Post Fire Scenes at Cape of Good Hope

Returning home after some weeks away, the first order of the day is catching up on local events and life round the neighbourhood.  These scenes at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, are of the area impacted by a ravaging fire in early March and are so devastatingly familiar.   This is an area where we often cycle and part of the cycle track goes right through the middle of this desolation and we’re gripped both by a sense of loss and awe.  That the fynbos vegetation which forms part of this extraordinary Cape Floral Kingdom, is sustained and flourishes in such nutrient poor soil is remarkable.  Stripped of the green foliage, the revealed soil looks much like beach sand (from quartzite).  Parts look like wastelands, but in some areas green shoots  are already appearing attracting browsers like buck and zebra.  The geophytes, such as the red Candelabra lilies (Brunsvigia orientalis) are flowering profusely and against the burned vegetation look quite stunning.  With climate change affecting local weather patterns, predictions for Cape Town are that total rainfall will decrease by between 10% – 30% over the next 50 years.  Fire frequency and intensity will undoubtedly increase, putting post fire vegetation reseeding under further pressure. We’re hoping this year that the seasonal rainfall over the winter months will break the current drought cycle.

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Growth

Two different views comparing the barren landscape ravaged by fire with scenes showing the growth and colours of the regenerated vegetation.

Cape of Good Hope from Hoek van Bobbejaan.

WPC: Growth

Contrasts: saltpans to lush riverine terraces

The salt pans at Walvis stretch out in riveting colours – 3500 hectares and the pans are productive producing in excess of 700,000 tons of salt per year.  It’s a great place to hang out with the birds and surprisingly jackal._DSC1201_DSC1132_APR3835 - CopyThe Etendeka Plateau rises to 1500 meters and the view stretches over the Inselbergs.  Wild lion and desert elephant roam in this wide area.

Bordering Angola, the Kunene River supports a lush riverine vegetation –_DSC4516_DSC5832

Fish River Canyon: where time is written in the rocks

The landscape, immediately after crossing the Orange River at the Noodoewer border post, takes on a desolate appearance.

The route through to Grünau, in the Karas Region goes over gravel plains and then as we head to Hobas – the viewpoint for the Fish River Canyon.  Clumps of milkbush and granite outcrops form a backdrop to this arid Eden.  As we travel we wonder which animal will be our first viewing of local wildlife?  Take a guess?!

Yes!! Baboons!  How remarkable that they have adapted and can find enough to sustain life in this tough environment.  They are far leaner than the coastal cousins and their fur much finer.  I worried about their feet pads burning on the scalding stones, but they appeared to walk quite comfortably but nimbly over the rocky terrain. Their diet would include mainly insects – scorpions, beetles and tuberous plants.

How to describe the spectacular Fish River Canyon? It draws the viewer’s eye into a terrain of riverting and rugged convolutions, twisting and turning.  The information boards tell of ancient geological history, but i’m also fired by the local mythology and the story of Koutein Kooru, a giant snake frantically scrambling to get away from San hunters.

Impressively the oldest rocks here existed long before today’s continents were formed by the break up of the super continent Gondwana.  The basement rocks are believed to be 2,000 million years old!  At some point tectonic plate movement caused a huge block of the Earth’s crust to subside along deep-reaching faults and formed a deep trench.  The geology was further shaped through the eons by dramatic forces – erosion, volcanic and climate action.  The river has melded its way over millions of years and cut through the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex exposing horizontal layers of quartzite, gneiss and sedimentary layers.

Rain

A feeling of elation lingers as the soft rain which has fallen over the last two days, soaks into the parched earth and the raindrops glisten like jewels.  The dam levels supplying Cape Town’s needs are still way below par but through this respite we can visibly see the vegetation greening up and the first signs of spring are emerging.  Through my dining room window there’s a buzzing scene.  Wagtails are in-coming carrying nesting material, while the sugarbirds and sunbirds flit about foraging for nectar.  The protea pincushions (Leucospermum) are coming into bloom though i still put out the occasional bottle of sugar water (fructose/sucrose formula) for the sunbirds.

The ‘tweeting’ going on is full of robust conversation; the wagtail pair call constantly with urgency – “Where are you, where? Bring in the next twigs, need fluff, fluff?”  While the sugarbirds have the gruff throaty voice of nightclub singers; deep and croaky.  They have the least melodious of songs while the dainty sunbirds have ‘chirp’; full of small bird attitude.  My guidebook describes their calls as a wheezy single “tsearp” or  double “teer-turp”. And with that, a jubilant “hallelujah” from all of us here on the rainy shores of the Cape Peninsula.