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 …..



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.

It’s the time to be Merry

December. The Silly Season. The time where people go crazy at the stores buying more stuff to clutter their lives. More stuff they don’t actually need.  And those that need, go about this month oblivious to the amount of money spent at this time of the year on unnecessary material things.

TLC Christmas 2015 CollageOne organisation that ensures the communities they care for are blessed and for one day could experience the joy of receiving something just for them.  Here is a collage of a TLC Christmas Party – one of many they have for the community.

It is a wonderful feeling to give and exciting to receive but in my humble opinion, I think that the time has come to give meaningful gifts.  Adopt a Penguin for your parents or a friend, or adopt an Elephant or a Rhino and the donation will go a long way in helping to save our Endangered Species.  Pledge to raise funds for a Wildlife Conservation Project or an Orphanage. Send school supplies or clothing or books to Schools who badly need these items especially in South America, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Africa, South Africa. These are the gifts that could have a snowball effect on someone’s life or to the safety of Wildlife.

Pledge that a group of you will volunteer in 2016 and ask family and friends for money towards your trip. Volunteering will make such an enormous impact on your life and the communities and wildlife projects you are coming out to support.

So why not make a commitment in 2016 to volunteer with AVIVA Volunteers?  Visit our website and complete a non-obligatory booking form for an opportunity of a lifetime.

When Love Comes Knocking

In Africa, we do wild and we do life so it is no surprise I have made a new friend in surburbia. She visits almost every day and is not afraid to come up to me for food and will even wait patiently whilst I go inside to retrieve her food. Here she is …. a Cape Spur Fowl. She is adorable, I think I should name her.

Francolin criard. Famille des Phasianidés. Ordre : Galliformes

I would like to mention to the volunteers who stay at our Volunteer House in Table View.  There is a lovely walk on the vlei and even a bird-watching hut.  On a lovely sunny day, pack a lunch, flash of coffee, pick up your journal and camera and take a walk for a moment of tranquility with exceptional views of Table Mountain.

This is what volunteering at AVIVA Volunteers is all about … discovering new things to explore.



The AVIVA Experience

On Wednesday, I noticed a Zebra on the back of a Tall Horse Giraffe and I heard him sadly comment on the proverbial hump in the week. That damn Camel always gets in the way and sometimes it can prove to be a rather large hurdle to get over.zebra giraffe

But here it is … Friday in all her glory and I am sure everyone is looking forward to two days of pleasure. Not that work is not a pleasure …. it just means there will be 2 days of no admin. Today my brain feels as if it has been fried after an admin-intensive week.

Now let’s get some blogging done!

I have noticed the trend for taking a gap year or taking time off from Uni to enjoy the experience of volunteering is on the increase, with many a new Volunteering Organisation/Agency opening. That is why AVIVA has begun to make many new changes to enhance our volunteer experience. If you visit our website regularly, you will notice some obvious changes and some subtle changes. We also believe that no one can recommend a South African project more than a South African based volunteering organisation. We have the experience, the knowledge and know the lay of the land.

So why choose AVIVA Volunteers over other volunteering organisations in South Africa? Well, why not? Firstly, we are based in Cape Town which is the hippest, coolest, artsy, vibey City in the entire South Africa, and have projects all over South Africa which gives you the opportunity to enjoy the best volunteering experience. And secondly we are the longest running volunteering organisation. And for good measure, let me throw in a 3rd great reason …. we are based in South Africa and have a strong relationship with all our projects.

Cape Town does certainly buzz with energy, has incredible activities for you to enjoy when you are not working on your project and within easy reach of the city, you are able to go on a Safari. Hence we recommend you include a Cape Town week if you are volunteering on projects out of the Cape Town area. We highly recommend you do not come to South Africa for less than 2 weeks as you will be so disappointed at the opportunities you would miss by leaving too early. We do however understand that sometimes 2 weeks is all you have and rather 2 weeks than nothing at all, right?

In Cape Town you will live like a local, travel like a local and become accustomed to the local ways by staying at our AVIVA Volunteer House. Everyone in the house is like-minded – wanting to do something good, wanting to make a difference, ready to have a great time – see and do as much as they can and meet new friends from all over the world. It is not like a backpacker where your roomies will be there for different reasons and each day when you arrive back “home”, someone new has moved in and you have to make friends all over again! Our Volunteer House is a home. It is your home away from home where you can kick off your shoes and relax, or nag your fellow volunteers until they give in to your request for them to join you for dinner on the beach front. And we have a dog.

Now view the largest picture ever taken (over 200,000 pixels) – click here.


I rest my case!  So what are you waiting for? giraffe

Have an awesome weekend everyone …..


Where has time gone?

I cannot believe it has been a month since my last post.  To say work has been hectic, would be an understatement and a violation of my human rights to any form of slavery.  So I would have to say that I took a mental health month due to my sense of humour having gone AWOL and my computer catching a horrid bug which kept on popping up Ad’s all over the place. The rotten miscreants who have nothing better to do than violating my peace of mind.

Autumn has snuck in quietly in Cape Town with the most gorgeous hot, balmy, windless days.  So far we have had better weather at the start of autumn than we had during the entire summer months.  Even Ace, the Volunteer Dog, has agreed with my sentiments.

IMG_20150330_182750 And there is nothing he likes best than his romp on the beach followed by a small tub of ice cream.  Oh it is sure a dog’s life.

What has been keeping me a lot busier than usual is the mere fact I am updating and adding to our new Fundraising Document including the DVD which will go a long way in assisting you to raise funds for your trip and your project.  It should be finished shortly. Go me!  Included will be worth-your-while tours and trips you should consider doing especially seeing as you are coming all the way out to the southern tip of the African continent.  It will give you an added incentive to fundraise more and/or wake up the travel senses of your school or uni friends to join you.  I will also be giving you great Combo-Deals to experience the most of your adventure as possible.

Weekend is about to start and since starting this post, a thick mist has rolled in off the sea. If this is indicative of the weather for the weekend, I will be chillaxing on my bed in case you want to find me.