Wake up on Table Mountain – New 7 Wonders of Nature

Surprisingly, very few people are aware that you are able to sleep on top of Table Mountain. Imagine going to sleep with a canopy of stars above you and then waking up with the city beneath your feet? overseers-cottage-large1

The Overseers Cottage is part of the Hoerikwaggo Trail and you are able to rent it for a night or a weekend.

Why not gather your friends together for an opportunity which will leave all your friends and family back home envious of the awe inspiring experiences you are having whilst volunteering in Cape Town? The cottage falls within the within the Table Mountain National Park.oversears-cottage-jpg

The cottage is self-catering and is as comfortable as the Aviva Volunteer House. It is a renovated stone cottage with a large fireplace and gas-heated showers. The bedrooms consist of two x 4-sleeper bedrooms and four x 2-sleeper bedrooms and can accommodate up to 16 people. It has a braai area so you are able to enjoy a wonderful South African tradition of cooking your steaks on a wood fire whilst gazing at the stars.  The best thing is that it is fully equipped – just bring your food – AND – you can hire portage if you do not want to carry your own backpacks as you will need to hike there.  Naturally the portage is for a small fee.

The rate is very reasonable at approximately R2,700 for 6 people and about R400 per person for additional adults.

Now what are you waiting for?  Speak to Megan, our Volunteer Coordinator, and get the weekend planned!

 

 

Balule Wildlife Conservation Project – Part 2

There were far too many highlights during my three week stay at Paradise. One of the major events that left me with sleepless nights occurred two weeks into my stay.  Spencer returned from one of the lodges clutching a box which he told me was my project for my final week, in his words I was to “keep it alive”. Inside the box was a cloth which I carefully unwrapped to find a tiny baby squirrel.  Its eyes were barely open and it easily fitted into my hand when I made a loose fist.  After a degree of “faffing” by the men, the sensible woman in camp (did I mention I was the only woman there at the time??) dismantled a biro and used the tube with thumb over the end to create suction to make a feeding device.

Unfortunately at the time the only thing we had suitable to feed him was a protein shake and ended up being the inspiration behind the squirrels name, Arnie, after ultimate muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Thankfully Arnie took to the strawberry flavoured protein shake and the new feeding device, although he expressed no opinion to this new name.  For the next week I constantly had a squirrel attached to me, usually down my cleavage (well it was warm down there and meant my hands were free). In just a week Arnie flourished, he became hairy, especially his tail. He even started to eat mashed up bananas and he loved to be touched and would lift up his arm so you would scratch him in the right place. I was worried about what was going to happen to Arnie when I left, but the men about the camp assured me they would look after him and after watching them with him, I felt secure.

We had many close encounters with the wildlife during my stay; being approached by two male white rhino; watching a herd of 30-40 elephants come to the dam for a drink 15069040_1256464067743513_5083334806709702438_oand play; seeing two male elephants fighting; occasionally being mock charged by various elephant who disagreed with having their photo taken; watch Spencer flee from the tracker seat at the front of the Landrover to the back after coming across a rather upset and trumpeting lone elephant at night (we did get close); have three male lions walk right next to usaviva-volunteer-balule-conservation-22 in what suddenly felt like an overly open and exposed game viewing Landrover.

We witnessed a male lion following a female lion one evening looking like they intended to go mate. We sat in camp with solifuges (sun spiders) and scorpions running around our feet and watched a large black mamba snake rear up out of the road as we drove past. We were stopped by a family of jackals and being amazed by the boldness of the juveniles who walked up to us to get a better look; 15493329_1283381658385087_103040995881605297_oseeing elegant giraffe stare at us through lone eyelashes and getting close to herds of buffalo, impala and zebra.

We had chances to glimpse hippos in the dams and river and caught a rare day sightings of a pair of civets and the list could go on and one. aviva-volunteer-balule-conservation-21

There are many things that I will miss about Balule and Paradise Camp, that will forever stick in my mind such as hearing the leopards and lions calling whilst we sat around the camp fire, the spectacular storms, the millions of stars on a clear night, the wildlife and of course my baby squirrel.  But what will really last a lifetime is the education provided by Spencer and his team and the dedication they offer to keeping wild areas wild, protecting the creatures that live there. 12234992_996786050377984_5857198991547250773_nSadly man can destroy an area in a matter of days but to conserve it takes lifetimes. Thankfully there are people like Craig Spencer and his team doing such work. Thank you guys for an unforgettable three weeks.

Nikki Williams

 

Balule Wildlife Conservation Project Part 1

Testimonial by Guest Blogger, Nicola Williams ….

Located in the Balule Nature Reserve, the aptly named Paradise Camp is a slightly rustic but comfy, camp, it even has flushing toilets and showers, open air of course; no doors or walls but a stick screen to provide a degree of modesty from human eyes, the wildlife on the other hand are free to stop and stare or you’ll be joined by a millipede or two or some other creature as you go about your business! There is also electricity when the sun shines (which thankfully was often during my stay) thanks to the odd solar panel, what more do you need in paradise? 13731781_1146047932118461_7192078559983034925_o

Paradise Camp is proud to claim that it is one of the only camps to not have a fence surrounding it, meaning that all creatures great and small, friendly or fierce are free to roam where ever they please (quite rightly too!). One evening, after returning from an excursion into the local town of Hoedspruit, we discovered that the creatures of the area certainly do exercise their right to roam.

As we got out of the Landrover we could see a light from the game viewing tower. The Research Assistant called to us to warn us that the camp appeared to have some new guests.  We all made it up the tower and listened and sure enough you could hear the tell tale sound of branches being broken punctuated by the deep tummy rumbles of an elephant located just behind the left hand toilet (why, oh why hadn’t I gone to the loo in town???).12485991_1025306984192557_7547421732433862336_o

As we continued to listen we could another elephant, this time near one of the cabins, so going to bed AND going to the toilet were both out of the question, may as well make ourselves comfy on the tower.  Another elephant could then be heard near the car park. They had obviously heard about Craig Spencer’s fabulous cooking skills over the camp fire (he’s won awards for his skills so I’m told), or maybe they felt sorry for the Research Assistant whom we had abandoned in camp, or maybe it was those irresistible marula trees that had brought them into camp either way the weren’t in a hurry to move so we sat and enjoyed their company.

I stayed in one of the five wooden cabins on stilts that are scattered in the bush and made sure that every evening I monitored my intake of water due to the proximity of my hut to the toilets and all creatures great and small right to roam rule. The other two main buildings (very open and wooden sums them up best) are the game viewing tower, the perfect location for a drink as the sun goes down and it provides a stunning 360 degree view over the bushveld out towards the Drakensberg Mountains, and which accommodates the kitchen beneath it. Then there is the office where the ever so slightly eccentric scientists, rangers, researchers get their work done.

I should really make a formal introduction of Craig Spencer who heads up the team of highly qualified people.  Craig is the scientist (yes a slightly mad one) who analyses the data, writes the papers and does other important scientific things.  He has a number of degrees behind him a wealth of experience in the conservation of wildlife that is best explained by the man himself.  12374774_10153651663279473_6397391258382530311_o

Spencer is a lean, tanned, enchanting eyed, charismatic character who is passionate about the protection of wildlife. In my opinion the world needs more people like him to ensure a secure future for our wildlife.

There are a number of aspects to the research and work that goes on at Balule.  There are basic things such as maintaining roads (put a saw in my hand and I am a happy woman removing trees from our path!); erosion work; monitoring boreholes to check ground water levels are not being affected by the various lodges; monitoring the need (or lack thereof) of water holes, to more in depth research such as identifying elephants in the area which they collaborate with other researchers to establish movement patterns, herd sizes etc; tree monitoring to establish how much damage to trees is done by elephants which will hopefully prove the idea that elephants are environmental moulders 15895716_1311735108883075_8744824296453161362_orather than environmental destroyers; and finally game counts which are carried out almost daily and will hopefully cut out the need for disruptive and expensive aerial game counts and give more accurate information on the number and composition of mammals of Balule, and then can be used as a future way for counting game in other areas.  This data will be given to the head warden so he has hard facts behind future management policies.  Spencer says it will take five years to collect all the data he needs.

My adventures in Camp Paradise will continue …..

 

In Search of an Answer

The full moon brightened the African plain

And slivers of moonlight danced

The poachers were up to their old tricks once more

With a bunch of money to gain.

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The Rhino was unaware of her fate that night

While grazing on the grass

Her baby laid cocooned in her womb

Until the bad men came to fight.

 

They shot her once and then once more

With no feelings of remorse

They worried not whether she suffered from pain

As they watched her fall like many before.

 

They severed her horn and half of her face

Whilst she lay in the darkness in pain

They moved quite fast leaving nothing behind

But bloodshed and shame on the human race.

 

As she took her last breath on that fateful night

People raced to her side to help

But she had died and her baby had too

They were greeted by a saddening sight.

 

We cannot continue to let this go on

We certainly can’t do it alone

We need the world to help us fight

And continue till the battle’s been won.

 

Mother Africa bowed her head, and wept …….

by Michelle du Plessis

 

Super Sunsets in Sizzling Summer

I was listening to experts last night, giving their advice of the El Nino effect on the world – some are mild and some are severe. Apparently they know when a severe occurrence will happen. So why no warning? Why could I have not been told to expect one of the hottest summers we have experienced in Cape Town for the last number of decades in order to prepare a wardrobe befitting to the unforgiving African sun and heat as well as to stock up with a dozen fans all aimed at my body to keep me cool? Seriously, one fan does not cut it for me. I have so far, gone to great lengths to keep my body temperature chilled from time to time:

  1. I store my wet wipes in the fridge. They are so cold when I wipe the gazillion beads of sweat on my forehead, I am in my element. Downfall is that I go through enough packets to keep the manufacturers happy.
  2. I freeze a face cloth to wrap around my neck.
  3. I top up my hot water bottle with cold water and freeze it. One would think I had just invented the most ideal ice pack – it is that good.

The only blessing is that we have water in Cape Town to do such things and make ice. Other parts of the country are not so fortunate and though I feel for those people in the small towns where the taps have run dry, I feel for the horses, donkeys and livestock the most. They are dropping like mosquitoes who have flown into a room recently sprayed with Raid. It is tragic. I wish I could buy feed and make sure their water troughs are filled to capacity every day. I wish I could hose them down to keep their bodies cool. I wish it would rain.

Before getting off track even further, back to Cape Town. One cannot concentrate in such heat and that is a sad state of affairs as who does not want to work! With the volunteers out of the house, I thought of moving my computer to the edge of the pool and working from there. Note to self: bring laptop to work tomorrow. I wonder if someone would be so kind as to invent a waterproof laptop with an attachable Go Pro?

The only good thing about this hot weather is that we have the most beautiful aviva.cptsunset.1sunsets and watching the sun slip down into the sea whilst socialising at one of the various restaurants at Eden on the Bay, sipping chilled wine or beer or fancy cocktails with brightly coloured umbrellas, is just another superb evening in paradise.

Barcode: 01301968  Title: Table Mountain at sunset  Province: Western Cape  Location: Cape Town  Notes: Copyright by South African Tourism (1/713) Table Mountain Pristine beaches, sheltered by bays and secluded coves encircle the majestic might of Table Mountain which towers 1086 m above the Mother City. Table Mountain is also a World Heritage Site which boasts 8 500 species of wildflowers  Keywords: Western Cape, Table Mountain, Places of Interest, Mountains, Sea and Beaches, Large Formats  Photographer: Hein von Hšrsten  Original File Name: CF70083C.JPG  Copyright Owner: Copyright SOUTH AFRICAN TOURISM

And I hear some of you say “But I am not volunteering in Cape Town, so it does not affect me”, to which I will remind you that all our volunteers, no matter where you are volunteering can experience staying at the AVIVA Volunteer House and enjoy the sights and sounds of Cape Town. All you need to do is pick the option Cape Town Week …. and your wish will be our command.

Vervet Monkey Project – Featured Project

This has proven to be one of Aviva Volunteer’s most popular projects.  The Vervet Monkey Foundation (VMF) is a 23-hectare not-for-profit centre for the rehabilitation and sanctuary for vervet monkeys. They are a member of the Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance as well as The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and this foundation relies heavily on volunteer workers to assist in the day to day running and care duties of the foundation. Unlike other monkey sanctuaries, the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary do not allow tourists onto the property and therefore do not have streams of visitors parading around looking at the monkeys.

From September, the beginning of the baby season, injured adults and orphaned babies are brought to the Sanctuary by either the public or VMF are called out to pick up and assist the adult or baby and like any volunteer will tell you, this is where all the hard work begins.

by josie du toitThe babies are traumatised after losing their mothers and they want comfort, which is normally found in the form of a woolly blanket against the chest of a carer.  Then they need round the clock feeding, initially by a carer and then they are taught how to take milk from a bottle. These little critters are such a joy to behold, playful, showing off their tree climbing skills, jumping and tumbling around each other.  You rarely find just one orphan – over the last month they have had over 12 orphaned monkeys and sadly, they tend to keep on coming.  Some humans in the area have a low tolerance to these monkeys and cause either severe bodily injury or fatalities.  Seriously, peeps, who could not love such a cute and gorgeous little creature?

Whilst carers and nurturing these little babies, other volunteers are out ensuring the different troops are fed, fresh water provided, fences are repaired and any other daily chore is accomplished.  You may even get a chance to go on a call-out to collect and injured monkey or an orphan.  When it is baby season, no two days are the same.

Human contact is limited as much as possible so it won’t be long before the process of introducing the orphans to possible foster mothers, begins.

v.monkey.scottieWhen the babies first arrive they are all housed in the Disneyland enclosure and from there on, they are introduced to the various troops in various enclosures – Gizmo, Skrow, Royal, Robert, Engeltjie (Angel). If you would like to watch videos of these babies being released to meet up with potential foster mothers, I highly recommend going to the Facebook page of The Vervet Forest.

Finn.2015It is fascinating how quickly these babies bond with each other and latch onto a foster mother when the time is right. What an incredible feeling of accomplishment to have volunteered on such a project, knowing you have made a difference.

 

It is not all work though.  As a volunteer, you have plenty of time to sightsee and explore this beautiful region of South Africa.  But don’t visit for 2 weeks – that is far too short – volunteer for longer and explore the region, like Blyde River Canyon ….

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And Bourke’s Drift  Potholes and go swimming in rock pools and venture on forest hikes. Go zip lining or paragliding. River tube down the rivers when they are flowing fast after a good rain. Dave and Josie at the VMF are the loveliest people you could get to meet and they will help you with tips and ideas for sightseeing in the area.

After that is done and dusted, why not consider coming to Cape Town to spend a week at the AVIVA Volunteer house in Table View. Your volunteering experience is not over until you end with the Cape Town experience before heading home.

In 2016, the best is yet to come ….. the best adventure of your life, the best volunteering experience, the best opportunity to discover your potential!

 

 

 

 

 

Nkonzo Bush Academy

Becoming a volunteer in the Conservation Program with Nkonzo was by far the most exhilarating and influential time of my life. My time with them started when I met members of their team and fellow volunteers at the bus stop in Mossel Bay where we were being picked up. It was my first time traveling by myself on international soil, needless to say; I was a bit nervous and apprehensive. But I quickly learned that my fears were totally unnecessary; we were picked up by Colleen who gave us a tour of the small town and made sure we were settled into our accommodation for the first two nights. She filled us in on the basics of the town, like where the good burgers were and everyone at the backpackers was very friendly. Nkonzo Bush Academy1

The next day we had orientation and introductions, but it wasn’t your typical lecture room orientation. Instead of sitting at chairs and tables in a cramped room we all walked down together to the point where we sat next to a bay and were even able to see a pod of dolphins. This is when more members of the team told us their histories and about the training and projects we would be assisting with. I think the best part here was that the whole morning was more of a conversation or a discussion between all of us as we asked questions and got to know each other better. In the afternoon on the same day we were introduced to our own individual projects. In our time with Nkonzo they suggested that we theoretically design our own observational research project. This way we would know the exact processes involved in designing a project, collecting and analyzing data, and doing a write up. Though we didn’t collect data for the projects we designed we had access to data sets that resembled the data we would have collected and used it or a mock analysis.

The next day we were picked up early to finally see the reserve and the training camp where we would be spending the majority of our time. I was going to be a volunteer for two months; this was where I was going to be spending a lot of time, and I couldn’t wait! My fist impression of the reserve was just, wow. There was so much open space, the reserve was 11,000 hectare (or 28,000 acres in my American brain) and there was nothing but wildlife, free, uncontrolled wildlife.

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It took more than half an hour to reach camp once we entered the reserve, then we had our first view of our home away from home, in the middle of the African bush. Camp was basic and rustic and I loved it. There was no electricity, the swimming pool was a dam just below camp, and giraffes were walking across a nearby ridge. I knew I was going to love this.

For the next four weeks we woke up to the sound of the hadeda ibis over the dam and the sun rise behind the mountains. We were trained in approach methods and worked on multiple studies, one of the amazing parts of this opportunity was that you weren’t ONLY there for the experience and to see wildlife in its natural element (although that was definitely amazing) but we were doing actual good in terms of conservation. The projects we were working on were designed to improve animal welfare and better understand them so that we as humans were better equipped to coexist without harming them. For me, that was a big deal, we were not tourists, we were volunteers in the conservation industry and were making a deal difference.

There were so many sightings and amazing experiences I had in two months that I could never recount all of them. The one that will always stand out the most to me though, was my first, the first sighting I had of a large wild animal in Africa. On the first training session we had we were on mission white rhino. IMG_20150518_213451I remember tracking a mating pair for hours as they had a very large home range. They were being quite elusive and we spent the better part of the day searching for them. We finally caught a break as we searched the last possible area of their home range. We were able to spend time with them as they grazed on the open plains as the sun was setting. For me, it was the most memorable experience of my life and I couldn’t wait for even more.

My time with Nkonzo taught me more than I could have ever imagined. Though we learned a lot about area specific research and wildlife, the overall methods and theories were ones that I continued to use in the rest of my university career and put me ahead when I began looking for jobs.4103067_orig The experience, skills, and overall knowledge that I acquired with Nkonzo were the most influential part of my successfully obtaining my dream job.

Mandi

Nkonzo Conservation Intern

June, July 2014