Game drives, canoeing, camping, bird watching, sailing, bass fishing, environmental education, hiking – all located a mere 12 kilometres from Grahamstown. Sarah Beningfield and Heather Cameron, accompanied by Amakhala game ranger Wesley Gush, visited the reserve to see how it is doing.
Thomas Baines Nature Reserve, named after the British painter and explorer, was created in 1961. Today, the public park continues to be a enjoyable getaway for anyone hoping to do some bird watching, game spotting, and some relaxing in nature.
We arrived at the gates of Thomas Baines, not sure what to expect from a local public park, but excited to be able to drive ourselves around and explore the reserve. The friendly security guards were welcoming; they handed us a map and sent us on our way.
As soon as we rounded the first corner, we spotted our first animal. A beautiful male kudu stood not far from the road, but scampered off when he noticed our approaching car. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any buffalo on our drive, but this large animal is the only member of the Big Five that can be found on Thomas Baines.
We didn’t see too many other animals on our drive, besides a little bushbuck. It was easy to get around, since we went on a Tuesday and the park was quiet. However, we did struggle getting around in a Ford Fiesta, as the low clearance meant that the car was scraped by the rocky dirt road and the spiky brambles were not kind to the under carriage.
The two birding enthusiasts of the group, Sarah and Wesley, were excited to find a small bird hide marked out on the map. Once we found it, we had to walk the short path to the entrance. Inside, it was slightly dilapidated. The ceiling was falling in on one side, and the reeds were overgrown, but it was still a quiet and relaxing spot to bird watch. A moorhen was paddling across the small pond and weavers were chattering in the trees as we watched through binoculars.
There are a recorded 175 bird species in the reserve and we spotted a number of them throughout the drive, including a Greater Double-Collared Sunbird (a first for Sarah and Heather) and a Brown-Hooded Kingfisher that was perching on a branch, surrounded by leaves.
About half an hour into our drive we arrived at the northern shore of Settlers Dam, which can be accessed on the reserve. The dam is used for swimming, sailing, water sports and as a practice spot for Rhodes University rowers. There is also a yacht club that can only be accessed by members. A picnic spot and braai area stretches along the bank. A troupe of curious vervet monkeys gathered along the fence and on some of the picnic tables, watching as as we walked around the bank.
We came across a sign that said Xhosa Hut and stopped to have a closer look. We were tempted to drive down the road leading away from the sign, but the bushes were too close to the road on either side and there were rocks littered across the dirt path. We could tell that a car with a much higher suspension would be necessary to visit this feature.
The Educational Centre was closed when we visited, but the area around it was free to explore. We came across a lake, and a few other buildings that acted as lodging for conferences or school tour groups that want to stay on the reserve.
A not-so-affable tortoise was lounging on the lawn behind the building. He grunted angrily when we came too close so we stepped quickly back an admired him from afar. Wesley managed to estimate the tortoise’s age to around 60 years old.
The reserve was mostly in very good condition and our visit was a cool way to spend the morning. Friendly
At R30 per person, Thomas Baines is a good place to go if you want to get out of Grahamstown for a day but don’t want to spend too much money. It’s perfect to experience some wildlife and birding, in a relaxed environment.
Their number is: 046 625 0958 or 079 496 7978.