The Big Five on Liz at Lancaster’s doorstep!

RAINS TRANSFORM THE PILANESBERG NATIONAL PARK

Before the rains Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Before the rains Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Kudu drinking at a puddle Source: Liz at Lancaster

Kudu drinking at a puddle Source: Liz at Lancaster

Having not been to the Pilanesberg National Park for several years, I was lucky enough at the end of last year to visit twice in 3 months – in October – when it was still quite brown, dry and dusty and again in December when it was transformed into a rich, green, verdant landscape. And despite the differences, (or maybe because of them) I was struck yet again, by what a little gem this game park is.

THE BIG FIVE SO CLOSE TO JOHANESBURG

Setting sun behind the layers of rocky mountains

Setting sun behind the receding planes of rocky mountains

Source: A.Delmont

Source: A.Delmont

Proximity to Joburg is its first major plus.  It’s an easy two and a half hours from Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse. Plus the landscape is truly special as the reserve area is located in one of the largest alkaline volcanic complexes in the world so it is not only very beautiful but also geologically unusual. There are only two other known alkaline volcanoes in the world:  in Russia and in Greenland. (To be honest, I have NO idea what the significance of an ‘alkaline’ volcano  is!)

GEOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE PILANESBERG

The Pilanesberg volcano first erupted 2 million years ago and had its last eruption 1.2 million years ago. (Do the math as to how long it was active!)  Over time with the outpouring of lava, craters collapsed and rings of fractures occurred around the volcano. Magma squeezed into these fractures which resulted in rocks of different ages like ‘onion rings’.  Erosion over millions of years has stripped away the mountain leaving only these magma pipes that were located very deep below the volcano’s summit.  The accompanying diagram shows a cross section of one such magma pipe.  At its highest the volcano was 7000 meters tall.  For comparison, Everest is 8611 meters and Mount Kilimanjaro is 5895 meters.  But the highest peak in the Pilanesberg is now Matlhorwe which rises a mere 700 metres above the valleys.

Volcano Diagram

Volcano Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole area is known as the Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex (PARC) which has some rare minerals and comprises 3 rings of hills with an outer diameter of 24 kilometers. On the outskirts of PARC sit many of South Africa’s platinum mines (with their dark history both pre 1994 and post). The satellite photo below shows the distinctive ring /circular structure of the PARC.

Satellite photo showing ring complex of mountains

Satellite photo showing ring complex of mountains

 

WIDE VARIETY OF WILD LIFE IN THE PILANESBERG

Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Source: Liz at Lancaster

Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is an amazing variety of game species and because of the open plains and low scrub there is excellent visibility for game-viewing.

Tsessebe Source: A. Delmont

Tsessebe Source: A. Delmont

Reedbuck Source: A.Delmont

Reedbuck Source: A.Delmont

The Pilanesberg was established in 1979 when it was fenced and Operation Genesis, (the name given to the programme to re-introduce long-vanished species), began. It is now incredibly well-stocked with all the ‘Big Five’, 15 species of antelope, plus cheetah, leopard, and wild dog.

Source: A.Delmont

Wonderful camouflage of a young female Leopard. Source: A.Delmont

Other predators include the African wild cat,caracal, serval, jackal, bat-eared fox, brown hyena and the nocturnal aardwolf. (There are no spotted hyena in the Pilanesberg as the environment is apparently too competitive for them to survive.)  There are over 7000 animals in an area comprising 55,000 hectares, with over 200 km of roads. You can either self-drive; take a drive on a lodge game-viewing vehicle; or arrange for a day-tour with a tour operator (see below).  Unlike in the Kruger National Park, all camps in the Pilanesberg (except for Tshukudu) are at the edge of the actual reserve. Visitors have to pay an entrance fee and keep the form and disc that is valid for the period of their stay.

 

SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE PILANESBERG

Iron Age settlements many visible from the road in the Pilanesberg

Iron Age settlements – many visible from the roads in the Pilanesberg

As with all land reserved for wild life, there is always a fraught history of human occupation and later displacement to make way for a park area.   Stone Age artefacts found in the Pilanesberg and surrounds is evidence that human beings have been here since the Middle Stone Age. During the Iron Age, ancestors of the Batswana and the Basotho occupied the area as cattle farmers and pastoralists who also worked copper and iron.  By the late 18th century large towns of 10,000 or more were established in the greater Pilanesberg area.  This settled urban way of life was disrupted during the Mfecane in the late 1820s, when Mzilikazi continued the widespread domination of various groups by his Ndebele clan.  The Voortrekkers in the mean time had come north to escape British Rule in the Cape and they joined with local Tswanas to rout Mzilikazi (who moved on north to Bulawayo).  The land became largely farmed by white farmers with a minor portion of land being farmed and inhabited by indigenous Bakgatla people.  In the early 1960s , when the homeland policy of Verwoed’s high apartheid regime became a reality, the land in the Pilanesberg and surrounds was expropriated to make land available for settlement of Batswana people in a so-called ‘independent homeland’: Bophuthatswana (established 1977). It was largely the Bakgatla peoples who lived in the crater complex itself and so it was they who were displaced to make way for the founding of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in 1979.   Declared a National Park in 1984, it claims that it was the first protected area in Africa to be developed not only for conservation purposes, but also with the ‘specific intent of generating socio-economic benefits’ [for local communities]. (Pilanesberg Map and Guide Book p5). This seems quite a sweeping claim so I have my doubts as to how valid it is.

WIDE CHOICE OF CAMPS AVAILABLE

'Two bedroomed' chalets at Manyane

‘Two bedroomed’ chalets at Manyane

Rate included a buffet breakfast served until 10

Rate included a buffet breakfast served around the pool until 10

In October I took an American guest-turned-friend  for a one night stay in the Pilanesberg. We booked into Manyane Resort  where we stayed in a self-catering chalet comprising a sitting room and open-plan kitchen and a bathroom and bedroom downstairs.  Although described as a 2 bed-roomed chalet, the second bedroom is in fact an upstairs loft with single beds and – be warned – there are no windows and NO air circulation so it was very hot. In the current dry conditions with no grassed areas, the camp was bleak and a bit of a dust bowl but my guest was delighted with the bird life including a crimson breasted shrike. The buffet breakfast was served around the pool area and we were lucky in that mid-week it’s not very crowded. In a camp that can take nearly 1000 people, over week-ends it is probably mayhem.

Pool at Bakubung was fabulous for the small people in our party in December (and refreshing for the big people!)

Pool at Bakubung was fabulous for the small people in our party in December (and refreshing for the big people!)

Above the left fork in the tree, there are 2 further forks. If you look carefully at the left one, there is a leopard lying with his 2 front legs hanging over the branch. Classic pose. Photo: A. Delmont 2016

Above the bottom right fork in the tree, there are 2 further forks. If you look carefully at the left [front] one, there is a leopard lying with his 2 front legs hanging over the branch. Classic pose. Photo: A. Delmont 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two months later and after some rain the landscape was transformed. Lots of nutritious looking grass, trees in summer leaf, pools of water everywhere and wonderful washed crisp vegetation.

SPECIAL SIGHTINGS IN THE PILANESBERG

October 2016 Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

October 2016 Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Source: A.Delmont

Source: A.Delmont

So it’s no exaggeration when we say that you can come to Joburg and see the Big Five! On my December trip when I stayed at Bakubung – a wonderful established camp with great facilities – in 2 days we saw 2 lots of lion, many rhino, 2 lots of leopard, a cheetah with 3 sub-adults, a very large herd of eland (20 plus), elephant, as well as lots of general game. Now I admit this was a very special 2 days of sightings but .. the amazing thing about animals in the wild is that (a bit like LIFE!), you NEVER know what is around the corner.

TOURS TO THE PILANESBERG

 

October 2016 Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

October 2016 Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Baby Paradise Flycatcher being fed by its mother. Source:A. Delmont

Baby Paradise Flycatcher being fed by its mother. Source:A. Delmont

If you can’t get to Kruger National Park (which needs a good 3 days, ideally more), then Pilanesberg National Park is a great option. While of course you can self-drive, there are many tour operators who run day tours into the Park. It’s a question of finding the right ones as well as operators who will take smaller groups and individuals, plus often at short notice.  I have had guests who have used www.pilanesbergsafaris.com as well as www.ekalatours.com and they have all been very impressed with both their day trips as well as their overnight arrangements where applicable.  But they are not inexpensive!  But hey – with the exchange rate and having the chance to be in the bush – make the most if you can.

 

 

 

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International opera and theatre screened at Cinema Nouveau, Rosebank

HD Screenings at Cinema Nouveau, Ster-Kinekor, Rosebank Mall

programme-operasJozi’ites are privileged indeed to have access to the HD opera series brought live from the New York Met and the live HD National Theatre productions from London.  These much anticipated movies are screened at Sterkinekor’s Cinema Nouveau  in the Rosebank Mall, a mere 3 km from Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse. Unfortunately since Ster Kinekor revamped its website it has not included the advance programmes – a serious omission indeed. So here is Liz at Lancaster’s programme summary for those who look out for these long-awaited productions.

 

 

 

National Theatre (London) productions 

no-mans-land-from-21-januaryamadeus-wbThere are 4 amazing upcoming screenings coming from the National Theatre productions starting on 21st January with the wonderful revival of Harold Pinter’s comic classic No Man’s Land with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.  Peter Shafer’s iconic play Amadeus premiered at the National  Theatre in 1979 winning multiple Olivier and Tony awards. It was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film.   In this new version which opens at Cinema Nouveau on 4th March, Salieri is played by Lucian Msamati (best known for his role as Salladhor Saan in Game of Thrones.) There is live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia.

hedda-from-1-apriljoan-of-arcBilled as an ‘electrifying masterpiece’ Gemma Arterton plays the title role in Josie Rourke’s production of Bernard Shaw’s classic play Saint Joan. It opens at Cinema Nouveau Rosebank on 18th March. And finally opening on 1st April is Ian van Hove’s modern production of Ibsen’s classic Hedda Gabler. Ruth Wilson (of Luther and The Affair fame) plays the title role and Rafe Spall (Black Mirror and The Big Short) plays Brack.

 

 

Live HD screenings of the NY Met 2016-2017 opera season 

Susanna Phillips as Clémence in L'Amour de Loin. Source: Kristian Schuller

Susanna Phillips as Clémence in L’Amour de Loin. Source: Kristian Schuller

Placido Domingo adds to his repertoire. Source: Marty Sohl

Placido Domingo adds to his repertoire. Source: Marty Sohl

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s 2000 L’Amour de Loin premiered at the NY Met and comes to Cinema Nouveau Rosebank on 7th January. This meditation on idealized love set in the medieval era, stars Susanna Phillips as Clémence, Eric Owens as Jaufré, and Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim who carries messages of love between them.

Opening on 4th Feb is Nabucco with Plácido Domingo (this adds a new role to his repertory)  Liudmyla Monastyrska sings Nabucco’s daughter Abigaille, with Jamie Barton as Fenena, Russell Thomas as Ismaele, and Dmitry Belosselskiy  as the prophet  Zaccaria.  This is the first time Nabucco has been released in HD.

Diana Damrau as Juliette in Gounod's opera

Diana Damrau as Juliette in Gounod’s opera

A week later on 11th February, Roméo et Juliette begins its brief run. Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau reunite for this new production by Bartlett Sher of Gounod’s opera based on the Shakespeare play. Elliot Madore sings Mercutio and Mikhail Petrenko sings Frère Laurent. Sher’s staging is a La Scala production, initially presented by the Salzburg Festival, where it premiered in 2008.

Kristine Opolais as the water nymph in Dvořák’s Rusalka

Kristine Opolais as the water nymph in Dvořák’s Rusalka

Dvořák’s  Rusalka (opening 25th March), conducted by Sir Mark Elder and directed by Mary Zimmerman, will star Kristine Opolais in the title role of a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince, sung by Brandon Jovanovich.  Other singers are Katarina Dalayman as her rival, the Foreign Princess; Eric Owens as the Water Sprite, Rusalka’s father; and Jamie Barton as the duplicitous witch Ježibaba.

 

How luscious does this production of La Traviata look?

How luscious does this production of La Traviata look?

Willy Decker’s staging of  Verdi’s La Traviata  opens on 8 AprilSonya Yoncheva plays the doomed courtesan Violetta Valéry opposite American tenor Michael Fabiano as her lover, Alfredo. Thomas Hampson sings one of his most acclaimed Met roles as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s disapproving father, in a revival of conducted by San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

Another first for HD is Mozart’s Idomeneo set in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s classic production stars Matthew Polenzani in the title role. The cast also includes our own Johannesburg-born Elza van den Heever as Elettra, Nadine Sierra as Ilia, Alice Coote as Idamante and Alan Opie as Arbace. This starts on 29th April.

Netrebko as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s 'Eugene Onegin'

Netrebko as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.  Source: Ken Howard

Netrebko again plays the role of the heroine Tatiana in Deborah Warner’s staging  of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, this time with fellow Russian superstar Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin.   Alexey Dolgov sings the role of Onegin’s friend-turned-rival, Lenski, with Elena Maximova as Tatiana’s sister Olga and Štefan Kocán as Prince Gremin. Starts 20 May.

 

 

Two extraordinary leads: Renée Fleming and Elīna Garanča in Der Rosenkavalier from 10 Jun

Two extraordinary leads: Renée Fleming and Elīna Garanča in Der Rosenkavalier from 10 Jun. Source: Metopera.org

The Met’s first new production since 1969 of Strauss’s  Der Rosenkavalier  is conducted by Sebastian Weigle and directed by Robert Carsen. The amazing Renée Fleming sings one of her signature roles as the Marschallin, opposite Elīna Garanča as Octavian, the impulsive young title character. The cast also includes Günther Groissböck as Baron Ochs, Erin Morley as Sophie, Marcus Brück in his Met debut as Faninal and Matthew Polenzani as the Italian Singer.

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Catch the Red City Bus from Rosebank

City bus tours give best quick overview of a city 

Even seasoned travellers who don’t like to be seen as mass-tourists, will take a guided bus tour when they first arrive in a big city. It’s an ideal way to get an overview – literally – from the top of a double decker (or diggle-dupper as my son used to call it!) as well as  having an explanatory commentary to the main sights and history of the city.  Joburg’s Hop-on Hop-Off bus tours have been going since January 2013 and have changed many visitors’ perceptions of the city. And now more exciting news!

Joburg city bus starts in Rosebank  

The Red City Bus has come to Rosebank – a mere 3 km from Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse! red-city-bus-4This is yet another recognition for Rosebank and the Parks and what this area has to offer in terms of tourist attractions.  The Red City Bus has added a Green route to its Red route.   The ticket office is now at the Zone in Rosebank very close to the Rosebank Gautrain Station.   The green tour leaves every 30 minutes starting at 9 am until 15.10 and goes to the Zoo Lake, the Zoo, the Military Museum and Constitution Hill.

 

 

 

 

Join Joburg Red City bus at Constitution Hill  

At Con Hill you can transfer to the Red Route which follows a slightly different route from previously, with stops at the Mining District, Carlton Centre, the Apartheid Museum,  SAB  World of Beer, Newtown Junction, Origins Centre, Braamfontien and back to where you started at Con Hill.  On the Red Bus there is a good commentary available in 16 languages.   There is even a fun kids’ commentary channel.

Soweto extension tour 

From the Apartheid Museum, you can join a 2 hour Soweto extension tour on a small shuttle bus.  These buses depart every 60 minutes starting from 11.15 until 15.15.

Shuttle buses from Sandton hotels to Rosebank 

red-city-bus-1-1-300x300There are free hotel shuttles to the Ticket Office at the Rosebank Zone from several Sandton hotels:

  • the Maslow
  • the Hilton
  • Protea Balalaika
  • Sandton Convention Centre
  • Radisson Blu
  • Melrose Arch
  • Protea Fire and Ice

 

 

Buying tickets 

You can buy pre-paid discounted tickets on-line or full price with debit/credit card on the bus. And there are various different packages you can purchase. Often guests at Liz at Lancaster take the 2 day pass so that they have time to spend at Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum as well as doing the 2 hour tour of Soweto. There are even walking tours plus a bike tour of Soweto can also be arranged.

So lots of options … all starting in Rosebank!

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