Friday, December 19, 2008

Gone on holiday, see you next year

Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn we are heading away on holiday for two weeks. This is the first year since I met the Damselfly 11 years ago that we have been able to both get off during the summer holidays and are able to go away. We are going to be camping at Gariep Dam for a weeks and then head down to Cannon Rocks for another week. The Gariep Dam is the larges dam in South Africa and is situated about 500 km from the coast. Cannon Rocks is a small coastal holiday resort about 130km east of Port Elizabeth. This means that we will have to vastly different areas during the time we are gone. We are back on the 3rd of January so if the Damselfly don't hide the pc's plug from me, I will be back in the blogosphere that evening.

I want to take this opportunity to wish all my blog buddies and readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the new year bring lots of happiness to you. And may there be many posts to come. See you all in 2009.
Cheers for now.
Oh yes, and the pink lily is from my Father-in-law's garden.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Opening of the Season Fireworks

Every year on 16 December we have the Opening of the Season celebrations on the beachfront here in Port Elizabeth. It is the official start of the summer holidays and the proverbial gunshot that signals the annual influx of holiday makers into Port Elizabeth. For the next 3 weeks most coastal towns and cities in South Africa will be packed with sun worshippers, mostly from the interior.

The Opening of the Season celebrations includes music and stalls, but the highlight of the evening is the fireworks display from Shark Rock Pier.


With my old compact camera I've never been able to take proper fireworks picture, so this was the first opportunity I had. It was also the first time we have taken the Rugrats to a fireworks display and the were suitable impressed.

For more great Skywatch photos from all over the world, why not visit the site here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shark Rock Pier in sepia

Last night we headed down to the beachfront for the annual Opening of the Season festivities. The highlight of the evening is a fireworks display from Shark Rock Pier at Hobie Beach. I will post a couple of fireworks pics tomorrow. We found a good spot from where we had a nice view of the pier and settled in for our wait until the fireworks started at 20:30. Just after sunset the view across to the pier was beautiful, and seeing that I had my camera and tripod on hand (duh!) I decided to take a couple of pictures.

When I had a look at the pics just now I wondered what it will look like in sepia. And this is what came out of it. I actually like the sepia view. It gives it a certain atmosphere (I don't know what kind, but it does have something to it).


And just for those who wonder what it looks like in colour, here it is.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

White Rhino

Everybody knows the Big 5, but why are they called so and what are they? The Big 5 are the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa. They are the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard. There are two types of rhino. The White Rhino and the Black Rhino. So what are the difference and why are they called so.

When the Dutch came to the Cape and started exploring the Southern tip of Africa, they discovered all these magnificent animals in abundance. The found a rhino which the called a "Wydmond renoster" which is translated to "Wide mouth rhino". When the British came to the Cape they heard what the Dutch called the animal and thought it was White rhino. When they found a rhino that looked differently, they just assumed that if the one is a White rhino, the other must be a Black rhino.
The White rhino is bigger than the Black rhino, is found on open plains and is a grazer, while the Black rhino is more aggressive, live in the bush and is a browser. The White rhino, as a grazer, is more hunched over as it eats from the ground. Its lips are wide (hence the original name) so that it can grip more grass at a time while the black rhino is more upright, has a pointed upper lip and jaw for browsing.


A rhino will always go back to the same place to do his thing. You will find dung middens all over a rhino's range. It's part of the way he marks his territory.

An interesting fact bout rhino and their young is that the White rhino lets her baby run in front of her while a Black rhino lets her baby run behind. That's because in an open field the White rhino is running away from danger so she protects the baby from behind, while a mother Black rhino is leading the way through the bush and will protect her baby in case there is something lying waiting. Now how to remember this? Please don't accuse me of stereotyping, racism or anything else that's nasty but here is the easy way. Traditionally a black woman in Africa will carry her baby tied to her back with a blanket while an European (white) woman will push her baby in front in a pram. Ok, so modern black women also push their babies in prams, but its just a way for the layman to remember the fact. But let me stop before I get thrown with a high heel shoe or a sandal.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prester John Monument

One of my favourite monuments in Port Elizabeth is also one of the least known one's in the city. Ask somebody where the Prester John Monument is and they will probably never have heard of it. Refer to the monument with the cross behind the City Hall and they would all have seen it.

The monument is dedicated to the mythical king-priest Prester John and the Portuguese explorers who discovered South Africa. Although the Portuguese were looking for a route to the East, they were also looking for the kingdom of this legendary monarch. Over the years word have come via the overland caravans of a land with many riches and wild animals ruled by a king as rich and wise as King Solomon of the Bible. It took the Portuguese a good 500 years to map the way to the east via the Cape, which means that they searched for Prester John's kingdom for 500 years.
The monument is in the form of a large Coptic cross. In the centre of the cross sits the two figures of Prester John and a Portuguese explorer. Symbolic devices on the cross depicts the Portuguese royal coat-of-arms, a Portuguese sailing ship, navigational sailing instruments of the time, the Coptic cross motif itself, the Lions of Judah and the elephants and rhinos representing the fabulous kingdom itself. A local philanthropist paid for the monument which was unveiled by the Portuguese Ambassador to South Africa in 1986. It is believed to be the only monument in the world depicting Prester John.
This last picture was inspired by Max and Sue at Port Elizabeth Daily Photo who had a similar one on their blog's sidebar for a while. I liked it so much that I had to go and take one for myself.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Full Moon

Friday night it was full moon and the moon just looked bigger than normal. I only have a mid range camera (the fixed lens type with 15x optical zoom) and take most of my pic's with the setting on auto, so I have never been able to take a proper moon photo. I started playing around with the settings and eventually as I was about to give up found what I was looking for. So here is my attempt at a full moon photo. Unfortunately there was no clouds to get some nice moonlight on the clouds shots, but I am quite happy with what I got.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Protea farming

In the area to the west of Port Elizabeth there are several protea farms, especially in the eastern part of the Tsitsikamma. Proteas (more here and here) form part of the Cape Floral Kingdom or Fynbos biome. There are 8500 different plan species in the Fynbos biome, more than all the plant types in the whole of Britain. It is the world's smallest biome and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (natural site) a couple of years ago.

On this farm they grow many different proteas as they flower at various times of the year and there is a demand all year around. This specific picture is the buds of the King Protea , South Africa's national flower.


All the flowers are picked by hand by the staff and transported to the shed where it is sorted. This specific protea is not really a flower but can be described more as coloured leaves. These are called Safari Sunsets.

In the shed they are sorted, pruned and stored in cold storage. From here they get packaged and most of them are exported. The biggest export markets are the flower markets of the Nederlands as well as Britain. One of the places that sell proteas from this specific farm is Harrods in London. Not too shabby.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cape St Francis sunrise

So I decided to have a go at my first meme (sorry Jo) and what other than Skywatch Friday.

Sunrise over the main beach at Cape St Francis taken during our last camping trip. I sneaked out early to try and get a nice sunrise photo and wasn't disappointed.
For more great Skywatch pictures from around the world, visit the site and follow the links.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blood Lily

About eight or so months ago my mom sold her house and moved in with my sister and brother-in-law. She gave me some of her potted plants which I put around my house.

This plant I stuck next to the front door in the corner and just kept on watering once a week or so. I couldn't even remember what she said it was. This afternoon when I came in my eye caught something in the pot. I just thought it was a piece of plastic that blew into the plant. It bothered me so I went back to pick it out and to my surprise found that it was the plant flowering. I immediately went to grab my camera to get a couple of shots of it. Blogging material, you know.
Checking up in my The Wildlife of Southern Africa book (I've had lots of use for it lately) I found out that it is a Blood Lily (Scadoxus puniceus). It grows up to a height of just less that a metre (90cm). The leaves can be just over half a meter (60cm) long while the flower can be about half a ruler (15 cm) wide. It is found in South Africa in the summer rainfall areas and can flower between July and November.

I must say I'm quite chuffed with it and will check up on it over the next couple of days to see when the second flower is fully open.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Porcupine


I'm sure everybody knows what a porcupine quill looks like, but have you ever actually seen the porcupine itself? A while ago I was at Schotia Private Game Reserve and while we were waiting for dinner in their open air boma, in strolled Mr Porcupine himself. It was the first time that I actually got to see one in real life. What a bonus to the evening's proceedings.

Porcupines are nocturnal animals that live in burrows. The forage at night, alone or in pairs. They eat plants, but will gnaw on old bones. They have long hair on their head and shoulders while their backs are covered with black and white quills. Up to three young are born in summer and they are widespread throughout South Africa except for the north west coastal area - The Wildlife of Southern Africa

Monday, December 8, 2008

Plough Shells

Karin posted a pic of her son holding one of those snails that live in the tidal zone on Picture this! by Karin yesterday and I went scratching for my Plough Shells pics.

A little while ago we went camping at Cape St Francis. While taking a walk on the beach we found literally hundreds of these snails. They live under the sand within the tidal zone. After a wave washes over them they come out of the sand to find food and when the water pulls back they dig under the sand again.

We found a dead jellyfish on the dry sand which I picked up with a stick and dropped on the wet sand. They were all over him in such a flash you won't believe it. It seems that they use what looks like a tentacle or tongue to eat with. The green on the shells is algae.
A little way down we found another dead jellyfish and they were climbing over each other to get to its sides and underside where they can get to the meat more easily. The top of the jellyfish seems to be to thick for them to eat from. The kids were totally in awe but at the same time a bit freaked out when they realised that they were actually under their feet in the sand.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Apple Express

The historic little Apple Express steam train that puffs out of Port Elizabeth most weekends on a day trip to Thornhill has really been struggling for the last couple of years. Not just do the Apple Express Society struggle financially, but their steam engine has been out of commission for about two years now. The have been working on restoring the engine and about three or so weeks ago they took her out on a trial run. I just got home when I heard her whistle and jumped in my car and rushed to the railway line. I just made it and while running the last bit got a couple of shots of with my camera before she passed. I am so glad that she is back in running order. The have big plans for the Apple Express and the provincial government have now come on board as well with plans of a weekend passenger service to the Langkloof area.
My friends Sue and Max (SAM) at Port Elizabeth Daily Photo was lucky enough to have been on the train for the trial run. Read more about their experience here and here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Donkin Reserve

Just prior to the arrival of the British Settlers in Algoa Bay in 1820, Sir Rufane Donkin took up an acting position in the Cape Colony as Governor. He travelled to Algoa Bay to welcome the Settlers. Sir Rufane lost his wife, Lady Elizabeth Donkin, to the fever in India two years previously and was still mourning her loss when he took up his position at the Cape.

When he arrived in Algoa Bay he found a small settlement without a name but with a lot of potential to become an important town on the coast. He decided to name the town after his wife and called it Port Elizabeth. He also went up onto the hill overlooking the landing beach and proclaimed an open space. This open space is known as the Donkin Reserve. The Pyramid on the Reserve he commissioned as a memorial to his wife. Know as the Donkin Memorial, it has two plaques on it. One reads "To the memory of one of the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the town below"


The lighthouse on the Donkin Reserve was built in 1862. The hight of the lighthouse had to be increased in 1932 due to the development of the town behind it and the interference on the lights visibility. Eventually the light was taken out of commission in 1973 and moved to the other side of town.
Check out a night view of the Donkin Reserve here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Garden Acraea Butterfly

For the last week or so I've noticed a lot of little orange butterflies fluttering around the garden in front of our offices. I've been wanting to hunt them with my camera all week, but the winds been blowing (like it normally does this time of year) and we had a bit of rain so "hunting" for a good photo has been out of the question. Today was a gorgeous day and at lunch time I headed out with my camera in hand.

When I got home I paged through my The Wildlife of Southern Africa book and actually found it. It is a Garden Acraea (Acraea horta). "Body black. Wings reddish-orange. Fore wings have translucent tips. Hind wings spotted black. Flight slow, floppy. Secretes distasteful fluid when attacked. Throughout South Africa except arid North West."


So while I am busy, why not dig through the bushes in the garden to see what else would show its head and what did I find? The butterfly's pupa. From the looks of it this little guy was close to entering the world as a butterfly.


No only if somebody can tell me if this hairy spiky dude is what turns into the little orange butterfly or was it just coincidence that I found him in there as well.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Seal Point Lighthouse

The highest masonry tower (28 metre high) on the South African coast can be found in the coastal holiday town of Cape St Francis.


The Seal Point Lighthouse was built in 1878 and is situated about 100km west of Port Elizabeth. The Bay itself was named St Francis Bay after the patron saint of sailors and travellers by the the first Portuguese explorers who came into the area in the late 1400's.

The village of Cape St Francis started out as a fishing village in the mid 1900's. After the discovery of the ideal surfing conditions in the area as featured in the surfing movie "Endless Summer", the area became very popular with surfers and later also holiday makers.

The character of the light is once every five seconds with an intensity of 2 750 000 candelas and a range of 28 sea miles.

You can see other posts with the Cape St Francis Lighthouse here and here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Aloe Ferox

The Aloe is a succulent plant that is native to Africa and very common in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces. There are about 400 different species of Aloe plants.


The Aloe Ferox is found specifically in South Africa and is one of only a few that were used traditionally as a herbal medicine. Although the Aloe Vera is the best known Aloe as far as medicinal value goes, the Aloe Ferox also has various uses. Today, the gel found in the leaves is used for soothing minor burns, wounds and various skin conditions. It is also used in skin creams, shampoos and, although not proven successfully, in some herbal drinks.


Most Aloes have a rosette of large, thick, fleshy leaves. The leaves are often lance-shaped with a sharp end and a spiny edges. Aloe flowers are tubular, frequently orange, yellow, pink or red and are densely clustered.

When the Aloes are in flowers it does not just mean a visual spectacle, it also means an abundance of food for bees and sun birds. It also provides great photo opportunities to catch these little workers in action on the flowers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Moon dancing with Venus and Jupiter

For the last couple of nights we had a bit of a lunar spectacle in the early evening sky.

Looking to the west the moon was flanked by two bright stars. To the left and slightly above the moon was Venus, the evening star, and below to the right was Jupiter.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Owl House

Very few people would have heard of the little dusty Karoo village of Nieu-Bethesda if it wasn't for The Owl House. Nieu-Bethesda is situated about 3 1/2 hours north of Port Elizabeth close to the town of Graaff Reinet.
The house belonged to a woman named Helen Martins. Martins became bored with her "dull" life and resolved to transform the environment around her. She began an obsessive project around 1945 to decorate her home and garden and used cement, glass and wire to decorate the interior of her home and later build sculptures in her garden. Almost all the walls of the interior of the house were covered in decorative and colourful crushed glass.
In 1964, she was joined in her work by a Coloured man named Koos Malgas, who helped her build the sculptures in her garden.Martins drew on inspiration from Christian biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and various works by William Blake.
The sculptures were predominantly owls, camels and people, mostly pointing toward the east as a tribute to Martins' fascination with The Orient. Her work was a source of suspicion and derision within the village and during her time, Helen Martins received very little support or enthusiasm about her work.
Her lifelong exposure to the fine crushed glass she used to decorate her walls and ceilings caused her eyesight to start failing in 1976. She committed suicide in 1976 by ingesting caustic soda, aged 78.
The Owl House has since been kept intact as a museum per Helen Martins' wishes and is now managed by the Owl House Foundation (founded 1996). Athol Fugard published a play in 1985 about the house called The Road to Mecca which was later made into a film of the same name. I've only had the pleasure to visit here once, but would go back again if I get the opportunity. As you can see in the last picture, it truly is a spot where you can just stand quietly and contemplate.
Most of the above information I got off Wikipedia.