or not to beef,” ostrich meat is high in protein and iron and lower in fat and cholesterol than beef making the ostrich a healthy red meat. Ostrich can be consumed without moderation ! The ostrich is farmed not only in Oudshoorn but around the world. Its feathers are used for clothes and accessories, and its skin, punctuated with pearl-like dots where the feathers were, inexpensive leather goods. (You know “my thing in feathers”…); An ostrich egg weighs 3 pounds and is 6 inches long and 5 inches wide. It is equal to 27 chicken eggs. That’s some omelet! After a slice of ostrich how about a good slice of braai ?
But Oudtshoorn, almost forgotten, is also an ideal base to discover the semi-arid Little Karoo region where the vegetation consists of cacti. The famous Swartberg Pass on R328 is an impressive road through the Swartberg mountains between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert in the Great Karoo. The road was built between 1881 and 1888 using convict labor and opened on 10 January 1888. It is narrow, unpaved, and overlooks the ravine while offering changing landscapes of magnificent and stunning geological formations. At an altitude of 5,200 feet, the green spaces alternate with rocky cliffs rising vertically. The Wall of Fire is one of the most spectacular cliffs on the road. At the top of the pass, there is a simple plaque, which reads “November 1881-December 1887 – this pass was planned and the greater portion built by Thomas Bain, the Bainskloof pass engineer, with the aid of 240 prisoners, mostly from George/Knysna area… the 24 km road was opened to the public during the month of January 1888 “. This work leaves even a baboon in blissful admiration. That’s how impressive is it !
Come on, see you soon for the continuation of our discovery of strange animals… and for the comic, “Le Cri de l’Autriche (The cry of the Ostrich)” By French writer Nicolas Poupon.