Thursday, November 25, 2010

Q and A with Cameron van der Burgh

Note this article was commissioned by SA Sports Illustrated.
How do you swim breaststroke?  What’s the secret?
Breaststroke is the most technical of all the strokes.  You need good timing, control and rhythm. If you get too excited, or try too hard, your hands and legs start to work against each other. The tall guys struggle, because in breaststroke you need a high stroke rate, and to do that you need to be able close your legs at the end of each kick quickly. It’s also about having a good feel for the water.
Are you the captain of the South African swimming team?
I’ve sort’ve been assigned to mentor some of the up and coming swimmers with a focus on 2016. My focus is 2012. So I’m more of a big brother and I try to share some of the tricks of the trade with guys like Chad le Clos and Charl van Zyl.  You learn from experience that small things at our level can make a big difference in the end.
Such as?                                                                  
Walking in slops. At the Commonwealth Games you walk around a lot. If you wear slops it tires your calves out, and by the fourth or fifth day you really start feeling it.
And how is Ryk involved?
Ryk is my agent.  He manages my media; he gets sponsors for me.  He has got a lot of contacts, he knows how to sell and he’s done well in terms of sponsors.  My main sponsors are Investec  and Tag.
I started swimming when I was four, and was burned out by the time I was twelve.  But you got a very late start didn’t you?
I’ve been swimming since the age of 11 which is a lot later than a lot of people.  It started at an Interhouse competition at school.  I hadn’t really swum before and I won.  In 1998 I swam for Northern Transvaal B, the following year for the A team, and in 2000 I made the South African team for the first time.  I was 20 years old when I swam my first Olympics in 2008.
How did you do?
Mixture. I went into the Olympics ranked 16th.  I did well in my heats; I was ranked fourth going into the semi final.  I was so ecstatic I couldn’t sleep.  But then we had the finals in the morning in Beijing. Television channels in the States paid a lot to switch around the times, because we usually swim the finals in the evening.   I slept about two hours and then missed the final by something like 0.02 seconds. So it messed us all around. I’m better now at controlling my emotions.  It comes down to that experience thing. 
So what have been some of your career highlights?
I’ve broken 11 world records. In 2009 I got gold at world championships.  In Delhi I beat the reigning 100 metre world champion, Brenton Rickard.  I’m currently the world record holder in the 50 metre breaststroke [26.27 seconds] and in the short course [25m pool] in the 50 metre and 100 metre breaststroke [25.25 seconds and 55.61 seconds respectively].
What was India like?  Did you have any problems with the crowd?
I didn’t think it was that bad.  The first two days it wasn’t that crowded.  A lot of tourists didn’t make the trip because of the threat.  In the last three days they cut the admission prices and from then on the stadium was packed.
I’ve seen your physique.  I don’t think I’ve seen a swimmer with a bigger chest than you.  Is it genes, gym or graft?
I’m a sprinter so it’s all about power.  If you lose your power you lose your rhythm and you start going nowhere really fast.  You just die.  Training hard when your body is developing, you know from a young age, definitely translates to big shoulders.  Even the girls experience that. And breaststroke is such a power stroke. To do well in breast you have to be shorter, stockier and stronger. LJ van Zyl [400m hurdler] laughs at me when I run, because I have stubby legs and big torso.   Physique comes with the training.  I swim 11-12km per day, 30% of that is breaststroke.  If we do more we start to hurt the knees.  And we do a fair amount of gym work.  Lots of pull-ups [he can do 75 continuously] benchpress, clean and jerk...
What’s your poison?
I really love coffee.  I’m a real coffee addict.  Tomorrow we’re shooting for Top Billing and they’re going to teach me how to brew the beans, what temperature to heat the milk.  I enjoy Vida e’s Cappuccinos.  In Pretoria we don’t have that many though.
You seem really relaxed. Aren’t you strict about diet?
I listen to my body.  But if I’m craving a chocolate or a cup of coffee I’ll have one. I can afford to eat a bit of junk food because we just burn it all off.  One day it will be a lot more difficult because as you get older you put on weight easier.
What about goals?
I’ve already achieved most of my goals.  [Broken a world record, world champion and Commonwealth champion].  All I’ve got left is to become the Olympic champion.  Thanks to funding from Sascoc and sponsors, and my coach Dirk Lange, I’m on track.
You look a lot like Graeme Smith.
[Chuckles] I get that a lot. Everyone in the world has a lookalike.  I know some of the cricketers and it’s not an insult to me.  I’d really like to meet him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mzanzi Down Under

In February this year I jetted off to Perth, Australia, and for an entire month I bicycled, boated, flew, took the train, hired a car or hitchhiked all the way round the island continent. I arrived back in Perth 28 days later, physically and financially a shadow of my former self. Going home, platsak, I realized this devilishly hot and humid country doesn’t put Mzanzi in the shade; not by a long shot.

Australia has their iconic yellow and black kangaroo sign right? Well we have our jumping kudu framed by a red and blue triangle. Our flying kudu is way cooler. They have Bell’s Beach, we’ve got J-Bay. Earth’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef, isn’t such a big deal. For starters it’s miles offshore and it’s in a remote part of the country. Once you’re there it’s like any other reef, just bigger. But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we.

Good Railways, Silly Road Signs and Police on Steroids

Australia’s public transport is top notch. All of their big cities have the equivalent of a Gautrain except for Darwin, which was flattened in 1974 by a category 4 cyclone. Although theirs are beautifully integrated and modern cities, Australia is unfortunately an extremely expensive country, so much so that Australian’s fly outside Australia when they go on holiday, to cheaper places like Bali and Phuket.

For a gigantic country like Oz, the 110km/h strictly enforced speed limit is excruciating. And another kind of nanny-state hell exists for those road users stuck for hours on the road: plenty of ridiculous road signs and a hundred extra rules to abide by. There are warnings for everything; from crests to dips in the road, from signs cautioning about soft sand on the beach to unexpected waves.

You can be fined at the airport for bringing foreign dirt into Australia [check the soles of your shoes], or, gasp, your favorite cereal. The thinking goes that a stray oat kernel might sprout in a sand dune and infiltrate the Outback.

8 Times

You might think a country 8 times the size of South Africa [and the world’s 6th largest country] would have 8 times more to offer, but unless you’re a sand salesman, you’d be wrong. Australia’s size means it’s moer far to get around. Nullaboor in Western Australia is as flat as a pancake. The track that crosses the Nullaboor is the world’s longest straight section of railway line in the world. Ja, it’s pretty boring.

Perth, 3300km from Sydney, is one of the world’s most isolated cities. Imagine having to travel from Cape Town to Pretoria just to get halfway to Johannesburg.
But the number one issue facing this mammoth country, believe it or not, is climate change.


Crime can seem like the worst problem in the world, but it’s fiddlesticks compared to Australia’s climate conundrum. It’s ironic that being the world’s number one coal exporter, Australia has the highest per capita level of emissions in the developed world, and they’re reaping a whirlwind of climate problems In February they have to endure constant, unbearable heat across the length and breadth of the country.

When I visited Melbourne’s average temperatures were the highest since records began. Many other centres set new all-time records too. It was hot, and rainfall was either absent or miserly figures like 0.2mm for the entire month. In Perth we measured the heat ourselves; at 7pm it was still 37 degrees Celsius. This heat turns Australia’s forests into a tinderbox, and when they burn the damage is catastrophic.

On a trip to the famous Pinnacles Desert two hours north of Perth the mercury shot up to 44C in Cervantes. Imagine standing with your ankles in the sea, and the rest of your body feeling like it is stuck in a gym sauna; the air so hot it pinches the soft linings of your nose. The Pinnacles is basically a graveyard of rocks in a sandpit the size of 5 rugby fields.


I found the humidity a problem everywhere in coastal Australia, from Perth, to Sydney, with Darwin being the worst. Without an air conditioner in Australia you’re toast! At night you lie naked except for a scrap of underwear in your tent; you’re a pathetic, heaving foetus, trying to survive overnight in the sauna conditions. You’re covered in a permanent film of sweat, bugspray and sunblock. You wonder, maybe it’s your own body heat and breath causing the infernal heat in your tent – but when you open the tent flap at 4am it’s just as warm outside. And how do Australians suggest we cope with the infernal heat of the day? “Take hot showers,” they say.

Further up the coast of Western Australia is the attractive town of Broome, one of the fastest growing centres in Oz. It has camel rides on the beach, a section that boasts the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world [except it’s underwater] and special gutterless roofs because when it rains it pours so much the water literally rips the gutters off the eaves.


Broome seems like a lekker place. Cable Beach has that classic sickle shape. But you realize something is wrong when it’s the height of summer, it’s mid to high thirties and uncomfortably humid, and despite the national holidays, not a soul is swimming in the sea.

It turns out that this is one of a bunch of nasty consequences of climate change haunting virtually the entire coastline: floating clouds of poisonous jellyfish and stingers. I scoffed at the warnings at first, until I was stung by something so small I couldn’t see it. It left a yellow bruise on my chest for weeks.

This was one of the most frustrating aspects of visiting Australia. The height of summer, and miles and miles of gorgeous coastline but it’s too dangerous to swim in the sea. When I visited the Great Barrier Reef we all had to pay for stinger suits, which effectively cover 90% of your body. But you can still get stung on exposed parts like hands, feet and cheeks. What’s the fun in swimming in summer dressed like a glove?

Wallabies VS Springboks

When the nickname for Australia’s national animal is also the longer version of a term we use to say someone ain’t too bright, you’ve got to hand the trophy to the Boks. In contrast to a Wally, a Bok is up for anything. Calling someone a Bok is a compliment. Kangaroos, in Africa, against our predators, wouldn’t last more than a few blinks after sunset. And that should put paid to the question surrounding whether the Wallabies are better than the SpringboksBut here’s the clincher. The fact that you can buy boerewors and biltong in Australia, and it's called boerewors and biltong, says a lot about what a lot we got. In every area we give Oz a real run for its money.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Getaway magazine [September 2010]

Wild, wild Shingwedzi
Nowhere is better for those close encounters than Kruger’s northern camp of Shingwedzi. Here the highest proportion of Kruger’s big 5 come out of hiding, with the biggest of the big 5 especially famous here. Now you know why people keep coming back to this camp – by Nick van der Leek

“We won’t stop for lion or leopard, as I’m sure everyone has seen enough of those.” Our Ranger, Matthew, about to take us on a game drive, reminds us how nature has been coming to us here, rather than the other way round. Just north and south of the Shingwedzi camp are some of Kruger’s largest concentrations of big 5 sightings. Vlakteplaas, on the northern side, gets the most, so concentrate your game viewing just north of the camp.

Hide and seek is the name of the game being played out in Nature day in and day out, and it can get a bit slow out there sometimes, looking for animals whose survival depends absolutely on a critter’s ability to remain unseen. The best wild places then are those where abundant animals come to you so you don’t have to go searching for them. But mention Shingwedzi and invariably you’ll hear someone say, “I love that place. We go there often.” And people come back to Shingwedzi for exactly the same reasons the animals do – they know what to expect; and they know they have a good chance of finding what they want.

Shingwedzi, incidentally, is derived from a Tsonga word that refers to the KRRR shriek of metal objects rubbing together. Perhaps it is a nod to the particular density of the regional foliage and animals that evokes this unusual noise, associated perhaps with material ‘closeness’.

Green and Warm

One of the reasons for Shingwedzi’s charm is it’s not the hive of human activity that other camps falling plum on the beaten track are, like Satara and those further south. But it’s more than that. Tanya and I are visiting in July, midwinter, but on this side of the Tropic of Capricorn it’s t-shirt warm, and the increasingly remote surrounds have gone from an autumn bronze, a lovely fiery orange in the rain-washed sunlight, to a brilliant, shining green, teeming with buffalo and elephant. That’s the other thing. Just this northern region of Kruger [as opposed to the far north and Punda] is home to more than half of Kruger’s elephant herds. Elephants are visible virtually every day in the riverine area close to camp and they’re often seen crossing the road. There's also a resident troop of baboons visible rampaging on the river’s sand flats just a kilometre from the camp entrance. These are a favourite food of another resident hunter, the leopard. The tall, dense, leafy surrounds are perfect for these predators.

The landscape is gently undulating bushveld with the occasional outcrop. These infrequent natural turrets sporting huge grey boulders are often home to baboons and some or other historical significance, such as those found at Red Rocks [where there is also a resident lion pride]. Kruger probably hasn’t changed since humans first arrived here. Well, other than a strip of tar and the style of the flashing vehicles sliding along these slim corridors.

We approach from the Phalaborwa Gate due to its proximity to the main highways, and the distance from greater Gauteng. For us the idea is to get into Kruger as soon as we can, but not necessarily to our camp. It’s 131km to Shingwedzi following the H-14 and H 1-6. Another option is Punda Maria Gate further north, but I’d suggest this as a better option for exiting the park than entering. Of course if you’re pressed for time [remember the speed limit inside the park is 50km/h] from Punda it’s half the distance compared to the Phalaborwa route at less than 70km to Shingwedzi. The Phalaborwa option presents a long leisurely road, an option that rewarded us with a mamba, puffadder, hyena and plenty of birds and elephants. The large number of buffaloes we saw almost certainly explains why so many lions are here, and Shingwedzi’s reputation for its record of big 5 sightings.

With the sun having just set, 6km left to Shingwedzi, and just 5 minutes to Gateline [Kruger jargon] we find the road in the distance blocked off by a wall of grey.
About 2km further we are delayed by a pair of ultra sensitive Great Eagle owls [also common to this area] silhouetted against the grey ashes of a cigarette sky. While they’re telescoping towards rustles in the grass, and we have long lenses focused on them, 3 vehicles pass us in quick succession. We set off, watching the time tick over to 5:31pm. This is the common dilemma visitor’s face. Arriving before gates close at faraway camps.

Lion Around

Just around the corner, with around 1km to go we find all three vehicles stopped dead, abreast of each other, and in their headlights, two beautiful lions, a large male and female, standing in the road. We’re on the main H1-6 road. The local ranger, Matthew, later informs me that this is a often seen breeding pair, and that there are three resident prides floating around Shingwedzi with the Babbelane pride being the biggest with 25. In fact southern Kruger has more lions

The female is very relaxed, enjoying the male’s riveted attention, she lounges on the warm tar while the male paces around her, paws her tail, sits, and makes another pass. Finally, one of the vehicles inches forward on the gravel of the right hand verge, and I slide into his slot. The male bristles at this encroachment; the vehicle inches further, and then the male advances with The Look, and the Toyota’s white reverse lights come on, and we’re back where we started. I hover for a moment and try a few moments later down the left verge. As we pass the Toyota the driver says to us, “Not a hell.” I go as far to the left as I can, hover, watch, and then see if they’ll let me pass. The lion lovers are so laid back, they won’t mind me. At about 3 metres the male is up and I hit reverse; next minute the lion is about to run so I stop [they say don’t run away from a lion, does the same apply to driving?], and he abruptly turns and goes back to his fiancé.
“He was right, ‘not a hell’.”
It’s interesting, sitting high off the ground, protected by a powerful capsule of metal and glass, and you have a male lion holding 4 vehicles with fines to pay, at bay. That’s power.
10 minutes later we’re through the gate, none the worse for wear. The lion encounter is a thrilling highlight to close off the day’s game viewing.

Mopane Country

Shingwedzi is nestled right beside the Shingwedzi River in mopane [aka elephant] country, close – but not too close – to the river’s flood level. This really does give visitors that ‘back to nature’ vibe. Unlike Olifants, which is perched high above that magnificent river, and has awesome scenery but is somehow a little detached from the surroundings, Shingwedzi’s camping sites, huts and bungalows conspire to create a community. So it’s kind’ve cozy. The limited use of paving, the tall palms elbowing the tall thatch cottages and the abundance of squirrel filled trees make Shingwedzi the sort of space that you want to braai in and sit around outside. There’s not much of a view, but isn’t that what game drives are for?

The next morning I walk between the camp’s fever trees and palms to note the recent sightings posted at reception. Everything, from leopard, to wild dog, and most of it on a dirt road that starts on the east side of the camp [right behind our bungalow where a Bateleur likes to brood]. So we follow the gravel road [23km along the S50] that skirts the Shingwedzi River. This is one of the best known drives in the whole Park. It has dozens of mini loops to get you closer to the river, and the elephants love this area for its massive trees towering over the verge of the river. It is here that we spot our first crocs, and a bunch of terrapins. Further down we see the bloated carcass of a hippo floating in the middle of the river, with a croc fastening a napkin to his throat before thrashing down some lunch. We also find bigger tuskers in this area, and we’re not surprised to learn that one of Kruger’s largest elephant males, Machichule, haunts this Shingwedzi River area. This Kanniedood Drive takes you south, down as far as the historic Dipeni dipping tank, linking up with the Mashagadzi Waterhole Loop on the S134.

The area around Shingwedzi is lovely and teems with life. It’s 200 metres lower than Punda Maria, so it’s warmer and greener here than just an hour or so further south, but be warned, William, the manager tells me July is usually full every year. During our visit there is a constant [and let’s admit, irritating] stream of vehicles. Although the rest camps offer drives, sometimes, often, you’ll see more from your own vehicle, and you can take it all in at your own pace.

Red Rocks

Another great day time trip is the Red Rocks Loop, across rivers, forest and woodlands along the S52. This route takes you to a number of viewpoints, and the Red Rocks site is just one to recommend. Eons ago the Shingwedzi River eroded a sandstone slab and cyanobacteria took over further decay. Look out for Dwarf Mongoose, vervet monkeys and elephants.

On our night drive the highlight was two Marshall Eagles sleeping in an Apple Leaf and a Bushbaby that most of us didn’t see [what does that tell you?]. We see a lot more here during the morning and late afternoon than after dark. Part of the reason for this is the vegetation is particularly closed and bushy around Shingwedzi. The local ranger, Matthew, says there is a resident pride of 14 lions so you’re virtually assured of seeing these on your visit. Also make sure to visit the Shingwezi Bridge just around the corner from the camp, where you are allowed to alight from your vehicle and take some photos. It was a very popular spot when we were there, and it’s a lovely place for sundowners and a quick social. Another useful spot close to the bridge is labeled ‘Confluence’ and is also worth checking out.

While braaiing under a sky shot through with stars on our last night, and using some locally purchased meat [and it must be mentioned, delicious] in front of our cottage, Tanya and I discuss the setting of the bush and animals at Shingwedzi, taking in some of the highlights of our day. Shingwedzi is so close to nature that in 2000 the restaurant overlooking the river was actually flooded.
“Did you notice how everything seemed to turn green as we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn?” I say.
“It started when we saw that rainbow, and when the sun started to really come out,” Tanya observes. If you’re looking for a pot of gold under a Kruger Park rainbow, you won’t find it. What you will find is a treasure of another sort – wild animals. Lots of them. And you can do far worse than the critters that come to you at Shingwedzi.

Getaway Magazine [September 2010]

Shibula Lodge in leopard country – review by Nick van der Leek

“If you were a leopard, this is where you’d want to live.” During an afternoon game drive, Brett brought us home through a beautiful kloof hugging riverine brush forest.  With the growing gloom of dusk throwing the headlights of the vehicle and the torchlight between twisting branches, it is easy to imagine one of the Big 5 watching us from some perfectly camouflaged position.  It’s true, we watched it happen with a Cheetah: once a spotted coat stops moving, it immediately dissolves into the Waterberg’s pristine mountain bushveld.

Earlier this year, Brett, the ranger at Shibula Lodge in the Welgevonden Reserve, spotted a female leopard with her two cubs.  They were in the bush just around the corner from the lodge.  It turns out that statistics bear out these suspicions of ideal leopard terrain. A recent study conducted jointly by Lourens Swanepoel from the University of Pretoria and the Centre for Wildlife Management, using rotten eggs and fermented fish, they lured leopards into camera traps.  Preliminary estimates are for about 30 leopards (22 adult & 8 sub adult and juveniles) on Welgevonden at a density of 6.1 leopards/100km², giving this area some of the highest density for leopard cubs in South Africa.

Shibula Lodge is an immersive experience, the lodge feels part of the surrounding landscape, and has a slight feng shui feel to it.  This may be thanks to the individual plunge pools, or perhaps the delicious Kudu steaks.  The view from the dining room balcony presents near symmetrical views as hillsides appear to rise and fall in mirror images on both sides. 
Shibula has had a herd of elephants marching through the camp earlier in the year, and while we were there baboons shouted from the nearby rocks of a beautiful kloof.  Lions are occasionally sighted too, around this Lodge, named after another Big 5 local, the Rhinoceros.
It’s a wonderful relaxing stay in the heart of the Waterberg, ideally situated [3 hours drive]for Gauteng’s city slickers.

Lodge Score: 4/5

Contact Details: +27 [0]882 82 06
                        +27  [0] 82 788 5100
Current specials: R1550 per person per night sharing – valid to 31 July 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Luxury in the bush at Lukimbi

I first mistake the flashes up ahead for lightning. But it's three lions holding up traffic on the road to Lukimbi and the occupants of nine vehicles are photographing like there's no tomorrow in the growing dusk.
When we arrive at Lukimbi, in the greater Southern Kruger National Park, it's after dark and raining. My partner is grumpy and I'm just plain tired. We've been on the road for a few days now after covering over 4 000km - I am really hoping Lukimbi is every bit of its five-star rating. We pull in flustered and hungry and generally out of sorts. The valet parking service quickly gets the car and everything else out of sight and out of mind.

We're ushered through khaki interiors, warm without being dark, rich and romantic without being stiff or stifling. Our luxury suite feels like stepping into an intimate corner of a local village; it has some lovely thatched nooks and crannies, lots of asymmetrical designs which someone went to a lot of trouble to conjure up and then build. Very quickly we're very sorry that we didn't arrive hours earlier, because it is so easy to just love being here.
And Lukimbi, it turns out, wins the Kerfuffle Award.

Read the rest.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Raynard's Return [published in June TRIATHLETESA Magazine]

How do you win an Ironman? Is there a magic formula [as there is for the Tour de France?] I asked South Africa’s toughest athlete, 2010 Ironman winner Raynard Tissink to shed some light on what it means to be an Ironman Champion again, and again – by Nick van der Leek.

“No,” Raynard says, “there unfortunately is NO magic formula. If there was, I probably would not have finished 2nd for 3 consecutive years. It all comes down to proper preparation and more importantly putting everything together on race day. I went into the last 4 IMSA events, confident that I was in excellent shape and that I would be in a position to win. Punctures, pure nutrition, illness and other outside factors played a part in how those races turned out.”

So luck is a factor. You can improve your chances with preparation, and even push yourself into being a virtual certainty, but Lady Luck also comes into play, especially during a race as epic and filled with possibilities as the Ironman.

“So you can never be guaranteed going into a race that things will work in your favour. I think every IM athlete goes into the event hoping for a perfect day, hoping that his nutrition, his mechanics, his health, his energy will be good on that day. The only thing you can guarantee is putting in the work before hand.”

Tell us about the lowest point you were at before this win. You had a few injuries and so on. When was your motivation at rock bottom and what did you do?

“I think the lowest part was last year when I had to withdraw at 7km into the marathon of IMSA. I didn't know that it was asthma, and thought the chest pain was maybe related to heart problems. I thought that this was maybe the end of my career. But, after visiting specialists, discovered that it was asthma and that it was treatable.
Of course, everyone thought that it was an excuse and that my days were numbered. What more motivation do you need - other than to prove everyone wrong!”

How confident were you of your chances going into this one?

“Hey, every race I enter, I enter to win. So, of course I was confident of my abilities. I think my injury to my ankle which forced me out of the 70.3, and forced me to rest was a blessing in disguise. I had 2 complete rest months and only started training in January. Honestly, I wasn't sure whether I had enough training in me, because I know everyone else had been training since Sep/Oct last year already. BUT, the training I had put in had gone really well, so I was hoping for a good performance.”
And why was that?
“I had put in some really big bike weeks prior to the race in AbuDahbi and my biking in that race had gone really well. I had also focused more on my running, and with the help of Alec Riddle (who has coached many of SA's top marathon runners), I was confident of my running abilities as well.”

Please talk us through this race. Did everything go according to plan?

“No, nothing went according to plan. My plan had been to swim with the leaders, sit back on the bike and run really well. As it turned out, I had a bad swim, and came out 3 minutes behind the leaders. This changed my plan completely. So, I decided to still hang back on the bike, but at 100km we were just on 7mins behind and I couldn't hold back any longer. I felt the guys around me were getting too weak and decided to put in a burst of speed to break things up.

At 160km the gap to the front was about 4min, but after 60km of hard riding it was time to back off again to recover for the run. Even so, my legs were still a little tender coming home but the body and mind were ready to hammer. I also managed to pick up Anton Storm in the last 5km which meant I was up into 4th position off the bike. After a leisurely transition, I set off on my marathon. [Mathias] Hecht was leading @5,5min. Anton Storm @3,5min and Daniel Fontana @2min. James [Cunama] was 4,5min back, so by no means out of the picture. I tried to start slow for the first 2km, trying to let the legs loosen up a little, but 3:49 and 3:56k's didn't help that cause. So, I decided to just go for it. I felt fantastic, so just kept going, and luckily for me - it paid off.”

When Lance broke his collarbone last year during the Tour of Italy people thought that was it, and yet within a remarkably short time he came back. There was a study done with university students where they showed if they were forced to lie down for 2 weeks they could lose up to 10 years of physical conditioning. So after that injury, to your ankle I believe, what were you doing? Do you head to the gym in a cast and strengthen arms, how does it work?

“As I mentioned above, I had a complete rest for 2 months. It was great to actually have 1 Christmas with the family where they didn't have to fit everything in around my training.”

Are you on Twitter?

“Yes, raytissink”

On Facebook you describe what you do as: 'Wake up early, sweat blood all day, finish work late, go to sleep, repeat 7 days per week.' When do you rest? What happens the day after an Ironman win? How long does it take before you're training again?

“I've taken 2 weeks slowly now. Rested for 2 complete days, then started swimming again. Only ran and cycled again a bit in the 2nd week. This is now the 3rd week after the race, and training is back into full swing now for the races ahead.”

Okay a few very specific questions: what was your resting heart rate, average heart rate on the 25th/and maximum? What's your current body fat %? How did these compare to other Ironman races and is it something you try to stick to?

“I have no idea what my HR was as I don't race with a HR monitor. My current body fat is 6%.”

What do you have a background in? And do you think you can go faster than a 2:52 [Raynard ran a 2:52 in the March 25 Ironman?

“I used to run cross country at school and then got into canoe triathlon originally. Yes, Natalie helped with my swimming. It was by far my weakest discipline when I started. I have run a 2.49 marathon in an IM before - at IM Austria in 2005. I definitely think I can still go faster than that.”

Do you still use Moducare for your immunity? What about Vitamin B complex?

“I believe 100% in Moducare. I also take Vit B, C, Iron, Zinc and magnesium.”

You're going to Hawaii - what's your 'handicap' there, and what are you aiming for?

“I'm hoping to go to Hawaii. Yes, I've taken the slot, but unless we can come up with R150 000, we won't be going. Any South African travelling to Hawaii has a huge handicap competing in Kona. The time change is 12 hrs, the travelling time is 36hrs, the heat and humidity is extreme. So, a South African training alone over here, and then hoping to go over a couple of weeks in advance is wasting their time. You need to base your self in the same conditions and train with and race against the World's best if you want to realistically compete with them.”

Will you be doing any specific races before Hawaii, even smaller cycle or run events?

“I am racing a 70.3 event in Germany on June 5th. Then I am doing the Challenge France race on June 13th. I will also be racing the ITU World Long Distance Championships on Aug 2nd. If I can raise the money for Hawaii, I will race 2 more 70.3 events in the States before Kona.”

I have trained with Ryk Neethling who is about 8 years younger, and I've raced with you a long time ago and seen you race - it seems strange that you haven't shared, or seemed to want to pursue the sort of public exposure Ryk has. Is that intentional? Ryk did win Olympic medals, though none of them individual - did you never think of going on that sports-celebrity path? Endorsements based on looks? Because it's tough making money in sport in South Africa, especially triathlon, and you seem to maintain quite a low profile. Is this because you're training so much that you're not really finding time [or wanting] to market yourself?

“Hey, I think Ryk had the right contacts at the right time and I'm sure he's made a lot of money from it. It does take a lot of your time away from actual training and racing though. Luckily, I have fantastic sponsors that support me, like TRI SPORTS, GU, PUMA,CERVELO, MODUCARE and ACTION CYCLES. They have enabled me to get to where I am today. If it wasn't for their support, I probably would have been forced to retire a long time ago.

Is triathlon - as a career - getting any easier?

“No, as mentioned above, if it wasn’t for outside sponsors, it would be impossible to make a living as a professional Ironman triathlete. Federations are making it harder to earn prize money, and prize money has even dropped in some events.”

You're 36 now, Dave Scott was 40 when he came 2nd in Hawaii's World Champs, and 5th as a 42 year old. Is Raynard thinking of retiring?

"I’m only 36, so NO - No thoughts about retiring yet. I think I’m in the best shape of my life right now, and I know I can still improve even more.” 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Feature in June 2010 GETAWAY Magazine

Going Boldly Into Botswana

The Kalahari wilderness has a flow of life like nowhere else on Earth. It is a place of abundant sun, sweat and sand. It teems with tough survivors. For an authentic wilderness experience you have to go boldly forwards, through the wet and the dry. Having a tough vehicle and a stubborn spirit for adventure can’t hurt your chances here – by Nick van der Leek

Once through the Martins Drift border, I drive the Land Rover as far inside Botswana as one can manage in an afternoon. With light fading at the end of a long first day, at about 900km from Bloemfontein, not far from a local village, I take us off the unfenced tar road to a rural village. We arrange with the locals to camp in the bush since it’s an emergency camp of sorts, and there’s nothing around here for miles. After handing over a small donation we settle in at our campsite about 500m from the road. With the melancholy ring of cow bells we drift off into a much needed sleep. No more sounds of the city. In the bush at last.

I’m with – Hennie Butler – a lecturer at Free State University’s department of Zoology and Entomology. This is our first camp on a 3500km, 10 day journey. It’s not only Hennie's extensive knowledge of animal behavior that makes for a fine companion [he’s currently working on his doctorate], but his quest for adventure.

We first experienced the wet…

It’s an early start the next morning. At 7am we begin the next 600km leg. We are heading west towards Maun via the southern route to Mopipi then further north, towards the eastern fringe of the Okavango Delta. We arrive at Letlhakane but are unable to refuel here. They have run out of diesel. We drive 15km further, to the modern, highly westernized diamond enclave of Orapa. To gain access to this closed society one needs a permit. It doesn’t cost anything, except time and documentation. Inside we find a highly functional operation, complete with Woolworths, Wimpy and What not. Well, we’ve never seen Orapa town so as often happens on a trip a negative turns out to be a positive.

We ride past Mopipi located on the south east edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans and northwards parallel to the Boteti River. The Boteti for the last 10 years has been mostly dry riverbed, except a few pools. We pop in to check out the river at the entrance to the Makgadikgadi Game Reserve near the main road. The river is in flood. Trees are under water and the park inaccessible from this side. We recall one of our first trips, perhaps 20 years ago when we crossed the Boteti as a swollen river. Our trailer actually floated as we crossed.

We’re back on the long tar road north to Maun, wondering what the water level is going to be like there. At 4pm on Day 2, we enter Maun, on the eastern fringe of the Delta. What used to be an almost derelict outpost, a frontier town leading into the Okavango, the tar road that has brought us here has also brought bustle to Maun.

“I remember when we used to get stuck in Maun.” Hennie remarks and he’s referring to sand, not traffic. Now Maun has parking fees. Maun has attracted, as in RSA many Zimbabwean refugees, and also, crime, though not enough for South Africans to sniff at.

Botswana is a hand gun free society, and its government is virtually corruption free and proud of the fact. Ian Khama, the President, changed the liquor laws so that stores open later, at 10am, and bars close earlier, at 10pm. He is a disciplined man and avid supporter of wild life. This bodes well for Botswana.

The river flanking the Okavango Safari Lodge where we’re spending our second night is also flowing strongly. It has already risen about 2 meters, since the fence alongside peeps occasionally through the flowing dark green. All this water isn’t endemic either. The summer rains in Angola, have gradually flowed south from those distant drainage basins through to the Kalahari Thirst land, the Delta and beyond to the Boteti system and also to Lake Ngami.

The Selinda Spilway, north of the Delta is flowing and the two river systems of the Okavango and Zambezi have now joined up at Linyanti. The Savuti Channel is running for the first time since 1983 but has not reached Savuti yet at the time of writing. The sandy river bed is very dry and sandy so the progress is very slow.

Lake Ngami, about 100 kilometers south west of our position in Maun [due south of the Okavango watermark] is full of water after being a dust bowl for 20 years or more.

60 years ago, the explorer David Livingstone described the lake as a "shimmering lake, some 130 km long and 15 wide".

“The locals laughed at you few years ago if you asked them for directions to this lake filled with water,” I say to Hennie. “As far as they’re concerned it was always just an endless dust bed. Until now.”

Contemporary maps show the lake has shrivelled to no more than 35km in length. But the history of the area is worth remembering.

Livingstone scribbled a few cultural notes at the time, describing the locals (Missionary Travels, chap. 26) as being in pursuit of a Tower of Babel experience, but this plan was scuppered [like all the other Babel Projects] when scaffolding fell onto large numbers of builders and ‘cracked their heads’. There’s further evidence of other African traditions particular to this Babel story thanks to research conducted by Scottish social anthropologist Sir James Frazer. In Ghana the Ashanti’s unfortunate quest involved the piling up of porridge pestles. Frazer also fingers folks along the Zambezi, in the Congo and Tanzania, where trees or poles are stacked in a failed bid to reach the moon.

With the half moon floating overhead, the fading African sunset reflecting in the water slowly flowing past the lodge, Hennie and I walk through the semi-submerged braai places to the pleasant casual atmosphere of the local lodge restaurant. Over Hennie’s chicken schnitzel and my spaghetti bolognaise, we debate the copious water flows around us.

What is Hennie’s opinion on this? “It might be part of a bigger cycle and changes in the flow of the various channels in the Delta,” he says.

One thing is certain; we’re in a Botswana that is exceptionally wet this spring.

Mopane Madness in Moremi

On Day 3 we leave Maun and the final strip of tar road at Shorobe, and begin to enter real wilderness. We’re skirting the wet fingertips, the easternmost fringes of the Okavango on our way to Moremi, and with each passing kilometre the vaal yellow tones that have been with us since the Free State are becoming increasingly luxuriant, with tall Mopane and Acacia trees dominating the landscape. We arrive at South Gate, the Maun side entrance to Moremi Wildlife Reserve.

Now our surroundings become tall, lush woodlands mixed together with lily-filled waterholes. Some of the forests are stunted, and it isn’t long before we see how this happens.

At around mid-morning we watch from the vehicle as a medium sized bull elephant pushes over a 10 metre Colophospermum, or Mopane tree. The Latin name means oily seed. A few seconds after a sharp KA-CRACK of hard wood snapping, two or three other elephants immediately advance steadily towards what must be a delicacy to them. While we watch the elephants graze, Hennie shares his thoughts as to why the elephants should favour the content of the branches and leaves of the fallen tree as opposed to the Mopane shoots that sprout everywhere from previously fallen tree stumps.

“These guys like it,” he says, nodding to the chomping elephants, but many other animals need time to get used to the sharp turpentine smell of Mopane resin.”

When we replay the video recording it’s clear that these elephants do have a strong appetite for the Mopane’s compound, butterfly-shaped leaves. It’s an entirely African product, this tree, as African as the African elephant.

Why are these trees not found in abundance further south? Because they’re neither cold nor frost resistant, and they prefer the ‘Cotton soils’ of the area which have a higher clay content than the adjacent sand areas. The name ‘Cotton soil is derived the soil where cotton grows so well in the southern states of the USA.

“Did you know,” Hennie says, “that the Mopane is part of a broad family of plants [Fabaceae] related to peas, acacias, even the red bush tea plant?’ Hennie’s expert knowledge always adds a lot of depth and insight to our trips; he’s a great guru to have at your campfire at the end of the day.

Mopane trees are not only eaten by elephants, but by an entire spectrum of creatures. Hard-nosed hornbills nest in the cavities of the Mopane’s durable, termite resistant trunks. Various creatures even smaller, are specialists when it comes to the Mopane. There’s the honey making mopane bee for example, Plebina denoita, and the sweet, waxy sap-sucker Arytaina mopani. These transform from succulent worms into leaf-hoppers. Mopane worms, a delicacy of the locals, are the caterpillar of the emperor moth, but many other species of moth and butterfly nourish themselves on this remarkable tree.

We drive further through the reserve; the abundance of wildlife is enthralling but not unusual. Although we’d booked ourselves into Camp 6 at Kwai Gate which is in front and overlooking a clearing where the animals congregate, when we arrive we find other people there. We decide to set ourselves up at Camp 4 instead. All the sites are relatively close to one another, set around newly built modern ablution facilities.

Towards sunset we watch impala and a small herd of buffalo congregating in the clearing in front of us. In the background we are aware of new arrivals, coming in apparently from Savuti. They appear to be Hollanders. While the buffaloes are congregating I notice a fellow moving off into the bush wielding an axe. It isn’t long before his efforts start echoing around us, and the buffaloes aren’t the only one’s getting irritated by this. Finally I get up and approach the guy, and point out that his chopping is chasing away the wildlife. We offer him some of our wood which he accepts gracefully. Problem solved.

When I return I find Hennie is setting camera traps for the night. After a braai under the moonlight and some discussion over gin and tonic and the odd whiskey, we sit with our backs to the Land Rover and the fire, listening to the haunting calls of hyenas. People often sit around a fire with their backs exposed. Fire is no protection from hyenas, worth noting since two people have recently been grabbed from behind by hyenas in Moremi. Hennie has awesome night vision, so I feel safe, but in the day, all day, he hides behind sunglasses. That night I sleep in a roof top tent and Hennie in the Land Rover.

After going through footage of Spotted Hyena from the camera traps the next morning, we spend our second day in Moremi venturing further east. As we’re driving, talk is around hyenas.

“They don’t have the presence of lions and herein lies the danger,” I say.

“They’re very ‘skelm’, “ adds Hennie. “They come into camp looking for food, whereas lions are more inquisitive, especially the sub-adults who like teenagers often come to see the bright lights only.”

“Lions may be safer than hyenas,” I say to Hennie, “but they’re still wild animals. I’d like to sit one night around the campfire while lions walk around, but I haven’t managed to do that yet. When you see them, they give you that look, and there’s no question. It’s into the car, pronto. ”

“Which is why you’re still sitting here,” Hennie grins.

“The other thing is when you’re drinking you’re less vigilant.”

“You’re braver than normal, and that’s dangerous.” Hennie agrees.

We’re seeing plenty of waterbuck, impala and kudu grazing in the underbrush. There are also plenty of elephants and lechwe everywhere. There is lots of water, so vehicle tracks are often blocked by flooded pans, but we manage to avoid getting stuck this time. Actually it’s no sin to get stuck. You should take calculated risks, and enjoy the adventure if something goes slightly wrong.

We spend our second night in camp 7 and Hennie once again sets up his camera traps. There are no buffaloes tonight, just a flock of hornbills turning the sand into a feathery carpet.

The next morning Hennie shows me images of more hyenas and black backed Jackal and a lion that passed the camp that night. We go along the Kwai River. This area of Moremi is so beautiful we decide to call it ‘Eden’. The elephants here are having a ball; swimming, climbing over each other, fully submerging with only their trunks above water, generally having an absolute – er – whale of a time.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen elephants having so much fun.” I say to Hennie. He simply nods, without saying anything.

Hennie begins photographing the impressive scene in front of us. One other vehicle saunters by slowly and the driver gives a thumbs up to me through the window.


For perhaps half an hour we absorb this beautiful African scene; 15 hippos lazing the daylight hours away, the elephants, playing and splashing, the sparkle of water flowing off their wrinkled, glistening black bodies.

And then, for no apparent reason, we watch this tranquil scene turn to mayhem. In a moment, the elephants collectively and inexplicably charge out of the water trumpeting. A hell of a din. All of them seem to have panicked at the same time. They turn the waters into seething white spray, and over the roar of heavy legs galloping through shallow water we hear shrieks and bellows. They continue, perhaps thirty of them, altogether, charging through the water to the opposite bank, along the river in front of us and then 200m upstream; storming at full speed back across the river again and then storming off cross country, still trumpeting into the thick bush until they are out of sight. Our tranquil scene, in a matter of seconds, has turned to dust and the violent churning of muddy water they’ve left behind. You can almost see the eyebrows of a few dumbstruck hippos lifting quizzically over their partially submerged heads: “And now?”

Despite the elephants having gone, we can still hear a commotion of branches cracking and distant shrieks of utter panic as those still wet bodies continue lumbering en masse through the woodlands.

Hennie and I spend the rest of the day conjecturing as to what set the elephants off on such a dramatic stampede.

“Maybe they caught our scent, as they were down wind of us…”

“And at the same time caught a glimpse of the reflection of the camera’s lens in the late afternoon sun…

“Which awakened memories of telescopic gun sights used by hunters…perhaps in neighbouring Zimbabwe?”

“To have triggered such a response they must have remembered something tragic to the herd……and they don’t forget! “

“Maybe a submerged hippo was disturbed and nipped the matriarch who panicked and set off the rest…” Maybe, maybe we will never know.

The hippos though aren’t complaining. About fifteen of these quizzical animals are still in the water, moving, snorting: ‘oim, oim, oim’

When the sun begins to set we’re still here, sitting in our camping chairs overlooking the same hippo-filled scene. It has been a helluva day and we’re reluctant to return a moment too soon to camp 7. We decide instead to soak up as much as we can here before driving back to camp.

The sky is turning orange, then pink, and all this reflecting in the hippo’s darkening day time refuge. Over several minutes we notice these big beasts beginning to leave the water in the cool evening to graze maybe as far as 3km into the bush.


We are enjoying the sunset in the water when I notice a hippo walking, can it be, slowly but with purpose, directly towards us!

The hippo simply comes closer, and something about the tilt of its head makes it clear that its intentions aren’t benign. A young bull we think. The hippo charges. And stops. A mock charge.

“Hier’s moeilikheid”, I say in Afrikaans (here’s trouble,) While I’m glancing at the door of the land Rover behind us, wondering whether two of us will be able to scramble through that space at the same time, the hippo charges again. Hennie grabs the lid of the trommel, stands up, lifting the lid directly over his head. The hippo immediately stops and hesitates for a moment. Hennie lowers the lid and suddenly the hippo lurches forward. Hennie raises the lid again, and finally after the third time, the hippo decides to walk around our temporary setup rather than going straight through. Hennie nervously explains that the lid above his head makes him look bigger and thus more intimidating to the Hippo. Clever man!

“I think they get nervous when it gets dark,” Hennie – the Gladiator – says, still holding onto the trommel lid.

Once we feel he’s safely out of our hair, we pack our chairs and make haste to arrive back at the nearby campsite before the gates close.

“There must be a temptation for the villagers to shoot these animals, because people fear them, and they destroy their crops.” I say.

“People who live here have to learn to get along with these animals especially, even though they fear them,” Hennie says. He goes on to explain that a community who shot all the hippos later had to move because the channels made by hippo paths upstream got blocked or silted up and they were left without water. Hennie describes the hippos as the “engineers” of the Delta.

To Savuti

The next morning we cross the new pole bridge, not as quaint as the old bridge alongside, but it is well designed, stronger and still has that bush style to it. A new entrance/exit gate as well. Very nice. Well done and compliments to Botswana’s Dept of Wild Life. You do a great job for all your parks.

At Okavango River lodge we heard from a Mercedes 4x4 driver that he was told that from Chobe to Moremi the road is impassable because of flooding and that he must make a detour via Nata and enter Moremi from the south. We were on our way through the flooded area. After making enquiries with the ranger at the gate we were told that if we had a Land Rover Defender diesel we would make it. (No electronics) He said the water is about 1m deep.

“Part of the adventure is a bit of risk,” I’m saying to Hennie, as we get into the vehicle.

When we get to the deep crossing, just past the local village of Kudumane ( Hennie steps out, strips down and crosses ahead. He sinks to chest height into the brown water. OK, a solid sandy river bed. Behind me, a Land Cruiser is parked to one side. I change to low range 1st gear and slowly cross and build up a suitable bow wave and see the water rising higher and higher. It seems to be okay until the vehicle slips even deeper and a small wave swims over the bonnet, splashing through the air vent onto the seats and me. I feel a twinge in my stomach but the Land Rover simply continues on, lifts slightly out of the water, dips down again and finally emerges. I give a single shake of the fist as I draw alongside Hennie, who has captured the crossing on video. We leave the white Land Cruiser behind on the other side, and continue on our way.

Further on we encounter a white hilux bakkie with two German teachers inside, their bikini’s attached to the rear-view mirror. They want to go to Moremi but have been warned about the deep crossing, and told to make the wide, roundabout detour through Chobe back to Maun.

“You guys got through right?” one of them asks.

“You might need to put on those bikinis when you cross,” I laugh.

They seem to have already made up their minds. They have a rented a Toyota diesel bakkie. I suggest that we, at least, spray all the electrical components in their engine with water repelling Q20. We wish them well and both vehicles depart in opposite directions.

“They’re very brave,” I say to Hennie.

“It’s funny how you see Germans here, and people from the Netherlands, but never Americans.”

Early on we find a pair of whattled cranes wading in the shallow water. There are no more than 8000 of these rare birds in the world, and only an estimated 2185 in Southern Africa. Here it is a critically endangered species, all due to the destruction of wetland areas, principally in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal midlands. The most serious threats to this elegant crane are destruction of the wetlands, damming, deforestation, road building and overgrazing.

We expect Savuti to be drier than Moremi. It’s an area well known for their bull elephants, and it’s also home to the only pride of lion in Africa known to kill elephants.

Once upon a time the local Kwai village was a small bushman settlement, but that has since grown into a larger community. The first non-hunting lodges in Botswana were started here along with the first photographic safaris.

We’re following the Kwai River, along the easternmost branch of the Okavango Delta on our way to Savuti. There’s not a single elephant around today. Not only are the stampeding elephants gone but also all the others and there were hundreds. In the bush the word...err…trumpeting gets around.

We see some lions who have recently fed on a kill. The lions are sheltering in the shade away from the heat of the sun. But the smell and the blood on the lion’s faces have attracted hundreds of small flies, which we see caking unpleasantly around the lion’s fleshy nose and eyes. We snap a few pictures, but can’t help feeling sorry for these noble cats. The male has a nasty gash on his thigh, we speculate from a fight or during the recent kill.

It’s about a 4 hour drive to Savuti. We cross the soft sand ridge formed by the vast and ancient Makgadikgadi Lake. It stretched 300km in length from beyond Mopipi to Savuti, where rounded water-eroded pebbles can still be seen against the hills there. We check in through the Mababe Gate into Chobe.

At the Savuti campsite gate we check in; but back in the vehicle I turn the ignition and…nothing happens. It’s hot outside, and the engine is also hot. Fortunately though, the area at the gate is under thatch and cool. An hour later the engine starts and we proceed to our campsite. Hennie gives me a look.

“It’s happened before. You just need to wait for it cool down.”

Safety of course is a concern in Botswana, and some might question the logic of travelling in one vehicle through what can be an unforgiving country. Even if you do break down, it can take a long time to be rescued. A satellite phone and a GPS are essential for those unexpected incidents. Insurance is vital. We’re insured by Outsurances ‘ Out of Africa Policy’ which covers you in the whole of Southern Africa. For towing in as well. An emergency helicopter is probably best for serious injury, but it might cost you around R30 000. But on your own it’s also a more genuine wilderness experience, and we think, worth the risk.

As the vegetation thins, so do the animals. After the excitement in Moremi, we find Savuti quite tame. That evening, at camp, Hennie hauls out his UV torch and yellow glasses to shield his eyes. It does not take him long to find several scorpions in cracks in old tree stumps. Most species glow in the dark like neon lights. Amazing. Hennie tells me that even fossils of scorpions do this. Very early the next morning, at around 5am, Hennie watches four honey badgers enter camp, sniffing around. These are very single-minded, very brave animals for their size. They eat snakes, lizards and mice and if a lion or human is unwise enough to attack one of them, they lunge for your soft spots, I believe.

“And you know where that is,” Hennie says.

We have our usual rusks and coffee for breakfast. And as usual at this time of the year hornbills share the fare. Hennie raises his eyebrows when I feed the birds. We live so apart from nature that to commune with them is a heart warming experience. Holistically more good comes from it than bad. But there are boundaries. Feeding predators like hyenas is dangerous as they lose their fear of humans and serious injuries have occurred due to this practice.

My mantra out here is: Respect Life, All Life, All-ways.

The next day we return to Maun and find the two German teachers, safe and sound at the Audie Camp Restaurant. They made it through. They told us that the water reached high up on the glass of their windscreen. But according to an Italian tourist, a Land Rover TDi “drowned” there when his immobiliser short circuited and the engine cut out. Incidentally, Audie restaurant is a local name for ‘Fish Eagle’; so it’s not an exclusive watering hole for only a certain kind of car owner. We’re served very tough steaks that night but being in the company of fellow adventurers more than makes up for that.

And then the dry…

From Maun we turn due south over the flooding Boteti at Makalamabedi, making our way to one of the more desolate parts of Botswana, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We pass through a Vetenary checkpoint. There is foot and mouth in Zambia and Zimbabwe. They take all red meat and dairy products. The cars wheels are sprayed and you disinfect your shoes by stepping on a treated sponge mat. A local jokingly told his lady friend to kiss the mat as well, since it is “Foot AND Mouth”.

The road to Central is along the Vet fence. The ‘Swarthak” trees are covered in flowers. Inside the park they have graded the roads and the first 30 km are very sandy and difficult to drive on. But some have evidently had worse to worry about. We come across a burnt out Mercedes 4x4, its windscreen and aluminium engine block almost entirely melted down. Only the bonnet catch still works. It appears that often bad roads with corrugations cause the electronics – and there’s a lot on these modern vehicles – to short and spark. Grass also packs around the exhaust and when you slow down or stop well…fires that consume the entire vehicle.

Botswana is littered with many burnt out wrecks that were once a lot fancier than our Land Rover. By the way, don’ forget to take a fire extinguisher along. During its service, our Land Rover has passed many of these statues littering the desolate roadsides of Botswana. My old Range Rover has caught on fire twice already due to grass lodged between the exhaust and chassis, but thankfully we extinguished the flames both times. The secret is to drive slowly in long grass so that the stalks don’t break off. Diesel exhausts also seem to be cooler than petrol. Botswana Wildlife Dept is very diligent as they regularly mow the “middelmannetjie” in the parks.

In Central we come across Gemsbok, including a mother with her young calf. The chocolate brown baby antelope looks remarkably different to its grey and black mother. We also photograph finches bathing in a metal plate in the sand at camp that we didn’t fully rinse off.

In Central we find more lions, but these are with their cubs on a track. We stop about 20 metres from as not hassle them. The cubs come sauntering up to the vehicle and gaze in awe (of the Landy perhaps). It is here that we reflect on the injured lion we saw in Moremi. We hear the lions roaring most of the night. Fear to some, music in the night to others.

“Wild animals seem to heal very quickly,” Hennie observes.

We recall a zebra I photographed on a previous outing that had mismatched stripes, the sign of a scar possibly inflicted by lion’s claws.

“It must be a survival mechanism. An adaptation. Because those who can’t heal in a hurry here, perish.”

To bravely go…

Our two days in Central are quiet and peaceful, a soothing end to a busy trip. The finale is intended to be even quieter, as we make for the moony wasteland that is the massive Makgadikgadi Salt Pan.

At Letlhakane we make for the mystical island of Kubu. We arrive late in the day and while setting up camp a guy from the local village arrives with his bicycle, asking for camp fees. He tells us it’s not safe to drive on the pan. He says he worked ‘the whole day yesterday’ trying to dig and push a stranded vehicle out. The pans are soft and wet he says, although the salty crust surface appears to be dry. The Makgadikgadi can be a hazardous place, but ancient civilisations once lived on Kubu. The name for this haunting outcrop means ‘Hippo’. It was once under 40 metres of water. The white on the boulders are minerals deposited on them when the ancient lake dried up to 10 000 years ago. The site has ancient stone walls and you may be lucky to find pottery shards and stone arrowheads. Kubu is a magic place with massive round boulders and old Boabab trees. There seem to be no young Boabab trees here. The leaves and stem of young trees are different to the adults.

The next day we drive at a steady 70km/h over the salty surface, keeping to the track. Only the surface layer, about an inch thick, is dry. In parts the wetter, softer surfaces, slows the vehicle down. The secret is to drive in a straight line and avoid dark smears. We find tracks belonging to ostriches and hyena on the pan.

At one point we stop and Hennie examines a debris field of black stones.

“I once followed a small track and got into trouble here,” I say to Hennie. I only realised later it was a Quad-bike trail when we got stuck in the mud. Some caring people were moving flamingo chicks using a quad bike and trailer to an area with water. Sometimes their feet get caked in mud and the chicks aren’t able to walk the 50 odd kilometres to the water near Nata.

That night, Gautengers descend on Kubu and have a rip roaring party under the full moon. We take to the long road home and as darkness settles in South Africa we find the headlights have filled with Delta water, so whenever the vehicle lurches upward, the headlights dim ‘automatically’. But we can’t complain. We’ve had our fair share of adventure on this trip.

5289 words

Thursday, June 17, 2010


  • I've just read ENTER THE WORLD OF WELGEVONDEN. Thank you so much for your wonderful interpretation of the reserve. The article is a pleasure to read, interesting and informative and an impressive endorsement. Thank you from all at Makweti Safari Lodge. With kind regards
Helen Wilson

  • It has turned out great. Thank you! We will be very pleased if it gets published as is.
Nicola Smith
Public Relations Director

Kind Regards
Beverley Davidge
Director of Sales & Marketing
Radisson Hotel

  • Top qualities: Great Results, Personable, Creative: “I can highly recommend Nick van der Leek as a professional photographer. He is a friendly, outgoing person and lots of fun to work with. He had the ability to make me feel at ease during our photoshoot. He also processed the pictures very quickly and I was amazed by the quick results. Being a photographer myself I know how many hours it sometimes take to edit pictures. He was able to capture the real me and therefore, in my opinion, deserves the highest recommendation.” October 31, 2009
Marethe Grobler Photographer

  • “Nick is a creative, deadline-driven professional who consistently delivers to brief. Working with him on a national advertorial campaign was a pleasure - his enthusiasm and attention to detail are exemplary. I highly recommend Nick's services.” November 1, 2009
Beth Cooper Journalist, editor and author, Self-employed (business partner)
  • Francois Retief(client): “Nick approached me to fly down to Cape Town in order to attend our INCOSE event on the Joule Electric vehicle. I was immediately struck by his dedication and creativity. During the meeting I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly he was and how well he integrated and interacted with the people at the meeting. I was also very impressed by the thought provoking angle he took in writing the article for his blog as well as the YouTube video he posted regarding the event. Subsequent to meeting Nick I enjoy visiting his blog to get his take on what's happening in the world around us. I think he's very 'switched on' and look forward to following his success in the media industry.” October 31, 2009

Francois Retief

Monday, June 7, 2010

People: Anje Hattingh

I had platinum hair, now I'm a brunette and I still get compared to Paris Hilton! People have asked for my autograph and random people want to take their photo with me, thinking that I'm actually the real Paris. I think it's hilarious but after a while it gets a bit annoying. I used to go out and random people will shout "Paris, Paris!". But hey, I just smile and wave. She's pretty, make no mistake, but she's a real blonde!
My goal in life is to become a very successful fashion designer and international model.
My motto in life is that whatever is meant to be, will always find its way.

I stay in shape by going to gym; spinning, swimming and cycling. I also enjoy going to the beach, bodyboarding or taking an ocean swim. I've done the Redhouse Rivermile and I participated in the Ocean Swim Series here in Nelson Mandela Bay. I'm always up for anything new and exciting!

McDonalds is my favorite fast food restaurant. If it's a Big Mac or an icecream... I absolutley love eating McDonalds!

My dream holiday is going to an exotic island with the love of my life. Relaxing on the beach with tanned bodies, sipping cocktails, sand in your hair and warm summer nights...

I plan on studying fashion design, interior decorating or photography in Stellenbosch. I haven't exactly decided yet, but I definately want to do something that will keep me busy.

I admire Kimerley Kardashian from Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Not for her personality but for her beauty. She obviously takes good care of herself. I'm also a big fan of Eva Mendez!

Have you seen Run Fat Boy, Run!? It's the best movie I've ever seen. For second best I'd have to choose Sex and the City. I love having a good laugh!

I don't like sitting on one place for hours reading books, but I have read Daar's Vis in die Punch. It's an Afrikaans story explaining the life of a teenager stuck between love and her career.
Dancing to the beat of a catchy song is so much fun. I don't mind who the artist is, if the song is fast and catchy, I like it. I must add that I love the song Nothing in this world from Paris Hilton.

Always remember that how many breaths you take in life is not important but rather the moments that take your breath away. So go out there, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Botlierskop - A Natural Connection

Mountains and magic - words and images by Nick van der Leek

Despite an ignominious flight number -- MN 911 -- I emerge alive from the rear end of the green, missile-shaped McDonnell Douglas. A cold front is converging on my position, but right now it is still pleasantly cool and breathless on the tarmac.

Michelle and I (we met on the plane) walk under the green wing toward the neat building that is George Airport. It is the only airport in the country with such a spectacular purple and green backdrop.

The large jagged Outeniqua Mountains push against the deadweight of stress that has built up inside me. I feel it begin to shift, and in its place life emerges; grassroots stir in the still dry soil of my soul.

At the conveyor belt my bag arrives first; I bid the young lady, my once-off traveling companion, adieu. I find Jacques Venter, a ranger from Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, at the arrivals exit. He wears a leather cowboy hat and he has that affable good nature that reminds me of Marius Weyers in "The God's Must Be Crazy."

Getting There

Botlierskop is a 20-minute drive from the airport in the direction of Mossel Bay. After two minutes Jacques points out a vervet monkey on the side of the road. I'm still too jaded and sleep deprived to see it. Jacques keeps up a lively conversation. He tells me that Outeniqua means "honey bringers," a Bushmen word, and yes, this area is one of the haunts favored by these original people, the first people of Southern Africa.

Just outside Mossel Bay we turn off the tar road for a short stretch. As the hillsides roar upward around us, I reflect that once the wanted posters went up, the Bushmen, like Al Qaeda, made for the mountains.

Lord of the Rings

Jacques points out a bizarre rock formation rumored to be behind the nomenclature of the place. From the summit of Botlierskop, he tells me, a large fire was made to alert local farmers that ships were coming in and they could start moving fresh supplies to the ships. The fire was lit in the "Lord of the Rings" style after a faraway beacon was set alight near the present Mossel Bay lighthouse.

The rocks here seem to be sculpted by extreme wear and tear: ice, rain and wind. Finding myself similarly weathered by the world of work, the rugged surroundings are a comfort to me. I'm happy to escape the chatter, the clutter, and anything and everything manmade. Just get me away from it all!

Six-week-old Shima is the newest addition to the Botlierskop Reserve.

©2007 Nick van der Leek

From the beach-white dirt road I see a big African elephant towering over a very tiny calf. Jacques tells me the calf is only five weeks old and his parents, both former Zimbabweans, are movie stars. I feel a positive cosmos begin to spark along the deadwood of my spine.

Close Encounters

Soon after passing the pair of elephants, we encounter a large tortoise racing up the dusty road. We stop, Jacques opens the hatch of the bakkie and I climb out to lift the leopard tortoise off the ground, its turtle-like legs still swimming in the air. Jacques tells me it is the most common tortoise species on the African continent.

We drive on, soon approaching a saw-tooth scene of massive tree trunks hewn together. This is the hotel entrance. We drive through the gate and ascend the drive while a series of high, dry boulder-strewn mountains rise like a giant oxidized wave around us. Yes, these porous hills make good hiding; for Bushmen and men of the West who must hide in the mountains to get away from the maddening lights of the city.

Luxurious tented suites are situated right beside the river.

©2007 Botlierskop Private Game Reserve

Jacques tells me in lightly accented English that the rainy reason -- winter in this part of the Cape -- has just ended, and they've had no rain. I ask him about the rugby; will I be able to watch it in my room, will we be in time for the start of the game? He tells me there are no televisions in the tented suites. For a moment I feel myself bristling with irritation. We city slickers are used to convenience, especially our home comforts, aren't we?

But Jacques' good nature is infectious, and it gets the better of me. He says there is a big wedding on the deck, and they'll make a plan so that I can watch the game on the big screen in the conference room.

African Ethos

When I arrive the decor takes me into Africa. There's thatch, skins, ostrich shells on wrought-iron chandeliers, themed deckchairs and wide light-khaki umbrellas holding off the African sun. All very tastefully and thoughtfully put together. There's a view toward the high purple Outeniqua, a river sprinkled with stars directly below.

Yes, the African ethos is immediately apparent, and to begin with, for a few minutes I completely forget about the rugby game. When I finally settle down to watch, the Tongans give the South Africans a huge run for their money. Somehow we win, but after the game I'm feeling wound up once more. Maybe TV isn't such a good idea, I'm thinking, sipping cool, dry white wine.

On cue a ranger emerges and offers to take me to my suite. My bags are already there he says. We drive down to the Moordkuil river -- so named because a large number of Bushman were rumored to have been killed here -- a blue crane stands between the parked cars, like a very strict parking attendant.

Riverside Tents

We step onto a boat and hum around a bend toward the wooden jetty on the other side. Those few moments on the river, the gurgle and flow of the river continue nature's gentle washing of tired feet and ruffled feathers. I follow the wooden path between the thick green stems of a Cape Ash, and there it is. I'm number 15, Byevanger (Bee Catcher). The Bushmen would have enjoyed that.

I'm perched a few meters directly above the shining river, with forest hugging me on every side. I step across the wooden deck and into the tent. Inside, the floor is pine. There's a big four-poster bed softened with mosquito nets, tastefully arranged wicker chairs -- leather-bound -- and rustic metal lamps giving off a warm golden glow. There are skins on the floor.

Soak up the sounds and scenery. Taking a bath is just one way to connect to the outside world.

©2007 Nick van der Leek

Behind the bed is a nice little nook: a solid giant earthenware cauldron is a bath, Eartherapy toiletries on hand for all sorts of bath time pampering and a refrigerator stocked with everything you might need. You can order room service for those incidental necessities; otherwise candles and heaters provide the finishing touches for a perfectly natural atmosphere.

Au Natural

And that's what it is. All natural. It's the sounds you see that permeate the walls of your riverine abode that are one of the absolute highlights. While in the bath (the water is clean and piping hot) I hear the twitter of birds then, that most African of sounds, the sharp cry of the fish eagle. It's a delight to be so close, so connected to nature. As darkness folds around me, lions roar and an elephant bellows.

Now it's time for the crickets to join the nocturnal symphony. They sing. They sound like really happy crickets. In nature, you know, there is no such thing as noise. There are just sounds, and they do soothe. It washes over me, and the cactus begins to soften. The barbs turn into buds. I get out of the bath suddenly hungry. As I'm getting dressed I get a call: "What drinks would I like served at the Boma?" I put down the phone. I feel like singing with the crickets. The 40-strong staff has thought of everything.


The rest of the Botlierskop experience is gentle and magical. Whether you eat in the Fireplace Restaurant or the Boma lower down, expect a feast, and a feast of wild meat in particular. You'll have a choice between zebra, kudu, ostrich, warthog, crocodile -- the list goes on. Try to save some space for dessert. The food really is so good it's difficult not to stuff oneself.

You can do a game drive first thing in the morning. Because I slept so well -- the best sleep in months -- I went on the second drive, at 10 a.m. The cold front had already passed over us, so I was glad for the later, warmer start. The tent was cozy since they have electric blankets and heaters in all 19 suites.

Game Drive

Early on the drive we see impala (including the rare black impala) near the owners' residence, white rhino, zebra between the neon-green sunshine cone bushes, giraffe, wildebeest, waterbuck (some people called them kringgatte), bontebok and the most elegant antelope of all, the regal eland.

The eland features a great deal in Bushmen rock art, and it's not difficult to understand why. It is massive, yet it can clear 2-meter-high fences like the kudu. They survive seemingly without effort, and because they draw moisture out of plants and leaves they never have to drink water. The guides are knowledgeable and nice; their enthusiasm about the environment is matched by their warmth to visitors.

The cigarette bush is pollinated by one bird that has a specially adapted (curved) beak in the same shape as the flowers.

©2007 Nick van der Leek

Higher up on the plateau, our ranger points out the cigarette plant, a flower that requires a specialized tool to extract nectar. Only the orange-breasted sugarbird has the curvature right, and so only these birds can pollinate cigarette bushes. As we climb up the saddle, we see the sea and Mossel Bay, its tiny matchbox buildings colorful in the distance.

Our guide shows us the extent of a devastating fire: on one side of the fence thick fynbos, on the other side, short, stunted grass. The advantage is that it is easier to see the wildlife where the grass is shorter. The game drive ends with a visit to a small pride of four lions, and some impressive vistas over the Botlierskop valley.


Arnold, Dirk and John, standing in front of the Raven helicopter.

©2007 Nick van der Leek

Guests who stay two days or longer may make use of the helicopter on the premises, a Raven II. Flights are around 8 a.m., and the owner's son, Arnold Neethling, is your pilot. I was privileged to fly with Arnold, his veterinarian father, Dr. Dirk Neethling, and John Lee, a ranger at Botlierskop. Dr. Neethling tells me: "Bewaarders moet benutters wees" ("Conservers must also utilize").

Dr. Neethling pioneered the breeding of the black impala, and it's thanks to his success with them that he was able to develop Botlierskop into the large-scale success it is today. We flew over the reserve, and then looked beyond, to the seascapes around the Klein Brak River. Helicopter flight is of course totally different to flying in an airplane. There's something faintly God-like in the ability to position yourself in the air wherever you mean to be.

View toward Klein Brak River, a stone's throw from the Botkierskop Reserve.

©2007 Nick van der Leek


The highlight of a visit to Botlierskop is still to come though. While elephant rides on the movie stars Sam and Tsotsi are a treat, the elephant picnic is even more so. A nice light lunch is served on crisp linen-covered tables out in the open, beside the cool of a large tree and the river sliding by below. You can choose to drink wine, champagne, whatever you want with your meal. Once done, guides bring Tsotsi and the adorable months-old baby elephant, Shimba into the clearing.

Riding the elehants is one of the highlights at Botlierskop.

©2007 Nick van der Leek

If you hear a rumble in the jungle, it's one of the big elephants saying, "I'm hungry, let's get on with feeding time." Don't miss the brilliant photo opportunity that follows. Guests have a chance to stand beside an adult elephant and feed it apples by hand. First you offer an apple to the trunk, then, with a hand holding the tusk (Tsotsi only has one), you say, "Up, up, up!" She raises her trunk and opens her mouth, exposing a large, triangular, soft (and I can confirm slimy!) pink tongue.

Put the apple on the tongue and make sure someone is there to capture the moment. It's a test of mettle. A little girl was too terrified to do it. I laughed seeing how nervous some of the men were, placing their apples in the elephant's mouth, and then pulling back quickly in terror.

The elephants are exceedingly gentle, and your commune with them is likely to be the closest you will get to these gentle and intelligent animals. It's likely to be the most delightful of your experiences at Botlierskop.

First People

The Bushmen chose the Botlierskop Valley as their hunting ground. They had good reasons. It is a giver and restorer of life. Even after fires and floods, the valley still teems with life, from its fynbos and flowers, to the large idiosyncratic animals you'll find all over the reserve.

Panoramic view of the Botlierskop Valley.

©2007 N. van der Leek

Before I leave, I climb Botlierskop with John Lee -- an interesting fellow and part-time hunter -- who first discovered Bushman paintings near the summit of the peak.

Standing in the cave, flint stones in my hands, the whorls of my fingers moving over the soft ochre stains, I feel myself moved to the moment when these first people were here, clicking softly in the firelight and hiding from the people who would come in an endless tide in their ships. John and I decide the Bushmen chose this cave as a lookout and a hideaway.

I believe they were happy here, while they lived in this place. They found the full moon, and honey, and a short-term safety from the dangers beyond the valley. When you go, let go of television and the Internet and you will discover the same elixir, like a soft rain falling on dry soil.

It rained on my second day at Botlierskop. I listened to the sounds. I reached out to the animals. The dry soil softened, and I came away fully restored. It seems to me that the way to connect with nature is to find those places specially chosen by the Bushmen in this country. The Bushmen chose places that could look after them. Botlierskop is just such a place.

Unwind in the jacuzzi.

©2007 Botlierskop Private Game Reserve

Getting There

Fly from major centers in South Africa to George Airport.


Special rate of 595 South African rand (US$90) per person sharing per night including Bed and Breakfast.

Terms and conditions:
  • Valid now until Dec. 20, 2007.
  • Rate quoted is for Luxury rooms only.
  • Subject to availability.
  • Minimum 2-night stay.
Other Activities Offered

Bushwalks, horseback safaris and further afield: Boat-based whale watching (June to October), Seal Island trips, white shark cage diving.

Contact Information