Adventure in Deepest Darkest Zoolooland

I must tell you about a wonderful trip we went on recently (well, back in 2015 actually) to Deepest Darkest Zoolooland.

It was actually a rugged and challenging course in which we were required to survive under tricky conditions, with carefully thought-out obstacles and challenges put in our way by the amazing outfit called:

Ngoye with Ski_7

who led us astray boldly into the back roads of wild Zooloo territory where we watched and learned as he reached out to locals to see if they knew where they were.

Ngoye with Ski_6
Don asking perplexed local villagers for directions

This capable and entertaining master tour guide dropped us off at the beautiful Ngoye Forest for the next phase, handing us over to our next capable leader:

Ngoye with Ski_5

Fully equipped, this part of the course led us carefully through:
– Correct equipment
– Packing for an expedition
– The use of snatch ropes and tow ropes
– Handy stuff to always have in your 4X4 (axes, bowsaws, forest vines & lianas);

You had to be really young and superbly fit to survive, and we WERE and we DID! Covered in the mud and the blood and the beer, we emerged smiling from the forest, much the wiser.

Both tours were excellently victualled, lots of sweet and fortified coffee, sarmies, fruit, biscuits, biltong and more. Those who brought deckchairs thinking they would sit back and gaze serenely at the tree tops were optimists in the mist.
Someone came up with an idea as we were leaving to go on a completely different kind of trip next time with this sort of outfit:

Ngoye with Ski_4

But NAH! – we enjoyed the first two so much that we’d book with them again. Unforgettable (and NOT, as Don muttered “unforgiveable”)!!

It was amazing and a whole lot of fun with great people.


(Slightly) more boring version:

We did go to Zoolooland on a birding trip ably guided by Don Leitch. He did get us a wee bit off-course, and he did stop to speak to some local people, for which he got some leg-pulling.

We did get blocked by fallen trees in Ngoye forest and here’s the thing: Among all the rugged pilots, 4X4 experts and farmers among us, NOT ONE had brought along a tow rope or any decent rescue equipment! It took an accountant with a pocket knife to fashion a tow rope out of a liana that eventually saved our bacon. ‘Strue.

I will stand by my story and I will protect my saucers, even if they were in their cups. Here Sheila shows the total rescue equipment we managed to rustle up; and there’s the tow rope fashioned from a forest liana that saved the day.

Zululand Adventure

Went on a magic trip this weekend. Sheila put a trip together led by a friend of hers Don Leitch, ex-Melmoth farmer and great birder. The first part was to Melmoth itself – or more accurately nearby Ntonjoneni to friends and fellow farmers Gavon and Sandy Calverley. We traveled with another of Skiboat’s many friends, Simon Dunning, ex-SADF helicopter pilot, then a commercial airline pilot.

Gavon & Sandy farm black wattle for its tannin and Nguni cattle for their marbled meat with its yellow fat (“It’s good for you! It’s grass-fed. White fat means it’s grain-fed”) and have game-fenced 1000ha of their land in the Emakhosini valley – The Valley of the Kings – together with their neighbours into a beautiful reserve where they run giraffe, buff, wildebeasts, nyala, impala etc with their multi-coloured Ngunis (which I was surprised to hear they round up daily to count, and weekly to dip). Next door, Amafa (the official KZN heritage outfit) have bought farms – 12 at last count – and fenced them off to preserve them. We saw lots of game on that land. Also nearby is the 24 000ha Opathe reserve.

What a beautiful valley! Seven Zulu kings and one queen are buried in the valley and you can see – with the whole of Natal to choose from – why they chose it! There are monuments and museums all over. Dingaan’s kraal and the site where Piet Retief was killed are preserved and oft-visited by both Die Volk and aBantu. We heard tales of the large gatherings of Die Volk where I guess a whole lot of ‘stuff’ was spoken!! The valley looking unbelievably lush and green and alive with birds. I’m hoping to get some pics from the others. All I have is lunch and some Ngunis. Sheila’s friend Moogs (Marguerite Poland) who wrote the book on the isiZulu names of the ngunis – The Abundant Herds – tells us these three are:

Nguni eMakhosini
– L-R: Intulo – lizard pattern; Amas’ezimpukane – flies in the buttermilk; Isomi – redwinged starling; – isiZulu names for nguni coat patterns by Sheila’s pal Mogs Oosthuizen (Dr Marguerite Poland) who wrote the book – see at end of post –

Gavon, Sandy, Don and Sally (Melmoth local) have been doing a twice-yearly bird-count in their area for the last 17yrs for UCT’s bird fellas, the ADU of the Fitztitute. This one’s called CAR for “co-ordinated avifaunal roadcount” – you drive your CAR and check for birds, stopping every 2km to scan. Same route on the same days every year: the last weekend in January and the last weekend in July.
We joined them for this one. Gavon had a new toy: An old white Landcruiser bakkie he has rigged out as an open game-viewing ‘shooting brake’. The seven of us set out early morning with enough food and drink to have supplied the whole impi that moved through here en route to bliksem-ing the redcoat Poms at Isandlwana in 1879.

What a lovely day. Birding at its best, crisp weather, cool at first on the high hills till the mist burned off as we descended the valley. The count has been dropping over the 17 years. They told us how they used to see plenty storks (we saw none), herons (none), cranes (we saw four blue cranes), secretary birds (one) and raptors (jackal & steppe buzzards, tawny, longcrested, martial & wahlberg’s eagles, vultures, lanner & amur falcons).

Gavon (60) and Don (70) are old Melmoth farming buddies so the quips and insults flew fast and thick. Plenty of puns and lots of unhelpful advice, criticism and suggestions. (eg: – When Don was earnestly pointing out a willow warbler in a fever tree, Sandy leaned over and tried to straighten the crooked end of his finger; – Don’s croc-like sandals squeaked every step he walked, bringing the quip “Hark! What’s that sound! I think it’s a step buzzard”!).

Sunday we went to Dlinza and Ngoye forests. That’s another story.


Author: Poland, Marguerite and Hammond-Tooke, David

Illustrator: Leigh Voigt

Publisher: Fernwood Press

Edition: First

Year Published: 2003