We have recently had some amazing visits form the crew at Bionerds who have assisted us with learning more about the amazing animals that live around us. Their knowledge has captured our imagination and inspired us to learn more about the creatures that share our forest. In the process, we’ve developed a love for the lesser-known fishes, frogs and reptiles. In a world where bigger is normally better, it's fabulous to appreciate the tiny, magical beings that are often lost to the untrained eye. Thank you Bionerds for helping us discover them. So in the broadly, non-scientific category of the cold, slippery and slimy beings, here are our top five beauties.
5. Boomslang (commonly know as George or Elizabeth)
Yes, I know they look terrifying and they are incredibly poisonous, but they are also very shy and seldom strike. You’d need to stick a finger right into those back fangs to get a reaction. Like humans, they come in an amazing array of wonderful colours from green, yellow to black. We love their huge eyes and those pursed lips. We are slightly biased because we respectfully share our deck with them in the summer. On a quiet morning, with a coffee in hand and the birds chirping madly, there’s nothing better than watching them sunning in the warm African sun. They only emerge when spring is fully sprung so I am anxious to see them again. Thank you to the King and Queen of reptiles for allowing us peasants to lease your deck over the winter.
4. Eastern Ghost Frog
I really don’t know much about amphibians. I admit that I just recently began to understand that the broad term “frog” is actually a sub group of a larger group of tadpole-derived beings. There are ghostfrogs, reedfrogs, rainfrogs, reedfrogs, treefrogs, riverfrogs (also a whole lot of toady things) which all have very sophisticated, scientific names. But they are stunning creatures and we have a very special one in our forest that I recently met. The Eastern Cape Ghost Frog is incredibly special, but I really cannot tell you why. All I know is that, like most ghosts, they are hard to find, quite rare but always memorable.
3. Tradouw Redfin
Now I should know something about freshwater fishes because I wrote a whole darn thesis on them many moons ago. I’m told that this knowledge still lurks in the dark waters of my brain, but like the Tradouw Redfin, it is critically endangered. However, thanks to the support from the Table Mountain Fund, there is still hope for its survival. Our awesome conservancy (Grootvadersbosch Conservancy) is gearing up to launch a project to protect these little beauties that are only found in nearby rivers. I cant wait to plunge in!
2. Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon
I know that officially I cant call this guy the Grootvadersbosch Chameleon (yet) but I got away with calling a Boomslang "George" so if you still reading this, you are certainly not a purist. This chameleon is most likely distinct from its distant half-sister in Knysna and a new species still to be described. While the herpetologists are still arguing about the details, we have officially claimed it as our own and will burn down Knysna if you say otherwise (oops was it too soon?).
1. Strawberry (Hill) Rainfrog
Once again, I am taking liberties with a name. They say he’s named for the strawberry color and white touches on its belly, but I beg to differ. I’m convinced that this frog is the reason for our farm’s name. Legend has it that our farm is named because of the wild strawberries that grew here and (yes you guessed it) the fact that we are on a hill. However, I’m sure that the full truth is that my Moodie ancestors saw this guy and related to his grumpy mood. Its how I feel every morning before (and increasingly) after coffee. It is also how I feel when people call and ask me when they can come and pick strawberries on our strawberry farm. An honest mistake (I guess) and may well prompt me to change our name to Strawberryrainfrogfarm. Either way, I love this grumpy guy and I am honoured that we share a name.
A big thanks to the Bionerds team for allowing us to use these amazing images.
Outside is not free and the promotion of it devalues those that work tirelessly to protect it.
I used to use that # but now it’s one of my worst sayings…why? Because your #outsideisfree space is not free at all but is paid for by someone else. Any responsible landowner knows that owning land is an expensive privilege. Whether that is a reserve manager, farmer, or tax payer- someone is paying to manage and look after a space that allows you to play outdoors, rather than in a gym. And because I think that the outdoors is a million times better than a gym, it irks me that we don’t value it as such.
Many people pay heavily to use gym equipment and have a safe indoor space, while providing a similar space outside is promoted as something that should be free. We therefore devalue the significant effort and cost associate with making that space available. We promote the concept that being outside is a free good for all, when it is really an amazing privilege. When we communicate the perspective that it’s free, we devalue the cost and effort required to look after that space. Especially if it is free of invasive vegetation, has fire breaks to protect infrastructure and includes awesome trails. We are promoting the perspective that we should not have to pay anything (or very little) to run, hike, bike, swim or walk our dogs in the outdoors. But at the same time, we expect a safe, litter free environment that has loads and loads of awesomely groomed trails to explore 24-7.
And what about public spaces? surely #outsideisfree applies to municipal land, neighborhood streets, parks, and nature reserves? These are public lands, roads or spaces that all can use freely? But these are also not free and we are all picking up that bill. We should enjoy them, promote them, and exercise in them but when we #outsideisfree we undermine the massive effort to make that space available to all. They are paid for by municipal, provincial or national taxes which are, in part, paid for by all of us. Increasingly, and this is not just in South Africa, there are less and less resources available to look after these spaces and so we need to value every cent that is allocated to them. To keep them as spaces where we can safely play outdoors, more and more communities are needing to come together to raise the required funds. Think about what is required to look after your local park. Someone must look after the lawn, maintain the paths, pick up litter and, importantly, allocate security to keep it safe. As a South African female who loves the outdoors, this is an immense and rare privilege. I’m not saying that municipalities should not allocate funds to these services, they should, but I think it’s really important to understand that these funds are going to your park, possibly, at the cost of something else. There may also be a government official who is fighting (maybe a losing battle) to protect that budget for your space so let’s acknowledge that and #valuetheoutdoors because it’s most definitely not free.
Jenny's cottage is the latest addition to our accommodation and it has a wonderful story that creates magic within four walls that might otherwise have been torn down.
The cottage is named after my Mom, Jenny, who built the house along with her 3 brothers. They used to come to the farm on holiday and stayed with Aunt Whinny who lived next door in, what we now call Forest Lodge. Tired of camping, my grandparents decided that it would be a fun project to build their own 2-roomed holiday home and so they began the process of laying foundation, making bricks and cutting the wooden beams that would later house all 6 of them. I can imagine my grandmother making sandwiches and lemonade for them as they slaved away, while my army general grandfather, gently, but firmly, took charge of the construction. The little house was a fabulous holiday adventure, in both the making and the living. The little house had no toilet and the children's first job on arrival was to dig the latrine in the bushes next door (which might explain why the trees grow so tall around the house) Can anyone imagine asking that of one's children these days.....
Later, my grandparents built a larger home and moved permanently to honeywood farm and the little holiday home was no longer needed. My parents (Jenny and Alex) bought this section of the farm from my uncle Ben and the cottage eventually became a staff house . The house became a bit run down as staff left and they needed more space for their children. We had to decide whether to tear it down or restore it.
The location was not perfect-quite close to the road and a small foot print plus the roof needed serious attention. But the history of the place gave it a charm that could not allow it to be destroyed so we started restoring it. Using the same footprint, with the combined expertise of our local builder, Oom Jan, we began a project to create another magical holiday escape with (a toilet).
Restoration is always a difficult task, especially with a house of this age. We wanted to keep as much of the original bricks, plaster and wooden beams as possible. If we had to do new plastering, we tried to mimic the original rough style.
Building is only half the work....then its the furniture, curtains, finishing, equipping that takes the time but makes all the difference. No project is ever done on a farm and we are still planning outside pools, landscaping and outside showers. We can now offer a cute cottage that is a perfect escape for couples or small families and does not require the building of an external latrine!
Thanks to a great week of mountain bike site guide training with Venture forth, I've done some interesting reading on how mountain bikers can change their riding styles to reduce their environmental impacts.
Current research shows that mountain biking is no more damaging to the environment than other recreational activities, such as hiking or horse riding. However, the degree of impact is influenced by two factors:
1. What type of trails are built and used
2. How the trails are used and who uses them
A lot is said about how sustainable trails reduce environmental impacts but less is said about how recreational users can change their habits to lessen impacts.
Here are some ways that mountain bikers can clean up their act:
Stop Riding Dirty: Your bike and clothes can transport unwanted material into sensitive areas so wash your stuff before you ride.
Stop Skidding into Corners: This adds to erosion and damages the trail. You’ll need a spade and some arm strength to create a berm so don't try make one with your tires.
Stop Riding Around: Don’t create more trails by riding around obstacles. Get off if you cant ride or try the line until you can. This includes trees, puddles (just get your feet wet) and technical sections.
Stop Riding in Mud: This is not good for trails. If you lived in the muddy UK you could be forgiven, but we have plenty enough sunshine to avoid it so wait for the sun to dry them out a bit.
Stop Riding Fall Lines: Avoid riding down the steepest fall line as this adds to erosion.
Stop Cutting Switchbacks: Don’t be lazy and take a shortcut. Ride the trails that have been built, even if they seem tough.
Stop Littering: It’s a no brainer to not litter yourself but lets go further and pick up what someone else may have accidentally dropped. We'd want someone to do it for us.
Stop Thinking that all bikes are the same: Just because you are buying a bike and not a car, don't think that you are immune from sustainable choices. Find out how and where bikes are made. Consider paying a bit more for products that sweeten the planet rather than just sweetening your ride.
Stop Thinking that you are alone out there: Your mountain bike will take you to remote, beautiful places. You often pass rural, agricultural communities that rely on natural resources for their (and your) survival. Be considerate of those who's land you pass through because they are looking after it for all of us.
The following links have some more information on Leaving no Trace for mountain biking .
Green Guide to Mountain Biking
How green is mountain biking
Always so much to see and do over Christmas and New Year on the farm. We had plenty of time to explore new mountain bike routes, taste local wines and hike over mountains for dinner.
A highlight was a fabulous hike from Grootvadersbosch to Barry dale for a meal at the wonderful Mez Karoo. The heat was sweltering but the views and prospect of a great meal kept us going.
Always a wonderful New Year event is a visit to the fabulous Korentapoort dam for sundowners and a dip in the best swimming pool around with mountain views!
This weekend we have had a ball exploring a remote trail in the Langeberg Mountains between Barrydale and the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. Some old trails have vanished and some that continue to exists as rock walls between the patches of unique mountain fynbos
The journey involved fellow adventures and mountain legends: Keith and Michelle Moodie who lead the way in breaking trail and finding little fynbos gems.
The journey involved an amazing 29km hike/run across an old route that was barely visible and ending well outside Barrydale Our trusty pilot, James Moodie, kindly ferried us back to Barrydale for a beer and steaks at Bistro Blues. Our only complaint was that the TVs screened rugby rather than the Olympic mountain biking. We considered challenging it but wisely decided that the Barrydale crowd would beat us in a TV remote arm wrestle. So we drank more wine, while Michelle did a few push ups (no one knew why) and contemplated the next adventure.
The process of finding great mountain bike trails is a long one! We have done many many hours of wandering through bush on the vague hope that a shadow on google earth is a ride-able track. Many of these journeys end in nothing more than leg scratches and imaginary plans to build a suspension bridge over a cliff. But the last week has produced some real gems. There is nothing more rewarding than finding an epic cattle track that completes that magical loop that has always eluded you. Just when you are expecting a long hike-a-bike, a single track emerges that is perfectly ride able. Love It!
Then we found this incredible trail above Heidelberg that must just become a trail! A magical piece of trail that runs across a rocky ridge. We did not have our bikes with us but we will be back to ride this little gem. We even found a gravel road which we hope is ride-able that makes a perfect access trail. What a find! Always makes a mountain bike trail more special when you've done all the work to make it appear.
Strawberry Hill hosts Silver Mountain Music which is an annual music festival in the Grootvadersbosch Valley.
Inspired by the silvery glow of the Langeberg Mountains, Silver Mountain Music is a celebration of music and nature.
The musical programme, under the direction of Richard Cock, includes four different concerts in beautiful settings and includes Ian Smith and the Delft Big Band, the Silver Mountain Festival Band, Prince Lengoasa and local musicians. In addition to multiple concerts, Silver Mountain Music includes activities that showcase local cuisine and natural attractions including, a guided dairy tour, milk tasting, guided forest walks, mountain biking and trail running.
The Saturday concert on Strawberry Hill also includes Wine tasting from award wining Baleia Bay wines. Bring a picnic and enjoy wine and music in the mountains. Tickets are available here. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Two weeks ago we experienced a very scary fire which almost burnt down our office. We are so grateful for the community which come around to assist us. You know who you are...heroes who have the experience, wisdom (and guts) to know what to do. Fires in gale force winds are terrifying and it could have been so much worse. Look at Alberta at the moment! Fire is a very scary thing and sometimes rain is the only hope. It was in our case and the heavens opened just in time for us.
The rain came just in time to save the office and the damage is minimal. The rain was not enough to put it out and it continued to burn for a further week but the rain helped to save buildings and infrastructure. Finally, a week later it was calm so we could think about the next steps.
There is always a silver lining and the fire took out large area of invasive vegetation that needed to burn and which we would never have tried to burn in a controlled burn because of the risks. Last week before the next rain fall we planted almost 200kg of indigenous grass seed on the burnt areas. We threw the seed late into the night and then the rains came again! The seed is an indigenous seed mix of
But what is amazing to see is just how quickly the wattle seeds have germinated and are coming up like a solid wall of roots. Years and years of seed just waiting for a fire to germinate. The ground was lifting up in places as we walked through. As we cleared away the ground to scatter the seed, a dense mat of wattle roots lay there waiting to emerge. Now we have to wait and see. We'll spray the wattle when its a bit older and we hope that the grass seed will take root and bring back some indigenous grasses. Thanks to advance seed for their great service in getting us the seed so quickly.
Yesterday we had an awesome ride with our neighbors: Friends of Marloth. Sakkie Nel and his team have prepared a little playground outside Swellendam and we tagged along to experience it. Guest appearances from pro-rider Erik Kleinhans, the hair, and equally cool, Reinette Geldenhuis , promised to make for a great day out on the bike. The red route was awesome-lovely scenic jeep tracks with mountain views. The weather played along with mist settling just in the right place for the photos.
The riding was fast and furious with the Swellendam locals showing the pro how it's done. They took the lead for most of the ride, with skill and determination. They clearly wanted it more.
Then Sakkie stepped in and gave the guy a few local tips on how to ride the routes and where the best lines were. This was flippin generous of him as everyone thought that he really should have worked it out on his own. I mean he gets paid for this after all.
Haasie then stepped in and showed the youngster how to make some magic potion from the mushrooms that hide in the pine single track. This explained a lot and we were all pleased that he selected the correct mushrooms as Sakkie was not keen to call any team managers just before Erik was due to be racing in Europe.
With just a few words of wisdom from the local legends, the pro was all smiles and took a convincing lead.
We stopped briefly for Bouer to explain to us how much more fun it is to swim in ice cold water and ride on tar for 180km. Extra fun is had if you have no one's rear end to look at and can admire the tar with the wind in your face.
In the end, we all had a fabulous coffee and lunch at the Old Goal in Swellendam, where we shared a few more local winners tips and secrets. A few more mushrooms were brewed-unfiltered. Erik wanted to take some of the mushrooms with him to Europe but we all assured him that he would find some special ones there. We debriefed the trails and the overall agreement was that, although the Marloth trails are flippin brilliant, the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy trails are better (totally objective opinion!). However, everyone decided that Erik was just not strong enough for them yet so he agreed to come back and ride after some training in Europe. We look forward to welcoming him back.