Northern Cape: When giraffes are necking, tourists beware!

An index of the Northern Cape series appears at the first post.

July 7, 2016

The alarm went off, but the room was completely dark. A muzzy-headed Dave stomped off to the shower at five A.M. What would stir this man from his rest at such an hour? Read on and hear my tale of our epic safari at Augrabies Falls!

Our first day at Augrabies Falls coupled a look at the cataract with a seven kilometer hike. This morning, Natasha and I resolved to enter the park at opening time: 7:00 AM. We had considered catching an open-bus safari tour at 7:30 AM, but with too few people for the bus ride to take place, we were left to our own devices. Instead, we drove The Strawberry on a jolting 67 kilometer route into the park. The entrance to the game area required us to drive through three areas where the road was submerged beneath running water, but given that the road had been cleared for sedans, we passed the obstacles with only a few heart palpitations.

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Trust me, this looked more perilous before the sun arose.

Within the first half hour of time at the park, we had spotted our first mammal of the day. A springbok was grazing near the road before sunup, seemingly without fear of our car. Springboks are the mascot for the national rugby team. This one obligingly provided several poses for us.

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I feel ready to play some rugby.

The day had dawned quite coldly. The car reported the outside temperature as varying between -3 and 0 degrees Celsius. Natasha suggested that we take a side jaunt to Oranjekom. As we neared the end of the drive, we saw a bird of prey standing in vigilance atop a koppe. He seemed enormous from the ground, almost human-sized. At full zoom on my new Canon EF-M 55-200 mm lens (thanks, Mom and Dad!), he was recognizable as a Verreaux’s eagle.

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This is not a bird you want swooping on you.

We took a little hike in the area. We surprised a family of klipspringers, and they evacuated so quickly we were barely able to get any usable photographs. Oranjekom looks over the gorge in which the Orange River flows after cascading down at the Augrabie Falls.

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It was beautiful even before the sun rose above the horizon.

When we returned to the main route, we soon encountered a family of springboks.  It had become clear to us that we would see these animals with some frequency on our drive. Natasha and I invoked an “except springboks” rule for the spotter seat.

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This little herd was in no hurry.

Just as we had decided this rule, she called out “zebra!” Sure enough, a pair of zebras had appeared on the side of the road the springboks had vacated. The zebras in this park are the Cape Mountain variety, an endangered species. We felt lucky to see them.

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He was a standoffish sort, but he did consent to one snapshot.

We soon passed over Swart Rante, which gave a commanding view of the surrounding area. We decided to take another side route that led to Echo Point. After rolling downhill for some distance, including a grating rock scrape on the bottom of the car, we arrived at a rock ledge next to a stream leading down to what appeared to be a lake. The “lake,” however, represented a widening of the Orange River as it passed through the gorge.

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The view from our aerie was just spell-binding.

The highlight of our day came soon after we rejoined the main route. In disbelief, Natasha called out, “GIRAFFE!” Sure enough, we had found a family of six or seven of the animals, grazing happily not far from the road. I stepped out of the car and captured photo and photo (no lions or rhinos had been reported for the park, though baboons are certainly dangerous enough). After a while, Natasha noticed that a couple of the giraffes were standing awfully close together. Trees and bushes hid anything below the neck, but their necks were persistently close together. After a while, they came out of the bushes to share a snack with the rest of the family.

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Natural fact #73: Necking makes giraffes hungry.

As we passed another ridge in the road, we found ourselves within fifty feet of a pair of kudu. They moved pretty quickly, unlike the rescued kudu I met during my visit to Karoo National Park! Knowing that the beasts frequently appear in herds, we scanned the area for others and found one staring at us across a meadow. We continued on the loop past Volstruiswater (Ostrich Water) on Hartmann’s Loop and encountered a few hartebeest.

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These fellows were not enthusiastic about people who appear in a red car.

Suddenly, we saw motion to our left. An ostrich had watched too many Road Runner cartoons, and he was off to the races! He accelerated in no time flat to an estimated 30 miles an hour, jolting across the road well ahead of the car. By the time I could get the camera in hand, he was perched atop a nearby ridge, gloating over us in his victory.

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I have never seen an animal move like this one. Powerful birds, ostriches.

With that, our animal adventure drew to a close. We drove back out of the animal area. The giraffes had drawn considerable attention, and three cars were leaving little room for our exit. A little after two in the afternoon, we had reached the rest camp for a bit of lunch and our departure.

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The Northern Cape is cold in winter, as the sun is coming up!

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3 thoughts on “Northern Cape: When giraffes are necking, tourists beware!

  1. Pingback: Northern Cape: Climbing the Highveld | Picking Up The Tabb

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