Africa, Birds & Birding

Old Lilani Spa

On our first visit, with Bruce & Heather, the remains of the old hotel were still there. You walked into the foyer under a roof, the reception counter awaited you; But you soon walked out into the sunshine, as it was just a remnant of roof and a built-in counter with nothing behind it, only three of the walls still standing. Less than this:

But that was OK as it was the hot baths we were after.

While sitting in the warm water of these old baths drinking beer, we heard a loud ‘Pretty GEOR-gie’, looked up into the tree overhead and saw this:

emerald cuckoo
– emerald cuckoo – Roger Hogg’s pic from Westville –

Then they had a big revamp and it was like this:

– we enjoyed some lovely times here –

Now it has fallen into disrepair again and in 2019 there’s this:

– hope this sign is at the top of the valley, not only when you get to the bottom! –

I looked up some of the history of the resort:

In a 1900 school geography and history book, Robert Russell, the Superintendent of Education in the Colony of Natal wrote, ‘The Ehlanzeni and Kranskop districts are noted for their wild country. Hot springs with a temperature of 101°F, more or less sulphurous, are found in the Ihlimbitwa.’ These were Lilani’s hot springs.

In 1905, Mr St Vincent Erskine, on behalf of the Grand Lilani Hot Sulphur Springs Syndicate Ltd, leased 10 acres of land around the hot springs from the Natal Government for a period of five years at £25 per annum. The “syndicate was granted a lease of two of the warm springs to develop them for the benefit of the sick as a ‘sanitarium’ – especially to overcome rheumatism and nervous disorders, though they soon claimed way more benefits than that, including curing constipation. One would hope that particular cure wasn’t instantaneous; like, in situ, ne?

An article in the local newspaper announced that as of the 1st August 1906 a charge of two shillings per day was to be made for the use of the hot springs to non-syndicate shareholders. During this time facilities were being built down at the hot springs. The initial part of the hotel was then built which included accommodation for the proprietors. The first access road was built to the top of the northern escarpment at the present day village of Eshane, and people descended on foot or were carried down by litter into the valley.

Later a rough road was built to the hot springs resort.

In 1908, a new lease for 25 years was drawn up, increasing the land from 10 acres to 32 acres, in favour of the Hot Springs Syndicate, owned by Messrs Menne, Matthews and Gibbs. This was then sublet to Mrs Matthews for 10 years from April 1910. Dr J Wright Matthews, M.D., was the resident physician and Mrs LV Matthews was the manager of the Sanatorium In 1914 the Hot Springs Syndicate went insolvent and the ownership of the lease passed to Mrs Matthews.

Advertising was not shy: “The panoramic view of the surrounding mountain scenery was said to be truly magnificent, and the climate, one of the most equable in South Africa.” “The wonderful powers of the hot mineral springs found here have long been known to the Dutch community in Natal, and an analysis proves that the waters in a great degree possess the same chemical constituents as those which make Harrogate and other spas of a similar character in Europe in so much request.”

Breathless reports in The Greytown Gazette, Friday, 26 July 1912, page 4, col. 5 : ‘A large party comprising several families, left Greytown at the beginning of the month for the ever-famous Lilani Sulphur Hot Springs, which are under the able management of Dr and Mrs Matthews, who at all times show unstinted hospitality to visitors. On arrival at the Springs the party camped out in 15 to 20 large tents erected around the place which presented a gay appearance. The baths are very healthy and bathing commences as early as 4.30 in the morning and is indulged in till ten and eleven o’clock in the evening. The patent oven, dug out in a large donga, in which bread is baked comes in for a great amount of attraction and the bread produced from this oven is both delicious and wholesome. In the evenings Dr Matthews entertains the visitors with magic lantern lectures, which are greatly appreciated.

The party are having a most enjoyable time at these Springs and are expected to return to Greytown early next week.’

Later a Mr and Mrs Hobbs ran the resort. During the Second World War they went to one of the large POW camps in Pietermaritzburg, where many Italian Prisoners were detained and chose three prisoners to work at the Lilani Hot Springs. The three men were Frank, Mario and Inchenso Caruso. The men worked there from March 1945 until 1948; building, terracing the gardens, and generally helped with the running of the Hydro resort for a shilling a day. In 1948 Frank Caruso applied to remain in South Africa and was accepted. Mr and Mrs Hobbs and Mr Sayer offered him a partnership in the resort which he accepted on the condition that he was given a trip home to Italy the following year, which condition was granted (Caruso, 1996). They now called the resort the Lilani Hydro Mineral Hot Sulphur Springs, Holiday and Health Resort. Trips off the tongue.

In 1966 the Apartheid government decided to make sure resorts were strictly Whites-only or Blacks-only, so they terminated the lease and paid the owners R44k for their improvements. In 1972, having done sweet buggerall with their investment, they tried to get Caruso to take back the lease, but he declined.

– the valley – check that glorious winding road – all downhill!

Correspondence and financial transactions before EFT and email:

Dr J Wright Matthews, the first proprietor of the Lilani Hot Springs Spa, applied for a prospecting license to search the valley for gold, asbestos, whatever. His application was granted and he paid the sum of £2.10 shillings as a deposit to the Natal Native Trust, Colony of Natal, on 28th July 1909.

In a letter, dated 21st December 1911, Dr Matthews applied for the return of his money as he had not used his prospecting license. In the reply to his request, dated 28th December 1912, his request was granted by the Acting Chief Native Commissioner in Natal, on the condition that Dr Matthews forwarded an affidavit to the effect that no surface damage was done under the prospecting permit. This affidavit was duly drawn up in Johannesburg, dated 5th January 1912. The Acting Secretary for Native Affairs in Pretoria was then instructed to forward a cheque to Dr Matthews by the Acting Chief Native Commissioner in Natal in his letter dated 9th January 1912. Nineteen days from application to ‘Refund granted – please pay the man!’ Not bad by any standards. Especially over Xmas / New Year time.

The hot springs

Six springs are known in the vicinity. Their temperatures range from 35°C to 40°C and their flow volume per hour from 770 to 3500 litres. The total flow of over 10 000 litres per hour would thus fill an average home swimming pool in about five hours.

The original founder of the Lilani Hot Springs as a spa

Mr Mbulungeni an early member of the community and who could have been an inkosi of the community, is spoken of in oral tradition as the ‘founder’ of the Lilani Hot Springs. Mr Mbulungeni is said to have sat on a large rock while waiting for the sun’s rays to shine into the valley, either before or after having a bath in the hot springs. He was buried beside the large rock and to some of the community it is known as a Remembrance Rock. It is situated above the road, at the last fork to the right before the turning circle at the old hotel site.

~~~oo0oo~~~

The history from a 2000 thesis by Ross Johnathan Hoole for his MSc in Geography at UKZN Pietermaritzburg – thank you!

Africa, Birds & Birding, Family & Kids, Wildlife, Game Reserves

I’m, um, Normal!

Such a pleasure to meet weirdos who prove I’m normal. Friends Petrea and Louis – speaking of weirdos – cracked me an invite to an early morning visit to Bill Oddie’s house in David Maclean Drive to spot some twinspots. To do some twin spotting.

Actually Roger and Linda Hogg’s home – what a beautiful garden! I didn’t take a picture, damn!

Now, looking at birds is normal, of course, as is drinking good coffee. Here are some of Roger’s bird pics. No, I’ll show you the weird part later. His daughters must die of embarrassment. I now can prove to my kids how normal I am.

– Roger Hogg’s garden bird – normal –

Here’s the part that pleased me:

– Roger – how very English –

Here’s the real Bill Oddie, a crazy Pom. I got to know about him when Aitch bought me his ‘Little Black Bird Book’ cos she agreed with his assessment: ‘Bird-watchers are tense, competitive, selfish, shifty, dishonest, distrusting, boorish, pedantic, unsentimental, arrogant and – above all – envious’.

And here’s an embarrassing discovery: I’ve seen lots of twinspots, but I thought this one in Roger’s garden was a first for Westville. When I went to add them to my life list, I saw that I’d twin-spotted twinspots in my own garden! In 1999 at 7 River Drive!

Petrea’s response was sharp, as always: ‘How wonderful to suffer from Sometimers. Every bird is a lifer! And anyway, ‘normal’ is a setting on a dryer.’

– more Green Twinspots –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

British birding – we should realise how lucky we are!

“Only around 150 people can look through the fence and see the bird at one time, so we have been organising a queue system. People can see the bird for ten minutes, then get to the back of the queue and wait their turn again.”  – Aaah! – to be born English is to have won first prize in the lottery of life – Geoffrey Caruth esq quoting that scoundrel Cecil John Rhodes –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Just a week later the twinspot occurrence turned into an infestation. The Lellos sent pictures of a female in their garden, a kilometer downstream. So now there are twinspots upstream and downstream from me, and I’m on barren bend!

Africa, Birds & Birding

At Last, A Visual

I’ve been bothered by a thrush.

THRUSH Poetry Journal considers thrush songs to be among the most beautiful birdsong in the world. ‘We love that, and that is how we feel about poems,’ they say.

Thomas Hardy was feeling bleak when:

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

So my thrush has been calling just after dark and just before light for months but not once did he let me see him. But now I got him. He was way higher up than I’d been looking:

I’m still puzzled how he doesn’t show himself here! I used to see them regularly at River Drive.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Now he’s everywhere! I’ve seen him every morning since. I got footage. Excuse the discordant background noise. That’s son Tommy coming up to give me a hug while I was filming!

– morning song – and some morning noise! –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Thanks to xeno-canto.org for the top recording of Turdus libonyana, the Kurrichane Thrush – – – – xeno-canto: ‘sharing birdsounds from around the world’ – what a lovely thing to do!

Africa, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Another Friendly Garden Snake

This one on sister Barbara’s beautiful farm Umvoti Villa, on the Mispah side of Greytown. She’d seen a snake on the big homestead veranda, but then no, it wasn’t a snake. What was it? She sent some blurry pictures of the mystery serpent . .

I asked for clearer shots, but by the time she went back to try and get them, the ‘problem’ had been solved! No more snake. Barbara was happy: ‘All gone for breakfast. My problem solved . . no stomping . . no moving . . no doom!’ (spray – aargh!)

– gobbled up by the girls –

Barbara had noticed the ‘snake’ was actually a whole bunch of ‘worms’ marching in line, nose-to-tail. So had the hens and they proceeded to munch them.

Here’s the ‘snake’:

A closer look at its ‘head’:

– the ‘head’ – or the leading ‘worms’ –

. . and here’s what I found out: They’re Fungus Gnat larvae! Each one is tiny and leaves a mucousy slime trail, and they gather together to move. Here’s a single one, looking a bit like a small slug:

– fungus gnat larva – about 5-6mm long –

. . and here’s the even tinier gnat next to 1mm marks:

– fungus gnat – body about 2mm long –

Fascinating!

Africa, Birds & Birding, Family & Kids, Food, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Mfolosi Day Trip

2019 Aug day trip

This trip was notable for the worst lunch ever: Jess usually makes a great lunch. Fresh rolls, mayonnaise, freshly-sliced tomatoes. This time she had plastic rolls, viennas – and chicken viennas at that – and tomato sauce. Ugh! She has undertaken to work with me in raising the standard.

– dry plastic-y bread rolls and viennas!! –
Africa, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Pigeon Valley, Durban

Pigeon Valley is a Natural Heritage Park in Durban, South Africa. It is a magnificent example of a small urban reserve with very high levels of biodiversity. It was established to provide protection for our vanishing coastal climax forest. About 11ha in extent, it overlooks Durban Bay. Its south-facing slope is covered in canopy forest, while the north-facing slope has thorny thickets. An adjoining reservoir provides a tiny rectangular patch of coastal grassland – also a vanishing habitat. It’s a special place and is well worth a visit. see wikipedia.

Plants

– natal elm – Celtis mildbraedii

There are over 110 species of trees occurring in Pigeon Valley, almost all of which are locally indigenous, including the rare Natal Elm, and the Natal Forest Loquat. Large stands of Buckweed (Isoglossa woodii) grow in forest glades.

Animals

– red duiker –

The park is home to red duiker, blue duiker, large-spotted genet, a troop of banded mongoose, slender and water mongooses, vervet monkeys and the local mamba No.5 Dendroaspis polylepis subsp. hemsonii.

– large-spotted genet –

Beautiful forest birds found here include:

– Buff-spotted Flufftail –
– Green Twinspots –
– Spotted Ground Thrushes –
– Black Sparrowhawks –

Rarer sightings include European Nightjar, Knysna Warbler, Lemon Dove, Mountain Wagtail, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Common Scimitarbill, Palm-nut Vulture, Nerina Trogon and Knysna Turaco. The current bird list for Pigeon Valley stands at 161 species. Summer migrants can include Black Cuckoo, Red-chested Cuckoo and Red-backed Shrike – find the full list at wikipedia

– Clouded Mother of Pearl – whattaphoto! –

Community

Friends of Pigeon Valley, led by tireless stalwart and asp whisperer Crispin, ensure that the park is largely free of unwanted plant species – in fact, way better than most people’s gardens! They (that’s Crispin) also liaise with the municipal managers of the reserve to address relevant issues, and guide a monthly walk open to the public at 07h30 on the second Saturday of each month. For some spectacular photos find Friends of Pigeon Valley on facebook.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Pics by Crispin Hemson, Sheryl Halstead and Roger Hogg; and when my point-and-shoot grows up it’s going to take pictures like these . .

Meantime I point at and shoot things that will stand still for me:

– Pigeon Valley collage –

It’s a lovely place for a picnic. But you must watch out who you picnic with. There sometimes be weirdos and champagne-guzzlers. And people who adulterate champagne with fruit juice.

– occasionally there’s a slight vagrant problem – and some shebeen’ing –
– Natal Forest Loquat – Oxyanthus pyriformishand-fertilised

We really should try and preserve more areas in a natural state. Don’t you think?

– pigeon valley in red and burman bush – that’s about all we’ve preserved –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Life, Nostalgia, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

More Books Coming!

Janet spoils me! She got me a beautiful book written by legendary Botswana character Cronje Wilmot back in the fifies – reprinted recently.

And now two more coming! One by legendary Botswana character Lloyd Wilmot – Cronje’s grandson:

– Lloyd Wilmot’s Book – Embers of a Campfire –

. . and yet another book by the amazing Veronica Roodt:

. . and here’s Janet the Humphrey herself:

– getting all mechanically-minded –

Update 6 November: They’re here! Safely shipped down from Botswana by Carla Bradfield and then Gail Bradfield to my door! Yay!!

~~~oo0oo~~~