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The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is a voluntary non-profit organization in South Africa tasked with saving lives at Sea. The NSRI’s illustrious career started back in1967 with the Society of Master Mariner’s donation of one 4.7m inflatable craft. There were two volunteers.
By Jennifer Ponder

It is with grateful thanks to NSRI’s Meriel Bartlett, executive Director: Organisation Support, who has given this once ‘city slicker’ such a powerful and compelling perspective of the NSRI’s staggering contributions to those of us living in and visiting the shores of Southern Africa. Not only are our lives considered precious by the members of the NSRI, but also our wildlife.

Today, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is run by over 1 000 highly skilled, unpaid volunteers who are on stand-by day and night throughout the year. Thirty one bases are situated around the coast, including four of our inland rivers and dams. The NSRI are also the proud custodians of 96 rescue craft, 38 rescue vehicles, 16 quad bikes and 11 tractors.

With annual running costs being in the region of a staggering R73.4m, how this phenomenal growth since 1967 been achieved, is amazing; and the NSRI certainly has a clear-cut understanding of what is required to keep the momentum moving forward.

I also learnt that the over 1 000 volunteers who are on call to watch over us day and night, in all weathers and sea conditions, often risking their lives at our expense, save the NSRI a salary bill in excess of R250 million per year.

South Africa has the second highest ratio of deaths by drowning, with 52% being below the age of 15. With these harsh statistics before them, new and innovative ideas are always being looked at so the the NSIR put their heads together and in 2006 the WaterWise Academy was born.

The Academy targets disadvantaged youth. At this point in time they have grown to having twelve instructors spread out over South Africa (both coastal and inland) where children are taught the basics of water safety. Since Waterwise’s inception, it can be very proud of its achievements, having so far taught in the region of over 888 000 children.

Much of South Africa’s wildlife, as we know, is becoming increasingly endangered, and this includes our marine creatures. Entanglement in nets, ropes and floats of lobster or whelp traps is a grim reality with grave consequences. Once entangled, the ropes restrict the animal and the floats prevent it from being able to dive and feed, leading to a distressingly slow and agonizing death.

Imagine a magnificent 9m Southern Right juvenile whale caught up in four ropes around its front flippers, over its back and wrapped between the two flippers, along with two small flotation buoys. It was only due to the NSRI’s quick action, who together with a highly specialized and skilled team of experts who have perfected the art of cutting in these hazardous circumstances, that this awe -inspiring creature of the deep, was able to once again swim free.

The above rescue turned my thoughts to the sight of a school of jubilant dolphins leaping with such boundless energy and elation out of the sea, their wet bodies an arch of glistening sea droplets.

On this particular day though, two dolphins, a mother and her calf, found themselves at low tide stranded in a channel of shallow water with no way of escape. All attempts at freeing them-selves proved futile. A passerby, seeing the predicament of mother and baby, called the NSRI, who true to their style took immediate action. Mother and calf were carefully secured onto a medical trauma board, loaded onto the rescue craft and transported out into the open sea resulting in yet another gratifying and successful rescue.

Many such success stories abound in the annals of the NSRI. When we look at these awesome creatures that inhabit our ocean, and understand how many dangers we humans put before them, or put ourselves into, our grateful thanks must go out to these dedicated NSRI volunteers, and their associates, who make themselves available day and night, in all weather and sea conditions to save lives – be it tiny mouse, giant whale or us humans the gallant NSRI rescue team is dedicated to all creatures, great and small. Thank you.

Creature Feature - Black-backed jackal

The jackal-headed god Anubis played a pivotal role in the funerary rights of Ancient Egypt. He monitored the Scales of Truth to protect the dead from eternal death and conducted the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, amongst other important official duties. Anubis probably got the job by association because jackals were always hanging around Egyptian burial grounds. This suggests that visibility and persistence can get you deified or at least elected to high office, even if you have a thin CV and dubious motives. By David Muirhead

To be fair, jackals didn’t actually apply for a job in the Egyptian pantheon but they have always been granted the capacity for cunning. In African folktales they are usually portrayed as tricksters who exploit the gullibility of other supposedly lovable and affable creatures. Such stories invariably end with the dimwit hero outwitting the jackal, an outcome that tends to disappoint cynics and leave lingering doubts about the efficacy of natural justice.

Having a name synonymous with treachery and deceit in popular culture is bad enough but jackals have slid even further down the slippery slope of opprobrium. They are still regarded by some as vermin and hunted or poisoned in many areas of southern Africa, in effect becoming victims of their own success. Jackals live on their wits, something that has enabled them to survive and even flourish in areas outside game re-serves where other large carnivores were long ago exterminated to make way for sheep and people who’ve still got plenty of bullets left over from killing the last lion.

Black-backed jackals are omnivorous and, like most of us, they certainly enjoy lamb chops. Given the opportunity they will prey on accessible livestock, especially those that are weak or incapacitated. However, by far and away the bulk of their diet consists of wild fare. Typical menus include lizards, insects, rodents, small mammals and even items as large as impala and juvenile wildebeest, the latter brought down in rarely witnessed cooperative hunts. They also chew grass to aid digestion and eat fruit and berries to the extent that the Jackal-berry, a fruit bearing tree, is named after them.

In game reserves where major carnivores are thankfully still alive and able to attend to their daily chores, black-backed jackals are probably best known as highly nimble and opportunistic camp followers. They frequently shadow lions, hyenas and even the diminutive honey badger in anticipation of a free meal. They don’t always wait at a kill until the formal diners have retired for brandy and cigars, being prepared to take the occasional big risk by darting in to snatch a morsel from within inches of a lion’s massive paws, a liberty they don’t usually take with leopards or cheetahs.




A Zululand conservation experience

Somkhanda & African Insight’s wildlife conservation travel experiences help towards conserving the reserve’s wildlife - their fully escorted and expert-led 13 night Zululand Conservation Experience includes:

• Seven nights Wildlife Conservation Volunteer experience at Somkhanda Game Reserve, Pongola (also available on a FIT basis as a stand-alone experi-ence - subject to availability)
• Two nights Big 5 safari experience at Royal Thonga Safari Lodge, Tembe Elephant Park
• Four nights Beach & Marine-life experience at Gala-Gala Eco Lodge, Ponta Do Oura, Mozambique

This hands-on conservation volunteer programme covers two unique conservation areas located in the Zululand and Maputaland regions of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and the seaside village of Ponto Do Oura in Mozambique.

This region falls within one of the top 21 hot spots for biodiversity on earth and this programme is designed so that participants can make a meaningful contribution to Somkhanda Game Reserve’s wildlife conservation whilst enjoy-ing a varied and thrilling adventure.

Somkhanda, a wildlife-rich game reserve of over 12,000 ha of diverse habitat and breathtaking scenery, is community-owned and operated in partnership with the Gumbi Community, African Insight and Wildlands (a conservation NGO). It is home to valuable populations of both white and black rhino as well as leopard, elephant, buffalo, lion, wild dog and all the common game species. Additional to wildlife conservation experiences Somkhanda also offers a variety of safari and adventure packages (game drives, game walks, trail camps and community cultural experiences) with guests being accommodated either at their Kudu Lodge, Scotia Camp or in one of their mobile trail camps.

At Somkhanda participants active-ly contribute to the conservation of endangered and threatened wildlife species by doing practical fieldwork that will make a difference. This programme is aimed at adventur-ous travellers who are looking for a “Science on Safari” experience where they will be involved in essential wild-life conservation work such as rhino monitoring, camera trap surveying and game population monitoring. Participants will be working along-side conservationists collecting field data needed to make crucial wildlife management decisions on the game reserve. Additionally, there are daily bush walks and game drives with sundowners in this stunningly beau-tiful and game-rich reserve providing insight into tracking, bird, mammal and insect identification.

The 7-night Conservation wildlife volunteer experience is rounded off with a two-night Big 5 safari experi-ence at Royal Thonga Safari Lodge and a relaxing 4-night beach & marine experience at Gala-Gala Eco Lodge in Ponta Do Oura. Fully escort-ed and expert-led by a member of the African Insight & Somkhanda team this programme is available on a set-departure basis with a mini-mum of 4 persons and maximum of 12 persons sharing basis and is ideally suited for singles, couples and can also be booked for exclusive groups.

For further information on Somkhanda and African Insight, please see: Reservations: please contact Lundy Bredberg (Somkhanda/African Insight) on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Birds of a Feather - Owls of delight

Owls of delight

Story and photographs by Don Cowie

Throughout the history of mankind and across many races and cultures owls have been made the subject of folklore and mystery conjuring up diverse feelings and beliefs ranging from fear and foreboding to utmost respect. In many African tribes and cultures, they are to this day viewed as harbingers of bad luck or death. An owl settling on the roof of one’s house is regarded by many as signalling the death of a family member.

Modern western cultures tend to depict owls as being birds of wisdom we trace this back to the Greek god Athena the goddess of wisdom who had an owl as a symbol John Keats the poet refers, however, refers to “ the owls hated screech”. Ancient European and Eastern civilisations had a wide range of views on these birds. In ancient Rome Pliny and Virgil regarded owls as funeral birds and their presence as an evil omen.

Native American tribes also had diverse views, the Pawnee looked to owls as protectors, but the majority of tribes regarded their presence as a bad omen in much the same way as their African and European counterparts. This almost universal fear of these magnificent, mostly nocturnal birds of prey was and still is totally ill-founded and definitely not deserved. These supreme masters of silent flight launch themselves from their lookout points into the darkness, descending on their unsuspecting prey like avian versions of stealth bombers.

The anatomy of owls has evolved to enable them to function at optimum levels in the dark of night. They are very light birds with their skeleton making up only around 8% of its body weight and having some of their larger bones hollow helps in this respect.

The head turning ability of owls is well known (270 degrees left or right from the forward facing position.) This is achieved by having twice as many vertebrae as mammals including man, fourteen as opposed to seven.

The head also rotates from a single occipital articulation humans have two this allows the head to pivot easily rather like a ballet dancer on one foot.

Owls have exceptional eyesight as one would expect of all night birds and the eyes are perhaps their most striking feature. Large and forward facing they make up around 1-5% of the bird’s body weight. This enables them to see primarily in binocular vision, unlike most other bird species. The orbital sockets in the skull are large and the eyes cone shaped and because of this they cannot move the eyes within the socket and are thus restricted to being able to look straight ahead. To be efficient at collecting light owl eyes have large corneas and pupils and by being able to significantly enlarge the size of the pupil a greater amount of light can enter the eye, large numbers of rod cells allow this light to be collected with great efficiency.


Isibindi Zulu Lodge

A place of beauty and peacefulness

Sitting in the privacy of the small viewing deck of my traditional beehive-shaped suite, at Zulu Lodge , gazing across the valley at the beautiful “kopies” that surround and seem to embrace the lodge, it’s easy to understand why the Zulu nation fought so hard to keep this land as their own during the Anglo-Zulu wars which took place between 1876 and 1879. The surrounding hills are steeped in history, and where once the noise of battle resounded, and the blood of 1000’s of men was shed, now there is now only beauty and a sense of peacefulness.

Isibindi Africa Lodge's, Zulu lodge is situated within the 2000 hectares Isibindi Eco-reserve. The lodge is located in the heart of the historic battlefields region of South Africa, a five-hour drive from Johannesburg and four hours from Durban.

The land the lodge is built on belongs to the local community. It is leased from them with Zulu Lodge providing employment and actively embarking on various projects which assist the impoverished commu-nities in the surrounding areas.

Celebrating a proud nation

The Zulu’s are a proud and humble nation, with many of them have remained steadfast in their culture, traditions and beliefs. They have called Kwazulu Natal their home since the 16th century. Shaka reigned as their king between 1816 and 1828 and during his rule, he united them into one of the mightiest tribes of the land. He introduced new battle formations, weaponry and strict discipline among his men which soon saw his tribe increase in size, from 1500 to 50 000 strong.

Guests at Zulu Lodge get to experience some of their traditions and be educated about their beliefs during their stay with the lodge. A Zulu Cultural Tour will take you to a traditional homestead where the traditions and culture of the Zulu nation are explained in depth, and you get the opportunity to interact with members of the local community.

While on a full day tour of the battlefields the reality of what took place during Anglo-Zulu war is brought alive by well informed and passionate guides. You are taken to see the sites including the Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift battlefields where the British and the Zulu’s fought some epic battles.


Journey to the heart of Africa - Part 2

In the second of a three-part story, he tells us of what it was like to find the geographic ‘Heart of Africa’. It’s a story best told from his scribbled bush notes.

It’s an old expedition tradition that goes back at least 30 years. Imagine the scene as with great relief, a bunch of unwashed, very dusty ragamuffin travellers all pile out of their similarly dirty Landies, to kneel in a line on
the road, whereupon - and generally amidst hysterical laughter bordering on the insane - they make a great show of repeatedly kissing the tarmac. Don’t worry; we haven’t lost the plot - not yet anyway. This ‘Kissing of the Tar Ceremony’ is only allowed to happen after we’ve been subjected to the hardships of extremely challenging bad road conditions that have lasted for days. This can mean goat tracks, no tracks, deep rivers, endless ‘tree to tree’ out-of-the-mud winching, desert crossings, boulder-hopping, wash-away pole bridges, getting hopelessly lost and sometimes the fear of unexploded land mines.

This ‘Kissing of the Tar’ happens in Angola. That’s because behind us now is that supposedly six-hour road that became a two-day nightmare. Some tracks so bloody deep and the ‘middle-mannetjie’ so high that you could do a ‘Look Mom - no hands’ stunt on the steering wheel and leave the Landy to follow the track on its own. A track that has taken us through UNITA coun-try; and to think expedition member ‘Shovashova Mike’ Nixon on his moun-tain bike has attempted this sand track on his own. We find him asleep under a tree, dehydrated, with his head scarf completely pulled over his face to survive the mopani flies. He really has got ‘Heart’.

We push on up the spine of Angola; these highlands are exceptionally beautiful and empty of people – most fled to the cities during the civil war. We ‘camp wild’, enjoying the freedom and breathtaking 360° views.





Gooderson Kloppenheim Country Estate Hotel is situated in the heart of the Highlands Meander, approximately 22 km north of Belfast, Mpumalanga on the N4. Being only a two and a half hour drive from Johannesburg makes it’s perfect for a weekend or business escape. The estate is well signposted, but it’s important to note that Winnaarspoort Road is seven kilometres of gravel, and I would suggest phoning ahead to check the condition of the road especially in inclement weather.
By David Sinclair

This upmarket country hotel is perfect for couples looking for a quiet secluded getaway, for families seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, for businesses looking for a top-quality place to hold a conference and if you can resist the temptation of technology, it’s the perfect place go to for a “Tech-Detox.”

We were booked into a luxury “Lakeside Suite” which consists of twin beds and an open plan living room. These rooms can also be made up with queen size beds. The room is very spacious and cosily furnished with a comfortable, homely feel to it. Equipped with a bar fridge, kettle for making tea and coffee and a TV with a selection of DSTV channels, the room also boasts a gas fireplace, and under floor heating which is most welcome on chilly days.

The bathroom has the luxury of both a bath and a shower and has all the amenities you would expect to find in a four-star property. Toasty warm towels on the heated bath rail were very much appreciated especially after being soaked to the bone in the pouring rain after getting stuck in the mud..a funny story, one I will leave for another day.

Most of the rooms are arranged in clusters of two, with interconnecting doorways which make it ideal for families.

There was a decanter of complimentary Port waiting for us when we arrived in the room, and on arriving back at the suite, after enjoying a delicious supper, we were delighted to find a complimentary bottle of wine, and “PS chocolate”.


Top 10 Ultimate Bucket List

“One day you’ll wake up, and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do – do them now”
Paul Coelho

Most travellers have compiled a list at some stage in their lives of the top things they would like to do or places they would like to see at some point during their lives. If you haven’t dared, sit down and compile this list yet because you have no idea of where to even start, you’re in luck. In this feature, you’ll find our top 10 bucket list destinations and adventure activities to help you get started.

Tuningi Lodge is situated within the Madikwe Game Reserve. This 75 000 hectare, the malaria-free reserve is home to the Big 5 and is a true African success story which Tuningi showcases in grand style. It offers a five-star African safari experience which is further enhanced by personalised service.

This private and exclusive lodge offers guests superior accommodation and is one of only a few upmarket lodges that welcomes children and in doing so avails them of the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature, wildlife and our delicate eco-system first-hand.

“Colonial African Chic” themed décor welcomes guests with the main reception areas under thatch and beautiful indoor and outdoor lounges for guests to enjoy. The elegant dining room and an inviting rim-flow pool both overlook a waterhole.

A boma, situated under a giant fig tree lends itself to many an evening spent sharing stories and delicious meals and good wine with fellow guests while listen-ing to the crackle of a fire and the sounds of the wild just a few feet away.

Tuningi accommodates a maximum of 16 guests in four luxury suites and two family suites. Each luxury suite has private viewing decks, en-suite bathrooms, out-door shower and faces a beautiful valley which is frequented by wildlife.

The family suites consist of two suites with an adjoining lounge, dining room and kitchenette and sleep up to four people. Retractable doors create space by blending the interior with the Bush.


Breaking the Grip of the Rip


Most of us love the beach. We feel that hot sunshine on our bodies, the tangy smell of the ozone hits our senses and that surf looks so good. All our instincts kick in, and we dive into those waves with carefree abandon! How many of us are aware of the possibility of getting caught up in a rip current at that moment.

I began my quest for finding out about these phenomena by going up in a glider to get a clear view from the air. I was stunned when once shown how to spot them, to see how many there were along just one stretch of beach. My respect for the sea grew in leaps and bounds. I began to understand exactly what a rip was, how it operated and above all, if caught in one, ways to survive it – and above all, that Knowledge is the key! In fact, rips are responsible for an estimated 80% of all rescues performed by lifeguards.

What is a rip?

Rip currents are narrow currents of strong flows of water (think of a river) which run from the beach back into the sea, constantly form-ing at different places along the shoreline throughout the day. Often they move slowly enough to barely be detected and are not a risk – but some are.

The flow of a rip current is usually around 0.5 metres per second but can be as fast as 2.5 metres per second. That is faster than any of us can swim.

However, although rips can reach a width of more than 45 meters they are usually no wider than 9 meters, so it is in many cases not too difficult to escape from.

The pull of the current also fades out completely at the head of the rip (as can be seen from the picture below), outside the zone of the breaking waves, so there is a definite limit as to how far the swimmer will be taken out to sea by the flow of a rip current.
Although rips are not always easily detectable to the eye, stronger rip currents can give off some visible signs, which once you recognize, will become more identifiable.

How to spot a rip

Rip currents are most dangerous twice a month - a few days before and after the full moon and new moon.

They are usually strongest near the surface of the water moving swiftly away from the shore, cutting through the lines of the breaking waves.

Don’t be fooled by a calm sea. It is often the calmest, most enticing looking area along a beach that can be a rip. Look for a break in the pattern of the waves: the water often looks flat where the rip is, in contrast to the lines of breaking waves on either side of the rip.

Look for

  • Break in the incoming wave pattern
  • Channel of churning choppy water
  • Line of moving foam, seaweed, or debris moving seaward
  • If you see it moving out and away from the shore, it is caught up in a ‘rip’. This will be in contrast to areas of breaking waves, where floating objects will be being pushed back to the shore.
  • An area having a notable difference in colour - The rip usually differs in colour from the surrounding water; it is often more opaque, cloudier, or muddier, and so, depending on the angle of the sun, the rip may show as darker, or lighter, than the sur-rounding water.
  • A rip – turquoise water – flows parallel to the beach before flowing out to sea.

What to do

  • Don’t panic
  • See which direction the rip is taking you: - Is it straight out - or at an angle? Once you have determined this: Swim to the right or left of the direction of the flow, never against it.
  • If you cannot swim out to either side of the rip: - Float and go with it. Rip currents are fairly narrow so you should be out of the “rip” in no time. Then: You can then either swim back to shore or let the waves help you back in. Some basic but critical facts which could make the difference between a great day at the beach, or you or a loved one unnecessarily paying the price with their lives – a risk never worth taking:
  • Lifeguards or surfers are the best sources of information. Obey instructions. If not available:
  • Take a few minutes to observe surf conditions before entering the water. Rips can show specific characteristics, which by careful surveillance, you should be able to identify.
  • Avoid the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome
  • Stay at least 30 meters away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures. They are also strongest near rocks.
  • Polarised sunglasses help to spot a rip by cutting down the glare and reflected sun-light on the ocean’s surface.
  • Don’t swim at night. You cannot see rips as in daylight.
  • Never swim alone.

Tracking turtles on SA’s north coast

Under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, most turtles are listed as vulnerable, near threatened or critically endangered. Of the marine turtles listed as vulnerable, iSimangaliso’s protected coastline has five species.

This World Heritage Site’s pristine beaches are one of the last significant nesting sites in Africa for loggerhead and leatherback turtles. The number and rate of hatchlings produced on iSimangaliso’s beaches are some of the best in the world. Poaching is rare, natural predation is low, and the nests are well protected.

To conserve these shy giants of the sea, the Department of Environmental Affairs, together with iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is working with the Park’s surrounding communities to conduct turtle monitoring over 220km of iSimangaliso’s coastline.

Local community members are employed from October to March each year to monitor nesting, numbers and sizes of leatherback and loggerhead turtles on the 56km stretch of beach between Kosi mouth and Mabibi. With less than 100 nesting females coming ashore each year, iSimangaliso’s leatherback turtles, are rarer than Black Rhino.

The turtles of iSimangaliso, have received significant conservation attention, producing a noteworthy increase in the loggerhead turtle population since the start of the turtle monitoring programme. The challenge for the iSimangaliso Authority is that once turtles leave the Park’s shores and swim across the high seas, they are extremely vulnerable to threats such as longline fishing methods, pollution and harvesting.

The project is a Department of Environmental Affairs flagship programme that shows how sustainable livelihoods can be developed through conservation.

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