Spotting Wildlife in the Actual Wild. (plus how to WIN an Africa Safari!)

I grew up in the 70's and 80's in one of Britain's biggest conurbations, the Black Country in the West Midlands, where the wildest thing you were likely to see was a scraggy fox brazenly eating chips from the discarded paper wrapping or Wolves fans rampaging through the town centre after a terrible footie match at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

I moved to Hertfordshire in my 20's and occasionally have moments where it's like living in Farthing Wood. If in fact the animals of said wood tipped your bins out looking for leftover curry, dug up your lawn and ate all the heads off your flowers.

Ashridge Forest UK
Spot The Deer...Clue: You Can't.

It didn't take me long to learn that if one graceful deer bounds from the hedge into the lane in front of your car you should pause for a minute as there is highly likely to be another four or five behind it.

Badger stories make good dinner party fodder as most commuters have anecdotes about the bold creatures facing them down in dark country lanes and in one spectacular (and hilarious) case, actually managing to knock a cyclist off his bike.

There are even rumours of a mysterious big black cat (think panther not domestic cat) roaming the forest behind my home, but in my years of working as a local journalist the only person who actually came forward and said he'd seen it was a bloke who admitted he was more than a bit tipsy at the time walking home from the pub.

Last year I travelled to see friends in South Africa. Riding through heavy rush hour traffic from the airport my friend's son casually pointed out wild zebra on a nearby hill. I didn't see them!

We passed this same hill about five times during our stay and on the last journey I finally saw one, blurry in the distance, too far away to photograph especially while travelling in a car.

South Africa was very exciting with the promise of lots of wildlife. We didn't have time or money to travel to even the nearest safari destination but our friends promised us wild baboons, seal, whales and penguins.

I actually think I developed eye strain peering at the ocean looking for whales. I was so desperate to see one but despite it being perfect whale watching season I searched the waves in vain. I did see lots of birds and pre-historic looking lizardy-things though which cheered me up.

birds on beach at Kommetjie, South Africa

lizard- Kommetjie,South Africa

One day we popped along to an ocean-side cafe in Kalk Bay where the owner cheerily informed us we had just missed the whales in clear view of the cafe's windows.

We did however meet one of the town's most famous residents - a huge wild sea-lion who stalks the harbour both delighting and terrifying the tourists along with his less scary pals who are just there for any scraps the local fisherman leave around.

sealion, Kalk Bay, SA

sealions Kalk Bay, South Africa

Sea lion KAlk Bay, South Africa

My friend's husband who sails out of False Bay Yacht Club came home almost daily and told us about the whales he had seen. All I saw was posters advertising whale watching tours.

Then, one evening as we took an enormous detour across the mountains to avoid riots in the townships across the region my friend's son shouted: "whale!" and from our high vantage point we could just about see the water spout and shape of an whale just off Kommetjie's famous lighthouse (pictured here from the beach walkway).

Kommetjie Lighthouse

The whale was too far away to capture any sort of picture, never mind a decent picture but I'll keep that image in my mind forever.

All through our stay we saw signs all over the Cape warning about baboons. Even before we went, researching what to do in and around Kommentijie where we would be staying we found some slightly scary advice about what to do if confronted by a baboon, or even worse, one of the roaming troops of baboons which apparently cause havoc in Kommetjie.

My friend admitted they had had baboon issues with one clever baboon mummy sending her little ones into the kitchen to steal food while she looked through the gap in the window which was too small for her to enter.

Apparently regular soakings with the garden hose finally convinced the baboon to take her troop of thieves elsewhere.

Anyway, despite all the signs we never ONCE saw a baboon while driving or walking about.

Fed up of the teasing and the shouts of "Baboon!" every time we saw a sign, she took us to Cape Point which is guaranteed to be riddled with baboons. It's also riddled with tourists but it's still a nice trip out to see the place "where two oceans meet. Check out my nervous smile as I wait my turn at the baboon spa!

Baboons at Cape Point South Africa

One of the things on my must-see list during my visit was a trip to Boulders Beach near Simons Town where a large colony of wild African penguins relax, play, swim and fish.

It was exactly like the pictures I'd seen before my trip and luckily we managed to go when it wasn't too busy to a part of the beach not deluged by coach-loads of tourists.

It was a little disappointing to see the car parks with gift shops selling all things penguin, and there were lots of fences and manmade pathways which made the experience feel a little zoo-like but it did allow some closeup encounters with nesting penguins and the pathway opened up to a fabulous view of the penguins having fun in the waves and sunbathing on the synonymous boulders on the beach.

As a bonus we also spotted a Dassie (real name Rock Hyrax, also known as rock badger or rock rabbit.) He (she?) stared at us intently then scampered away.

Dassie at Boulders Beach South Africa

We had a wonderful time in South Africa and on the way home watched footage streaming from the aircraft's downward facing camera in the hope of spotting "proper" safari animals in the vast tracts of land we flew over.

Sadly the only lion we saw was in the onboard catalogue so I can only hope that one day I will be able to go and see more of this great continent and it's really wild wildlife.

This post was an entry in to the Trips100/Audley Travel blogger challenge. See the other entries here There are some great blog posts there.

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