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Friday, August 7, 2020

Cellars-Hohenort Hotel Camphor Tree Grove

Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(The grove of eight majestic camphor trees)

Camphor Trees (Lauraceae: Cinnamomum camphora
Alternate common name Kanferboom (Afrikaans)

Having witnessed the remarkable 300-year-old champion camphor trees, planted by William Van Der Stel, at the Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West.  Standing in front of the manor house and observing these remarkable trees, they will take your breath away. The trees were planted from seeds imported from Java (then under Dutch control) and lined out in front of the manor house.  

We were excited to learn about a similar elegant grove of champion camphor trees at the Hohenort Estate.  

Refined and distinguished, this impressive grove of beautiful camphor trees more youthful by comparison and only 150 years old, are perfectly placed in this internationally acclaimed garden.

The Cellars Hohenort was initially known as the Klaasenbosch farm, an estate that in 1693 belonged to the chief surgeon of the Duch East India Company, Hendrik ten Damme.  The Cellars building was the original wine cellar on the farm, high up on the slopes of Table Mountain, overlooking the Constantia Valley in Cape Town.  In 1906 the farm was bought by Arnold Spilhaus who constructed the Hohenort buildings.

After the death of Spilhaus in 1947, the farm was split into two sections and sold.  Then in 1991, the cellars building was purchased by Liz McGrath, who wanted to restore its historical beauty and convert the estate into a hotel.
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(one of the larger trees in the grove)

Peering over the wall, she admired this remarkable grove of eight Camphor Trees with loving and longing despair. It didn't take her long, she purchased the neighbouring Hohenort Hotel in 1993, re-uniting the two buildings and nine acres of surrounding property. 

After winning a string of international awards for its spectacular gardens, the Cellars-Hohenort estate had finally established itself as an international venue of choice.
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(The Hohenort Estate Hotel surrounded by Champions)

We visited the Cellars-Hohenort estate in winter, the garden was not as well kept as one would have expected, and the path was slippery and uneven. The camphor trees, on the other hand, had us in awe, we spent the morning exploring and appreciating the company of these stunning trees.

In the spring we would love to return in the late afternoon's fading light, with a glass or two of some of Constantias finest wine at hand, watching this magnificent performance, like ballerinas in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, all in perfect harmony.  
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(Ballerinas all perfectly in step)
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(Refined and elegant)
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(The entrance to the Cellars-Hohenort Estate)
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(some scale to these 150-year-old majestic trees)
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(Keanin admiring the size and beauty of the ballerinas)
Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(Wondering through this award-winning international garden, nine acres of splendour)

Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(We will return to replenish our souls)

Cellars-Hohenort, Camphor Tree Grove, Champion Trees, Cape Town, Photo of camphor tree, Alex Aitkenhead, Constantia
(Planted from seeds imported from Java as per the trees in Vergelegen)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Baobabs of Southern Africa

We surveyed his regal kingdom, it was a scene of destruction, an apocalypse, with limbs strewn across the battlefield, tears fell like rain on the parched earth. Weeping and wailing they cried out "the king has fallen. Our king is dead." Fortunately, the Glencoe farm had another majestic Baobab, more refined and elegant (maybe younger), its smooth flesh-like bark shining in the morning light. 

Surrounded by the mighty Drakensberg mountains that rose from the bushveld like castle walls, protecting these massive beasts as they stood imposingly over the Lowveld. This is where my love affair began with these mighty giants and icons of African bush (Adansonia digitata). We have had the privilege of meeting with remarkable Baobabs in Southern Africa and will continue in our quest to capture and write about these ancient trees.


Glencoe Baobab. Hoedspruit, Limpopo Province.
Searching for pancakes when we stumbled upon this noble statesman, worthy of its claim as the new master, prince to the fallen king on the Glencoe farm.


Glencoe Baobab. Hoedspruit, Limpopo Province.
Legend has it that after the Boer war two wagon loads of gold was despatched to the north of South Africa, Hoedspruit in particular. The precious gold was hidden in the hollow of a mighty Baobab and sealed with a termite queen that would provide the mound. This hollow is what lead to the downfall and ultimate collapse of this almighty king of the bushveld. 

Recorded as one of the largest and oldest residents, how sad to witness this fall from grace. A shadow of his former glory, forgotten and neglected, defeated but not dead. The old king lives, and growth was evident, who knows, in 1000 years, he may rule again; unfortunately, we will no longer be around to witness the glory.

Leydsdorp Giant Baobab. Gravelot, Limpopo Province.
Had the privilege of introducing myself to the giant of Leydsdorp, a former mining town in is hay day. Resigned to a ghost town, deserted and abandoned the residents vacated. All that remains is dilapidated buildings and a derelict old pub within the Bowles of the giant. 

Access is restricted as the opening has almost closed, but the giant shared the stories of inebriated miners and ghosts, and we listened intently. Content and elated, we departed knowing that the giant would still be around for centuries.
Manutsa Baobab. Hoedspruit, Limpopo Province.
Hiking through the forest on the manutsa trail takes you into another world, undiscovered and wild. We negotiated our way through caves and cleansed our soles in magical icy waterfalls. The trail leads back through the local village, standing guard in the middle of the informal settlements, you will find an impeccable baobab, not quiet a champion, yet. 

This magnificent specimen watches over his loyal subjects. We paid our respects to the almighty beast and admired the grandeur. We parted knowing that this was the beginning of yet another wonderful friendship. — at Hoedspruit, Manutsa.

Mwachema River Baobabs. Diani Beach, Kenya
While on assignment in Mombasa, our hosts in Diani beach entertained our party like royals. We did not travel for the sightseeing, our invitation and accommodation was bartered on the expectation of fantastic inviting images to encourage tourist to these white sandy beaches in a typical sun-drenched island setting. Requesting a guide to assist in finding the perfect pictures we stumbled upon this unique setting. Remarkable, elegant baobabs sunbathing on this tropical beach with camels and some local inhabitance to complete the scene. It was distractions like this and meeting with new friends that made our working holiday that much more memorable. — at Diani Beach, Mombasa, Kenya.

Mopani Rest Camp Baobab, Kruger National Park, Limpopo
After reading an article on the Mopani Rest Camp in Kruger, we were quick to record that the camp was host to a towering majestic baobab. Determined to make our formal acquaintance, and spend some quiet quality time in the cool shade of this splendid tree. We were reminded by a signpost not to throw stones into the hole as the resident owls were nesting. How special it would have been if they had made an appearance when we captured this moment, oh how memorable this would have been. — at Mopani Rest Camp.

Glencoe Baobab. (second tree), Hoedspruit, Limpopo Province.
Every cloud has a silver lining, but this was an exceptional golden moment.
Pafuri, Kruger National Park, Limpopo Province
Pafuri, land of the baobab, in fact, we witnessed forests from the elevated vantage of the thulamela ruins. Pafuri ranks as our preferred location in the Kruger National Park, we couldn't resist the opportunity to participate in a guided bushwalk. When asked what we wanted to observe on the walk, we did not hesitate, birds, river course and gigantic trees. Kruger did not disappoint, as we trekked farther and deeper into the wilderness we approached the mouth of the Lanner Gorge. Here at the entrance stood the gatekeeper. An almighty giant, confident it could rival its closest competitor (the Sagole Giant ) a mear 50 km away. We had an engagement with the Sagole Giant, but alas, it was not to be, maybe next time........

Myself Exchanging pleasantries with this gargantuan beast.

Mopani Rest Camp Baobab, Kruger National Park, Limpopo
Like a giant octopus, stretching its tentacles over the bush-veld. Content and cool in the midday heat, we stayed a while to admire the colossal reach of this behemoth. — at Mopani Rest Camp.

Mwachema River Baobabs. Diani Beach, Kenya
While on assignment in Mombasa, our hosts in Diani beach entertained our party like royals. We did not travel for the sightseeing, our invitation and accommodation was bartered on the expectation of fantastic inviting images to encourage tourist to these white sandy beaches in a typical sun-drenched island setting. Requesting a guide to assist in finding the perfect pictures we stumbled upon this unique setting. Remarkable, elegant baobabs sunbathing on this tropical beach with camels and some local inhabitance to complete the scene. It was distractions like this and meeting with new friends that made our working holiday that much more memorable. — at Diani Beach, Mombasa, Kenya.

Leydsdorp Giant Baobab. Gravelot, Limpopo Province
Had the privilege of introducing myself to the giant of Leydsdorp, a former mining town in is hay day. Resigned to a ghost town, its residents deserted the area, all that remains is dilapidated buildings and a derelict old pub within the Bowles of the giant. Access is restricted as the opening has almost closed, but the giant shared the stories of inebriated miners and ghosts, and we listened intently. Content and elated, we departed knowing that the giant would still be around for centuries. — at Giant Baobab Tree Leydsdorp.

Mopani area, Baobab.Kruger National Park, Limpopo — at Mopani Rest Camp.

Thulamela Ruins Baobabs.  Pafuri, Kruger National Park.


Scrambling along the winding trail, we eventually found the Thulamela archaeological site, situated on top of an elevated ridge that overlooks the Parfuri bushveld. Surrounded by ancient baobabs standing guard, watching over the ancestral spirits, the perfect setting. Home to kings and queens for centuries, here amongst the reconstructed walls that housed this settlement, stood some regal and imposing beasts. 


Our guides finding a comfortable location to rest and tell the age-old stories of how the Thulamela people occupied this area for centuries. We could not have enjoyed the moment more knowing that we were enclosed, protected and under the cool canopy of an unconventional king at this historical site. — at Thulamela Ruins, Pafuri.



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Friday, June 19, 2020

Quivers of the Richtersveld NationalPark



I am hot and irritated, we have been driving for hours, and the going is slow. We have passed Eksteenfontein and negotiating our way along a dry riverbed, with the sun starting to dip on the horizon, we wonder if we will make our destination at Kuboes before nightfall.

Richtersveld, South Africa's only mountainous desert will be our final destination, situated in the Northern Cape and on the Namibian border. This harsh, rocky and somewhat forgotten location has us in awe as we appreciate these ancient rugged mountains and magnificent tree aloes that dominate the baron landscape.

Stopping to record these remarkable giants of the desert, appreciating their struggle for survival and contrasting beauty this is what has drawn us to this extravagant landscape (Aloe pillansii-Bastard Quiver tree / Aloidendron dichotomum-Quiver Tree).


| Please enjoy the two videos in this article, covering the reality of this trip |


(Aloe Pillansii at Dragon's Black Mountain near Eksteenfontein)
We noticed these remarkable giant tree aloes, but did not imagine just how colossal they would be, our first on the trip and now etched in our minds forever.

(Aloe Pillansii at Dragon's Black Mountain near Eksteenfontein 
Scale is everything, and this image provides an accurate account of how enormous this majestic beast is, Juanita enjoying the company of the giant of the desert.


(Aloidendron dichotomum - Quiver Tree)

A welcome sentinel standing guard over the Springbok Vlakte, another remarkable specimen, its limbs finished off with delicate succulent leaves that make this tree so unique, an architectural masterpiece.

It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of this majestic sentinel over the Springbok Vlakte, the end of an era for this champion of the mountain desert. The road to Kokeboom Kloof will never be the same again, well not in our lifetime.

The video below shares some insight into the images that were captured in this article.


( Golden flakes of the Aloe Pillansii )

Flakes of gold and shimmering in the intense heat of the day, contrasting its elegance against the cobalt blue backdrop, this ancient dinosaur had the scars to prove it.


(After travelling for miles this was a welcome sight that we had arrived at the Richtersveld Transfrontier Tark )
Vast and remote, endless corrugated roads that rattle and shake our vehicle to the point of destruction. It was worth every bump and bruise. The Richtersveld is the only mountain desert in South Africa and home to the Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. We were travelling to these remote, distant shores to experience and appreciate a landscape of desolate plains and endless rugged mountains.


(Flowering in winter - what a spectacle it must be? We visited in summer, long after, but their beauty remains )
Twisting and contorted as if to reminds us of the struggle for survival in this parched, lifeless ocean of sand and rock.


(The Dragon's Black Mountain A.Pillansii outside Eksteenfontein, a remarkable tree)
The scenery was extravagant, rugged mountains providing the dramatic surrounding, a lone aloe breaks the skyline to complete the scene. Three of the five species of aloe tree that occur in South Africa grow in the Richtersveld - the quiver tree (Aloidendron dichotomum), Pillan's quiver tree (A.pillansii), generally known as the 'baster kokerboom', and the maidens quiver tree(A.ramosissima).

Here an ancient Aloe pillansii stands tall and proud at Dragon's Black Mountain near Eksteenfontein.

(It's landscaping like these that entice the adventurous traveller, isolated and remote, the silence is deafening)
Our trusty steed for the trip provides a Sense of scale (bottom right) mountainous terrain, and ancient rocks offer companionship to these iconic aloes that stand guard over the wilderness.


(A GPS is critical it this tormented and vast wilderness, one wrong turn and you can find yourself in another world. The approach to the Tatasberg Pluton "Die Toon" ).
Before entering the enchanted forest of a thousand or more quivers, scattered amongst the arid desert landscape, you need to negotiate with the gatekeeper at Die Toon; we were escorted through these gates by dying and deceased Dichotomous. This scientific name has recently been changed to Aloidendron dichotomum, sounding more like the ancient dinosaurs that roamed these lands millions of years ago, somehow it seems befitting.


Video: Day 3 in the Richtersveld.
(Leaving Richtersberg Camp Site, visiting Kokerboomkloof and Helshoogte Pass)





(A lone aloe breaks the scenery, majestic and proud, perfectly at home in a baron landscape)
Not the largest or the most handsome, but strategically placed in the rocky environment made for yet another great encounter


(A hostile environment, isolated and desolate "We went searching for nowhere and we were happy when we found nothing" )
After days of endless poor roads we got to stretch our legs a little, Namibian roads were by definition butter smooth, a welcome change and our chariot showed its appreciation.

(Another perfect Dichotomum comfortable and at home amongst the rocky desert environment )
Perfectly sculptured by nature, isolated in a boulder-strewn veld, pleading with us to stop and admire its presence, how could we drive past. We have visited the aloe tree forests of kokeboom's in the Richtersveld as well as Ganabos near Niewouldville, but Keetmanshoop remains on our list to enchant us.

(Stopping to admire this gigantic tree aloe as it towers over the boulder-strewn surroundings, appreciating the adversity and struggle for survival in this harsh environment )
The image above was taken with a 400 mm zoom lens, I regret the decision not to have trekked across the moonscape terrain to introduce myself.  

(Dusty dry road from Eksteenfontein, providing a gateway to this unique world known as the Richtersveld )
Have you taken the lonely, dusty road through Eksteenfontein and on to Kuboes, and then towards the Richtersveld?
Please share your experience with us the post below.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Champion Tree Status awarded to Rubber Tree in Company's Garden Cape Town

Why did it take so long for this remarkable tree to receive its Champion Tree status?  (Rubber Tree/ Ficus elastica Moraceae)

The Company's Garden is THE OLDEST garden in South Africa.  Some of the trees planted here originate back to the early colonialists who explored the Cape.  As far back as the early 1600's when this garden was used to feed the travelers circumnavigating the tip of Africa, and eventually became what we know today.

The New Champion Trees Project

It is befitting that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries declared as protected under Sec 12 of the National Forest Act of 1998 individual and group trees with a Champion Tree Status, giving them the ultimate protection that they deserve.

This notification of the updated list of Champion Trees in South Africa was issued on 18 October 2019.


Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, moraceae)
The Western Cape was lucky to have six new Champion Trees added to its long list already.

Living in Cape Town makes it a lot easier to access our local list and without hesitation, we have started to record and visit these remarkable trees.


The Company's Gardens: 

This precious section of green and shade in the middle of a busy postcolonial city is the remaining half of a garden planted in the 1650s by the Dutch East India Company ( Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie VOC ) The garden was planted on slopes of  Table mountain and led to the dispossession of the local inhabitants who used this area. It led to the establishment of our Historic City and the introduction of agriculture into this region and the beginnings of scientific investigation into the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Company's Garden self-guided walk Brochure can be found in this link below: 


Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
( Entrance to the Company's garden off Victoria Street )

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Table Mountain watching over and  providing protection from the southeasterly winds )
Take a walk towards the Northern Entrance of the garden, and you will find this tree to be a focal point in the area.


Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
( We needed to scout around to find this Champion )

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

This Champion Rubber Tree stands a towering 27m above the ground and has circumference 38.4m.  The age is unknown, but a guestimate would be in the early 1800's.

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
( The picturesque Government Avenue lined with Oak trees )

Map of the Company's Garden and Self Guided Walk.

Look for the Rubber Tree marked as "U" in the image below.

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree, Map of Companys Garden, Self Guided Tour Cape Town, Remarkable Trees
( Company's Garden brochure and self-guided walk: the map on page 20, this Champion Rubber Tree is marked as "U" on this map