Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park – A Taraji Blue Trip Report

We’ve been receiving quite a lot of requests for advice about African safaris recently, which has inspired me to reshare links to our trip report for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in South Africa.

We initially wrote this trip report as a HUGE thank you to everyone on the SANParks forums for their fantastic advice and support when we were planning the trip -without them this would not have been a trip of a lifetime. I urge you to join their forums if you’re planning a trip – their enthusiasm alone will have you counting down the days until your holiday starts ūüôā

Enjoy – and safe travelling!

Stars And Spray

The Milky Way arcs downward to the raging seas of the Tsitsikamma coast, South Africa.

The Milky Way arcs downward to the raging seas of the Tsitsikamma coast, South Africa, passing rugged folds of quartzite (I think – I’m no geologist) gently lit by nearby cabins. This was also posted for +African Tuesday *African Rocks* on Google+ so let’s also assume a good proportion of these stars harbour planets or asteroids, many of which will be composed of rock! (and metals, and gas) Technically they aren’t African planetary rock formations yet, but Africa has the Southern African Large Telescope located in Sutherland, South Africa, and the Square Kilometre Array will be built across South Africa and Australia. So there’s a good chance that planets will be discovered through the lens of African “glass” and by my book that makes them African rocks.

This is a mindblowing place to sit hidden among the rock folds for a few hours in the dark night, waves quietly crashing around, silence behind, millions of jewels shining above, and the galaxy slowly – noticeably – drifting across the sky.

Technical notes: 15 seconds at probably f/3.2 or f/4.0 using the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 (manual aperture so not in Exif), which is an outstanding lens and great fun to use – very sharp in the corners/edges and not much coma (there’s some trailing in the very limits of this image due to the exposure time) on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III at ISO 3200, which is a very low ISO from someone who’s used to cranking up the 7D to unforgivable noise limits and still needing 25-30 second exposures, which all the trailing that entails. Mounted on a Manfrotto 190 CX PRO 3 tripod with a 501HDV fluid head, accompanied by a can of Castle or two.

Humpbacks breaching, dassies pushing mountains and cheetahs hunting: our new South African gallery is online

An hour before sunset the plains of Africa are bathed in a glorious golden light

In June 2013 we did a self drive round the Eastern Cape of South Africa, taking in Addo Elephant National Park, Mountain Zebra National Park and The Garden Route National Park. It was a glorious trip to parks and places that were completely new to us.

Seeking adventure opposed to the big five allowed us to take a slower and more more ‘African’ approach to safari. We meandered through the parks daily, taking time to get to know our surroundings, wait for the right light and find out which animals lived where. Doing so enabled us to not only obtain some wonderful photos, but it also enabled us to concentrate on one subject at a time – whether that be the mega elephant herds of Addo, the PCGs of Mountain Zebra or the changing seascape and frolicking whales in¬†Tsitsikamma.

I never expected to fall so much in love with the Eastern Cape, but it’s enchanting. ¬†The coastlines are rugged, the sea is breathtakingly blue and the skies extend to the heavens seemingly forever.

We have shared the first batch of photos from our trip on the Taraji Blue website. For images of humpbacks breaching, dassies pushing mountains, cheatahs hunting and glorious huge moons, visit our new photo gallery on the Taraji Blue website.

Additional images from our previous trips to South Africa are also available on the Taraji Blue website.

The tale behind the leopards of Kgalagadi

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Last year, in Kgalagadi National Park we had some pretty jaw dropping leopard sightings. We shared two of our experiences with the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Leopard Project and were delighted this week to find out more about the leopards we saw and their offspring who are now exploring the vast plains of Southern Africa.

From the candid snapshots shown in this blog, the mating leopards were identified as the Auchterlonie female and Dakotah. This sighting from June 2012 would suggest that Dakotah is the father of young Warona who the projects estimates was born in October 2012 :).

The second sighting on day 7 of our trip is likely to be Miera, a young female.

The project uses public sightings of leopards identified through their unique spot patterns. They track the leopards and use the sightings to help estimate the population and to investigate range sizes. Please submit any leopard sightings from  Kgalagadi to their website http://www.ast.uct.ac.za/~schurch/leopards. From a couple of our candid snapshots, the leopards were confirmed as

The full sightings are detailed in the following Taraji Blue trip reports:

https://blog.tarajiblue.com/2012/08/trip-report-day-7-in-kgalagadi-transfrontier-park/
https://blog.tarajiblue.com/2012/08/trip-report-day-6-in-kgalagadi-transfrontier-park/

Photos from our trips to Africa are available to view on the Taraji Blue online photo gallery. 

It’s World Elephant Day!

A herd of elephants in Addo National Park

12th August marks World Elephant Day and its aim is to bring the world together to help and protect our elephants. Regular followers of Taraji Blue will know that elephants are one of our most favourite animals. We have been privileged to spend many a happy hour in their company, mainly in the National Parks of South Africa and Kenya and we will never grow tired of their company.I thought it pertinent to therefore share some of our favourite experiences of elephants and some of our favourite photos that we have captured over the years.

Meeting the Herd:
At Harpoor Dam in Addo National Park we were speechless to come across one the largest herds of elephants we have ever seen. Despite their bulk and size they appeared out of the bush silently, marching slowly in formation toward the watering hole. I stopped counting at 40 elephants as my heart could take no more. Instead I focused my attention on the tiny babies who were confidently leading the herd across the plains. Ears flapping and tails swinging with excitement they almost tripped over themsleves in glee. We spent a couple of hours with them, before slowly trailing them back towards our camp at a respectful distance. Elated and buzzing with adrenaline we got back to camp and set up a braai under the darkening skies. As the stars came out we heard a rustle to the bushes at our right. Seeking a vantage point beside our tent I peeped on tiptoes to see who or what was sneaking up on us. I needn’t have bothered with the tip toes, because right next to our tent was a HUGE male bull in the midst of the 40 strong herd who’d popped by to say hello once more. Who could ask for a better night?!

Talking with the elephants:
Elephants communicate with a spoken language that they need to learn from other elephants, and with body language that is instinctive at birth. Being so close to these gentle giants you can often hear their rumblings as they communicate to one another as they graze and travel.As they move silently past you, your respect naturally turns to fear. Providing you remain totally silent and still, they‚Äôll not harm you, or even glance at you, but on the rare occasion that you find yourself accidentally invading their space there’s no mistaking their trumpet calls – often used as a sign of distress or as a show of strength. The noise is unmistakable and terrifying. It‚Äôll make every hair on your body stand on end as you brace yourself for the charge.

Mr Crotchety Pants:
It was ¬†a lovely afternoon – the sun was¬†beginning to lower and the¬†temperature¬†had become very pleasant. We set out from camp for a game drive and decided to take a nearby loop road to enjoy the last few hours of the day. Barely a few km down the road we saw a HUGE bull elephant standing beside this tree. Due to the low vegetation height we saw him in plenty time and parked a very respectful distance from him to see if he’d walk on. I was the driver that afternoon and really did not want to scare the mother-in-law too much by driving too close (she was in the front passenger seat beside me).

As the¬†elephant¬†started to amble toward the road it became evident that we’d need to wait this out – as there was no way I was going to try and¬†squeeze¬†past him to continue our drive – nor was I too keen on getting any closer. So I popped the engine into¬†neutral¬†and we waited patiently. After about ten minutes we’d started to form quite a queue of traffic behind us and I was worried that, on this single track road, the other¬†drivers¬†might start getting very impatient (unfortunately¬†not many people are that respectful of elephants and will happily drive on quickly¬†by). It was at this exact moment that I recalled how closely packed the row of cars behind us was that the elephant took an immediate dislike to me. He swung to face us head on. Standing in the middle of the dirt track, ears spread wide he raised his trunk towards us. The sense of¬†annoyance¬†was intense. With a very meaningful and not well intentioned gait he started to stomp towards us – throwing out his right front leg to the side as he approached. It became very clear that this was a very unhappy ellie. I had no chose but to start the¬†engine¬†up – something that rattled him even more and he sped up, coming closer every second. ¬† My heart was racing and¬†adrenaline¬†was pumping through my body – I threw the car into reverse gear but had no where to go as the car behind was right up my jacksie. I started to gesticulate to the driver behind – but he seemed oblivious – it was only when he saw the elephant through our front window that he realised that hulk of grey was not bad weather in the sky, but a very angry bull. Regardless, I decided that I could not afford to wait any longer – I was petrified. I started to reverse, figuring that the worst that could happen is that I forcefully push the guy¬†behind¬†me back and have a dented rear-end for the pleasure. Thankfully the driver behind got the message – and he too started to reverse into the guy behind him – it felt like the slowest chain reaction in the world.

My first elephant encounter:
So dominant, so overwhelming. You’ll struggle to take a breath the first time a wild elephant walks by. Rooted to the spot you’ll want to reach out, overwhelmed yet unafraid of the magnamity that is this wild beast. You’ll notice details you never have before. The long, seductive eyelashes, slowly fluttering to protect the tiniest of eyes. The whiskers protruding from the mouth, drawing further attention to the stature and age of the matriarch. The minimalist tail, naked but for a few tatty end hairs which the young cling onto.

As the elephant ambles by, you’ll notice the plodding nature of the giant feet and your attention will be drawn to the footprints left behind in the sand, their size somewhat magnified as the youngest of the herd gingerly follow in the elders’ footsteps. It’s almost hard to spot the smallest among the herd. So protective, so loving, the elder females will encourage the young to walk in the centre, ever mindful of potential dangers yet seemingly oblivious to the risks of such small and fragile frames underfoot. Morphing between giddy with excitement and shy and retiring, each elephant calf will transform before your very eyes as they gain confidence with each step and they explore new landscapes.

Read more about World Elephant Day @ http://worldelephantday.org/