An unwelcome little guest who helped himself to my peanuts

Sunday night was just another peaceful evening in the bush. Aside from the gentle rain which fell on the parched earth outside there was nothing that disturbed my slumber. The bush has been very dry and in urgent need of some form of precipitation, so the rain was a most welcome addition to a sweltering weekend. I must have been sleeping for about two hours when I was woken by something. The mere fact that I was woken by something other than a tympanic membrane shattering foghorn, or a cherry bomb placed strategically on my pillow was cause for concern.

I am not a light sleeper by any stretch of the imagination thanks to living in a high school hostel where consideration for your fellow dorm mate’s beauty sleep was not high on the priority list. Suddenly crockery in the kitchen cupboard started falling. I experienced an instant fight or flight response. I could feel my heart beating like jack hammer at full whack. My breathing became pronounced and increased in intensity. Could it be an intruder?

Then I was overcome by some much needed reasoning. If there was in fact an intruder, what would he want with my crockery. I don’t think that your run of the mill cat burglar has a taste for Royal Dalton and even if he did, I didn’t possess any.

I plucked up the courage and reached for my Maglite, which would serve primarily as a form of illumination and then if need be a weapon. After untangling myself from the mosquito net which had enveloped me into a cocoon of epic proportions, I stumbled out my bedroom with great stealth only knocking down one lamp in the process.

To my sheer relief I did not meet any nefarious characters in my kitchen. All the cupboards where closed except for one which stood ever so slightly ajar.  A quick inspection of the house put my fears of an unwanted larcenist to rest.

I began picking up all the items from the floor, that just happened to be in my way when I made my stealthy exit out of the bedroom. Just then, I heard a glass fall over inside one of my kitchen cupboards. Okay, so it wasn’t a person, then it must be a snake. Maybe a spitting cobra, just waiting to surprise my corneas with some projectile venom as I peer into the cupboard. So wearing my spectacles and wielding a long stick, I very gently opened the cupboard doors one by one eagerly anticipating a serpent coiled up, and ready to dispose of some of its’ lethal toxins.

After a thorough search, no reptiles were to be found. I did however find that a packet of peanuts had been damaged, which caused the contents to spill out. And there to my surprise and annoyance I found the cause of my ordeal, sitting and eating a peanut.  A little dormouse had managed to get into the house, then the cupboard and had knocked over some of the crockery, which in turn caused the noise.

Now that I knew that my cornea’s and crockery were safe, I had to try and evict my unwanted guest from the house.  Thanks to my copy of the “SAS Survival Handbook” I knew just the trap that would entice and incarcerate my foe, without harming him. Using a box, bamboo skewer and some box tap I managed to construct a deadfall that would trap the dormouse, upon him taking one of the peanuts that I had stuck to the tape, which in turn was stuck to the bamboo skewer, which in turn was holding the box up.

Needless to say, after two hours I heard the trap in action. To my sheer astonishment the trap actually worked. The dormouse was trapped underneath the cardboard box and trying his best to get out. My first attempt at trapping was an overwhelming success. Ray Mears would have been proud. Now being the kind and gentle person that I am, I planned on taking my little furry friend further into the bush and letting him go, hoping he would not undertake the long and arduous trek back up the road to my house. However it was still raining outside and dark. So I decided to leave him in the box until the morning, when I would find a more suitable spot for him to live.

The next morning when I went to see to the logistics of moving Pappilon to a more suitable abode, it turns out that he had chewed a hole in the box which served as his prison and escaped while I was asleep.

He is still around. I can hear him squeaking from a hole in the wall taunting me with his presence. In hindsight, maybe a more seasoned trapper/hunter would have used a more robust medium as opposed to cardboard. Well his days are numbered. I plan on catching him and relocating him to another part of the park, just as soon as I can catch him again.

Exotic fruit prized by humans and pachyderms alike

If anyone was to ask me, what single smell conjures up memories of the African bush, it has to be the scent of Marula fruit on a hot summer’s day. The sweet aroma of these little fruits is unmistakable and very appealing.

People who are not from South Africa might not be familiar with the fruit in its’ natural form, however there is a creamy liqueur that is exported around the world and is quite popular, that uses the fruit as one of its’ chief ingredients and is called Amarula.

You will be hard pressed to find a tree more aesthetically pleasing and versatile than the Marula tree (Sclerocarya Birrea). This tree can grow up to 18 metres tall and has a grey flaky bark with a spreading crown.  According to the book “Making the most of indigenous trees” the tree bears its’ golden fruit from January to March when countless varieties of animals indulge in what this deciduous tree has to offer.

Aside from the flesh of the fruit, which can be used for making jam and juice the seeds contain nuts which can be eaten raw or roasted. An essence made from the leaves is said to have anti-inflammatory qualities according to the website: www.marula.org.za.

Something that the aspiring horticulturalist will find interesting is that these trees are relatively easy to propagate and are fast growing and drought resistant. According to “Making the most of indigenous trees”  which is a fantastic wealth of information on trees, by planting the seed in a nursery bag full of river sand you are able to sprout seedlings. If you are able to accrue a truncheon which is about 2 metres in length you can plant it in early spring.

So for all of the visitors to the Kruger National Park and Marloth Park, look out for the iconic Marula tree. There are female and male trees, with only the female producing the fruit. As a reminder of your trip to South Africa, you will be able to pick up a bottle of Amarula liqueur at the duty free section of the airport.

Cycling in the bush

For all you lycra clad, weekend warriors, the single tracks of Marloth Park are calling. It’s time to take that sizeable investment hanging on the garage wall, remove the cobwebs and squeeze into your favourite cycling teams jersey. It is time to put those six months worth of carbo-loading into good use on the bush trails and roads in Marloth Park.

You can’t beat seeing the southern border of the Kruger National Park from your bicycle. For all those roadies out there, I am afraid you will have to leave your road bikes at home and invest in something more robust to handle the dirt roads and single tracks. Cycling along in the bush is a great way to interact with the environment and as long as you are not huffing and puffing like a water buffalo, chances are you will get great sightings of game.

There is roughly 96km of road in Marloth Park with only two of the roads being tarred. Most of the fun is to be had on the river road where there are long sections of single track along the fence which overlooks the Crocodile River. There are a few technical sections which require a small amount of skill to complete, that is if you don’t plan on taking a few soil and rock samples with your face. I say a small amount of skill, as I still tend to get off my bike when I get to one of them due to a previous superman manoeuvre that I pulled off perfectly regardless of my grazes and bruises.

Aside from your bike, there are a few essentials that you will need to consider bringing along when cycling in Marloth Park.

–          Buff

–          Helmet

–          Any electrolyte based dinks

–          Sun block

–          Bug spray

–          Energy snacks

–          Pump

–          Puncture repair kit

Sun block is a must in this part of the world. We have some of the best weather in the country with lots of sunny hot days. Make sure you choose a sun block that will provide ample protection from the hot African sun. Remember to reapply regularly as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Being burnt to a cinder is no way to spend your holiday and that’s not to mention the tan lines that will provide hours of comic relief for friends and family alike.

Another precaution that you will need to take is to ensure you are adequately hydrated and be careful not to over-hydrate. Make sure that you are consuming the right liquids in the right quantities. Over exertion in this climate can very quickly lead to heat stroke.

So, you have convinced yourself that a visit with your trusty steed to the bush is on the cards. Now is the time to prove to all those naysayers that taking out a second mortgage to finance your mountain bike was in fact a sensible thing to do after all.

I look forward to seeing you on the single tracks.

Bush walks along the southern border of the Kruger National Park with children

The southern border of the Kruger National Park is a magical place to experience the bush. Nestled along the banks of the mighty Crocodile River you see some amazing things if you invest the time and patience necessary to make great sightings.

My wife and I have been taking our two daughters for bush walks in Marloth Park along the Crocodile River for about a month now. We usually go in the mornings, or in the late afternoon when heat of the day has simmered down and the light is still good enough to see across the river.

We take a back pack with the essentials, (bug spray, sun block, hats, water, binoculars, camera and bird book) and make our way down to Seekoei road where all the action transpires in the way of giant pachyderms cooling off in the river and their bovine neighbours precariously making their way across the river in search of the juicy grazing just beyond the crocodile infested ponds.

It is usually quite a hike, especially considering my daughter is only three and normally makes the walk unaided. This is a great time for us to spend time together and really enjoy what is on offer in the bush. Seeing one of the big five can be quite a humbling experience and really drives home the beauty and splendour on our doorstep. We have also taken to birding and can’t wait to mark the sighting of a new bird variety in our bird book.

Aside from quality time we spend together, the health benefits of the fresh air and exercise and the tranquil surroundings, these special walks have had a profound impact on our appreciation of nature, as well as created budding zoologists and biologists in the form of my two daughters. Following our time in the bush they have learnt to identify several bird, mammal, reptile and insect varieties and are always eager to learn more in these respective fields. Yesterday we were lucky enough to see two beautiful white rhinos making their way down to the water’s edge to quench their thirst. For about ten minutes we just stood in sheer awe of these two rhinos. For those of you who are parents, you will understand how seldom a three year old and a six year old will stand dead still and just concentrate on one focal point. Rhino sightings are always the highlight of our day. Due to poaching, these magnificent creatures are sadly being driven to extinction, so seeing them with my children is especially important and is a memory that we will cherish for a long time. There has been a lot of media attention on the plight of the rhino in South Africa so my six year old, understands to a certain extent why seeing a rhino is so special.

For those of you who enjoy birding, there are guided walks focused on finding and identifying bird species and these are overseen by our very own honorary rangers. I plan on going on the next one, family in toe in the hope of some avian edification.

A decent camera and lens make recording your bird sightings much easier and can serve as proof of your rare sightings.

We also make use of three relatively cheap binoculars which really help with some sightings. Having said this, the serious enthusiast will find some really nice ones at places like Cape Union Mart and online.

The ‘Sasol Birds of Southern Africa’ makes a great field guide with illustrations that make identifying birds easy and very informative.

Although it is still relatively early, I am eagerly anticipating my afternoon rendezvous on the river. I hope that this post has inspired, or at least brought this great activity to likeminded people’s attention.

Indigenous Trees of Marloth Park

One of the many fantastic elements of Marloth Park that one is able to enjoy is the wide variety of trees. Trees are essential to our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of our animal neighbours. Having said this we continue to have a devastating impact on our environment with blatant disregard for the natural environment.

Those that show an interest in indigenous trees will be amazed by the amazing qualities that our trees posses. Medicinal, rehabilitative, decorative, fuel and food are just a few of the uses that spring to mind when quantifying the value of indigenous trees aside from the most vital function, which is produce oxygen.

In Marloth Park, planting indigenous vegetation is a great way to give back to the environment. Nurseries in close proximity to the park provide a wealth of knowledge on what trees are indigenous to Marloth Park and how to go about planting and caring for the various tree varieties.  Planting indigenous trees on your Marloth Park property has several beneficial aspects to it. Depending on the tree/s in question you are attracting various varieties of game and bird life. Planting just the right kind of trees could encourage game to visit your property in the hopes of grazing in your garden or relaxing under the shade that your tree will hopefully provide in the not so distant future. Varied bird life is an awesome perk to visiting the park. Having indigenous trees on your property will increase the likelihood of various bird species frequenting your property. Bird life in the park is prolific and this is thanks in part to indigenous trees that house, feed and attract our avian friends. Birders will be blown away by what is on offer in this part of the world.

In general one would see the purchase and subsequent planting of an indigenous tree as a long-term project, with very little projected growth over the short-term. This is not always the case though. By researching your prospective purchase you will find various sources that include the growth rate of a tree. One will be surprised to find out how many indigenous trees are in fact very fast growers. An example of this is the Acacia xanthophloea or more commonly referred to as the Fever tree. The Fever tree is easily identifiable from its’ bright green bark and spreading crown and just happens to be one of the fastest growing trees in southern Africa with a growth rate of 1 – 1.5 m per year.

I was amazed at the multitude of uses for various parts of indigenous trees. The Combretum hereroense (Russet bush-willow) is a deciduous tree that occurs in abundance in Marloth Park. I was surprised to discover that you are able to make a tea that is very similar in appearance and taste to Ceylon tea and an infusion made from the root can be used for gastro-intestinal ailments. The gum from the bark of the Combretum imberbe (Leadwood) is edible and a great source of carbohydrates. The wood is exceptionally hard and has been used in the past for railway sleepers and agricultural implements.

This is really fascinating stuff if you consider how many varieties of trees there are. I found the book “Making the most of Indigenous Trees”, by Fanie and Julye-Ann Venter to be an excellent source of information on indigenous trees. I got my copy at Exclusive Books, however I am sure you can find the book at most book stores and online. It makes a great coffee table book.

In closing I would like to say that there is a lot of hype these days about conservation and environmental issues. I am going to quote Gandhi: “We need to be the change we want to see in the world”. This universal message has such far reaching appeal. Let us start appreciating our surroundings and instil a love of trees into our children.

 

Design guidelines in Marloth Park

Building guidelines for Marloth Park

These guidelines were put in place and are enforced to ensure that Marloth Park remains a unique place with emphasis on the ecology of the area and the well being of the animals and plant life. Some of the guidelines might seem trivial to the prospective home builder, however they have far reaching implications on our animal population and diverse plant species.

Existing houses  

Existing houses with corrugated iron roofs must be painted within one rainy season. The colours permitted are: dark green, black or brown. The roof of a house is a very prominent feature, and one could understand why choosing the right colour can ensure that the man-made structure does not detract from its’ surroundings. Plastered walls are a great finish and lend themselves to the “Bush Theme”. Well thought out colour choices can result in your property becoming part of its’ environment. Recommended colours:

–     Old Cape (and darker)

–     Khalahari Sand (and darker)

–     Terra Cotta (and darker)

Steel doors, steel garage doors, door and window frames, facia boards, gutters, downpipes, visible sewerage, and water pipes as well as burglar bars must be painted with egg-shell (mat) paint.

Designing your new home is an exciting exercise and takes into account things like budget, style and finishes. Designing your new bush home has additional considerations to it.  Part and parcel of building is removing obstructions and clearing spaces. This is a challenge that you and your architect will need to address after looking at the site of the proposed building. Try to cause minimal disturbance to the natural environment. Avoid removing trees unless it is absolutely necessary. Many a home has been improved with a tree as part of the structure. Wooden decks are often built around trees which are aesthetically pleasing and provide added shade and finish off a well designed bush home. Marloth Park has a vast array of tree varieties. Some of these trees are real colossal monuments that have stood the test of time. We are very fortunate to have valuable trees such as the leadwood, marula and jackalberry and very rare trees such as the commiphora schimperi and red ivory. If you are lucky enough to have one of these trees on your property it is imperative that you indicate them on your building plans. When consulting architects who are not familiar with Marloth Parks’ unique situation and by-laws it is important that you bring the various aspects of this post to their attention.

Design guidelines

Thatched roofs have proven to be very effective in Marloth Park due to the climate. Standard building guidelines will apply to the construction of a thatch roof with a few additional points of consideration.  The pitch of a thatch roof must not be dropped by more than 45°. By dropping the pitch by more than 45° you find that the grass becomes mouldy due to the climate. The choice of grass used for thatching is an important decision. Consult your builder/thatcher with regards to the kind of grass that would be best suited to your building and ensure you know where the grass has been sourced. Grass must be allowed to stand through a winter season to dry and then die from frost before harvesting. This particular grass is more suited to our climate.

Having a thatched roof can give you the sense of increased space as there isn’t a ceiling. This will only enhance the theme of the house. Special care must be taken when wiring and fitting your house with electrical points and light fittings. It should be endeavoured to avoid putting electrical wiring and light fittings in the roof construction.

It is also recommended that a concrete ridge is used for the ridge on the top of the thatch roof as opposed to fibreglass.  Fibreglass ridges entice bats, snakes and rock monitors as inhabitants. It is always fantastic to see these creatures in the bush, but not so endearing when they are inside your thatch roof.  We are very fortunate to have baboons in the area. They are very entertaining to watch and command a fair amount of respect. Having said this, they can be very destructive to property and have been known to damage thatch roofs. To avoid this, it is recommended that wire netting is placed over the thatched roof.

A lot of emphasis is placed on the use of thatched roofs. This is because this particular medium works well in this environment with the result that flat roofs, corrugated iron and asbestos roofs are no longer permitted.

The use of solid wood columns (leadwood columns) and natural rock can add a nice touch to your home. If you are integrating these mediums into your structure you need to be able to provide proof that you obtained them from outside Marloth Park.

The fencing of properties is strictly prohibited. The countless game species have complete freedom of movement, which we do not want to encroach on with any kind of boundary wall or fence.

Gutters and downpipes are also not recommended as this attracts mosquitoes.

These are just a few considerations for the potential property owner or developer. Marloth Park is a very unique and special place that requires like-minded individuals with similar outlooks and an understanding of conservation to ensure that Marloth Park remains as amazing as it is.

Enjoying a peaceful, warm day in paradise

Every morning, upon waking I am enthralled with my surroundings. From encountering the numerous game varieties that roam my neighbourhood, to hearing the call of the African Fish Eagle on the Crocodile River. There is something quite magical about living and interacting with these amazing creatures in a setting that is natural and extraordinarily beautiful.