Loves and life on the Garden Route in South Africa

Through the eyes of volunteer coordinator and crazy cat lady, Sharon

The Knysna Elephants September 19, 2014

Great blog from the Knysna Woodworkers

The Knysna Elephants

DNA analysis has revealed the existence of five previously unknown, female Knysna elephants in the southern Cape, South Africa. This discovery provides cautious optimism for the world’s most southerly elephant population. Thought by many to be doomed to extinction, with fears in recent years that only one Knysna elephant, an elderly female was still surviving, the findings of a population study conducted using faecal DNA has revealed that the Knysna elephants continue to survive, despite formidable odds. The results ofthe population study, undertaken by conservation geneticist Lori S. Eggert of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Gareth Patterson, Knysna Elephant Project, have just been published in a paper in African Journal of Ecology, OnlineEarly version, 02 June 2007.

The decline of the Knysna elephants occurred over many decades due primarily to ivory hunting. In 1876 several hundred of these elephants were thought to exist, but under heavy pressure of ivory hunters were reduced to 20-30 individuals by 1908. In 1970 the Knysna elephant population was estimated at 11. In 1994 only one Knysna elephant was known to be still surviving, the elderly female.

In 1994, in an experiment to boost numbers three young elephants from the Kruger National Park were introduced into the range of the elderly female. One of the young elephants died of stress related complications soon after release. The remaining two elephants joined up with the elderly female for only short periods before choosing to spend 80% of their time in mountainous fynbos habitat beyond the Knysna forest. In 1999 the two young elephants were recaptured and relocated to the Shamwari private reserve in the Eastern Cape. The Knysna elephants were then declared by some to be almost extinct.

Lori Eggert’s conservation research focuses on using non-invasive techniques to provide information needed for the effective management of declining species, secretive or dangerous animals in particular. During her work in West Africa she developed a genetic censusing method for forest elephants usingDNA extracted from dung samples. Gareth Patterson has undertaken field research into the diet, range and distribution of the Knysna elephants since 2001. Knysna elephants are elusive and extremely difficult to see. To obtain important population data on these endangered animals, Eggert and Patterson teamed up to undertake the non-invasive genetic survey of the Knysna elephants.

Because fibrous vegetation eaten by elephants continuously scrapes cells from the intestine, dung is a good source of DNA. Genotyping of DNA from dung samples can determine numbers of individuals, sexes of individuals, the relatedness between them and the level of genetic diversity present in the population.

‘The Knysna elephant study identified that at least five females exist within the population, and two of the animals identified appear to be first-order relatives and that several others may be half-siblings. The results also suggest that the surviving Knysna elephants are closely related to the elephants of the Addo Elephant National Park’ says Patterson.

‘The genetic diversity of the Knysna elephants is lower than that found in most African savannah populations, and being such a small population this is likely to be a serious problem in the future unless measures to encourage out breeding are undertaken’ cautions Eggert.

Since the completion of the study, there is evidence that a Knysna calf was born. This and other evidence gathered in the field by Gareth Patterson, indicates that at the very least, one breeding Knysna bull is or has recently been present in this population.

The Knysna elephants are the only unfenced elephant population in South Africa. They range on National Park, provincial, commercial and privately owned land. Contrary to popular belief, the Knysna elephants are not confined, or restricted, to the Knysna forest, but also utilise mountain fynbos, successional and plantation areas.

Researched and compiled by Gareth Patterson

Photo Credits: Hylton Herd/Wilfred Oraai, SANParks


Fresh Knysna forest elephant dung, when found, is sold for about R300 a heap to community members who use this to cook a soup which is believed to have miraculous health benefits.

The elephants favour well-defined paths when moving from one area to another.  These paths are usually along ridges and always cross valleys and river beds by the easiest route.  The skill of the elephants has been envaluable to foresters who have frequently followed elephant paths when making tracks and roads.  The road through Bloukrans Pass followed an elephant track.

In 1920 only 20 animals remained.  Major P.J. Pretorius received permission to shoot one Knysna elephant “for scientific research” to determine whether or not these elephants belonged to a separate species.  The hunt went terribly wrong and after the hunt it is said only 15 elephants survived.

Sources:  The Elephants of Knysna, Nick Carter;  The Knysna Elephants and their Forest Home, Margo Mackay


Oudtshoorn, more Karoo visits September 8, 2014

So on Thursday I have a tour to Oudtshoorn with an overseas volunteer. For those that don’t know about Oudtshoorn, it’s largely regarded as the ostrich capital of South Africa and is a pretty town found in the Karoo with gorgeous old sandstone historic buildings.

I shall be first taking our volunteer to the Cango caves to do the heritage your. I can’t wait to see these natural caves and rock formations in undeniably Africa’s most popular ‘show caves’. The Cango caves have had excavations that prove humans have lived in the entrance dating as far back as the Middle and Later Stone Ages. Africa truly is the home of mankind!

Cango Caves

Obviously an ostrich farm will have to also be on the cards and I’ve decided to take him to the Cango Ostrich Show farm. One thing I will do though is not encourage ostrich riding which I think is not necessary and cruel.

Cango Ostrich Farm

Last but not least is a visit to the Cango Wildlife ranch which is actually an accredited zoo. One of the things they offer is crocodile cage diving! Yes you read that right!

However I will also not encourage any cub petting as I don’t feel that it’s an ethical thing to do to any wild animal. We shall just observe them.

Cango Wildlife Ranch

As the town I live in is a 2 hour drive from Oudtshoorn, I don’t visit there as much as I would like to. I’m really starting to love the Karoo and it’s very unique beauty. Hopefully I will take lots of stunning photos and upload them at a later stage on here.







First thoughts of Prince Albert, a little Karoo town August 9, 2014

Filed under: Nature,Out & about,South Africa,weekend — shadreyer @ 5:42 am
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So I’ve just woken up in Prince Albert. We arrived yesterday at about 11am with a lovely 3 hour drive from Knysna to George, then George over the Outeniqua mountains to Oudtshoorn where we then took the road to De Rust and stopped for breakfast at the Village Trading store. Leaving De Rust we drove through the beautiful Meiringspoort and came upon masses of troops of baboons on the road. On arriving in Prince Albert after passing several wine farms, we stopped at Gay’s dairy for some cheese tasting and to stock up on cheese, yoghurt and the most delicious farm fresh creamy milk.

We then met my friend Kathryn who manages a farm here and had a glass of wine at the Swartberg hotel coffee shop before visiting the farm she manages with the help of her 3 week old pet sheep, Shaun.

My partner and I then took a long stroll through the town getting our bearings and looking at the beautiful historical buildings. Prince Albert is a little over 250 years old which in South African terms is fairly old. The town itself is quite flat and built on a rectangular plan with small canal ducks running down the streets which they call “lei water”.

After a quick freshen-up it was off to the NG Kerk “potjie aand” where R50 got you unlimited plates of “potjiekos”. This is a traditional South African meal whereby vegetables and/or meat are cooked in a cast iron pot on an open fire and it’s positively delicious! We tried numerous varieties of beef and of course Karoo lamb (which is famous for it’s flavour).

My partner and I then went to a local pub in the bush to catch a local provincial rugby game on TV so met a few of the locals who were extremely friendly and invited us back again tonight. Exhausted and full we returned to our beautiful historic house we had hired out and collapsed!

Now it’s time to get ready for a full day ahead of us in this small picturesque South African Karoo town for another full day and lots of photos!















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Prince Albert road trip August 6, 2014

Filed under: Nature,Out & about,South Africa,weekend — shadreyer @ 6:40 am
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My partner and I have been dying to explore the small town of Prince Albert situated at the foot of the Swartberg Mountain in the Karoo, for some time now. It was also the home to the Attekwa who are an indigenous Khoi-Khoi people of South Africa.

Our accommodation that we have booked is an old church converted into a self-catering house called “Bid Huisie” which translated means “Prayer House”. This weekend we are off driving from Knysna via Oudtshoorn and Meiringspoort- which I hear is spectacular- to get there.

Prince Albert is known for it’s olives, figs, cheese, mohair, wine, Karoo lamb and glorious hiking trails. There are plenty of historical Cape Dutch, Victorian and Karoo buildings with no less than 19 national monuments. There are a surprisingly lot of tours available and we have booked a historical afternoon walking tour and for the evening the “Ghost walk”.
I also have a friend there who does horse trails so hopefully we can explore a little on horse back too.

As it is also their Winter School, there are lots of other things on the go from markets, cooking competitions and art exhibitions

An update and photos will follow



Bid Huisie on the Prince Albert tourism website

Prince Albert brochure


The Outeniqua Power Van March 7, 2014

The Outeniqua Power Van

I am planning on doing this next weekend! It looks great and the Power Van takes you through the Outeniqua mountains on a 2 and 1/2 hour trip! What a lovely way to see nature!

Trips on rail with the Outeniqua PowerVan are of the most popular tourist attractions in the South Cape ,Garden Route. This is a unique eco experience and you can enjoy the Garden Route from the comfort of rail busses in exclusive groups. Daily trips between 07:00 and 21:00 are available.
Travel in the Outeniqua Mountains, one of the most scenic railway passes in the country. Experience the forest and four passes, waterfalls and six tunnels, fynbos and proteas, bird and animal life and the panoramic picnic area.
Outeniqua Power Van

Outeniqua Power Van
The Outeniqua Transport Museum serves as the departure and arrival point for both the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe and Outeniqua Power Van. It houses a large collection of steam locomotives and carriages dating back to the bygone years. The Museum offers hours of exploration and intrigue while your children can enjoy a ride on the miniature steam train.
We also have excellent catering facilities available at the Tewani Coffee Shoppe or the Stimela Restaurant.
· Special trips for special occasions can be arranged
· A minimum of 20 passengers are required.
· Booking is essential.
· A picnic at Power – with a spectacular view – is included in all these trips. Passengers bring their own picnic basket.
Outeniqua Power Van
Outeniqua Power Van Contact the Outeniqua Power Van: 
· Outeniqua Transport Museum
· 2 Mission Road, George, 6530
· E-mail
· Tel. +27 (0)44 801 8239
· Fax: +27 (0)44 801 8246
· Cell 082 490 5627

The power van trip was amazing! Felt like being back in a bygone era! My mother and aunt loves it-especially going through the 7 tunnels! Definitely worth doing.


Another great blog from the “Going Homeless Project” :Photostory : Clifford’s Cave February 5, 2014

You can find the webpage at:

Photostory : Clifford’s Cave

August 15, 2012 by stu | 4 Comments

While hiking to Victoria Bay from Wilderness along the old Tjoe Tjoe Railway track, i encountered the cave dweller Clifford. Here’s the photostory.

the front door


You can read about the Going Homeless Project’s time in Wilderness here

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Wild walks and cave dwellers …

This was taken from the blog “The Going Homeless Project”

Wild walks and cave dwellers …

June 29, 2012 by stu | 2 Comments

So after a big weekend in PE and George, it was time to get back on the road, albeit for all of about 20 minutes down the Kaaiman’s River pass and into Wilderness. It has always been one of those places driven by and never visited. That was about to change.

That’s me on the top losing my religion

It’s a pretty striking view when you come out of the pass and the viewpoint on the N2 nearly does it justice but hides so much from view. If you are not in rush, head up to Wilderness Heights in the direction of the Map of Africa and you will truly get an understanding of what a spectacular part of the world this is.

Wilderness Heights Self Portrait

After being blown away by the view of the town and the Touws river mouth i turned around and stared down at the “Map of Africa”, Its resemblance is uncanny right down to two different rivers, The Kaaiman’s and Silver, meeting at its point much like the Indian and Atlantic do in Cape Town.

Map of Africa

I started to like Wilderness and i hadn’t even arrived yet.

I made my way back into town and sought out the Fairy Knowe Backpackers, which is beautiful hideaway right next to the Wilderness National Park. Within walking distance to town, 90% of the activities and some beautiful hikes, it’s a definite for a place to crash when you pass this way

Sunrise at Fairy Knowe Backpackers

The Backpackers is run by fellow by the name of Digby, who upon my arrival bombarded me with a gazillion things I could do, canoeing, horse riding, paragliding, hiking, abseiling and kloofing to mention just a smattering of what you can do in this super beautiful place of the world. I spent two days here i would recommend at the very least four!

After a quick run around of the facilities of the Backpackers, which is set on about 10ha of land covered in indigenous bush and forms part of the Pied King Fisher trail, i set about planning the next two days with a sinking feeling I wasn’t going to experience a smidgen of what i wanted to do.

I worked hard for this … well my legs did

Digby also makes a hell of an effort to get everyone socializing by offering a cooked meal in the evening for 55 bucks, the plate of food you get could feed three and is damn tasty. A bunch of us sat around a dinner table and had a great chat about just about everything worth shooting the shit about. He also offers a killer breakfast for 35 bucks, cooked or healthy and did i mention the daily fresh-baked muffins?

There are also the usual’s, free wi-fi, an epic bar, comfy sofa’s, a few idiot boxes although with a location like this who needs it! The self catering kitchen is super well equipped and there is a porch that catches the morning sun and is an excellent place to start the day with a coffee looking over the lake bordering the Backpackers. There is also a great outdoor area under some Milkwoods next to the bar with hammocks, a fire pit and braai area which was set upon this earth for the sole purpose of dropping anchor and never leaving.

The hikes are all about the details

The room i was given was a double, super comfy, an epic duvet that didn’t require additional effort to keep warm and goes for 350 a night. Fairy Knowe Backpackers also offer out of season rates so check HI South Africa for great deals.

I got up the next morning to a chilly sunrise and headed to the Wilderness National Park, which was a 10 minute walk from the Backpackers, my Wild Card got me in free and i immediately headed in to a thick indigenous forest which was very much alive. There are two routes to follow on this hike up to a spectacular waterfall.


The Bosdruif and the way more chilled stroll along the banks. Do both, the Bosdruif loops back onto the chilled route, but offers a spectacular view from the peak of its route, it’s a steep hike but the reward is worth it. The walk is through amazing bush, thick forest and runs parallel to the Touws river.

Go early as later in the day there is a fairly steady stream of people visiting the falls, I got there and had the place to myself for an hour, if you feeling brave scramble up above the waterfall and there is another Waterfall and a fantastic swimming hole. It was super cold but after the Bosdruif i needed it.

The Falls

Reluctantly i packed up and a walk that should have taken me three hours had taken me closer to five, with the numerous views, photo opportunities and the desire not to leave the falls. I would recommend packing a picnic and spending the day up there, it’s well worth it.

This walk is not optional

Digby recommended i do the railway line hike to Victoria Bay, after doing it twice, it is something you have to do when you visit Wilderness. Seriously. If you don’t you missing out. It’s not strenuous, but the views, the hair-raising crossing of the bridge across the Kaaiman’s, scrambling through old railway tunnels and finally a spectacular view of Vic Bay make it an epic experience.

You head through three tunnels

Just as you pass through the first tunnel, there is a cave, like no other you have experienced. It is inhabited by Clifford. He has spent nearly six years turning it into a seriously amazing spectacle, its is decorated with shell mobiles, drift wood and all manner of things. It has an amazing Garden and can sleep upward of ten people. It’s hard to describe in words, it is something you have to see for yourself.

The caves entrance

Drop by, don’t be afraid and hook him up with some moolah, as technically he is homeless, despite owning the finest cave in the Southern Hemisphere. I went back the next day to shoot more images and it just re-enforced that this cave is in fact a living breathing work of art perpetuated by a slightly mad genius.

Cliffords Cave

Shortly after the cave comes the harrowing bridge crossing, I normally have no issue with heights but some casual efforts to grab some imagery resulted in me realizing that walking down the middle of the track wasn’t the best idea, stick to the rickety walkway. After that the rest of the walk is über chilled but still spectacular. Go in the afternoon for better light.

Discovered rickety bridges scare the bejebbers out of me

As i headed back to the Fairy Knowe, I was bushed. I showered, ate and crashed into oblivion. The next morning felt like I was attached to the bed and after a slow start i headed back out to the cave to shoot some more images of the Cliffords cave.

The Cave is also all about the details

It didn’t take long before lunchtime had come and gone and i needed to get moving to my next stop. After a packing and another chat with the super cool and seriously knowledgeable Digby, I reluctantly headed towards Sedgefield and Myoli Beach to experience the AfroVibes Adventure lodge, knowing i hadn’t got close to getting the full Wilderness experience.

Many thanks and a promise that i will definitely return must go out to Digby at Fairy Knowe Backpackers for hosting me on Hi South Africa’s blogging adventure. I felt like I was home.

** I shot the cave in detail and when i get a chance to actually look at the photo’s i’ll do a full story … it was incredible.

Fairy Knowe Backpackers Lodge

Fairy Knowe Backpackers Lodge is well positioned, with Wilderness being at the pivot of all that can be enjoyed on the Garden Route. The many adventure attractions of Wilderness are on the doorstep: from amazing hiking trails, to endless beach walks and stunning canoe trips through the Wilderness National Park to the waterfalls.

TEL: +27 (0) 44 877 1285

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