South Africa, from Mountain to Ocean

Road to the mountainsSouth Africa: where I am originally from; where I left long ago. Long enough to lose an accent and for people to ask me my nationality when I walk around the cities I used to live in. I was there in December for two weeks, for a wedding, for Christmas, and as always, for the nature. In its endless richness, I always feel I belong. This time it was the Free State bush, the Drakensberg mountains, and the coastal scrub of the Western Cape. The city of Cape Town is pretty special too. I took some pictures; find them below, with some sparse commentary.

Of course, I took a bunch of shots of birds, so here are a couple of those. This guy found himself a perfect perch:

Yellow-fronted Canary

Yellow-fronted Canary

And this little fellow posed nicely for a close-up:

Cape Batis

Cape Batis

But it was about the landscapes too. I was there in the summer for a change and it all looked so stunning. South Africa is a great country for a road trip. The sheer number of places and landscapes you can cover within a few hundred miles, be it beach or mountain or African bush. The roads are excellent and the drivers skilled and courteous and there’s plenty accommodation along the way, from lovely little guest houses to game reserve chalets, to top notch hotels. And as I already mentioned, the scenery is stunning, framed under crisp blue skies and pleasing clouds.

On the road

On the road

But while we’re on the subject, there are few places more scenic than the Drakensberg (Dragon mountains) on the east of the country. Here’s some evidence:

Drakensberg sunset

Drakensberg sunset

We spent a few days there in the Golden Gate Highlands Park, where bearded vultures cruise the cliffs, and Springbok roam the grassy plains.

Mountain dam

Mountain dam

This classic scene was particularly tasty:



But I’m sure The Cape doesn’t want the Drakensberg grabbing all the attention. Here are a couple of very different landscapes from The West Coast National Park, near Cape Town:

Multi-colored salt marsh

Multi-colored salt marsh

And this was right next door, facing the other way. Check out the flamingoes, just chilling:

Flamingoes in the lagoon

Flamingoes in the lagoon

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a picture of the gorgeous city, embracing the slopes of Table Mountain, itself. Here she is at dusk:

Cape Town

Cape Town

What a funky city. I hadn’t been there in 18 years. Geographically, it’s spectacular; I mean: you’re next to the mountains and the sea, but besides that, there’s just a cool and interesting vibe. I have to say, the mix of black and white feels pretty special here. Interactions are lively and pleasurable. They were too, on route, when we stopped to buy things or have a cold drink, but here, in the city, it was more pronounced, with everyone just getting on with it, being busy, doing their thing, working, selling stuff, being creative, vibing off each other. The word multicultural is used so quickly and broadly nowadays, and often takes on a clichéd quality but here, the mix of cultures really does seem fresh and full of potential. South Africa really does seem to shout: ‘Yeah, with our incredible and diverse resources: our people, we really have a good thing going forward.’

Oh, and a quick note about the wine. It’s damn good and cheap, which is always a bonus. It just seemed to me that you could buy loads of stuff for 5 bucks that drank like you would have paid 30 or 40 bucks somewhere else. Inky and chocolatey Pinotage and Shiraz. Crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Those cats know what they’re doing.
But back to the countryside, and animals. We didn’t get to the big game parks this time, so no lion and elephant, but we did spot tis interesting scene during a quick visit to a game reserve set up beside, or rather, as part of the grounds of a large nuclear power station. How’s this for juxtaposition:
Zebra lines under power lines

Zebra lines under power lines

By the way, joining the zebras in this picture are Eland, the second largest antelope in the world (its cousin, the Giant Eland being the biggest), and South Africa’s national animal, the Springbok. Leopard tortoises were common here too.

So, I’ve circled back to nature and wildlife: what a surprise! But honestly, I’ve been to loads of places, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Malaysia, and they are incredible in their own right, but I just think the best nature in the world is in South Africa. Maybe I’m biased, cause that’s where I found it first and where it first moved me, so when I go back, it’s like a return to the source. I instantly feel different, excited, keen. And there is so much habitat variation – desert, mountain, savannah, riverine bush – whatever you’re in the mood for. The landscapes are stirring, the coastline long and alive, the sky immense and soaked in stars.

So, in honor of SA’s great nature, here are a few more shots of the creatures one find’s there. Since we didn’t do the big game thing, these are all going to be birds.

'Yes, I'll have 2 grams of cured mayfly larvae and four of your juiciest termites. Having guests over for dinner.' (Black-chested prinia)

‘Yes, I’ll have some cured mayfly larvae and your 3 juiciest termites. Having guests over for dinner.’  (Black-chested Prinia)

And always a treat to see an owl in the wild.

'Oh, I see you there.' - Spotted Eagle Owl, roosting on the ground

‘Yeah, I see you there.’ – Spotted Eagle Owl, roosting on the ground

Seat of thorns - Masked weaver

Seat of thorns – Masked weaver

Some good photos, I think, but one is missing; in fact, on this trip, I missed possibly the best photo I might have taken to date: perfect set up in the Drakensberg: I was on the right side of the flawless light – soft late afternoon sun showing mild pinks and oranges, perfect subject: 2 Rameron pigeons – a large, impressive densely purple pigeon of the Southern African mountains with white spots and bright yellow bill, feet and eye ring, close and motionless on a rugged rock. Only problem was, I didn’t have the camera on me. Doh! Look, I’m no pro and I don’t make pics the priority. My equipment is amateur: 100-300 mm zoom, which any nature photographer will tell you is just not good enough, but I’m happy with snapping what’s close enough – what presents, cause there’s a lot on offer, even with limited gear. A lot of it is just being in the right place and making a bit of effort to record what’s there. You just have to have your camera handy. But this time, I didn’t. We’ll have to leave those gorgeous birds to memory and imagination. That’ll do too.

Hope you liked and got a taste. Back to the Dropping Board now. Till next time, be well, travel safe, and look both ways when you jaywalk.

All pics, taken and missed, by EM Vireo


About EM Vireo
flooding the world with fiction

10 Responses to South Africa, from Mountain to Ocean

  1. My, what a beautiful place.

  2. laurabesley says:

    How did you leave? Those nature shots are phenomenal!

  3. zachandclem says:

    You really do take amazing pictures! I love the one with the zebras and other animals (what are those?? lol) under the electrical confirmation of human presence, and also how you use light and sunbeams to enhance certain things in your landscape. Superb!!

  4. Pi says:

    So glad you reacted so positively. Me? Grand nostalgie. Stirrings deep down. It’s in the blood. Those skies!! That fair weather cumulus, that blue, those birds! Loved your owl. The open vistas, the mountains. The green. The summer

  5. MC says:

    Awesome footage, definitely sold this place to me

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