Friday, 13 April 2012

South Africa 2012: Days 3 and 4

Day 3 - Thursday 5th January 2012

I got up nice and early this morning to go shark watching. We left at 7.10am to go to a town near Gansbaai, and it took about an hour to get there. When we arrived we sat around for a while before hacing a safety briefing about the boat trip. We were told we could dive in the shark cage which would have been amazing, but then one of the lecturers said we couldn’t as the uni insurance won’t allow it. Understandable but still disappointing.
People seriously need to be told not to touch the sharks?!
 We got on board the boat, and I sat downstairs at the front. As we were pulling away from the shore I saw my first seal! It dived back into the water just as the boa went past. The waves were huge just as we left the shore and it felt like the boat was literally leaping out of the water!

It took about 10 minutes to get out to the location where the boat crew dropped the baited shark cage. We then sailed for another 10 minutes or so across to Dyer Island where there was a massive seal colony. They were literally covering the rocks and there were loads in the water too. There must’ve been literally hundreds of them! They didn’t seem at all phased by the boat as they stayed where they were as we floated past. They were making funny noises and they smell weird – more like a farm than a seal colony! We spotted a few more penguins and Cape Cormorants as we headed back to the shark cage.

Hundreds of Cape Cormorants
Hundreds of seals!
Seals in the water :D
When we got back to the cage, the boat crew threw in a rubber float in the shape of a seal which they used as a lure, and a float with tuna heads on it which was used as bait. The lure and bait were both attached to ropes, and they crew kept pulling the ropes in and throwing them back out to draw the sharks in.

After about 10 minutes, the first sharks appeared. At first they were just swimming around the boat so we just saw the tops of their fins, but after a while the boat crew started pulling the bait and lure out of the water as the shark went to bite them to encourage them to jump out of the water. The sharks were fairly small – well, they were about 3m long so pretty big, but not as big as I’d expected. It was really cool seeing their faces too as they jumped out of the water. At one point a shark grabbed onto the lure and didn’t want to let go. It started shaking its head, as if it were killing some prey. At one point there were 2 sharks swimming around the boat. They were coming really close to where we were sitting which was amazing.

I did think all of this was a bit cruel though – we were winding the sharks up and drawing them in to where they wouldn’t normally be. One of the sharks was also missing the top of its dorsal fin because it had been bitten off by another shark when they were baiting them in.
Poor shark with its fin tip missing :(
The one picture I managed to get of a shark's face
We had to end the trip after about 3 hours as a lot of people were getting really violently seasick. Luckily (based on some previous very nasty experiences!) I took a seasickness tablet so I was fine.

We got back to land and headed back to the campsite. I decided to go on an optional walk to the fynbos at Fernkloof nature reserve. It was baking hot because we got there at about 2.30pm and we’d hardly walked anywhere before I felt sweaty and gross – I don’t know how I’m going to survive a proper fynbos walk tomorrow!
Helmeted guinea fowl
We’ve got to be up and completely packed by 7.10am tomorrow (including taking the tent down) before the second group leave to go to the sharks so we’re ready to move to the next camp at De Hoop. I’m looking forward to going there because there’s apparently lots more wildlife that we can see from the camp.

It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m in Africa. Hopefully going to De Hoop and seeing all the cool animals will make it feel more real!

Day 4 - Friday 6th January 2012

Just about managed to get up and get the tent packed for our 7am deadline – one girl in my group took forever to pack her bag, then she got really antsy because we were running late packing up the tent and it was running very slightly into breakfast time, so she disappeared with 2 other girls from our group to go and have breakfast leaving me and the only other person in the group to finish packing the tent. It was really difficult and I got so frustrated. I’m not letting her do that when we move to the camp at Addo!

After breakfast we had a couple of hours free to relax in the sunshine before we had to leave at 9am to go to the fynbos at Fernkloof.

A lovely lady called Pat was our guide on the walk. She was probably about 70 years old yet she was so fit and active and bounded up the hills, showing us interesting plants along the way. We started the walk at the bottom of a mountain and walked up to a small mountain peak. It was very tiring and it was baking hot in the sunshine. When we got to the top of the mountain though it was so worth it – the views were amazing, out across the fynbos and out to sea. The walk back down the mountain was nice and a lot easier than the way up! We stopped in a little forested area that had once had a waterfall, but they fynbos is having a severe drought so it had pretty much dried up. There was a little pool at the bottom still though – it had loads of frogs in it and I even spotted a crab just before we left (it was literally a big puddle so the fact that there was a crab living in it amazed me!).
Paths snaking their way up the mountains

These are called "seven year flowers" by the local people - the fynbos has so little water that all the plants that live there have had to adapt so they don't die. These flowers have so little water in them that the petals are bone dry and feel like plastic, so you can cut some and keep them for years without them losing their colour :)
We finished our walk at 12 and set off to meet the group that went to the sharks. We were driving for about 6 hours – we stopped at a Super Spar for snacks for our week at De Hoop and for a toilet break. We kept stopping along the way to look at birds, eland, rhebok, yellow mongoose and other things. At one point, just after the Super Spar, we turned down a road and suddenly stopped – there was a massive bush fire just ahead, and even as we were parked up at the side of the road while the lecturers decided what to do the fire got ever closer, rapidly getting to within less than 100m of us! We turned around sharpish and headed in the opposite direction.

A couple of hours into the drive the roads turned from tarmac into dirt, rocky roads. It was really bumpy and dusty in the van but I got used to it after a while. I think I even managed to fall asleep a few times. We had an interesting incident on some train tracks on the way... the train tracks on the dirt roads don’t have barriers or proper level crossings so you just have to look and drive. We were just driving over a level crossing when a car overtook at high speed and beeped its horn, and I’m pretty sure my heart missed a beat because I thought we were about to get annihilated by a train. Definitely one of the scariest moments of my life!

We eventually arrived at De Hoop at about 6pm and set about finding a pitch for our tent and putting the tent up. Somehow we managed to pitch the tent badly, probably because we were in a confined space, so the bottom was too big for the top and the sides didn’t peg to the floor correctly. I’ve had to put all my food and my shampoo in one of the vans because there are baboons that roam the campsite and we don’t want to attract them in with offers of food or mango scented shampoo! The showers and toilets here are so much nicer than at the last place – the toilets have toilet roll and the showers have lights and a little changing area in each cubicle – the last place had none of these things!
Baboooons! They'll become my best friends during this trip...
A proper "Africa tree", like something in The Lion King. Definitely starting to sink in that I'm in Africa now!
We had a discussion this evening about speciation and how it occurs in fynbos plants when there’s very poor soil and little water. It was quite interesting and I actually managed to say stuff for a change (we’ve had lots of assessed discussions this year and I normally always end up in a group with loudmouths who never bloody shut up meaning I can’t get a word in edgeways, which has lead to a lot of very poor marks this year and taken any chance of getting a first out of my reach). Another bright and early start tomorrow morning to go and explore De Hoop and see what’s out there – fingers crossed I see some cool things!


  1. So awesome! I was in South Africa when I was about 9. I think we went to the place with seals as well (unless there are loads of places like that.. I can't remember). Isn't it awesome? I loved seeing all the animals in the Kruger Park and the beautiful sights everywhere.

    1. There's another famous place to watch seals called Seal Island (what an inventive name...), which is near Cape Town, so it could have been that one you went to. I imagine that they're pretty similar though, and both amazing :). I'd love to go to Kruger one day, although I'm scared of getting malaria if I go there (the area of SA I went to is malaria free, Kruger sadly isn't) as judging by the amount of bites I came back with I'm quite attractive to South African mosquitoes!