Melanistic Zebra Etosha

On leaving ‪‎Etosha‬ National Park Namibia in 2009 after a wonderful 5 days we came across a small group of zebra at Ombika waterhole. Nothing rare about that right? Except …..one zebra looked like it had been burned! In fact zebra is melanistic – extremely rare and opposite of albinism. Every day in Africa is truly a treat – no two days are ever the same. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Namibia and would love to return in the not too distant future.

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QF 63 – WOW FACTOR

A highlight of any journey from Sydney to Johannesburg on Qantas is having the chance to see parts of the Antarctic ice sheet from 35,000 feet. The Antarctic ice sheet is actually the largest block of ice on earth covering more than 14 million square kilometres and is about 2 kilometres thick. If it melted, sea level would rise by about 60 metres.  

I have undertaken this journey  on the QF63 annually for many years and it is always uncertain as to whether you will see the ice through the clouds, but when you do- the view is absolutely overwhelming. The photo enthusiasts like myself are falling over themselves to gain a birds eye view as you never know what formations you will see and sometimes nature teases you with just a glimpse, whilst on other days you can see clearly for miles. Hard to believe you could fly over nothing but clouds for 11 000 kilometres.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with  Qantas First Officer Adam Susz  about this route as his view from the flight deck is of course all encompassing – so, over to you Adam.

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“On the SYD-JNB flight, which is typically 13 hours, we head south over Melbourne and sometimes Launceston or Hobart. It’s a strange feeling heading south over the ocean leaving the Australian continent well behind, but that’s how the great circle track works – a curved line concave to the equator which joins any two points by the shortest distance”.

Image of the Circle Route

“On SYD-JNB flights we usually fly even further south (e.g. 60-65 degrees) than the great circle track to avoid the jetstreams, or headwinds, that are typical in the 40-50 degree latitudes (also known as the roaring 40s).  We use these winds to our advantage coming home on the QF64 and usually that involves flying around 45-50 degrees south all the way. This reduces the return flight time to 11.5 hours”.

Cheryl, in answer to your specific questions:

“No we don’t ever see polar bears from the air, firstly because they would be too small from 35,000 feet and secondly they’re not found in Antarctica. There are penguins which are even smaller again and so impossible to see with the naked eye. Qantas operates Antarctic charter flights around New Year and the flights are not allowed directly over penguin colonies”.

“Pilots love flying Qantas B747s anywhere in the world and the more popular routes over the years have been Europe and North America. Europe is a really interesting journey because we fly mostly over land . The views are often stunning, for example the Himalaya, the Hindu Kush, Caspian Sea, major European cities (especially beautiful at night). Speaking to air traffic controllers in such a variety of accents and cultures is quite interesting. ”

“Johannesburg is a interesting route & certainly not the least popular. It involves a large time change (8 hours) which causes quite a bit of jet lag, especially coming home as eastbound travel is always harder for the body to adjust to. It’s a very isolated route, again mostly over water, and we can feel very alone in the southern Indian ocean. For about eight hours our closest landing point is probably Antarctica, and this would not really be an option in any situation. Thankfully nothing ever goes wrong and the B747 with four engines is as reliable as it gets, but we always have to keep in mind where our nearest airport is just in case”.

“The image of the Circle route illustrates the isolation of the route, you can see that it passes a small island about halfway along the journey. This is the Kerguelen Islands, a French territory. There are no real facilities there and certainly no airport, but I believe they station about 50-100 researchers there. Many years ago it was home to fishermen engaged in whaling and sealing. Occasionally we will pass close to Heard Island which is south of Kerguelen, and it’s quite stunning. I find it fascinating that this massive volcanic, snow-covered peak sticks out in the middle of nowhere”.

“One of the less enjoyable aspects of the QF63 is having to look into the sun for 13 hours straight. I don’t particularly enjoy that aspect, in fact that’s why I prefer flying at night. Flying west means we are chasing the sun so it never sets. Makes for a long day!”

“Once we arrive in Johannesburg, the airport is at high altitude (over 5,500 feet) and higher than any other airport in the Qantas network. This causes some unique operational differences but nothing we can’t handle with ease. Thunderstorms are common in the warmer months so we ensure that the aircraft avoids bad weather, keeping it safe and comfortable for the passengers and crew. Occasionally this means delaying a takeoff or landing until the weather passes.”

“As good as the journey is, the destination is where the real experience is. I haven’t been anywhere like South Africa. The land is so beautiful, the animals are amazing and the people are warm and friendly. I’ve done a couple of safaris, all have been memorable and I look forward to doing it again”.

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Readers I hope you have enjoyed reading this post about my favourite flight in the Qantas network. Big thank you to Adam for sharing his thoughts and knowledge with us and I do apologise for asking if they see polar bears. Another blog I read had intimated that it is possible so thanks Adam for clearing that one up!

Addo-Elephant Utopia

I love elephants and so it was inevitable that on one of my trips to South Africa I would find myself in the thick of a mighty breeding herd at Addo Elephant Park  just 72 km’s  outside of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

 

ADDO is the third largest national park in South Africa  expanding rapidly since 1978 when it first opened to the public . As of 2016 this finely tuned ecosystem is sanctuary to over 600 elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra species, as well as the unique Addo flightless dung beetle. In fact there is some exciting news on the lion front with Sylvester the Karoo lion being relocated to Addo . Sylvester recently made headline news when he escaped from the Karoo National Park.

Addo can exclusively claim to be the only national park in the world to conserve the “Big 7” – the Big 5 as well as the southern right whale and great white shark off the Algoa Bay coast.

Map showing the roads we traversed in our sedan car
Map showing the roads we traversed just in one day  – self drive holiday – fantastic value

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Driving around Addo was very easy with tar and gravel roads in great condition. We enjoyed the lush surroundings, saw two of the Big 5 plus lots of ostrich, antelope and plains game. The elephant herds are very habituated to vehicles and seemed at ease with the passing parade. We drove ourselves but you can easily organise to take a guided drive in an open vehicle. Main Camp offers a variety of accommodation to suit various tastes and pockets whilst other concessions within the National park  offer upmarket lodges.

Buffalo having a mud bath by the side of the road

We chose not to stay in the Park itself but at Elephant House in the sun drenched Sundays River Valley  just 8 kms from Addo. This meant we could do a morning self-drive after breakfast, return to our beautiful cottage for lunch and a siesta and then head back to the park for an afternoon drive. Enjoyed an early dinner at Main Camp which was  very pleasant as the food was good and we enjoyed the scenery for  the restaurant is surrounded by trees

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Elephant House was fantastic – The Stables Cottage which we had booked for 2 nights was huge with its own kitchenette, separate room for our son and a large bathroom. Grounds were divine with 2 swimming pools, waterfall, playroom, & verandah by the bar stocked with a vast array of books and magazines. I enjoyed a manicure and felt totally at peace with the world. Recommend it as a must stay.

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Directions: Take the N2 from Port Elizabeth towards Grahamstown, then turn left onto the R335 towards Addo Elephant Park. You will reach Elephant House 8km before Addo National Park, on the left hand side.

Cape Town – Glorious City

Cape Town is a glorious city steeped in history with a diverse culture and blessed with jaw dropping scenery. The entire Cape Province is paradise for anyone who appreciates great food, nature & loves their photography. I compare the Cape to a slice of cake – you taste a smidgeon & then want to devour the entire piece in one sitting, but in fact it is better to savour every morsel and keep returning to savour more & more of the taste. 

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South Africa’s oldest city has a number of nicknames “Tavern Of The Seas”, “Cape Grab” and my favourite “The Mother City”. With an approximate population of 3.5 million there is no shortage of people to meet and the words vibrant, sophisticated, fashionable, come to mind. Table Mountain flanked by Devils Peak to the east and Lion’s Head to the west  looms over the City and if you are lucky you will see the mountain without its famous tablecloth. If so immediately discard all other plans & take the moment to catch the Aerial  Cableway to the top. The Cableway  operates only if weather conditions deemed safe, each car holds 65 people and offers rotating 360 degree views over Cape Town for  R240 return.

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Cape Town is blessed with beautiful beaches such as Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno – all strung out along the Atlantic Coast. However be warned the sea water off these beaches is freezing. Further out of town the beaches along the Indian Ocean such as Muizenberg and Fish Hoek offer a more pleasant water temperature.

SA -2 One of my favourite things to do is to incorporate a visit on a day trip to Cape Point (must do)  to swim with the penguins at Boulders Beach in Simonstown. To have a penguin surf a wave with you and then flop down on your beach towel is surreal.

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Accommodation wise there are many options. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is very popular but an expensive area to stay. Air Bnb is exceedingly popular and there are many apartments to choose from but personally I prefer a Hotel or Bed & Breakfast. The knowledge gained from a concierge  is invaluable and when in South Africa it is important to be vigilant about your personal security.  I personally stay at either Welgelegen or Belmond Mount Nelson.

Welgelegen is a stylish home with 13 rooms -some offering views of Table Mountain. There is a courtyard, small pool and the location is fabulous with many of the exciting restaurants along Kloof St less than a 10 minute walk away. There are a great many interesting shops and boutiques along Kloof/ Long streets. To walk to the waterfront would take about 45 minutes but please at night either catch a cab or drive yourself.2007 SA-2

The Mount Nelson is an institution – opened in 1899 to passengers from the great cruise ships of the Union & Castle lines. This grand lady has maintained its grace and charm throughout the years and one always feels special when walking thru the doors. Positioned right in the heart of the city within 3 hectares of parkland  guests can easily stroll through the Company Gardens down Government Avenue past the Houses of Parliament to the heart of Cape Town’s shopping and commercial centre.

Mount Nelson with Table Mountain in the background
Mount Nelson with Table Mountain in the background
High tea at the Nellie is for me a must do in Cape Town
High tea at the Nellie is for me a must do in Cape Town
French sleigh bed was all mine on a solo trip- so comfy- best sleep-want one now!
French sleigh bed was all mine on a solo trip- so comfy- best sleep-want one now!

The Waterfront precinct is an exciting place to spend an entire day. You can watch the seals relaxing on the wharf, catch a ferry to Robben Island, shop at the Red Shed for african crafts or indulge in more upmarket shopping if your heart desires. Many restaurants to choose from and for kids there is the Two Oceans Aquarium.

I recently acquired a very beautiful necklace thru the Legacy Collection based in Cape Town  which  ” keeps alive the sacrifices made for the freedom of a nation by creating artwork and jewellery from Robben Island’s  original Prison Fence”. This emotionally rich collection symbolises the power of forgiveness, faith and love.” I discovered this collection by Charmaine Taylor when at a marketing event for Sun Luxe in Sydney where a necklace was given away as a lucky door prize. I was stirred emotionally as I have been a long time admirer of Nelson Mandela, was in the Kruger Park when he was released from prison and I am so proud to wear the Honour Pendant. A percentage of the profits are passed on to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Click on the link to read more  – very interesting and also easy to order online if you can’t get there.

The Cape Province is so beautiful it is definitely worth allocating time to explore further afield. Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden & the wine estates of Groot Constantia are within cooee of town.

Franschoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch offer a chance to explore majestic wine estates and delve into their history. I would really recommend overnighting in Franschoek. Check out Trip Advisor for some great suggestions on accomodation for all budgets. I stayed at La Fontaine which I loved. Next time would love to stay at La Petite Ferme for their legendary hospitality and meals. Do not miss Fairview winery  near Paarl- the goats are legendary and Diemersfontein for their pinotage with chocolate overtones. Wow!

The Whale Route is plagued with breathtaking scenery and Hermanus is one of my favourite places in the world. To see whales in Walker Bay  June – November so close to the shore  you can literally touch them has spoiled me for life. Stayed at the Marine Hotel where I could look out and see the passing parade of whales from my room.

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Marine Hotel in background. Bientangs Cave is a great spot to eat and do some whale watching.

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There is still more to explore – Garden Route, West Coast, Kgalagadi,  Namaqualand, Augrabies, the list goes on. Truly this post has only just touched on the wealth of things to do in this province so do yourself a favour and go……experience…..photograph……enjoy.  My next post will be on Addo National Park so watch this space.

Maasai Cricketers Advocating Change

Cricket is certainly not a game that has enjoyed popularity amongst remote african communities in the past, however a small group of Warriors from Kenya’s Laikipia region are doing their best to change this and simultaneously draw attention to cultural and social issues affecting their people. All communities need strong role models.

Poverty, the spread of HIV and female genital mutilation (FGM) are some of the issues impacting heavily on their culture. Also living within the range of the Northern Rangelands Trust the Maasai have learnt the value and importance of Conservation. Hunting lions which was once a right of passage for young men to become warriors  has now become relatively outlawed as lion populations dwindle and replaced by other means such as the Maasai Olympics.

Female genital mutilation is still common place amongst Africa’s tribes as my family and I discovered on a recent trip to Kenya. See my post A Handshake Says It All. Our Samburu guide explained how change will have to come from the elders as cutting of both girls and boys is still currently regarded as a right of passage and that change must come from future elders being more educated as to the alternatives.

The Warriors learned to play cricket  in 2007 and have already traveled outside of Kenya to play in Cape Town (South Africa) and at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. The Primary Club has funded part of their trip to Australia and  I am thrilled that my son and I were privileged to watch a friendly cricket match between Newington College and the Warriors at Buchanan Oval. Never before have we  seen such flamboyance attached to a game of T20 cricket.

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Reach Out and Embrace Africa