Category Archives: travels elsewhere

African Diary: Kruger NP Skukuza to Tamboti

 

White rhino near Skukuza: I hop he continues to evade any poachers.  There are signs up in public places here asking people to report any suspicious activity that could lead to arrests. Some poachers have been apprehended after tourists raised alarms
White rhino near Skukuza: I hop he continues to evade any poachers. There are signs up in public places here asking people to report any suspicious activity that could lead to arrests. Some poachers have been apprehended after tourists raised alarms

 

A handsome male kudu
A handsome male kudu

 

Wildebeest: they look top heavy, but their legs are as graceful and swift as racehorses.
Wildebeest: they look top heavy, but their legs are as graceful and swift as racehorses.

 

Hippos basking: they don't feed in the water, or during the day, but come out onto the grassy plain at night to graze
Hippos basking: they don’t feed in the water, or during the day, but come out onto the grassy plain at night to graze

 

Giraffes are very vulnerable to lions in this position.  He did look around a bit before bending.  Maybe he decided there were enough wildebeest to distract any approaching lions.
Giraffes are very vulnerable to lions in this position. He did look around a bit before bending. Maybe he decided there were enough wildebeest to distract any approaching lions.

 

Kruger2Elephantdrinking

 

A black-backed jackal resting after feeding on a rhino carcass (I hope the rhino died of natural causes, not poaching)
A black-backed jackal resting after feeding on a rhino carcass (I hope the rhino died of natural causes, not poaching)

Africa Diary: Into Kruger National Park

I hadn’t been in Kruger more than a minute before I saw my first impala.  Not really surprising: they are by far the most common hoofed animal in the park, but still quite delightful.

Impala near Kruger Gate
Impala near Kruger Gate

 

I was soon also seeing buffalo, kudu and a lovely lilac-breasted roller.

More wildlife awaited me in the Rest Camp, Skukuza.  Wart-hogs casually wander past the cabins, grazing on the lawns.

KrugerWarthogs KrugerWarthog

My petrol gauge stil registered almost full, so I thought it was malfunctioning, but when I asked for the tank to be filled it only took five dollars.  I was quite impressed with the efficiency of this little Chevrolet.

krugercarhut

A final drive revealed no large animals, but I did see and hear the ‘Go-away’ bird (the grey lowry), hornbills and starlings.

The ant hills between my hut and the river are rather large: I haven’t seen the ants yet.

The moonlight was bright during the nights, so I went out twice to look across the river. I saw one lone heron feeding and heard a few other birds and frogs.

Almost dawn now: let’s see what today brings.

Africa Diary 4th June: Elephant Whiskers & Shangana Culture Village

Elephant Whispers, Hazyview

Note: no chains, no electric prod, just gentle voices and a handful of tasty pellets for rewards
Note: no chains, no electric prod, just gentle voices and a handful of tasty pellets for rewards

I have heard many calls for all elephant riding to be banned, everywhere, on grounds of cruelty. One of the first things explained to us at Elephant Whispers was the cruel way many elephants are trained in Asia and I agree those methods are brutal and I would not want to condone it by riding them.

Putting his trunk up for a reward for stepping forward
Putting his trunk up for a reward for stepping forward

The elephants here at Elephant Whispers are instead trained gently, patiently, winning their trust and rewarding them with tasty and healthy food treats. They were not torn from their mothers for the purpose of training but instead rescued from areas where they would otherwise have been culled. When not doing the public events (2 or at most 3 times a day, and not happening every day) they have thousands of acres of woodland through which to roam freely, but come back to cosy stables to sleep at night.

There is much cruelty in the world, many people doing horrible things to many animals, even back home in Australia (live-baiting of greyhounds, pigs spending their whole lives in tiny pens…) and much that should be banned. This place is not one of them.

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High fives with an elephant!

The younger elephants had been previously rescued from culling and were being kept on cattle farms and enjoyed following the horses while cows were being rounded up. Some of the young men working there found they could hop onto these youngsters while doing this, and that they were very quick to learn voice commands. As the elephants grew they started getting into a bit of mischief, and had enormous appetites, and the people who now run Elephant Whispers took them in and continued training them (and also employed one of the young men who had started interacting with them) – a vastly different story to what happens regularly with the brutal training of young Asian elephants.

Introducing myself to the elephant
Introducing myself to an elephant
Tembo
Tembo

The biggest and oldest elephant, Tembo, had been kept in free-range captivity for many years with a female, until some wild elephants broke in and challenged his right to the relationship. Tembo got a bit upset, started unroofing houses, attacking other animals and doing other things his human neighbours understandably didn’t like, and he was soon to be shot, but the Elephant Whispers folk heard about this, brought him in, and with gentleness and patience won his trust and he became the truly Gentle Giant he is known as today.

Amazingly, one of the elephants, showing great trust in everyone, lay down and immediately put his trunk out for his food rewards, and allowed us to stroke and examine his trunk, tusks, ear, tail and feet.

ElephantWhispers8LieDown

ElephantWhispers10TouchTail

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Meeting Tembo
Meeting Tembo
He is big!
He is big!
As his trunk swung down I felt a fine mist of water. I was advised to step out sideways to avoid accidentally colliding with a tusk.
As his trunk swung down I felt a fine mist of water. I was advised to step out sideways to avoid accidentally colliding with a tusk.

 

Tempo shows us his molars and tongue. The tongue is not very flexible: all manoeuvring of food must be done with the trunk tip
Tempo shows us his molars and tongue. The tongue is not very flexible: all manoeuvring of food must be done with the trunk tip

The rides last only 15 minutes, and only happen two or three times a day, and not every day for every elephant, and then they are turned loose to wonder thousands of acres of woodland before coming into the stable at night.

I have refused to patronise horse-riding establishments where their animals are not looked after. I felt quite comfortable that these elephants are much  loved, well-cared for and have plenty of free time just to be elephants to there in the woodland every day
I have refused to patronise horse-riding establishments where their animals are not looked after. I felt quite comfortable that these elephants are much loved, well-cared for and have plenty of free time just to be elephants to there in the woodland every day

 

A 'thank you' handful of pellets and a farewell pat to this elephant, whose name means 'friend.'
A ‘thank you’ handful of pellets and a farewell pat to this elephant, whose name means ‘friend.’

 

Shangana Culture Village

The Shangana market: each hut has a different set of wooden carvings
The Shangana market: each hut has a different set of wooden carvings

This is a true Africa Village, and the chief you get to meet really is the chief of this village and of many other Shangana people in the region.  This is the kind of African experience I missed experiencing on my previous two visits to South Africa and was very glad I decided to spend a couple of nights in Hazyview so I could visit both Shangana and Elephant Whispers.

Wooden carvings in the market are all made by local people, so by buying here you are contributing to the local economy, not some big international chain. I bought a lovely wooden kudu and a warthog.

Although I was the only guest for the day, my guide, Edward, took me through the entire tour. He showed me the wild chestnut which is ground for flavouring of spinach and other dishes, and talked of the other foods and medicines grown there. They are independent of the money economy for their basic needs. He also explained much about marriage and other aspects of the Shagana culture.

We walked to the village, where Edward called for the chief and asked his permission for us to enter, and for me to take photos. He explained which hut was the chief’s, which for each of his wives, which for the girls, the boys etc.

Blowing the kudu horn to let villagers know we're on our way
Blowing the kudu horn to let villagers know we’re on our way
Shangana Village
Shangana Village
Meeting the Chief
Meeting the Chief
Tools for grinding maize etc.
Tools for grinding maize etc. (Edward in background)

The traditional doctor showed me her various medicines and the collection of bones used somehwat as tarot cards, translated by Edward.

Shangana6doctor

Finally the feast, starting with an appetiser of mopani worms, a caterpillar that feeds on the mopani tree. On my first visit to South Africa I had asked whether it was possible to try traditional African foods, and someone said contemptuously ‘you could eat insects like the natives!” This annoyed me in two ways: it was obviously racist, and eating insects really isn;t much different from eating crustaceans they would probably consider a delicacy. I have eaten two kinds of caterpillar previously, witcheti grubs in Australia, and caterpillars from the bamboo in China, so was very happy to try the mopani worms. They were salty and chewy.

Mopani worms: I ate about eight I think. Not bad, not a lot of flavour though.
Mopani worms: I ate about eight I think. Not bad, not a lot of flavour though.
A very hearty feast!
A very hearty feast!

 

This place deserves to be much better known.  It is too easy to pass through South Africa without much introduction to traditional culture.

Not to be missed if you’re coming through Hazyview!

African Diary 2-3 June 2015

 

I wasn’t expecting to have an trouble with my passport going through customs, but it seems it got a bit moisture-damaged on my last travels, when I was constantly wearing it in a money belt under my clothes, and I’m told I should replace it because the photo is discoloured on one side (although no details are lost and despite it being a terrible photo you can still identify me from it).

I’m starting to believe I’m in Africa.  Getting on the plane in Brisbane, then on another in Perth didn’t really do it. Even arriving in Johannesburg: just a big, bustling airport. I did manage to hire a router from Vodacom to connect with Internet throughout my travels here, and my iPhone finally started working when my husband Denis called Telstra from Australia and asked them to change one of their settings for roaming.

arriving Neilspruit1Flying over the Drakenburgs as we approached Neilspruit: now, I suddenly thought hey, yes, this is Africa. The bush veldt vegetation as we came down for a landing, and the very African-style airport all looked great. And although it seems a bit silly, somehow seeing my name on the boarding pass just before boarding the plane had suddenly excited me: yes, that’s me, the same as the little girl who dreamed constantly about exploring Africa more than half a century ago. That’s me, and I’m in Africa.

I was a bit nervous about picking up my little Chevron hire car, after all I’d heard about dangers of women driving alone in Africa, but soon started enjoying the drive to Hazyview, through what could at times have been the Adelaide Hills with its pine plantations, eucalypt plantations, orchards  and hilliness, but then there’d be some dramatically different plants or an African market and yes, I’m really in Africa. I found myself going the wrong way on a street in White River, but met nothing but friendliness when I asked for directions and got on the right track back towards Hazyview.

 GeckoLodgeI’m staying at Gecko Lodge, a cosy, attractive place that has guest rooms, backpacker accommodation and camping surrounded by bush and very comfortable.

Tomorrow, off to see for myself one of the elephant sanctuaries.  There has been a lot of talk about all elephant riding being cruel, but I suspect some establishments are much better than others, and Elephant Whispers sounds very good. They seem to do a lot of educating about elephants, and activities other than rides, and their elephants were not deliberately forced away from their mothers in the wild, but from what I understand were brought in due to injuries or taken from other situations such as circuses.  Anyway, I’ll see it tomorrow.

Off to Africa for two conferences

Some elephants we drove past in Kruger NP in 2010.
Some elephants we drove past in Kruger NP in 2010.

Just one more day at home.  Tomorrow I head to Brisbane, and Tuesday will be on my way to South Africa!

The trip was originally to present some research findings on the germination and survival of native fig seeds spread by local birds to the International Frugivory Symposium in the Drakenburgs late next month. Now I’ll also be presenting a paper on wildlife tourism and biodiversity conservation to the Best EN Think Tank conference at the edge of Kruger National Park.

Of course I can’t get that close to Kruger without spending some time there, so will be traveling with the NP for almost 2 weeks before the first conference.

I’m also visiting an elephant sanctuary, one that apparently uses elephants rescued from potential unhappy lives, not calves taking for the purposes from their mothers.  I’ve heard many calls for all places offering elephant rides to be closed down throughout the world because they are all cruel.  I suspect not all are based on cruelty, and the place I’m visiting in Hazyview seems committed  to animal welfare and conservation, so I want to see it for myself. I know firsthand that there are cruel methods and gentle methods of training horse, dogs and other animals, so suspect it is the same with elephant training.

The events of next week don’t seem quite real yet, and maybe won;t until I’m actually in Africa.  Internet access will be limited, but I’ll try to record some of what happens along the way!

Dugongs and more at Tangalooma

Dugongs and more at Tangalooma, Moreton Island, near Brisbane

I had a delightful surprise at a business breakfast meeting run by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) a couple of months ago.  I dropped my business card as usual into the bowl of cards while preparing to listen to a speech by our opposition tourism minister, and won the draw for an overnight trip for two to Tangalooma Resort, including return ferry journey, dolphin feeding, accommodation and buffet breakfast.

So two of us (Ronda and Denis) headed off in pre-dawn light to the wharf on Brisbane River, pleasantly surprised to find they had also allowed us free parking for two days.

So we were soon leaving Brisbane and heading for the one of the world’s largest sand islands

Leaving Brisbane
Leaving Brisbane
the
Even here we couldn’t escape the federal election campaign!
Approaching the resort
Approaching the resort

Near the resort is a grim reminder of the island’s whaling days – now the whales are appreciated more as magnificent, intelligent, playful animals than for their body parts. This harpoon was bent during such an animal’s struggles while its captors waited for it to slowly exhaust itself

harpoon - bent
Harpoon bent while a whate struggled to escape – thankfully this no longer happens along our coasts

Nearby a whistling kite fought his reflection in a resort window (they’re nesting nearby and don;t want rivals), and also rebuffed some crows that were protesting his presence

kite on roof
A whistling kite nesting in a tree nearby is taking a bit of time to learn that the bird it sees in the window is not a competitor
whistling kite nest
Nest of the whistling kite, in an Araucaria tree (Norfolk Island Pine)

 

kite above resort
The kite flying above the resort

A white-faced heron sat nearby

Heron at Tangalooma Resort
This heron tried to land on the same spot the next day, saw me sitting there, squawked and did a u-turn. After I moved on he came back to what he obviously considered his rightful place

A pied cormorant wandered down towards the bird feeding area

cormorant heads to feeding spot
This pied cormorans knows bird feeding on the beach will start soon
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The heron decided he’d better not miss out

 

pelican coming in
as did this pelican

While waiting for our room to be prepared, we watched fish and seabirds being fed

fish feeding
Tangalooma staff member feeding fish at the resort
puffer fish
Puffer fish amongst the rocks and amenomes in the feeding pond

 

pelican
“I’m ready!”
"Me too!"
“Me too!”

 

birdfeeding Tangalooma
Pied cormorans, Australian pelicans and silver gulls being fed at Tangalooma

Now the bit I’d really been waiting for!  After lunch we headed off on the eco-cruise to seek dugongs and other marine life.

wait for boat

ecocruise

 

And sure enough, within 20 minutes we had found a dugong

dugong
dugong surfacing for air: his tail is towards us, his face out of sight as he’s swimming away

They don’t leap out of the water like dolphins, just quietly feed on the sea-grass (they’re sometimes called ‘sea-cows’) and come every couple of minutes or so to the surface for a breath of air.  Our guide told us they do some farming – pulling out the sea-grass species they don’t like so much, which facilitates the growth of their favoured species

I had previously patted an Amazonian manatee (one that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and being prepared for rehabilitation into the wild, near Manaus) and seen a captive dugong a tSeaWorld, but this was my first sighting of a wild dugong, so I was quite enthralled. He surfaced several times before we left I’m to seek other creatures

turtle
a green turtle swimming past- like the dugong the green turtle is herbivorous, unusual amongst marine mammals and reptiles

A cormorant dived for fish alongside our boat

cormorant diving

The wrecks that were deliberately sunk as artificial reefs for fish and other marine life are popular with kayakers and divers

kayaking at wrecks

That evening we indulged in the activity Tangalooma is famous for – dolphin feeding

dolphin sign
Tangalooma is careful with  the feeding of dolphins.  The sign gives regulations on how to feed the dolphins, and info on which dolphins have visited recently

The feeding of the dolphins is carefully regulated, based on research on effects offending practices her and elsewhere

Lines of visitors are speed out so that the dolphins also spread out, not crowding together, competing for food and knocking each other over. Thy are not fed enough fish to satisfy ten, so have to keep up their skills at catching wild fish each day. Visitors are requested to hold the fish under water so dolphins don’t strain their muscles trying to reach up for them. Frozen fish are thawed in fresh water to avoid them being too salty. Young dolphins are not fed while still feeding from their mothers. Visitors are advised not to pat or otherwise touch them while giving them the fish, to avoid any stress.

Tamgalooma sunset

dolphins lining up

feeding dolphins Tangalooma

dolphin and suckling calf
Young dolphin having a feed from Mum

 The close contact with these wild creatures does have an emotional impact, and we hope that many of the people participating now have a more positive attitude towards them as a result

Next morning we enjoyed a hearty buffet breakfast (also included in our prize)

Tangalooma breakfast
a Tangalooma breakfast

We spent the day relaxing, watching birds and finally watching another bird feeding session and dolphins feeding session before finally leaving.  We would have loved to spend a few more days

pelican jump for food
“I really want this one!”

 

more soon ….

 

For information on how to have a holiday at Tangalooma, visit http://www.tangalooma.com/info/home/

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

Agincourt_Reef_!
At the edge of Agincourt Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland

Snorkelling at Agincourt Reef, Far North Queensland

What to do with a break from wildlife-iewing?  Perhaps go wildlife-viewing!

I had a meeting of the Rainforest and Reef Research Centre to attend in Cairns, and since it was close to both Christmas and our wedding anniversary, this time Denis came with me and we spent a couple of days after the meeting in Port Douglas and one day out from there to the Great Barrier Reef.

Our first morning atPort Douglas was breakfast with the birds at Wildlife Habitat – more on this later

We also booked a full-day tour with Quicksilver which took us to three locations on Agincourt Reef (level with Cape Tribulation) on the Great Barrier Reef

Here are some photos with the digital camera we hired:

Not sure what this big fish was - maybe one of the groupers?
Not sure what this big fish was (below the coral) – maybe one of the groupers?

 

Hello, Big Fish!
Hello, Big Fish!
We saw a a variety of corals at Agincourt Reef
We saw a a variety of corals at Agincourt Reef
Some of the coral  was very colourful
Some of the coral was very colourful

 

Blue on blue
Blue on blue

 

 

a unicorn fish
a unicorn fish

 

Moorish Idol: quite a common fish but always lovely to see
Moorish Idol: quite a common fish but always lovely to see

 

Some of the group went scuba diving
Some of the group went scuba diving

 

 

but Denis and I stuck to snorkelling this time (this photo was obviously NOT taken by me)
but Denis and I stuck to snorkelling this time (this photo was obviously NOT taken by me)
Denis snorkelling
Denis snorkelling

 

 

a sea-star
a sea-star

 

a white-tipped shark (not a dangerous species - although some small fish may disagree)
a white-tipped shark (not a dangerous species – although some small fish may disagree)

 

 

a black-tipped shark (ditto)
a black-tipped shark (ditto)

 

a clam
a clam

 

Can you understand why we found it hard to leave the water when time was up?
Can you understand why we found it hard to leave the water when time was up?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns

Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns, Tropical Queensland

tern catching fish
tern catching fish

It wasn’t a great start to my one free morning in Cairns earlier this month: The coral reef was out there with its swirling, colourful pageant of fish I wouldn’t have time to see. Tropical rainforest and the chance of wild cassowaries would also have to wait for another trip. I could still stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds…

I could stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds, but the sky was grey and rain was starting to fall. I decided to go anyway .

The first birds flying toewards me looked like seagulls until I noticed the black on their  their heads.  They were terns, and for several minutes swooped  back and forth over the shallow sea, every now and then dipping  into the water to catch small fish. Visibility wasn’t great, but I’m pretty sure they were gull-billed terns (see the strong, dark bill in the photo), which could help explain why i thought they were gulls at first. This species is more associated with inland waters but does visit coasts as well, and is found on every continent.

Indian mynahs (introduced long ago to Australia) and silver gulls were common enough on the sand and rocky platform, and I saw  the occasional pair of masked  lapwings, all of which are common  in southern Queensland. Then I noticed a long down-curtved bill on a pale brown bird: my first whimbrel – not very common down south – for many years. In fact my last sighting had also been right here, from the Cairns Esplanade

whimbrel
whimbrel

I was not expecting to see kingfishers, but suddenly there were two sacred kingfishers, which I associate more with woodlands than coastal mudflats, flitting across the water and landing on rocks and stumps

sacred kingfisher
sacred kingfisher

Further out, a few common sandpipers were probing for invertebrates in the mud

common sandpipers
common sandpipers

A bit of a diversion from birds: I came across a wonderful (but obviously temporary) sand sculpture – I was later told it was done by Swiss visitors

sand sculpture, Esplanade, Cairns
sand sculpture, Esplanade, Cairns

Back to birds, a conpicuous flock of pelicans awaited.  They had probably been feeding during the night (pelicans often do) as they didn’t seem interested in anything other than sleeping or preening.

pelicans, Esplanade, Cairns
pelicans, Esplanade, Cairns

My final two sightings for the morning were both young birds. The first thus had me confused for a moment, and I wondered if it was a reef heron before deciding it was a white-faced heron without much white on the face (because it was not fully adult). The other was a nankeen night heron, not yet as pretty as it will be when mature, but still a lovely bird

young white-faced heron
young white-faced heron

 

young night heron
young night heron

Definitely more satisfying than spending the morning in a hotel room or cafe (I did enjoy a nice hot chocolate afterwards)