Camping wishlist

I have developed a wishlist for campsites. It looks something like this:
1. space
2. a view
3. low key
4. no other people

Spot the problem!?

We went camping this weekend. A lovely enough spot in the Biedou Valley, which is run by a delightful German couple on a working sheep farm. The campsite and chalets have been beautifully done and set alongside the Biedou River. They have done wonders with a large farm dam with a massive wooden deck set under trees all trailing weaver nests with a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains.

Perfect really! Well, that is if you manage to stay there all on your own! We had the benefit of that for one night and one full day (see pics). All was good, all was calm.

And then the masses descended. Thanks to fairly significant roadworks all along the route from Piketberg, anyone leaving Cape Town at about 5pm is only likely to reach the farm at about 10pm at a push. About 6 cars pulled in. Occupants slammed doors, shrieked with laughter, and settled in to their respective chalets scattered around (one suddenly became aware of just how cramped together they all are). They then opted to settle in for a little party in the one chalet right behind our campsite! They guffawed, chatted, shouted, swore and had a merry old time until about 3.30am, at which point Warren got up and asked them if they could possibly keep it down…

How bizarre that people are so short-sighted and downright selfish! Surely when you seek out a place so remote you have the same desire to enter a place of peace and quiet and to respect other people’s wish for the same?

Clearly not.

The lesson here is to really look really really hard for places that are truly off the beaten track. Ideally where there is only one campsite, or where the campsites are spaced well apart (at least about 500metres or more from the next one).
A tall order, I realise.

But why, oh why, would anyone WANT to set off on a camping trip (with the express purpose of being in the sticks and enjoying all it has to offer) only to find yourself squished up, getting up close and personal with a gaggle of strangers?

Beats me.

Kalahari Tented Camp

This is probably the last of my Kgalagadi missives. Though I am usually loathe to shout too loudly about a really special place (lest the whole world descends upon it),I thought I should tell you about a wonderful spot in the Kgalagadi where we spent three nights. The Kalahari Tented Camp is one of the park’s ‘new’ wilderness camps. It is a far cry from the bog standard SANParks tasteless cheek-by-jowl chalets and frightening 70’s architecture. This camp is unfenced and made up of 10 really beautifully designed safari ‘tents’ on stilts. These are no ordinary tents, mind. They have wooden floors, doors (!) and a wonderful rustic en-suite bathroom. They also have a kitchen attached with a fireplace/braai area attached. All of this overlooking a riverbed and fairly active water hole.
There is a wonderful sense of being right in the bush and you hear the lion, hyena and jackal come close at night. The camp also has a small pool with a deck – where we spent many an hour cooling off and escaping from the 35 degree plus heat. Well done SANParks….this one is a goodie and I really look forward to trying out your other wilderness camps, which are apparently even more remote, smaller and beautifully done.

An eye out for the little guys

We met a German fellow about halfway through our trip who said ‘I haff been in ziss park now for three days and seen NOTHING. I am NOT happy!’We saw him a few times driving up and down, windows up, aircon on and looking very grim because (I am guessing) he had not seen any cats.

The trick is to look down on the ground and up in the trees and keep an eye out for all the little guys. So often they are far more entertaining and interesting than the big stuff! I didn’t bother telling our whingeing German friend that though.

Aside from the cobra, we met some brilliant (smaller) reptiles on this trip…

We sat for ages watching this gorgeous agama. I think she looks fit to burst – a belly full of eggs.

These colourful lizards are everywhere at Augrabies – like Christmas lights on the rocks!

Finally, these gorgeous Gecko’s were also quite plentiful in the Kgalagadi. They are absolutely beautiful – such amazing markings and massive toes. This one was shedding!

In praise of wetlands

On our recent trip up north in early January we saw the Augrabies Falls in full throttle (or so we thought). Two days later it had swelled substantially and where we had seen quiet pools with gentle lapping wavelets, there were now torrents. The power and raw energy of the water was breathtaking.

A few days later (while we were in the park further north) it revved up and up and up some more. Then all hell broke loose. Chocolate brown water billowed and boiled over the rocks.. shunted over the viewing decks, spilled over the walkways and threatened to take out the lot!

We had to cut our holiday short by a day because all the roads and bridges en route to our one destination had been cut off. We gingerly crossed the only bridge open in Upington and drove an additional 80km of dirt road to get back on track. The floods wreaked havoc on thousands of hectares of highly productive farmland and orchards. The grapes we had seen being lovingly harvested and laid out on drying racks just 6 days earlier – all gone. Billions of Rands worth. Gone. Glug, glug, glug.

This degree of devastation – which we have seen on our doorstep and further afield in Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil only serves to highlight the importance of conserving wetlands and of keeping the world’s riverine ecosystems intact.

World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally each year on this day, the 2 February. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971. One has to ask…what have we really achieved since all those stuffed suits sat down and signed this convention a little under 40 years ago? Really?

In South Africa the cost of declaring a national state of disaster in seven provinces as a result of flooding could exceed several billion Rands.

Wetlands act like giant sponges that absorb large amounts of water. They then release it into river systems over a long period of time. Similarly, intact river banks slow down the surface runoff, allowing water to percolate into the ground water, which will then be released more slowly into the system.

Many of these perfectly designed ‘sponges’ have gone and not only that, we have also (in our wisdom) completely altered the functionality of most of our vital river systems. Poor land use practices have destroyed more than 50% of our wetlands and our riparian zones are choked with invasive alien woody species such as black wattle. We have also slapped concrete down everywhere, which makes the demented and uncontrolled runoff seen recently an inevitability.

The heavy rainfall experienced in the past few months just flows straight off the surface and into the river systems. We end up with rivers breaking their banks and other devastating downstream consequences…

We need to remember that wetlands play a vital role in the environment and in our lives. They provide a kind of ‘natural infrastructure’ that is needed to help control heavy erosion and flooding.

Adapted from article by Africa Geographic February 2, 2011
(Thanks to Christine du Plessis, SANParks for the brilliant bottom photo!)