In the Mopani area are two very unusual features - two grassy islands in a sea of mopane scrub. These features are caused by the kind of soil to be found there as it is the soil type, as well as the climate, which determines the kind of vegetation.
The smaller of these ‘islands’ is the Mooiplaas Waterhole (not to be confused with the Mooiplaas Picnic Spot on the Tsendze River), which is situated some 6 km or so from Mopani, to the east of the main road (H1-6) on the S50. (Mooiplaas, by the way, is the Afrikaans word for ‘beautiful farm’ and is pronounced ‘MOY-plahss’.) This is a favourite spot of ours to stop and have our breakfast (prepacked as you cannot get out of your vehicle at this point).
To the left is the windmill and on the bare clearing to the right is the trough.
Behind the trough is the reservoir with thirsty elephants.
In front of the windmill and trough, crossing from left to right, is the marshy Mooiplaas River.
Because the grassy ‘island’ extends on both sides of the dirt road it is impossible to do it justice with only one or two photos, so we are going to start by parking our vehicle facing north. In front of us is the water trough and the windmill seen in the previous photo, with reservoir off the photo to the right.) Behind the water trough is the marshy area which is the Mooiplaas River (stream would be more accurate) which eventually makes its way into the Tsendze.
On our very first visit to the waterhole, a lone eland bull was hovering in the marsh, and it dithered backwards and forwards the entire time we were there. We assume that it wanted to approach the trough but was spooked by our presence. If you carefully examine the above photo you might be able to spy the silly creature on the marsh to the left of the windmill. The zebras, on the other hand, are usually unfazed by our presence and pay us no more attention than an incurious look before carrying on with their daily activities.
The grassy plain extends to the right of the windmill and the two photos below provide a sweeping view (although they were obviously shot at different times and seasons). As can be deduced, we have had regular sightings of Tsessebe here at Mooiplaas.
If you continue with the sweeping view to the right, but focus closer to the road, you come to the concrete reservoir, where we have had consistently good sightings of zebras and elephants.
On one exciting occasion, we had a fantastic sighting of elephants. When we arrived at the waterhole, the two bulls seen drinking from the reservoir (in the photo above) were already there. The one was an old bull with only one tusk, which was badly broken, but the other was a handsome fellow with a set of magnificent tusks, who was clearly in his prime. Besides slaking their thirst, they also gave themselves a liberal shower.
Some time later, a small maternal herd of elephants materialised out of the mopane scrub and made their way across the marsh, heading purposefully for the reservoir. They must have been very thirsty for there was no stopping to browse on the lush grass of the marsh. Both Old Broken Tusk and Handsome Guy seemed to know them and accepted their arrival without batting an eyelash.
Old Broken Tusk appeared to be suffering from an itchy behind. While the herd drank, he leaned his hind end onto the reservoir and gave himself a thorough and vigorous rub. Any mystery about the mud bedaubed reservoir wall was cleared up!
In the meanwhile, Handsome Guy became very restless. He set off quite briskly in the direction of the windmill at the marsh. At first we couldn’t see what had caught his attention. Then another elephant appeared out of the mopane. It was a young cow and she crossed the marsh with the same purposeful speed as the others.
Handsome Guy became very animated. He rushed forward to greet her. She did stop to acknowledge him, but then she continued on her urgent quest for water, with Handsome Guy following in her wake. She was a dainty (for an elephant) beauty and he was quite clearly besotted. There were no attempts at intimacy, but it was obvious that Handsome Guy would be prepared to lose a tusk or two to win her heart!
When the herd began to move off into the mopane to the right of the reservoir, we decided it was time to leave, so we never learnt whether Handsome Guy successfully wooed Dainty Lady.
We continue with our exploration of Mooiplaas.
To the right of the reservoir, we reach the edge of the grassy plain and it is here that the Tsessebe appear to spend their mornings. Being close to the road, they provide opportunities for great shots. We are not sure whether they haunt this spot, or whether we have just been extraordinarly lucky, for we have seen them here several times on different visits.
While viewing all that the trough, marsh and reservoir have to offer, you have to remain alert to what is behind you, for the grassy plain also extends to the south, on the other side of the dirt road. The photo below is a continued sweep to the right.
It is here that we have seen Ground Hornbills on more than one occasion.
There are also a variety of other birds to be seen at Mooiplaas, with an abundance of Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings (formerly plovers). One of my favourites, though, is the Temminck’s Courser. They are difficult to photograph because they are seldom still.
On the contrary, the Double-banded Sandgrouse sit very quietly right on the edges of the dirt road. The couples are very devoted and seldom far from each other. (As an aside, they fly amazingly swiftly for such chubby-looking birds. We once startled one and he kept up with us for more than a kilometre, flying alongside the car. My attempt to photograph this feat was not successful!)
One of our most memorable sightings at Mooiplaas Waterhole was very early one morning when we saw a Side-striped Jackal on the southern side of the road. The first time we ever saw one was also in the Mopani area, but it was gone in a flash and we were not able to get a shot. Because this one was so occupied with sniffing about, we were able to get a few clear photos. Unfortunately, it was quite far from the road and the early morning light was not good enough for fantastic shots, but we had no complaints!
They are easily distinguishable from their cousins, the Black-backed Jackals. Besides their colouring, they are also much larger than the Black-backed Jackals. While the Black-backed Jackals look very much like foxes, the Side-striped are a bit more wolf-like.
Leaving Mooiplaas, you have to be on the alert. Elephants often make their way along the road between Mooiplaas and our next port of call - the Nshawu Marsh. We were forced to reverse for quite a distance before this titan gave way and moved off into the mopane.
Even when they are not in musth, a huge bull plodding purposefully towards you is an intimidating sight! (And, just by the way, this has happened here more than once! The road appears to be a favourite route for these bulls.)