Biking and birding in Weltevrede.

Looking for a new adventure we decided to ‘revisit’ a favorite getaway for a four day biking and birding tour.

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A cycle helmet is a perfect basket for harvesting pomegranates.

Late summer and early autumn is the perfect time to visit Weltevrede Fig Farm. Not only are the orchards laden with figs to meet any appetite, but the heat of the Karoo sun is tempered with cool evening breezes. Amongst the many attractions of Weltevrede is their pet friendly hospitality.

Our plans for mountain biking were more focused on easy backcountry road ‘touring’ instead of the adrenaline rush of single track and gravity descent. Still, there was the northern slope of the Swartberg Pass into Prince Albert which we had every intention of speeding down. Unfortunately poor weather,  thick mist and arriving after dark put paid to that pursuit and we had to accept the alternative of driving to the farm looking for wildlife in the headlights.

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Amanda watching a pair of Verreaux's Eagles soaring above their nesting site.

Sunrise on the first day was perfect for birding up the gorge. We set off with the dogs and followed the stream southwards. As luck should have it, we spotted a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles doing an early morning display flight before one swooped down, picked up a bit of nesting material before flying straight to their nest perched on the east facing cliff.

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Lunch and birding from the veranda.

After breakfast the cool wind and sporadic drizzle did not encourage cycling so we spent the rest of the day birding from our veranda overlooking the apricot orchard. While the species count was a modest 30 species, it was flock sizes and the species antics that captured our attention for the lazy hoyrs.

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The tranquility of cycling on backcountry roads in the Karoo

Late afternoon, despite the weather we set out on our bike, to immerse ourselves in the vast sprawling landscape of the Karoo. The vast undeveloped region has the ability to numb your mind. After the perpetual avian activity of the day, it was relaxing to set out on the gravel road with majestic geology soaring up into the rippled and twisted sedimentary layers that form the Swartberg Mountain range.

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From a elevated summit we admired a vivid rainbow to the east and a glowing sunset to the west. After a steady climb to the viewpoint, it was a brisk gravity descent back to our accommodation to the warmth of the typical Karoo houses. Designed to harvest the sun for warmth in winter and to maximize the cool shade in summer, walking into the warm house at dusk was a welcome comfort after the cool finish to the ride.

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Warming up in the morning sun.

Our alarm call in the morning was an African Fish-Eagle soaring above before gliding to the Leeugamka dam further west. After a breakfast of fresh figs and pomegranates we drove to Prince Albert for coffee and cake. Leaving our vehicle at the Prince Albert Hotel on the main road, we cycled back to the farm for a swim in the reservoir and mid afternoon lunch. Our siesta was preceded by a round of backgammon (interrupted by birding) on the veranda.

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A lift with local labour on the back of a bakkie.

Catching a lift on the back of a bakkie with some farm laborers into town I recovered our vehicle and drove back into a mesmerizing sunset en route to the farm.

Forgoing cycling on the third day, we opted for a birding hike in the Leeugamka nature reserve.

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The irrigation furrows were a constant playground for Bandit

A source of fringe entertainment was provided by our three dogs. Bandit, a cross breed loves chasing stones and swimming. The water supply for Weltevrede is a network of lei water canals which were ideal for Bandit to play in and dive for stones. Even when we went on our walks, he would splash along with canal instead of walking on the path.

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Maya and Bandit investigating an Aardvark burrow.

Maya and Scarlett, both terrier breeds love the chase. At home they have Vervet Monkeys and porcupines to ‘chase’. At Weltevrede there were two cliffs populated with Dassies, or the Rock Hyrax. As we walked below the cliffs, they would alarm at us from their safe ledges which worked both terriers up to a frenzy.

While the magic of the Weltevrede valley is the open space and easy access to the surrounding nature, it is at night that the true essence of a stay here becomes apparent. Weltevrede is off the grid. No electricity. No power. Just gas, lamps and open fire.

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The romance of cooking on gas or a braai and preparing food by lamp light is accentuated by sharing a glass of wine around a roaring fire.
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Replete after dinner, wrapped in a fleece blanket, the spectacle of the Karoo night sky will capture your imagination and instil an astronomical fascination.
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Then, like all good things in life, it was time to pack up and return home, do some laundry before embarking on a 10 birding project in the Eastern Cape.

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