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Exploring the natural wonder of the Garden Route

Exploring the natural wonder of the Garden Route

 

 

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 11 seconds.

Written by Grace Warner

Thilo Beck and Grace Warner, postgraduate students from the University of the Witwatersrand, have exchanged their fieldwork “home” in the Kalahari for the greener pastures of the Garden Route. Thilo, a PhD student, spent the past three years collecting data on the ecology of Cape Cobras in the arid, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, to predict how climate change may affect their activity patterns in the future. Grace, an MSc candidate, spent a year in the same reserve but was more focused on the holiest of places, assessing microhabitats such as burrows, nests and tree hollows, to establish their potential for sheltering multiple species from extreme weather. Both students are part of the Kalahari Endangered Ecosystem Project, a conservation research collaboration supported by Suzuki Auto South Africa, and are now analysing their data and writing up their research.

HarkervilleForest_G.M.WarnerA river running through a section of indigenous forest (Harkerville Forest). (Photo: G.Warner)

Thilo, as an avid herpetologist has zeroed in on the reptile life, of which there is plenty. Those with an eye for detail can find the striking, yet elusive Knysna Dwarf Chameleons on most forest walks, hiding in plain sight on low-hanging branches or posing like scaled jewels in sunny fynbos areas. If you’re more of a snake fan, it takes a bit more search effort, but the Garden Route is home to many picturesque species, such as bright green Western Natal Green snakes, black and yellow Boomslang (males) and vividly patterned Puff Adders. 

KnysnaDwarfChameleon_G.M.WarnerA Knysna Dwarf Chameleon found in a botanical garden in Knysna (Photo: G. Warner).

WesternNatalGreen_G.M.WarnerA Western Natal Green Snake hiding amongst the foliage of a Plettenberg Bay garden (Photo: G. Warner)

Grace, as a fan of wide-open landscapes and seaside adventures, has been drawn to the coastline for her time off, with the Robberg Nature Reserve hike being a firm favourite. Not only are the views of the ocean and fynbos absolutely breath-taking, but you can often spot Great White Sharks and several dolphin species in the crystal-clear water from the vantage point of the Robberg cliffs. For those who want to experience the sea a little more personally, boat rides and snorkelling trips are on offer for informative and adrenaline-filled encounters with seals, whales, dolphins and sharks, around Robberg and the surrounding bays.

Great White Shark_T.F.BeckA Great White Shark visible from the cliffs of the Robberg Peninsula (Photo: T. Beck).

Southern Right Whale_T.F.BeckA migrating Southern Right Whale in Plettenberg Bay (Photo: T. Beck).

Even the unassuming rockpools of Knysna can provide hours of entertainment. As Thilo and Grace have learnt, low tide and a keen eye for critters can produce great rewards. A plethora of unusual life, like sea hares, chitons, marine flatworms, sea cucumbers and starfish await. There is nothing better than some sand between your toes and an afternoon with an octopus to inspire some good writing flow.

KnysnaRockpools_G.M.WarnerThe ever-changing landscape of the Knysna rockpools (Photo: G.Warner).

Although the golden sands of the Kalahari are far from forgotten, the greenery of the Garden Route has definitely grown on the students. If you are looking for a road trip with fresh air, forests and alfresco fun to stave off the winter blues, there’s nothing better.

Vervet Monkey_T.F.BeckA vervet monkey foraging in Diepwalle forest, Knysna (Photo: T. Beck).

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