Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Penguins, snakes and super-heroes

My children are super-heroes, is my conclusion after this latest weekend away to Nature’s Valley. First off, they WANTED to go camping, and they WANTED to see penguins. More impressively, they WANTED to go hiking through the forest. And not just any hike: Eli and Charlie had already impressed me last year when they energetically completed the Kalanderkloof forest-fynbos hike. This time, our mission was the Salt River estuary VIA Kalanderkloof and back through Nature’s Valley village. According to the trail map, that is something like 9km. If you’re going ‘meh’ at that distance, a reminder at this time to put this in context: Eli is 8 years old; and Charlie is tail end of 5.

Along the way we had to tackle the never-ending stairway; try and find the Leopard (or other predator) that the Vervet Monkeys could clearly see, voicing out there alarm calls from the safety of the trees; dodge the waves of the high tide along the cliffs of the bay; navigate fallen rocks and trees; an avenue of bumble-bees; and broken glass at a roadside picnic table. Of course, no problem for a family that had stood side by side to fight off the delinquent baboon that had casually walked right up to our campsite lunch table the day before, while we were sitting there, to try and steal our sandwiches. By the look of shock on the baboons face, he’d never seen such a united show of rage and defiance from mini-humans before. Camp chairs hurled like Thor’s hammer ensured we never saw that bothersome primate again, although screams from other campers suggested that we’d merely been a mild setback in that particular super-villain’s anarchic quest for carbohydrates.     

Our journey had commenced the previous day, spurred by Charlie’s disappointment from our previous trip to Cape Agulhas. I’d tried to impress upon him the significance of our journey to the southernmost tip of Africa: that beyond this point lay only seas until the Antarctic ice with its penguins. The indignation of not seeing penguins is all the lad appeared to remember from that particular pilgrimage. As such, a public release of rescued penguins organized by Tenikwa and Nature’s Valley Trust ‘down-the-road’ at Plettenberg bay seemed like the perfect remedy for remaking happy feet.

The beach event was being coordinated by real-life super hero Dr Mark Brown, who has wielded his powers for good through Nature’s Valley Trust conservation, research and public outreach initiatives. His super powers include vision, confidence, charisma, and energy; key ingredients for great leadership; and the planet is lucky to have him on her side. Certainly, the power to positively engage with people that inspires a legion of volunteers must be acknowledged to be one of the greatest super powers there is. 

Real Life Super Heros

It was a perfect day for the beach: warm and sunny, with winter perhaps hiding from the onslaught of climate change. After watching the newly cleaned mini-flock of African Penguins waddle down to the sea and into the waves of freedom to the soundtrack of a symphony of hope, it was time to continue our own more modest quest. But a warm and sunny day? Sounds like good weather for snakes… and as it was our path would lead us past the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary, a garden-route tourist destination I’d never explored before. Of course, snakes tend to be associated with villains in stories of super heros…

At Lawnwood we were greeted warmly by owner Michael Caithness, who introduced us to his crocodiles, before setting us off on our guided tour with Wilmore. I’m generally fairly critical of animal collections that may be personal zoos, but collections that help to educate are worthwhile, especially for that class of maligned creatures, the snakes. It would have been difficult to gauge the efficacy of the tour should it have been for my children alone, who were quick to accept offers to kiss and handle the snakes given their wilderness background. However, a couple with their daughter from Germany were a perfect example of how effective this tour is at getting people familiar and comfortable with snakes. The mother had never even seen a snake before, and the daughter was also extremely skeptical during the initial encounter with a Brown House snake. However, by the end, Wilmore’s enthusiasm had won her over and she was quite happy to have a Red-tailed Boa wrapped around her shoulders. A successful conversion to the cause of snakes, and kudos to the efforts of the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary. I have to say I’m envious that Michael and his wife Emily are able to make a living from their passion; your friendly neighbourhood Snakeman and SnakeWoman.

Well, that wraps up our most recent whirlwind one night stay in Nature’s Valley: but more to come in the upcoming bird atlassing tour of South Africa, from south to north.   

Love African Penguins!

Puffadder smiling for the camera

Rock Monitor Lizard with lunch

Corn Snakes are popular in the pet trade (not South African)

The girl reeling in disgust at the sight of Charlie kissing the snake would herself be holding a snake at the end of the tour
Wilmore was patient, knowledgeable, and great with the children

"What are we doing here kids?"

Charlie points out the soundtrack bird for the Fynbos hike: Victorin's Warbler

We neither heard nor saw Orange-breasted Sunbird, despite the flowering Ericas and Proteas

Sand River estuary is truly beautiful

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