We have been in South Africa twice before, but never east of Port Elizabeth. And this is most probably true for the majority of the Garden Route visitors in this beautiful country. For the start of 2020 we were looking for a nature hideaway to spent a good part of our sabbatical at. Living a month in a private game reserve at the Western Cape was not within our budgetary constraints, to be honest. So we widened our search and looked for spots at the Eastern Cape as well. Luckily, we found Fort Governors Estate. We booked an additional flight from Capetown to Port Elizabeth, rented a car, drove a good 150 km east of Port Elizabeth along the N2 and started our month in our own cottage.
First things first: This place is an antelope heaven! There is a lot to learn about antelopes for starters like us although we did many game drives before. Over our stay we managed to see these antelopes (most of them from our cottages terrace). But there are even more antelope species in this huge reserve:
- Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx): They can grow up to 1,6 m at shoulder heigh and weigh up to a ton. This makes it the second largest antelope in the world (second to its cousin the Giant Eland).
- Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus): It is a cow-like antelope with a muscular, front-heavy appearance. Their youngsters only get the parents colours at about two years of age.
- Blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi): Endemic to South Africa and Swaziland this antelope is not to be confused with its rare cousin the Bontebok. Its white head inspired the name "bles" in Africaans.
- Impala (Aepyceros melampus): This medium-sized antelope can be observed in three social groups: territorial males, bachelor herds and female herds
- Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus): Male waterbuck feature long, spiral horns. It is predominantly a graser and needs close proximity to water sources in hot weather.
- Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros): The distinct feature of this woodland antelope is their four to twelve white vertical stripes on their torso.
The little Blesbok lamb
One morning we saw a little Blesbok lamb passing our cottage without its mother. You could see that is was only a few days old due to the rest of the umbilical cord hanging down. It came back shortly after passing us and just layed down like you see in one of the pictures above. It didn't really move for an hour or so. Later on we saw a Blesbok standing on top of a ridge a couple of hundred meters away. It looked at the lamb for a good two hours, but didn't come down. It was most probably its mother guarding from afar and waiting for a safe moment to fetch it. The ranger said the little lamb wouldn't be able to survive much more than a day without its mother. Furthermore, we couldn't even assist with water or food since it only lived of its mothers' milk in these very early days of life. It was hard to see the scene of a lost lamb in the heat of the day. The only thing to do for us was closing the windows and curtains and staying away from the terrace that evening and night to make the mother feel comfortable for fetching its lamb. Next morning, we didn't see the lamb again. We took a closer look at the spot it has been the day before, but nothing. Most probably, its mother took care of it that night, gave it a good portion of milk and off they went. At least this it what we like to think.
Wildebeest are amongst the cow-like antelopes and stunning creatures. They are also called gnu outside of Southern Africa. At Fort Governors Estate they have the common blue wildebeest (looking more greyish) as well as the rare golden wildebeest that we never saw before. A herd of 14 antelopes are hold in a separate area in order not to mix with the blue ones (their lambs would slowly loose their golden colour). These golden antelopes are one of my favorite antelopes!
South Africa is in a severe drought for quite some years now. Running a game reserve is especially hard during this time when it comes to providing food and water for animals. Fort Governors Estate set-up dams in order to hold back some water after the rare rains. One of the dams is opposite the Dam Cottage (hence the name). It provided a prime spot for seeing and photographing animals during our stay. Especially shortly before a big thunderstorm that brought heavy rain for the first time in recent years many animals showed up drinking here. Even the very shy ones. I especially like the last picture of the herd of blesbok drinking and one of them guarding the scene on top of the dam. And by the way - did you ever see an ostrich taking a swim?
Our closest neighbors were three ostrich
These three ostrich were our closest neighbors at the Dam Cottage. The male and two female were raised by humans and therefore still like some human company. These guys hang out with us almost on a daily basis. They can roam freely on the estate like all the other animals. But most days they decided to stick with us. We were happy to have a veranda that was firstly a bit elevated and secondly fenced, to be honest. Standing tall and opposite you these flightless birds are sometimes even taller than the largest of us. And you can't outrun these birds that are up to 70 km/h fast. Good to know when going for a run on the premises... And also a very rare and most probably once in a lifetime chance to study these birds that close.
Meet the Pumbas
Meet the Pumbas or better the common warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus). A wild member of the big pig family that also liked the area around the cottage for foraging and drinking. They can easily be identified by the two pairs of tusks. A lower shorter and an upper longer pair. Designed not for digging but for fighting. A nice distinct feature is the mane down the spine along the middle of the back. Otherwise, not much hair going on with these pigs. These omnivores often bend their front feet for feeding. You can see in one of the pictures above that the piglets already imitate this behavior. Since males leave the group we saw the female with the two one year old piglets and the four little ones from this season. It always brought a smile on our faces when we saw them. But the funniest moments were when they were chasing their own tail and turning around 360° on the spot.
The Dam Cottage
Coming from Port Elizabeth you just have to drive the N2 eastwards, leave the city of Grahamstown left of you and continue for another 20 minutes. Driving along the pathway to the cottage we were greeted by the golden wildebeest and some black impala before arriving at the Dam Cottage. Our home for a full month. A living room with big kitchen, a sleeping room and a bath room, a big terrace with the classic braai grill and a very nice wide open lookout towards the water dam welcomed us. Very friendly personnel taking good care of us. Other than that is was really quiet. We had to get used to this kind of quietness coming from the noise of the city, especially at night. Not every noise was known to us. Be it from birds tapping on the roof, antelopes feeding on grass or the very heavy rain and thunderstorms. We drove at least once a week to Grahamstown for the grocery run and mostly spent our days with the sun. Waking up early, breakfast and some sport on the terrace, working throughout the day and many times having an open fire braai with some wine or beer for sunset. During a clear night, especially when there is just little moon light, you have the chance for a milky way that you will not forget. There is hardly any light pollution around. Even Grahamstown is too little and too far away to ruin your night sight.
If you are interested in the lovely place, check Fort Governors Estate website, ask for Jo and please pass her our regards!
And there is much more
Game driving at Fort Governors Estate
We love game drives! We got to do a few during our stay but it wasn't our focus this time. Fort Governors Estate is a reserve that does not feature the Big Five. Nevertheless, the game drives are worth it anyway. We managed to see giraffe, baboons, some zebras and again many different kinds of small and large antelopes. Getting an explanation on animal tracks, seeing pictures of a leopard in a photo trap and having a sundowner upon a hill overlooking a good part of this huge reserve makes us just thankful.
Besides all the landscape beauty and the stunning animals it was about the lovely people working at Fort Governors Estate. Thanks to Pieter first, who took very good care of us for a whole month! At the very end of our stay we also got to meet Barbara, the German owner of the resort, as well as Sean and Jo with their lovely two little daughters who run this place and just came back from a long trip marketing this place abroad. And not to forget everybody of the staff with housekeeping and ground operations. We never stayed that long in one single place abroad and the people made us feel at home. Thanks, guys!
For more of my South Africa work check this link.