Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Voortrekker Monument

The majestic Voortrekker Monument is situated in the northern part of South Africa in the Pretoria (Tshwane) region in a nature reserve. It is a unique Monument which commemorates the Pioneer history of Southern Africa and the history of the Afrikaner and is situated in a beautiful setting. Today it is the most visited heritage site of its kind in Gauteng and one of the top ten cultural historical visitor attractions in the country.
As South Africans, as Afrikaners (Afrikaans speaking South Africans) we felt it our duty to visit this monument. Built in loving memory of the greatest of all expeditions. The Great Trek.
Physically, the Voortrekker Monument is 40 metres high, with a base of 40 metres by 40 metres. The building has strong architectural resemblance to German monuments, in particular the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig.

The Voortrekker Monument is not a fancy structure, it does not have huge fresco's or elaborate decorations. It represents exactly the afrikaner people. We are strong, practical and to the point. We are proud and hard working. We have suffered many setbacks but we have survived, prospered even. Through the years we played our part in shaping this country.

The Voortrekker Monument is surrounded by a circular wall engraved with wagons—a depiction of the historical Trekker practice of "circling the wagons" during defense under attack.

At the foot of the Monument stands Anton van Wouw's bronze sculpture of a Voortrekker woman and her two children, paying homage to the strength and courage of the Voortrekker women.

The huge granite structure is guarded by the 4 pillars of the Great Trek. Four men who lead the boers, men who not only acted as path finders but proved themselves as war hero's. Their faith in God guided them and kept the members of their trek safe. They showed courage in the face of adversity. These men will always be remembered as hero's. 
When you enter though the doors of the monument you are surrounded by a carved pictorial. Telling the story of the Great Trek.

The Cenotaph, situated in the centre of the Cenotaph Hall, is the central focus of the monument. In addition to being viewable from the Hall of Heroes it can also be seen from the dome at the top of the building, from where much of the interior of the monument can be viewed. Through an opening in this dome a ray of sunlight shines at twelve o'clock on 16 December annually, falling onto the centre of the Cenotaph, striking the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' (Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa'). The ray of light is said to symbolise God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. December 16, 1838 was the date of the Battle of Blood River, commemorated in South Africa before 1994 as the Day of the Vow.
From the hall of hero's you can go up the stairs to the very top of the dome or for the faint of heart you can go up just a few stories and walk around to the viewing deck. The rugged architecture of the building is quite impressive. The views from here is great. We could even make out the Union Buildings in the far distance.

Visiting the Voortrekker monument made me feel like a pilgrim. I strongly feel that it is a must for every Afrikaans speaking South African to visit this place. To honour and remember those brave people who came before us and shaped our country.

Ringing out from our blue heavens
From our deep seas breaking ground
Over ever lasting mountains, where the echoing grace resounds
From a place where creaky wagons, cut their trails into the earth
Calls the spirit of our country of the land that gave us birth!
At thy call we shall not falter,
Firm and steadfast we shall stand,
At thy will we live or perish
O' South Africa
dear Land

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Rhino Walk

One of the great things about Berg en Dal camp and one of the reasons I chose this camp was the fact that it had a 'hiking trail'. The trail covers the perimeter of the camp hugging the fence closely. You can see all kinds of animals on this walk.

On our last evening we decided to see what the Rhino walk was all about. The route is clearly marked with Rhino-footprints. :) A nice little touch.
We took some water and our cameras and off we went.

The vegetation on either side of the fence is very lush and the big trees are quite overhanging. I kept thinking that leopards were good at climbing trees. Some of the trees had little electrical hats to prevent this from happening, but they did not seem to set my mind to rest.

Out first sighting was a terrapin,

We then saw this unidentified beetle clinging for dear life to the fence.
Another Dwarf Mongoose came to see what all the commotion was about.

I cannot contemplate any human being stupid enough to feed a wild animal. Not just in the Kruger, but any wild animals. It is a very stupid and irresponsible thing to do. BUT unfortunately believe it or not it happens every single day!

During the walk we got a good look at the accommodation on offer, next time we will definitely be staying in one of these beautiful bungalows close to the boundary fence.

When we reached the end of the trail we decided to backtrack back to the tent staying close to the fence in stead of cutting across the middle of camp. What an excellent decision that turned out to be. Guess what waited for us at the waters edge....

We were so close we could hear them swallowing, gulping down mouth-fulls of water like a very thirsty marathon runner.

We just stood there watching them. Tiptoeing from spot to spot to get a better/different view. All of a sudden we heard a great noise... People! They were talking and pushing a very loud trolley down the nearby stairs. They saw the rhinos but ignored them and just kept on laughing and making a big noise.

The Rhino's immediately stopped drinking and fled. Running at full speed for the cover of the bush. At first I was very angry at these people but then I focused on the rhino's. These huge creatures running at full speed is quite a sight. It sounded like a steam train. They were huffing and puffing to safety in a cloud of dust. One of them ran over a small tree without breaking stride. A M A Z I N G!

Berg en Dal Day 3

It was our third and final day at Berg en Dal, we have seen so much in this beautiful area of the park that we decided to spend the day lazing around camp.

We slept in cooked a lovely breackfast and relaxed. By now the first people were starting to return home after their morning drive. Our neighbour came strolling towards us with a big smile on his face... "Did you guys see the wild dogs this morning?" WHAT! No! We slept in! All of a sudden all hell broke loose. We hurriedly packed away our stuff and locked the tent. We jumped in the car and raced (at a sedate 40km/h) to the dog sighting. We were starting to loose hope, thinking that they had probably moved off by now, but we rounded the next corner and there it was... the mother of all traffic jams! Aaaah, we are never going to be able to see anything I sulked.  We approached slowly. I see one!
I quickly snapped a picture! Proof that we saw them. :) Wild dogs are extremely difficult to find in the Kruger National Park, not just because there are only about 250-350 in the whole park, but also because they are often on the move when they are seen. This means that only a few vehicles generally see a pack before it disappears into the bush.

The people at this sighting was amazing! The people in front took their pictures and then moved off, some fell back in line to try a shot from the other side. This meant that we got to the front relatively quickly. :) I wish every sighting could be like this.
Every time one of the cars moved we could see another group of dogs hidden in the grass. Eventually we had a prime spot. We snapped away.
We took so many pictures in such a short time that I was worried that my battery was going to fail at any moment. 
Lycaon pictus is a large canid found only in Africa, especially in savannas and lightly wooded areas. It is variously called the African wild dog, African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, painted dog, painted wolf, painted hunting dog, spotted dog, or ornate wolf.
The African wild dog has a bite force quotient (BFQ, the strength of bite relative to the animal's mass) measured at 142, the highest of any extant mammal of the order Carnivora, although exceeded by the Tasmanian devil, a marsupial carnivore.
We got our pictures and moved off, we decided to drive past the traffic, turn around and fall in at the back of the line once again. This time we packed away our cameras and enjoyed this special moment with Africa's Painted Dogs.
After the very special dog sighting we were super exited. Our relaxing day in camp was written of as a moment of madness and continued our slow drive in the South of The Kruger.

Once again we had many special sightings.
This warthog family rated very high on the cuteness scale.

We also got to see our first member of Africa's Small 5. The leopard tortoise.
The other members of the small 5 are... Ant Lion, Rhino Beetle, Elephant shrew and the Red Billed Buffalo Weaver.

Squirrel, Cape Water Buffalo and a wallowing Rhino was next on our sightings list.

What would a drive through the park be without spotting an elephant or ten. :)
I love Giraffes. They are fascinating creatures and as it turns out most of them are very photogenic.

Giraffes use their height to good advantage and browse on leaves and buds in treetops that few other animals can reach (acacias are a favourite). Even the giraffe's tongue is long! The 53-centimeter tongue helps them pluck tasty morsels from branches. Giraffes eat most of the time and, like cows, regurgitate food and chew it as cud. A giraffe eats hundreds of pounds of leaves each week and must travel miles to find enough food.

From the very pretty to the extremely ugly. The Marabu Stork is part of the Ugly 5.
Other members of the Ugly 5 include wildebeest, spotted hyena, warthog, and the vulture.

Another highlight of our drive was a majestic Martial Eagle. A first for me! This is the largest eagle in Africa. The Martial Eagle is one of the world's most powerful avian predators and, among African raptors, only the Crowned Eagle is comparable in predatory dominance. The diet of the Martial Eagle varies greatly with prey availability and can be dictated largely by opportunity. One study found that 45% of their diet was made up of birds, particularly game birds and Egyptian Geese. Reptiles, especially lizards and snakes (Cape cobras, young African rock pythons, boomslangs, puff adders, both species of green mamba, and even small black mambas) made up 38% and the rest (17%) was made up of mammals such as mongooses, baboons, young warthog and impala lambs.
We returned to camp with a song in our hearts. Africa is truly in my blood. I cannot imagine a life without her.