Category Archives: Animals

Animals

Meeting dolphins!

When we visited South Africa last year, one of Oliver and Louisa’s favourite experiences was meeting monkeys. At World of Birds Sanctuary and Monkey Park in Hout Bay, on the Cape Penninsula, they met sweet little Squirrel Monkeys. They loved being face to face with these gorgeous and cheeky little monkeys.

 

Given how much Oliver and Louisa both love animals, they were really looking forward to our last major activity of this Hawaiin trip: swimming with dolphins. And it didn’t disappoint!

After some online research, I booked one hour Dolphin Adventures for Peter, Oliver and Louisa with Dolphin Quest in Waikiki. According to the website, a Dolphin Adventure involves:

Age: 5 and older (each child 5-9 must be accompanied by a paying adult)

Price: $310 per person (plus tax)

Duration: 1 hour (35 minutes with dolphins)

Spend quality time with your new dolphin friends in this premium Dolphin Adventure that features maximum togetherness and fun. You’ll love this intimate dolphin swim full of your favorite dolphin touch, feed, play and training activities.

    • Come on in! The water’s fine for an unforgettably fun peak life experience meeting and mingling with our incredible dolphins in their ocean lagoon environment
    • You’ll have dolphins at your fingertips as trainers introduce you to our dolphins in shallow water ‘get to know you’ sessions
    • Dive in and go for a swim – with dolphins alongside and underwater below you. Pull on your snorkel mask for fantastic underwater views!
    • Get to know our dolphins’ individual personalities, unique behaviors and splashy playfulness
    • No two Dolphin Adventure are exactly alike – our expert trainers and dolphins will personalize your up-close dolphin rendezvous
    • You will interact with dolphins in a small, intimate group of no more than 6 people and your trainer
    • Take home your big smile moments in picture perfect photos of you and your dolphin pals, available for purchase

After donning life jackets, Peter, Oliver and Louisa joined their trainer who started with some important facts about dolphins, what they eat, how they communicate and how to train them. They learned that the dolphins at Dolphin Quest were born in captivity and have close connections with their trainers, who certainly seemed extremely attached to and caring of the dolphins.

 

Then they jumped into the water to meet the dolphins and have some fun. The photos below speak for themselves!

 

Oliver said that his two favourite things from this trip have been: surfing and the dolphins. Louisa said: horseriding and the dolphins. So our Dolphin Adventure certainly was worth the time and money and a perfect end to our Hawaiian adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An ode to O’ahu’s North Shore and Turtle Bay

Yesterday, day nine of our Hawaiian holiday, we arrived in Waikiki after five and a half wonderful days at Turtle Bay Resort on O’ahu’s beautiful North Shore. The North Shore is famous for its surfing beaches and laid back “country meets seaside town” sensibility.

In the winter months, the North Shore attracts a huge surfing crowd drawn by its big waves and major surfing competitions. But as the year moves towards the northern summer, the waves are more manageable for beginners.

 

Turtle Bay Resort sits on a point between Turtle Bay and Kuilima Cove surrounded by farmland, ranches and the beaches of the North Shore. It is the only resort on The North Shore, so is quite secluded compared to, for instance, the resorts of Waikiki. There are some places you visit that suit you perfectly, and Turtle Bay Resort was perfect for us. We loved everything about it. It was not too crowded, quite laid back, offered the exact kinds of activities we wanted, and had comfortable modern rooms and facilities.

Beaches

In Kuilima Cove, on the eastern side of the resort, there is a small sandy beach and gentle bay, divided from the ocean by a reef. Here we taught Louisa and Oliver how to body surf, Peter and Oliver snorkelled and looked for the turtles that give the bay and resort their name, and the kids played happily in the sand. This side of the resort is quite protected from the strong trade winds that often barrell down the western side of the resort, so the beach — a public beach — offers a peaceful and somewhat warmer spot.

On the western side of the resort, we sat near the pool looking out over Turtle Bay and watched surfers take on the break. Closer to shore we again spotted turtles lazily swimming about.

 

Surfing

Surfing is a huge focus of the North Shore and people often stand on shore right along the coast watching surfers master the waves. A good ride elicits cheers and clapping, even for beginnings. So when Oliver decided to try surfing in Turtle Bay he was in the best spot. He had a two hour private lesson on both Monday and Tuesday with the Hans Hedemann Surfing School in the resort. After about 15 minutes of quick instruction on land on Monday, he was into the waves with his instructor. When he caught his first wave people on shore cheered and clapped and he pumped his fist into the air. By the end of his first lesson he could pretty reliably catch a wave and stand up. By the end of the second day he was upright so much more that he got a decent sunburn on the back of his legs! Oliver loved the lessons and loved surfing. On the North Shore, kids 14 years and under must have private lessons for safety reasons. They cost about $150 for two hours (including a cool free surfy t-shirt at the end). Oliver improved so quickly that it seemed a good investment in his fun!

 

Horseriding

While Oliver was surfing, Louisa was enjoying her favourite pastime: horseriding. Turtle Bay Resort boasts extensive stables and a range of riding experiences for beginners through to experts. Louisa was younger than the cut off for trail riding (7 years old), so at first she was only offered short 15 minute pony rides on a lead. At home, however, she has weekly riding lessons and is well beyond being walked on a lead. Luckily, the Manager of The Stables, Alicia, kindly allowed me to negotiate a longer, one hour Deluxe Pony Experience that involved helping around The Stables (feeding the horses, turning them out, brushing and washing them, feeding them) as well as riding. We paid $130 an hour for Louisa to do this for an hour each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (compared to $30 for the 15 minute standard Pony Experience). She had a wonderful time with her horses Beetle, Jasper and Goldie as well as the miniature horses, Lilly and Misty. I was grateful that Turtle Bay staff were so willing to accommodate our particular requests and make our stay that much better!

 

Poolside

When we weren’t surfing or riding or lounging about we were enjoying activities poolside. Turtle Bay has four pools: a large heated resort pool, a pool with a water slide, a kids pool and a spa pool. As you can see from the photos, they all had spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. At night there was music and often a cultural show.

 

Nearby

In five days we only scratched the surface of activities at Turtle Bay. Peter and Oliver played a round of soccer golf, which used a soccer ball and modified tees. I visited the Resort Spa for some pampering. And Louisa and I visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. We will post about that visit separately. On the drive from Turtle Bay to our final hotel in Waikiki, we stopped into the Dole Pineapple Plantation, home to the world’s largest maze. Those who followed our previous adventures may remember that in Cape Town, South Africa, we visited the world’s 3rd largest maze; so just the 2nd largest to go. It took Peter and Louisa about 40 minutes to conquer the maze, while Oliver and I sat in the shade and ate pineapple! Louisa’s reward was some pineapple icecream. Again, we only scratched the surface of things to see and do around the North Shore, which will have to wait until our next visit.

 

Today is our last day in Waikiki. Before we fly home tomorrow we will tell you about our visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center and swimming with dolphins. We also can’t leave before telling you how happy we were in Turtle Bay. We plan to come back!

 

By wind, water or wing to Hawaii

In less than 24 hours, Peter, Oliver, Louisa and I will board our plane for Hawaii and 10 days exploring what some people argue are the world’s most remote inhabited islands. This notion of remoteness is interesting because it doesn’t seem to me to be that far from here to there. Flying time from Sydney to Honolulu (the capital of Hawaii on the island of Oahu) is about 10.5 hours. So door to door we’re looking at just over 18 hours, including a 30 minute taxi ride from our home in Sydney, 3 hour check-in at the airport, 10.5 hour flight to Honolulu, 3 hour lay over in Honolulu, 45 minute flight to Kona and finally a 30 minute drive to our hotel. Long, yes, but not nearly so long as my 32 hour door-to-door marathon returning from New York last year. The distance to Hawaii seems quite attractive! Even Oliver said today that it didn’t seem too bad, which surprised me since he was a bit traumatised by our long flights to and from Europe in 2013.

Hawaii relative to Sydney and mainland USA (from http://www.michellehenry.fr/pollution.htm)

Hawaii relative to Sydney and mainland USA (from http://www.michellehenry.fr/pollution.htm)

What will Hawaii look like?

David Quammen, in my favourite science book The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, aims to explain Earth’s biological richness (and, importantly, its catastrophic loss of richness) by exploring the particular and often peculiar patterns of species distribution on islands: this is the island biogeography of the title. He discusses old versus young islands, big versus small islands, and continental versus oceanic islands.

The Hawaiian Islands is a relatively large archipelago, with islands ranging in age from an estimated 65 million years old to less than 1/2 a million years old; so some are relatively old and others are relatively young, at least in geological time!

Importantly, Hawaii is made up of oceanic islands. Quammen writes:

An oceanic island is one that never has been and never will be connected to a mainland. It comes into existence as a rising welt off the deep ocean floor, elevated into daylight by some geological process — most commonly, volcanic eruption (Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, Random House, 1996, page 53).

I saw evidence of volcanic and other (long ago as well as current) landscape defining forces a few weeks ago on another set of islands: New Zealand. On the South Island of New Zealand I visited majestic Mackenzie Country where I saw huge valleys, rich plains, braided rivers and glacial lakes, all carved by retreating glaciers over the past 250,000 years. And I visited Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, which continues to grow each year as the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates collide along New Zealand’s western coastline, buckling and lifting along the Southern Alps mountain range. These landscapes are breathtaking.

Mackenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand

Mackenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mount Cook, South Island, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mount Cook, South Island, New Zealand

Hawaii is similar to New Zealand in that both have been shaped by the movement of tectonic plates, fault lines in the Earth, and especially volcanic activity. We plan to visit Hawaii’s dormant and active volcanoes on The Big Island in our first few days.

Again like New Zealand, Hawaii also has been subject to the rise and fall of oceans over millennia, acting as a lifeboat for its fabulous and often unique flora and fauna (more on this in a moment). But Hawaii is different to New Zealand in that it has never been connected to a mainland, as noted above. New Zealand used to be part of Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that also included Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India, Madagascar and South America before it started to break apart about 120 million years ago. New Zealand parted ways with Australia and Antarctica about 80 million years ago (separated by the Tasman Sea) and began to sink, leaving a scattering of islands that acted as a “Moa’s ark” for New Zealand’s birds and reptiles (you can read more about the geology of New Zealand and this notion of a Moa’s ark here).

In contrast, Hawaii always has been, and remains, isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii’s isolation — remoteness — has consequences for what we will see there.

What will we find in Hawaii?

On safari in Africa last year we saw lions, cheetahs, giraffes, rhinos, baboons and so many other amazing mammals and other animals. In comparison, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii have almost no large mammals native to each country.

At least in the case of Hawaii this is because every plant, animal or other creature (or at least its ancestor) could only reach the islands by wind, water or wing. Far too far for a large animal to swim from the closest mainland! Returning to David Quammen, he writes:

… every oceanic island comes up from below, like a gasping whale. It starts its terrestrial existence, therefore, completely devoid of territorial forms of life. This is the most fundamental distinction between the oceanic and continental categories. Every terrestrial animal on an oceanic island, and every plant, is descended from an animal or plant that arrived there by cross-water dispersal after the island was formed (Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, Random House, 1996, page 53).

Because everything that got there had to get there from somewhere else, dispersed across vast ocean distances by wind, water or wing, Hawaii has a quite different “roster” of animals, birds, plants and insects compared to other countries. Hawaiian writer and blogger, Dennis Hollier calls Hawaii “genetically remote”. He writes:

Hawaii’s isolation has made it the world capital of endemism. For its size, Hawaii has the highest percentage of species that exist nowhere else on Earth (from http://dennishollier.com/2014/01/14/hawaii-the-most-isolated-archipelago/).

In fact, 80% of the species found on Hawaii are found nowhere else in the world. Of course, humans have introduced a variety of non-native species as well as accelerated the loss of many native species. Nevertheless, I imagine that Hawaii will be a different world for us, both in terms of its landscape and wildlife. Writing of this biological richness, Quammen concludes:

Charles Darwin never saw the Hawaiian Islands. If he had, the Galápagos might have paled by comparison (Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, Random House, 1996, page 53)

We are looking forward to our “voyage” to Hawaii tomorrow and the exotic world that awaits us. We will share our discoveries with you in the coming days.

Aloha!

Charles Darwin in the Natural History Museum, London

Charles Darwin in the Natural History Museum, London

 

Hawaii bound!

When I was a child my brothers and sister and I watched endless re-runs of the Brady Bunch. Apart from the episode where Marcia gets hit in the nose by a football or the episode where Davy Jones from the Monkees turns up, my next favourite episode was “Hawaii bound”, the episode where the whole family accompanies dad, Mike, to Hawaii on a business trip (because it’s pretty likely that his company is going to pay airfares and accommodation for a wife, six kids, and Alice the housekeeper; yeah, right!)brady bunch

Over the Easter holidays, Peter, Oliver, Louisa and I plan to follow in the footsteps of Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter et al. and fly off to Hawaii for 10 days. Peter will be on his way to a conference in California. So we are helping him break the journey. He’ll fly on at the end of our holiday and I will bring the kids home … alone!

alice

Hawaii! So excited!

 

 

 

 

We are flying into Honolulu, the state capital of Hawaii, which is on the island of Oahu. The Hawaiian archipelago includes hundreds of islands spread across approximately 2,500 kms, but there are eight main islands. We’ll be visiting two of them: Oahu and Hawaii (the Big Island). We fly from Sydney to Honolulu then immediately fly from Honolulu to the Big Island. We’ll be staying there for a few days to explore its many extinct, dormant, and active volcanoes! Then we return to Oahu and stay at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. Here Louisa will be able to ride horses and Oliver will be able to visit the beach to their hearts’ content. Finally, we move to downtown Waikiki for a few days of sightseeing and shopping.

The Hawaiian archipelago

The Hawaiian archipelago

I’m excited to see the geology and diversity of flora and fauna. Hawaii features heavily in one of my favourite books: The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen. dodoBecause it is so isolated from other major land masses and because it arose steaming from under the ocean (formed in the distant past and still being formed by volcanic activity), Hawaii boasts many species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world (it also, unfortunately, has lost many species to extinction).

Louisa is excited to find out what kinds of animals live on Hawaii. I suspect they will be quite different to what she saw in Africa. Oliver is looking forward to the beach and Peter is looking forward to some relaxation!

So we will post what we learn about Hawaii as we prepare for our trip and we look forward to reading your suggestions about places to visit and things to do. Please post them in the comments below.

Aloha oukou!

lei

 

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3

Wednesday Morning

On Wednesday morning after their sleep out, Oliver and Peter got to go and meet a colony of Meerkats. They walked in on foot and got incredibly close to these delightful little guys (and girls).

A Meerkat at Tswalu

A colony of curious Meerkats

Oliver got close to the Meerkats

Wednesday Afternoon

On Wednesday afternoon I treated myself to a Rejuvenating Facial in the beautiful and relaxing Tswalu Kalahari Spa. This award winning spa has a menu of delicious spa experiences. I enjoyed my hour chatting with Spa Manager and Beauty Therapist, Corli, as she cleansed and moisturised my face, which had been exposed to a fair bit of sun and wind on the game drives.

All four of us then joined a game drive to a pack of African Wild Dogs. These animals also are extremely endangered and rare in the wild. This pack was made up of five adult dogs and nine quite young pups. When we arrived the dogs were sleeping and yawning in the shade of some trees. But after a while the adult dogs got up, kissed the pups goodbye (literally) and then organised themselves to hunt for dinner. We followed them as they trotted in formation through the bush, stopped to look and listen for prey, and then fanned out and sprinted when they targeted prey to chase. It was a thrilling sight to see these beautiful animals showing us their true nature. Again, before this we only had seen them behind fences at the Cheetah Rescue Centre.

An African Wild Dog stretching after an afternoon nap and preparing to hunt

African Wild Dog pups

The African Wild Dog Alpha male leading the hunt

Thursday Morning

On Thursday morning, our last morning in this paradise, we did some horseback riding. It was extremely cold and windy so Oliver and Louisa rode in the Stable’s arena, although a rather naughty orphan Zebra kept running at Louisa’s horse and making it shy. Meanwhile I took a ride with Juan and Patrick, the horse guide, out across the bush and saw Baboons running away from the horses. Because it was quite windy the horses were very skittish. So we stayed relatively close to the Stables, looping out into the bush for a kilometre or two at a sedate pace. I didn’t want to be thrown off onto any of the many Tswalu plants that have huge sharp thorns if my horse got a fright in the wind.

Bush riding

Comfortable in the saddle!

On our way back to pack up our Lodge, we asked Juan and Ben if there was a chance we could see some Giraffes. In our four days we had not yet seen any although apparently they are a reasonably common sight. Sure enough, Ben spotted some Giraffes on the horizon as if conjuring them by magic. When we got closer we found two beautiful male Giraffes engaged in a display of dominance called “necking”. They circled one another and banged each other on the neck or body with their heads. Juan said that people hardly ever get to see this display!

So in just four days we managed to see rare Cheetahs and African Wild dogs, an endangered Desert Black Rhino, a Leopard, Giraffes, Lions, countless other African wild animals, birds, snakes (including a deadly Cape Cobra), lizards, insects, trees, plants and on and on. As Louisa said when we were planning this trip: lots of animals but no fences!

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“Necking” giraffes at Tswalu

From This Country to Our Country

Tomorrow we fly home to Australia. South Africa and Australia seem to have a lot in common in the uncommon beauty of their landscapes, fauna and flora: sunburnt countries both, lands of sweeping plains … Although we have loved the animals during our stay at Tswalu, we perhaps have loved just as much, maybe more, the landscape itself. What a glorious, glorious part of the world!

From one divine sunrise …

… to another

As a farewell, the kind people at Tswalu gave each of us a small bottle of red Kalahari Desert sand to take home. In a parting note, the Tswalu team wrote:

People say that if you leave with the red sand of the dunes in your shoes, the desert will call you back. So take a few grains with you — this will always be your home in the Kalahari.

Will we be back? We hope so. Meanwhile we will keep in touch via the Tswalu blog. But our visit may benefit the Kalahari as it has benefited us. In the same farewell note we read:

As you have seen, the southern Kalahari is a precious environment. Your visit will contribute to the conservation and care of what may be South Africa’s last great wilderness.

Ready to fly home. Farewell magical Tswalu.

What a rare privilege it has been to experience this final and elemental face of South Africa!

Go back to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1 or Part 2” 

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1

On Sunday afternoon, four days ago, we flew into Tswalu Kalahari Reserve on a small private plane.

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On a seven seater plane to Tswalu

Tswalu is the largest private game reserve in South Africa; 100,000 hectares of land in the southern Kalahari. Over the past 10-15 years the owners, the Oppenheimers, and their conservation team have worked to renew the land and to return plant, animal, bird and other species lost during periods of farming and hunting in this part of the “Green Kalahari”. At Tswalu you stay in Lodges right at the heart of the game reserve with wildlife wandering past your doorstep!

Wildlife on our back doorstep

The typical pattern at game reserves in Africa is to go on “game drives” in open safari vehicles early in the morning before sunrise and late in the afternoon as the sun sets. The wildlife is more active early and late in the day as everything and everyone rests during the intense heat of the middle of the day. So our days at Tswalu were broken into morning and afternoon/evening activities with quiet time in between: we returned from our game drives to eat brunch, swim in the pool, rest, play quietly, or read. We were miles and miles and miles from the nearest town so everything revolved around the game drives.

Our safari vehicle

Brunch after a game drive

Relaxing by the pool

The view to the pool, waterhole and beyond

At Tswalu, which is a truly luxurious game park experience, each family, couple or group has their own Guide and Tracker. This way we were able to tailor our game drives to the things that Oliver and Louisa were most interested in: learning about tracks, seeing the animals they liked, cutting the drives short when they became tired. This arrangement of a private Guide and Tracker for each group is perfect and a distinctive part of the Tswalu experience; it means that each group has their own needs met.

Tracking wild animals

Our Guide’s name was Juan; he drove the safari vehicle and interpreted for us what we were seeing. His knowledge of animals, birds, plants and the surroundings — their look, calls, tracks, habits, locations — was truly amazing! He told us he was born nearby in Kimberley, had worked on a number of game reserves, and is a “bush baby”. He was incredibly passionate about Tswalu and the Kalahari and seemed to be in his perfect job. He taught us the Afrikaans word for “truly awesome” (lekker, which sounded like lacquer to my ears) because he used it so often to describe what we were seeing. If only everyone could find the role in life that suited them so completely!

Our Tracker’s name was Ben; he sat on a jump seat at the front of the safari vehicle and looked for prints, scats and other signs of the animals we were tracking. He signalled to Juan the path to follow. Sometimes they both got out of the vehicle and walked around, peering at signs on the ground, or discussing options. They spoke mostly in Afrikaans but it was fascinating to watch them and see how their discussions and interpretations of signs around them led us to, for instance, two Cheetahs or a Leopard or the elusive Desert Black Rhino. These animals were like needles in a haystack in the huge expanse of landscape, yet everyday we found and learned about so many beautiful creatures thanks to Juan and Ben’s encyclopaedic yet somewhat mysterious talents.

Oliver, Juan and Ben

Juan showing Oliver and Louisa how to interpret tracks in the sand

Louisa following some bird tracks

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 2” …

Hi 3/4T from Oliver in Africa!

Hi Mrs Taylor and 3/4T. We are in Africa. We are having a lot of fun. It’s been great staying in Maropeng, Cape Town and Tswalu. I will post a You Tube video to answer your questions, but I also will answer them here because I can give you more information about what I have seen and done:

Sheridan: I love the white peacock!

Hi Sheridan, I liked it too. Their tails are huge and look just like a long white dress. We saw these peacocks in a bird sanctuary in Hout Bay, which is near Cape Town. They had over 100 aviaries full of birds, like owls that were hiding right near the doors. The great thing about these aviaries was that you could walk into most of them, so there were no cages or bars between you and the birds.

Lauren: The monkeys are so cute!

Hi Lauren, I loved how if you held your hand out the monkeys would reach out and try to open your fingers to see what was in your hand. They felt really light like a feather and their paws felt really soft. They were very curious. They would jump on you from a long way away. One looked right into my dad’s camera.

Michael: That is a seriously huge hole! I can’t believe that you got to see it Oliver! Next time can I come to Africa with you?

Hi Michael, the hole was huge. When I looked down I felt like if you ever fell down into it you’d never come out. It’s the largest man made hole in the world. They dug it by hand to find the diamonds. Even though the mine was closed a long time ago (in 1914) there are still diamonds left in the hole. They aren’t going to get them out because if they dig them all out, according to African law, an “exhausted mine” has to be filled back in. And they can’t afford to fill the hole in and return the land to nature. Africa is a once in a lifetime experience so there probably won’t be a next time. But I hope you like my photos!

Kate: Were you scared when the monkey climbed on you?

Hi Kate, I was a bit nervous but it wasn’t too scary. The monkeys were really used to humans and getting food from humans. But you had to make sure that you had nothing in your pockets and no jewellery on because they tried to get into everything. They tried to open my dad’s backpack! These were squirrel monkeys. There were lots of other monkeys at the park but you couldn’t play with them because they would bite.

Charlie: The big hole looks pretty scary!

Hi Charlie, it was quite scary. There was a bridge with a huge platform that was just over the edge. We looked over guard rails because if there wasn’t any you’d fall right in. I didn’t ask if anyone had ever fallen in before. When I looked into the hole there was water down the bottom. The hole was brown (earth) and light navy (water).

Sienna (3): What was your favourite part of the trip?

Hi Sienna, my favourite part of the trip is here at Tswalu because of all the animals we’ve seen, the horse riding and bow and arrows. We’ve tracked a lot of animals such as a leopard, cheetahs, lions, baboons, a Black Rhino, zebras and lots of South African animals you probably haven’t heard of such as kudu, springbok, blesbok, gemsbok and others.

Jemma: I thought that flamingoes are pink. In that picture they’re white.

Hi Jemma, some flamingoes are pink. On our train trip from Pretoria to Cape Town we saw a flock of pink flamingoes on a lake just before our stop in Kimberley. But the kind we saw in Hout Bay were white with some pink colouring. We saw a lot of birds that look like Australian birds but with different colouring. Here at Tswalu there are many beautiful birds with amazing colours and songs.

Cristian: I love the monkeys and I miss you!

Thanks Cristian. I miss you too and I loved the monkeys too!!

Edith: Those peacocks look like they’re angels that fell out of heaven.

Hi Edith, my mum agrees. These were her favourite birds. They sat up high on a branch with their long white tails streaming down like a bridal veil. We also saw more traditional peacocks with the blue and green colours.

Tom: Where were those diamonds? Can you mine some for me please?

Hi Tom, there are still diamonds in and around The Big Hole but you’d be arrested if you picked up an uncut diamond from the ground. That’s a law in South Africa. In the vault of the Mine Museum we saw huge cut and uncut diamonds, which had been found in the mine. But you couldn’t take diamonds away with you because there was lots of security!

Kye: Wow! It looks like an epic journey! I wish I could come!

Hi Kye, it has been an epic journey. It took 14 hours to fly from Sydney to Johannesburg. Then two hours to drive from the airport to Maropeng. It took 28 hours on the train from Pretoria to Cape Town. Then two hours on a very small plane (with only 8 seats plus 2 for the pilots, who we could see working the controls) from Cape Town to Tswalu. We have a two hour flight back to Johannesburg tomorrow and then a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg back to home. So it has been epic! We’ve also seen so many amazing sights and animals.

Prue: Those birds look really beautiful. I wish I could go and see them in the school holidays.

Hi Prue, most of the birds were really beautiful. The ones with no feathers weren’t so beautiful though! The most beautiful animals I have seen are meerkats, monkeys and penguins. The most scary animals were snakes and the rhino. Rhinos can charge at safari vehicles so our Guide, Juan, had a rifle with him. We were pretty nervous as we tried to get close enough for a good look but not too close to die! Apparently rhinos have bad eyesight but good hearing. So if they hear a threat they charge first and ask questions later!

Edward: It looks like a really interesting trip.

Hi Edward, thanks for your comment. It has been really fun. Your Earthkeepers camp looked really fun too and I was sorry to miss it. But I have learned that it is really important to protect your environment and not do things that are bad for the animals. The people at Tswalu have worked hard over the last 50 years to return this part of the Kalahari to what it was like 200 years ago before farmers came and changed the environment and wiped out many of the local animals.

See you soon! From Oliver.