Sunday, August 28, 2011

The short weekend trip to my favorite mountain

It's a bit late, I know, but I did get down to Royal Natal for the weekend in mid June.  I left Joburg quite a bit later than planned, and with all the holiday weekend traffic, only arrived well after dark.  Setting up camp in the dark is not my favorite, but at least it wasn't raining. 

Having arrived late on the Friday evening, there was no time to pre-survey the morning sunrise spot, so it was a case of targeting a previous location. Heading out at 5:30 am in mid winter was pretty chilly (below freezing if I remember well), but an hour's walk gets the circulation and internal heater working! 

In June there is a lot less water in the Tugela river, so it is easier to stand on rocks in the middle of the river to get effect of the flowing water. But it also means the stones are a lot more exposed, and it is much more difficult to find a spot where the river actually points towards the Amphitheatre.  Anyhow I found a suitable spot and was blessed with a beautiful 'red mountain sunrise'  The sun in winter is much further north than in March / April when I have previously been there, and the sunrise lights up the complete width of the Amphitheatre, rather than just the buttresses.  Compare this photo with the others in the gallery to see the difference.

Drakensberg - Amphitheatre winter sunrise, Tugela River
Royal Natal Amphitheater winter sunrise
After the sunrise was well over, I used some time looking for an alternative sunrise view of the Amphitheatre from the Policeman's Helmet, but it wasn't viable.  By the time I got back to the camp for 'breakfast' I had already walked nearly 15 km up and down hills, and was pretty exhausted!  Unfortunately I used up too much time and energy in the morning, so I didn't succeed in reaching my afternoon's planned location of 'The Grotto', which was a bit disappointing, since I was trying to use this trip to look for new locations.

Sunday morning was another early morning, this time looking for a vertical shot of the Amphitheatre.  Obviously it needed a much further back location, which I found even more difficult to find a suitable spot with the river pointing in the correct direction.  With the low water levels the stones take on much more prominence, and being winter the green grass has been replaced with brown, making the photos look very 'warm'. 

Drakensberg - Amphitheatre winter Early Morning, Tugela River
Royal Natal Amphitheatre winter early morning
Later that morning I went for another walk in a new direction, but again being exhausted and needing to pack up and head home, I didn't complete that plan either.  I did find, however, some interesting rock formations, lichen, etc. so decided to stop and explore theses instead.

Drakensberg - Royal Natal Lichen on Rock
Royal Natal Lichen on rock
So overall a bit of a mixed bag of a trip - I was happy to get the prime pics I had planned to get, but didn't get to see some of the new places I have been wanting to explore for a while.  I guess that just means another visit will be required some day!

There are several more pics in the Amphitheatre gallery

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trip to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon

Sadly, due to insufficient people signing up for this trip, it had to be cancelled.  Fortunately flights etc. have not yet been paid for, so there is no financial impact.  One day I’ll get there!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A short weekend trip to my favourite mountain

At last I will get the chance to make a weekend dash down to the Royal Natal National Park, and more specifically the Amphitheatre area.  The last time I was able to get any decent photos of the Amphitheatre was more than two years ago now.  I'm a bit like the Capetonians, who get withdrawal symptoms when they are away from Table Mountain for too long - I also get withdrawal symptoms when I'm away from the Drakensberg too long.

I was hoping I might just catch a little bit of snow on the mountain, but it doesn't look like I will get that lucky.  I'll be back to camping this time, so early mornings will be chilly (the weather report shows things dipping just below freezing).  Dragging myself out for a pre-dawn hike to the best photo spots will be a challenge!

This 2009 pic was great, but the red sunrise is only on the two edges.  The mountains to the left and behind are creating the shadow in the middle.

Drakensberg - Amphitheatre Sunrise, Tugela River
Drakensberg Amphitheatre Sunrise
This time I want to see if there is any difference with the sun being about two months further north, will there still be the same shadowing, or will the sun manage to sneak around the side of the mountain?

I'll be leaving Friday lunchtime, back on Sunday evening. If I get some decent new pics, I will try and put a sample up on Monday night

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trip to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon

I've now started planning for the very big photographic mission of the year - to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and some surrounding areas. All in the desert south west of Utah, in the US.  Two very different landscapes, both incredibly beautiful in their own way.  Its a trip that's been on my mind for three years now, at last it seems that it will come off. The plan is to go with a set of other photographers (mostly from the UK) as part of a photographic holiday. Scheduled dates are 23rd October to 2nd November, which means late autumn, with perhaps the first snowfalls in evidence.

You can see the two main locations in the map below, we will also spend some time in other places nearby.

View Utah canyonlands in a larger map

Seriously looking forward to it.....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kraankuil to home

During the day yesterday I drove around the area, trying to avoid getting my car stuck in the rather large mud patches which had materialised in the dirt roads following the overnight rain.  I was pleasantly surprised by some fairly classical karoo images (considering of course we are the end of the rainy season, so the place is much greener than is often the case):

Karoo Koppie with green scrub, Kraankuil

Karoo Railway Line Poupan R388

Karoo Koppies Poupan R388

But this morning was very special. What a magnificent lightshow!  After all the initial days with no clouds, and boring skies, the last two days have have much more rewarding skies. This morning we went out with a general direction in mind, but no specific image (which I generally try to avoid, but I really hadn't found the killer locatioon the day before). Eventually we stopped on the side of the road well before sunrise, with two koppies and some clouds above them determined to be the morning's target.

By the time the sun was just breaching the horizon, those clouds had dissipated and that image with them.  But instead we were blessed by a completely unpredicted show of colours and cloud shapes and textures in a different direction. Some of those results are below, followed by a couple of the area once the sun was fully up and casting warm colours on the veld and hills.

Karoo sunrise, Kraankuil

Karoo sunrise, Kraankuil

Karoo sunrise, Kraankuil

Karoo early morning, Kraankuil

Karoo early morning, Kraankuil

Then it was unfortunately time to head home. It's been a wonderful time, experiencing very different parts of the karoo, all beautiful in their own way. And in an unusually wet season, so the veld is looking better than it has for many years.  Of course that can't be said to be entirely 'typical' of the karoo, so I'll have to go back when it's dried out somewhat, to capture some of that extreme dryness.

I think next time I may just focus on one region / biome of the karoo at a time, to understand, and capture, each region more authentically.

In the process I have met a set of very friendly, very welcoming hosts, stayed in unusual accommodation, been fed fantastic South African, and more specifically karoo lamb, dinners, learned a lot about the area and some of its history.  Hopefully in the process I have captured some images which express the typical, and beautiful, karoo landscape.

Now the shock of driving home - off the dirt roads onto the mad national long distance roads, and what a horrible brown smog over Joburg when approaching from the south-west.

As soon as I have filtered through all my pics, I will post a bigger set on the website (and larger pics), and update the blog to reflect that.

Thanks for sharing the journey with me, and I'll be back in the outdoors just as soon as I possibly can!


Taaiboschfontein to Kraankuil

From Taaiboschfontein its a quick dash up the N1 (with a short diversion to take a snap of Three Sisters) to Richmond, then off the highway onto the gravel road through De Aar and on towards Hopetown. For the two hours between Richmond and De Aar I saw one man with his dog, one donkey cart with a family, and two men on their bicycles, and that's all. No cars, and no-one else. Makes it very easy to just stop anywhere along the road to observe the scenery. And what a change of scenery, with the big mountains of Beaufort West area giving way eventually to huge plains of scrub, and this year a lot of extra grass, with occasional koppies.

Some pics along the route:
Karoo: Three Sisters
Karoo: Three Sisters

Karoo Koppie R348

Karoo Windmill R348
Karoo Windmill
Kraankuil proved to be a big challenge photographically, with such large open spaces and little elee to work with. But the first surprise of the stop was to be a gathering storm coming in from the west on Monday afternoon. Pieter and his wife kindly drove me along various farm roads, to try and get a reasonable view of the approaching storm. What a pleasure to see a storm in the karoo, but evidently there have been a lot of them this season! The rain arrived while we were still photographing it, and drove us home. It was to rain for several more hours that evening.

Karoo Storm, Kraankuil
Karoo storm over salt pan near Kraankuil
The next morning Pieter and his wife offered to drive me to a salt pan about 20km away, which after the night's rain he was expecting to have some water in it.  Arriving there we were a bit apprehensive because it was so open and flat, but as the light developed, with the clouds of the previous night, it turned out to offer some very unusual photo opportunities. The pan indeed had a lot of water in it, and the edges were very muddy so one couldn't walk into it. The focus was on the colours of the sky, reflections in the pan water, the warm colour of the mud once the sun came up, etc. Not at all pictures I was expecting in the karoo!

Karoo : Kaalpan Salt Pan Sunrise after Rain
Karoo: Kaalpan Salt Pan Sunrise after rain 
Karoo : Kaalpan Salt Pan Early Morning after Rain
Karoo: Kaalpan Salt Pan Sunrise after rain
Karoo : Kaalpan Salt Pan Salt Water Windmills
Karoo: Kaalpan Salt Pan salt water windmills
Karoo : Kaalpan Salt Pan Early Morning after Rain
Karoo: Kaalpan Salt Pan early morning after rain 
Pieter's farm is too small to really walk on, and the landscape so flat with any point of interest so far away, which meant rather driving around the area during the day and snapping whatever caught my eye.

In the late afternoon yesterday we went out again to a spot I had seen during the afternoon, but alas the clouds had blocked out the horizon, so no pics at all from that session.  This morning we went for a drive without a clear pre-prepped plan, but just stopped along the roadside when it looked interesting. We were treated to a fantastic light show as the sun was rising, painting the clouds all shades of pink. I'm now about to make the dash home, this mornings pics will be loaded from home tonight.

I haven't come across any WiFi during the trip, so I've had to rely on the cellphone.  But doing uploads through my cellphone has proved quite a challenge - coverage on the farms is pretty sporadic, and very slow going if it works!  This was prepared early this morning, but after a hour of struggling it bombed out just before finalisation.

I'm now driving through the tired old towns of Luckoff, Fauresmith, and Jagersfontein, (where there is at last some 3G coverage) on my way to Bloemfontein, then home.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm

Next stop is Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm, off the N1 between Beaufort Wets and Three Sisters (see the map in one of the earlier posts to see exactly where it is). What a lovely place, run by Markus and Nelia Fourie. Markus is a vet, but also runs a sheep farm, and is the early stages of an aloe nursery, while Nelia runs the guesthouse. Again, great people. Nelia is just gushing love and care for her guests! In many places where you get good service, its often its good service by professionalism, here it's great service from the heart. Definitely worth a stop-over for the Joburg-Cape Town traveller.

Again this part of the karoo veld is looking completely different to anything I have seen before, with much higher rainfall this season than for decades. What a difference a two hundred kilometers make, this is the area of big, wide mountains. The farm is in a valley between two sets of mountains, and a completely different challenge to photograph. 

In the early morning Saturday attempt I thought I had lined up a great shot with a farm road pointing straight at the mountain, so that was going to be my 'leading lines' in the pic. I took a couple of snaps as the sun was coming up, but quickly discovered that the sun was rising directly behind me, and since I was standing just beside a tree, the shadows of me and the tree lined up perfectly with the road, and totaly destroyed the lead-in lines. One morning's photo op wasted! The rest of Saturday was spent wandering around the farm looking for photo opportunities, but still no clouds in sight, and very harsh light, so I only took a few photos.  The early morning and late afternoon sun on the grasses is beautiful, but with the big mountains, big afternoon shadows arrive very quickly and obscure the view, so make it a challenge to find a suitable spot.

Yay! Monday morning brings some clouds, but just when I need to leave! A few early morning pics were reasonably successful, but sadly its time to move on again. This time I'm off to Kraankuil, betewwn De Aar and Hopetown. Hopefully the clouds will follow me.

Some pics from Taaiboschfontein:
Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm Sundown over open Karoo
Sundown over Taaiboschfontein grasslands
Sunrise on Taaiboschfontein
Sunrise on Taaiboschfontein
Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm windmill
Taaiboschfontein farm windmill
Sundown over Taaiboschfontein
Karoo golden grasslands (Taaiboschfontein farm)
Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm wild aloe
Taaiboscfontein Guest Farm wild aloe
Taaiboschfontein before dawn
Taaiboschfontein before dawn
Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm before dawn
Taaiboschfontein before dawn
Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm early morning with Staffie
Taaiboschfontein farm early morning with staffie
Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm early morning
Taaiboschfontein farm early morning

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Langberg to Osfontein Corbelled House

 Friday morning was an early start again, heading out across the koppie half an hour before sunrise.  Thick grass, dark rocks, thorn bushes, and no paths don't make it easy to clamber over koppies in the pre-dawn light. Its a chilly morning again, I brought the fleece and jacket, but didn't think I would need the gloves. Standing around waiting for the sun to rise, especially when the wind blows, isn't the warmest of occupations. Looking around, I see a hint of clouds, but sadly behind me, not where the camera is pointing! Not useful for this morning, but at least it gives gives me hope that more will come. I think I heard something on the weather report before I left that a cold front would be coming up from Cape Town. That's not good for the cold, but might bring some interesting clouds. A couple of pics from that session:

Langberg Guest Farm pre-sunrise
Langberg Guest Farm pre-dawn
Langberg Guest Farm sunrise
Langberg Guest Farm sunrise
Langberg Guest Farm early morning

Then its back to the farm, an excellent farmstyle breakfast, and pay up, and I'll be on my way.  They have a pretty sophisticated set-up at this farm - I'm able to pay with Credit card! It will be very different in the ones to come.

Heading off at 9 am (minus one pair of fancy sunglasses, which got nicked at Magersfontein) I get on the R357, through Douglas, to Prieska. It's a bit potholed at first, then becomes a very nice road, and I make good time to Prieska. The biggish trees of the highveld grasslands were gradually making way for smaller bushes, and the grassland becoming sparser and more scrubby. At Prieska I thought I might stop for drink and lunch at a coffee shop, but turns out Prieska is one of those towns where loads of people are just hanging around town doing nothing, quite a few walking along with their beer bottles. I'm sure there's a pleasant enough coffee shop somewhere, but leaving my car on the street with expensive camera gear inside wasn't appealing, so I left again and stopped at a lay-bye outside town for a stretch.

Keeping south again, in the direction of Carnarvon, I soon hit the dirt road, which was to last most of the remaining 200km. It was actually a pretty good road, of course barely any traffic, and easy to stop along the way to check out any candidate photo opportunity.   At last a few hills appeared south of Prieska, and it also wasn't long before I noticed the clouds building up - hurray! I had to stop and take a picture of an otherwise un-spectacular scene.

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But it then became flat, long and pretty dull.
Karoo scrub
You may ask ""what am I supposed to see in this picture?'". Well, nothing really, that's the whole point, the Karoo is full of lots and lots of scrubby nothingness. In case you don't believe me, try driving on these roads - many kilometers of straight roads, an occasional turn, and then out it stretches again into the barren landscape.
Karoo open road
Karoo open road

Karoo Windmill R386
Karoo Windmill

I'm not surprised that when this chap found water in this nothingness, he got a bit over-excited when naming his windmill!

Fortunately, there are some interesting sites to break the monotony. This one is a salt pan of some sort, it is actually being mined just out of the picture on the left.

Karoo Salt Pan R386
Karoo Salt Pan
Finally arrived in Carnarvon, which looks like quite a bit of effort has beem made by quite a few residents to restore and look after their old karoo homes. I didn't have time to stop and expore, but will have to come back tomorrow. Back on the tar road south towards Loxton, the turn-off to my next destination - Osfontein Corbelled Guest house- came up quickly.

It's run by a lovely couple - Natascha and Stegmann Lubbe- who invited me into the farmhouse for coffee, and to catch a re-run of Kate and William's wedding! But the accomodation is what brought me here - they have very successfully restored an old corbelled house on their farm. These are houses that were built in parts of the karoo by trekboers  in the early 1800s. With very little building material available in the desolate karoo, they built these houses from smallish pieces of flat stone. Round or square walls, then an igloo shaped roof, made with overlapping stones, using a clay as a mortar. There are still several standing on various farms, mostly further south west, and a bit too far for this trip. But a very authentic stay-over, and fantastic people. Stegmann even herded his sheep especially for me to take photos (where do you want me to move them to? And his sheepdogs moved the heard into the right place!). He told me this season they've had the most rain since 1974, so his dam is full, the grass is still quite long, and he seems happy with the result.

Some pics from his farm follow:

Osfontein Guest Farm koppies
Osfontein Guest Farm
Osfontein Guest Farm koppies

Osfontein Guest Farm windmill at twilight
Osfontein Windmill by twilight
Osfontein Corbelled House inside by candlelight
Osfontein Corbelled House by candlelight
Osfontein Guest Farm koppies before sunrise
Osfontein Guest Farm before dawn
Osfontein Guest Farm koppies at sunrise

Osfontein Corbelled House
Osfontein Corbelled House

Osfontein Guest Farm early morning in the koppies

Osfontein Corbelled House
Osfontein Corbelled House

Now it's off the the next farm. I had to take a diversion through Beaufort West to get to a chemist in a hurry (a tooth infection starting) and to get cell phone coverage. I don't know yet whether I will have coverage at the next place, let's see!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Langberg Guest Farm

First stop Langberg Guest Farm, 22km south of Kimberley. The first thing I noticed driving south yesterday was the  gradual dissipation of clouds - not good news for landscape photos in general, but particularly a problem in the  wide open spaces of the Karoo, where you need something to give interest in the sky.  It hasn't been possible to  come through earlier, hopefully its not too late.

I clearly haven't got into the Karoo proper yet, its more the edge of the Highveld grassland. They have apparently  had very good summer rains, so there's still a lot more grass around than I was expecting. Good for the animals, but  very difficult to take photos in the long grass!
Langberg Guest Farm early morning

The farm does some olives, but is mostly game farming now. When I asked why the gate to the hiking trail was  padlocked, I was told 'well, we now keep buffalo in there, and we are worried they might kill someone'! Ok, so I  will go in the other direction....

Langberg Guest Farm stable accommodation
The accomodation is based on the old stables from 1860, that have been done up very well, each main stable forming a room. Very nicely done, good dinners served (if you order dinner in the  morning!) - what a pleasure compared to my usual of coming back to the campsite after dark and only then starting to light the fire, cook food, etc.

Langberg Guest Farm sunrise

This morning's photography wasn't a big success, its always difficult first time out in a place. And with the very long grass, and thick bush,  its pretty difficult to find a clear view of anything, plus once the pinks/blues have gone, that empty sky is really boring!' We'll try again tomorrow morning...

Also spent some time a few kilometers away at Magerfontein, the site of one the the Anglo-Boer war battles. I'm glad  it wasn't me who was trying to cross this open grassland to attack the koppie, while being shelled by Boer guns from  the hill.

Magersfontein battlefield
The tiny white markers near the bottom of the photo is the trench line where the Boers were dug in. The Scottish Highlanders lost this particular battle.

Tomorrow, after an early morning photo attempt, then breakfast, it will quite a long drive to Osfontein farm, between Carnarvon and Loxton, via Prieska. I've never been anywhere near these places, and barely heard of them, so it should be interesting..