Retired Columbia High School English teacher Doug Miller and his wife Patti Miller just returned from an amazing trip to South Africa. They will be giving a presentation on their trip at the White Salmon Valley Community Library on Dec. 27.
The Millers were invited to South Africa by friends from the region and spent 17 days in the country.
“We had South Africans showing us the very best of their country,” said Miller about the trip.
The Millers began their journey in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, the rich, wine-producing areas of South Africa.
“We toured numerous wineries, many of which had absolutely breathtaking views. Both Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are beautiful small towns: picturesque and situated with gorgeous mountains surrounding them,” said Miller.
They even stopped by the restaurant where Christiaan Erasmus, owner of Henni’s in White Salmon, learned to cook.
The Millers spent some time in iconic Cape Town as well.
“We went down to the Cape Town area for several reasons. We wanted to go to see the penguins at the southern tip of South Africa, and we wanted to see the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town,” said Miller
The penguins Miller describes, live in colonies on 24 islands in the region and are the only penguin species that breed in Africa
Two of colonies were established by penguins in the 1980s on the mainland near Cape Town, Mainland colonies like this are only possible in recent times due to the reduction of predator numbers, although a colony at Betty’s Bay colony has been attacked by leopards. The only other mainland colony is in Namibia.
“The week we were there, there was a leopard coming down from the hills above and killing 70 penguins in a night, and then going back up into the mountains. They’re essentially defenseless any time, but while molting they’re even less able to hit the water to stay away from predators. It was a killing thing, they thought. The leopard wasn’t eating them, just killing for killing’s sake, evidently,” said Miller
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is home to one of the six kingdoms of earth’s plants that are unique to the planet.
“We saw lots of beautiful, different flowers, as well as the Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles (geological peaks) and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The trip to Cape Town from Franschhoek took us over a mountain range to the shore and included plum and apple regions of the country, as well as reforestation projects to rid areas of invasive pines which have been wreaking havoc with the native species,” said Miller.
But the part that most amazed the Millers was spending a week in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
“Apart from a few designated campgrounds, you are on your own when you enter the park. The job of the park service there is to protect the animals, not you,” said Miller about the experience.
The park is named for the original tribe that arrived in the area but were driven out by the British colonists and other nomadic tribes in the late 1800s. The name, Kgalagadi, loosely translates to “salt pans,” or “great thirstland.”
The park itself is the result of a conservation effort that began in the early 1900s by the Le Richie family after locals began to notice an increased amount of hunting. It has only been recognized as a “national park” in South Africa since 1999, though it has been in existence since 1931.
The park encompasses over 23,606 miles (37,991 kilometers) of land, making it one of the largest national parks in the world. Parts of it can only be traversed while in a 4x4 vehicle.
The Kgalagadi is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals. This time of year, the animals, both large and small, typically appear during the cooler moments of the day such as the early morning or as the sun goes down in the evening. The rest of the time they are burrowed or laying down in the shade.
“We saw quite a few animals during our trip, surprisingly no snakes, hyenas, leopards or cheetahs, but got great photos of lions, giraffes, antelope, and native birds,” said Miller.
According to a guide that the Millers brought back from the park, while many claim the Lion is the “King of Jungle” its really the gemsbok — a species of antelope — that should be called king due to its ability to adapt to the harsh climate of the Kgalagardi.
Photos of these animals, as well as photos from Cape Town, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch, will be featured at the Dec. 27 presentation.
As far as further adventures for Miller, he would like to travel to South America, specifically Chile, to hike. In the meantime, he plans to travel to the southern United States to hike the national parks in that region.