Canvas of contrasts

Canvas of contrasts

Kishore & Smita Iyengar wallow in the spectacular natural bounty of South Africa from the Cape of Good Hope to KwaZulu Natal hinterland.

The cool transatlantic breeze got more assertive as we braced ourselves on the grassy knoll overlooking Muizenberg Bay. The sandy sweep across the azure ocean along the scenic Cape Province, outside Cape Town’s salubrious surrounds, is dazzling from a distance.

Further up eastwards, the horizon played a merry mélange of rocky shoreline punctuated by shocks of green outcropping the sea. The fabled Cape Winelands with verdant vineyard hectares languor into Stellenbosch, Hilly Franscchoek, Paarl and further. 

‘Sawubona to South Africa’ (welcome in local lingo), to one of the world’s most spectacularly endowed countries, with surprises at every turn and bend. Our driving sojourn began in the fairest city in all Africa on the throes of change and welcome, as we wound our way upwards along the coastal stretch south-east to Cape Point along the dramatic cliffhanger road from Camps Bay.

The imposing Twelve Apostles peaks in a row look down to foam-drenched seascapes all the way to Hout Bay and the bustling Mariner’s Wharf. We sail over the rough waves to Seal Island, inhabited by a noisy colony of seals, who whisker their way around the slithery rocks.

Above as the 70 degree incline road leads into the protected environs of the Cape Point National Reserve within the Heritage Table Mountain National Park, we stop at the unique boulders penguins colony.

The wooden slatted boardwalk opens out to breathtaking views of peaks along the Cape shoreline leading to boulder alcoves sheltering those unusual, endangered yet quaint two legged aquatic creatures blessed with their donkey-like braying calls — the South African jackass penguins.

The ecology of serene sandy grassland juxtaposed by huge rock outcrops and turquoise waters is ideal for their existence. As one rides higher into the wild-flowers speckled gruff Cape Point precincts, the terrain is almost barren yet compelling.

Drama in freeze frame

But a few moments along the cliffs brought us to the magnificence of the Cape Point vistas and the Cape of Good Hope, around which Vasco Da Gama and scores of other Europeans in search of cherished Indian spices circumnavigated it and catapulted it into world focus. Wild ostriches roam the red terra firma sands along the coast, while giant breakers pound the rocks with unstoppable rhythm.

Another drama unfolds at similar heights further close to Cape Town, on the world famous massif, Table Mountain, a World Heritage wonder. As the Rotair cableway gently swirled upwards, we looked down to spectacular 360 degree frames of the Ultramarine Atlantic fringing the Cape Peninsula and historic Robben Island beyond.

Atop the awesome plateau, we explored the unique flora of dry rock terrain and the endless views widening into the hinterland of deep contrasts. Home to several species of birds, snakes, mongoose, the rare Dassie — a mammal, the Table Mountain Fynbos vegetation and cacti, this unique, millennia-old peak overlooks the singular sweeps of the Indian Ocean and the mighty Atlantic with equal mute magnanimity.

Vast, wild, wonderful

Up to the diversely contrasting northeast, not far from Durban city are the vast, wild bushlands of the KwaZulu Natal Province. Here, roam the magnificent Big Five and many other distinguished wild species in a habitat that nurtures their privileged existence.

Beauty in sometimes harsh and windswept environs can be endearing and enigmatic as we discovered at The Thanda Private Game Reserve, the world’s most awarded haven of luxurious biodiversity in all its glory. As our safari Land Rover negotiated burnt and charred grassy hectares of gruff bush bracken, lush green dominated the patches strewn with shrub land and countless hedges that sketched a canvas of siena, umber, brown and crimson-black.

The home of the Big Five resembles the Savannah of the Serengeti in Kenya, the Prairies and barren wastes of the red centre in Australia, but the presence of the elusive cheetahs slinking into bushes in wait for their prey, the scurrying of antelope in anticipated fear of the lioness and the fidgety movements of zebras at a watering hole expecting the electrifying pounce of the leopard, seem like routine drama in real wild life we encountered several times.

By dawn, the magical colours of deep ink create gilded daintiness on the leaves and overgrowth of the Thanda Private Game Reserve, by noon, the earthy tones of bright, sprouting tender leaves glisten in the blazing sun. Late evenings afford a stunning display of mauves and amber tinged with streaks of cerulean above buff naked trees, branch formations and tall branches, with giraffes stoically nibbling dinner over the leaves. At a watering hole, more a seasonal pond — a lone tree framed against a high ravine and stretching shadows cast momentary parting light on the still waters, a pack of lionesses ambling across added to the stillness. Nothing moved.

Spectral splendour

We stopped and alighted into a criss-cross of tracks and animal paths, charred charcoal grey and dull black, the bushes laid bare with the high and relentless heat. Green was conspicuous by its absence, brown was a rare sight. But in that lingering, dangerous open, as dusk settled over the hills, we caught sight of a rare male black warthog dashing off into the wilderness. Storks in a neat convex arc flew above us, framed magically against a mellow rising moon. Somewhere the deep growl of a lion announced the action to follow over the long, settling darkness.

The next noon, we drove non-stop to a unique Mistbelt forest habitat at the verdant Karkloof Nature Reserve at Howick, near Pietermaritzburg. The landscape changed dramatically. Moist light dew was welcoming, light showers cast a viridian spell over dense forestland and floral blooms, the veil of clouds dipping tall firs, bringing temperatures down. By evening, the call of birds, the sway of tall trees and the rush of a nearby stream changes everything. We were overwhelmed.

But the South African Bush still beckoned with enigmatic lure. In a land blessed by nature’s glorious largesse and the never ending colours of the rainbow and all shades in-between wowing us to the hilt, we reminisced about the ultimate truth — Nature is the true creator, we are mere replicators of her creativity.

Fact file

-From Johannesburg there are excellent domestic South African Airlines connections to Cape Town and Durban. One can explore the fabulous surrounds of Cape Town and Durban with reputed ground luxury coach operators and private car rentals.

-A planned round trip itinerary tour can be arranged from Durban to Hluhluwe and the Thanda Private Game Reserve. Thanda offers excellent luxury tented, lodge and villa accommodations. Shopping for local handicrafts, textiles, garments, fashion wear and excellent South African wines add zing to the visit. Not to be missed is their unique amarula cream liqueur.

-The currency is the African Rand (ZAR) and English is the official language, apart from the local dialects.

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