Glorious, gorgeous Pondoland

Finding orchids and aphrodisiacs on the Wild Coast

There is a common sentiment among field guides that visitors to game reserves are so focused on seeing the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes – that they ignore the “Small Five Million” i.e. everything else.

This is something that’s very easy to do when you’re two metres above the ground atop a game viewing vehicle and your line of sight is over the plains to the horizon.

All of a sudden, lizards, field mice and flowers are easy things to (literally) overlook.

It’s for this reason that I love going to nature reserves: there’s no dangerous wildlife so, if you’re that way inclined, you can explore the place on foot.

Nobody needs to beg to get me to the Eastern Cape, especially that part of the province previously known as the Transkei. And the opportunity to travel to a hithertounfamiliar area sees me grovelling in return.

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Discovering the Wild Coast

Those who are familiar with it call it the Wild Coast, with the coastal region between the mouth of the Mthatha River and the southern KwaZulu-Natal border known as Pondoland. If there’s anywhere that’s the Shangri-La of South Africa, this is it*.

The other day, while a guest of Natural Selection in the community-owned section of the Mkambati Nature Reserve, I went for a day-long scientific but fun amble with my hosts around their new beach lodge at GweGwe.

Being the oldest and unfittest of the group, I sought any excuse to take a breather and this meant stopping to capture whatever caught my so-called photographer’s eye.

Generally speaking, they were splashes of colour in an almost uniform field of bright green (there had been a veld fire some time before and good rains had promoted regrowth). Some were invasive aliens, others were endemic to South Africa.

Texas Lantana. Picture: Jim Freeman

Learning from experts

The coolest thing about being with boffins is that they seldom object to being asked “what’s this?”.

There is a fruit, Carissa Macrocapa or the Natal plum to you and I, that occurs in a very narrow coastal stretch of the Eastern Cape and KZN.

In Afrikaans it’s called the noem-noem and is regarded as an aphrodisiac mainly because, not to put too fine a point on it, it resembles the head of an engorged penis. I brought a couple home, just in case.

My “chaperone” for much of the walk was Michelle Janse van Vuuren of GweGwe’s conservation/security team.

She had obviously caught on to my game because she would periodically point out items of visual interest.

Have you heard of “shelling out” as a synonym for paying for something? We were scrambling across the rocks when she held up a small shell she’d dredged from a pool.

“Money cowrie,” she said. The gloriously elegant bronzecoloured Cypraea moneta was once one of the most widely used currencies in the world and, according to Wikipedia, was a medium of commodity exchange “in the remoter parts of Africa until the early 20th century”.

Some of the most vibrant colour came from blossoms smaller than a woman’s pinkie-nail from the Texas Lantana which, despite its name, is an invasive species from South America.

The ones I saw were most prevalent around a dilapidated resort on the bluff above the Msikaba River mouth where the Portuguese ship, Sao Bento, sank with great loss of human life in 1554.

Who knows, perhaps some lantana seeds found their way aboard during her travels and survived the wreck? * I suspect people from the far north of KZN and other remote reaches of the country might say .

Money cowrie. Picture: Jim Freeman

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