Tuesday, October 27, 2015

De Zeekoe, Oudtshoorn. Meerkats in the morning

It was pouring with rain the morning we left Akasha and we drove down the slippery dirt road back to the N2 highway. It took us about 3½ hours to drive to the outskirts of Oudtshoorn and the drive through the Robinson pass on the R328 was sensational. Great to see it in rain and mist, but we must return to see it in sunshine, although there were some parts of the road where Lynne could not look down the mountain, her vertigo got the better of her
The weather in Oudtshoorn was fine and warm and we checked into De Zeekoe Guest farm . There are no Zeekoes (hippos) in the river anymore but there were, many centuries ago. It is a wonderful spot for bird watching and they organise the meerkat tours which go out very early in the morning so that you can watch them pop up out of their burrows when the sun comes up. You can take part in mountain biking, fishing and hiking on the farm as well
The entrance
Lots of things to do, rather like a holiday camp, as they do cater for children and families
Our bedroom. The bed was very comfortable and the linen good, but the room is still rather in the 1980's and needs a bit of zhooshing up. The mosquito net is necessary if you keep the windows open, as they do have mosquitoes from the river in front. It needs a wash. But they also have efficient and silent air conditioning
The room is not ideal for self catering, but it has a fridge and a kettle
We sat out on our private balcony, watched the birds and had a light picnic lunch from provisions in our cold box
The very beige bathroom has both a bath and a walk-in shower
The bar
and the restaurant
The main courses on the menu
A view of the reeds and the river from our room
The pool. The saddles seem to imply that horse riding is on the list of activities, but we didn't see any horses
A fire pit and implements for drumming
A large terrace, probably good for functions
The huge old bluegum trees, roosts for many birds
First we saw herons nesting
Like an aeroplane gracefully landing
Then one by one more birds arrived; more herons, noisy Hadeda ibis and lots of Sacred ibis
Arriving in flocks
and singly
until the trees were absolutely laden with birds in their nests or roosting on branches
The far hills shadow then light up in the sunset
A cheeky African pied starling
We wanted a very simple supper and went in to Oudtshoorn to look for something. Trip Advisor and Eat Out were not at all helpful so we ended up at an old favourite, Ocean Basket, which was not busy
We both had good fish and chips with add-on prawns for a very reasonable R175, including tip. John had it in batter, Lynne grilled with Cajun spices. We enjoyed a bottle of Perdeberg Dry Land Collection Chenin blanc (no corkage), which we had brought with us. Great friendly service. Home for an early night, as we had to be up by 4.45 am

The marvellous sunrise, the sky in a furnace the next morning. We had to be at the meeting point on the R328 by 5.20, so we saw the dawn
Meerkats get up with the sun and we went to the site of their burrow in a convoy of vehicles
The hills catching the early morning light look like the Earth's brain
We travelled only about 9 kilometres up the road towards Calitzdorp before driving onto private land, where we all parked and then walked for a few minutes until we came to the  meerkats’ burrow mound
Camping chairs were provided and we sat and waited for the sun to hit the mound just in front of us. The  meerkats have been habituated to human voices and they don’t mind the guide talking at all, in fact he has to continue to speak. But you cannot make any sudden movements or stand up as you are then invading their personal space or, as the guide put it, their territorial bubble
Early morning dew on the bushes
And finally, at about 7.30 the first one, the sentry, popped up. They were having a lie in after the cold and the rain the previous day. We were told that the alpha male of this family never appears, but the guide had seen his head pop up a few times to check us out
They use their tails as tripod legs, so they can stand steady for long periods, watching for predators or food. And they turn their bellies to the sun to gain warmth. 
They are very endearing creatures to watch, but they don't make good pets; they are meant to live free in the wild and their instincts make them quite unsuited to suburban life
"Come on up Mavis, its warm up here"
and up she came
The alpha female is pregnant. Meerkats have three pregnancies a year. They mate and conceive immediately after the birth of the previous litter. They are one of very few species which can lactate for one litter whilst they are pregnant with the next. This might be one of her older children
"Look Dad, all those people are taking photos of us!" Look at those sharp canines
Too darned early for some
Ok Fred, it's safe, you can come up too
Let's have a bit of mutual grooming and socialising. They pass scent on their cheeks as they cuddle to keep the group bonded together
Five layers of clothing and hundreds of photos later, we are still entranced
Two young ones together
Is that a bird or a plane or a predator?
The perfect family shot
Or is this a better pose?
I don't know about you, but isn't it time we had something for breakfast?
Oh! Suddenly there are four of us
No wait, there are five! This burrow houses just six meerkats
I'm a bit tired of standing, let's be off to find some scorpions, spiders or beetles to eat. Or, better yet, a nice juicy snake
A huge thank you to all the guides who so ably took care of us, supplied us with coffee on arrival - that was SO necessary, seated us in the right place and gave us all the information we needed about the Meerkats. If you are in the area, do book this tour, you will absolutely love it. The cost is R450 cash and R550 card per person. www.meerkatadventures.co.za/
We got back to De Zeekoe just in time before breakfast stopped at 9. It was all self service. There was a cheese platter
Fresh fruit
Cereals and granola
And the makings of a cooked breakfast
Scrambled or boiled?
Pancakes went quickly as there were lots of Dutch visitors staying. Lynne had one with cinnamon and lemon and they were very good, nice and thin and soft. Not sure if we want quiche for breakfast or meatballs, but they too went quickly.
A cheeky sparrow checking out Lynne's yoghurt at our table on the terrace
Where are the crumbs? Sorry, toast is finished
We did find him something
He seems to be part of the staff
And then it was time to pack up and go to Calitzdorp. Thank you for the stay De Zeekoe, we so enjoyed the bird and meerkat watching
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015

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