Author Archives Raquel de Castro Maia

May 8, 2018

Wildlife update ~ interview with Jono Berry (Conservation and Sustainability Manager)


We have introduced 22 springbok from a nearby farm which mitigates the risk of heartwater disease. 

Heartwater disease has been a major issue in the past with springbok introductions. So we are confident that these springbok will pull through the first four to six weeks and if they have, I think we are golden.

There is an extra giraffe in the protected area. The lions pushed the giraffe through the fence at the end of March.

We are presently planning for the animal introductions and are looking at approximately 100 blue wildebeest as well as some more plains zebra to boost the prey species for the lions. 

I am incredibly happy and relieved to see the strong summer that we have had with regards to the amount of young waterbuck babies, hartebeest babies, impala, the blue wildebeest and the zebra. I think that has been a direct result of the game licks and the micro nutrients and the minerals that have been added to the veldt. So despite the worst drought in living memory we have had a very strong birthing season, which we are very excited about.

Text: Nadine Clarke
Photographs: Raquel de Castro Maia

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May 8, 2018

Black Wattle to Electricity – The Gondwana Biomass Plant


Homeowner Steve Nightingale from Red Rocks 27 shares with us on the Gondwana Biomass Plant

I remember some years ago talking to Mark Rutherfoord and Rein van der Horst about setting up a biomass plant on Gondwana using the black wattle as the free fuel/feedstock to generate electricity. This set me thinking that the feasibility of such a plant would be a suitable multi-disciplinary project for my university students who are in the final year of an MSc. I typically have two teams of six students each per year with backgrounds in civil, mechanical, electrical/electronic, chemical, aeronautical and medical engineering. Two teams were selected and the project ran from the beginning of October 2015 until the end of February 2016. Technical and financial information was provided by Mark on behalf of Gondwana. Various representatives from Eskom, the South African government and various independent organisations also provided information, which helped tremendously.

We had the benefit of experience from a similar biomass project in Penrith in the UK, where the owner of a large chicken farm had built a biomass plant to provide electricity and heating for his farm. He ran into difficulties after eighteen months, largely because he had insufficient assistance in running and maintaining it properly. Eventually, he abandoned it. Some years later, the project plant was bought and re-commissioned by a small experienced biomass company, which managed it successfully for five years before our Gondwana biomass project started. It is still being run successfully today. A technically knowledgeable accountant from the biomass company came and gave a presentation to my students to give them a sound background on the issues with building and running such a plant and the project began in earnest. The company pointed out that although it made a profit of 9 – 11% per annum, this would not be possible without the UK government subsidy for electricity generation projects based on biomass plants. This sounded a warning bell, that such a project on Gondwana might not be financially viable as there were no subsidies for such projects in South Africa at that time.

The feasibility studies from both teams, operating independently, concluded that such a project was not financially viable, which was disappointing. However, as with any project of this type, one has to make assumptions on issues such as the cost of collecting the black wattle, the cost of drying it to the correct humidity level, the cost of preparing the feedstock to the correct size, capital and operating costs of the plant etc. These assumptions have a wide variance associated with them, but at the time such a project looked to be too high a risk to be profitable in the long term.

An interesting thing then happened. In 2017, Mark was able to obtain a small 60 kW biomass plant at zero cost. He only had to cover the expense for it to be transported to Gondwana and fund the erection, commissioning and operation. Therefore, the capital equipment costs were removed from the concept. Joe Erasmus and Marcel du Preez took took the project on with Marcel organizing and commissioning the plant, which began operating in November 2017. This was reported in the minutes of the Gondwana homeowners’ meeting last year. I came to Gondwana in November, 2017 together with an engineering colleague from the UK and we spent some time with Joe who showed us round the plant. We all agreed there was nothing like ‘learning by doing’ to find out the real values of some of the unknown parameters identified in the university studies mentioned above.

The biomass plant is situated behind the workshop in the staff village. It generates 60kW and is shown in the picture below. It is not possible to see it from the road; you have to drive up to the workshop. You will probably hear it humming away before you see it if you decide to make a visit.

The basic principles are as follows:

  1. The unit has a downdraught gasifier. Pieces of wood, black wattle in this case, are dried and cut up into small pieces. These need to have a humidity level of around 18%, which is easily achieved by drying them in a covered area for about a week.
  2. The wood or feedstock is then fed via a hopper into the top of the biomass plant and into a reservoir. It is then fed into a closed combustion chamber at regular intervals. The wood burns and air is pumped down through the burning wood and the gasses produced are extracted underneath the fire. Under the correct conditions, the extracted gas contains hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane together with charcoal, tar and water.
  3. The gas is then filtered and cooled to remove charcoal, tar and water and fed into a modified 6-cylinder petrol engine driving a 3-phase generator. The generator can then be switched in to the electrical network to provide electricity for the staff village instead of taking it from the grid.

What is proving to be invaluable is the experience gained by actually operating such a plant. It can be operated by one person and, although it has a number of automatic control systems, it relies on the operator keeping an eye on the process and making small adjustments while it is operating.

The plant is currently being run from 8:30am till 5pm to allow downtime for daily maintenance. Future plans being considered are given below:

  1. Build a cover or roof over the whole plant with solar cells. These would provide electricity during the day with the plant operating at night after sundown.
  2. Build a laundry on the premises to make use of the excess electricity.
  3. Sell the charcoal and tar byproducts.

So, go and have a look.

In conclusion, we have black wattle, an invasive alien tree species, turned into desirable ‘green’ electricity for the benefit of all on Gondwana. So, for those of you who like a little engineering with your wildlife, have a word with Joe and I’m sure he would be delighted to show you around. If everything proves successful, Gondwana will probably be purchasing a much larger one in the not-too-distant future to provide electricity for the staff village, villas, Kwena and Lehele and is in keeping with the sustainable ethos of Gondwana game reserve.

Text: Steve Nightingale
Photography: Raquel de Castro Maia

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May 8, 2018

Working for water plans for 2018


Working for water plans for 2018 ~ interview with Pieter Gerhardus (project manager for Working for water)

The key focal areas are two fold for the black wattle.

Firstly the initial clearing of the Black wattle and secondly follow ups where black wattle have been cleared to prevent the re infestation of the black wattle seedlings.

The initial clearing is going to be roughly 100 hectares. This will include the valley below Wildebeest plains going towards Insele lodge. The initial clearing has been done along the edges but the focus will now be to clear the entire valley. The next initial clearing area is at the top of the Whitehouse valley just below the predator bomas. The third initial area for clearing is below wildebeest dam going down the valley. These initials will prepare the way to start moving down the Whitehouse valley next year. If the initials are successful by incorporating clearing and fire this year, then we will be looking at doing more initials next year as the combination of clearing and fire will require less follow ups with longer intervals.

The follow ups for the black wattle for 2018 is on the 2300 hectares from Pieter’s se deck up the valley to Suurvlakte, the recently cleared new section close to Suurvlakte, over and across to Gate 1 and the area outside Mountain ridge. At least 2 treatments per block have been scheduled for the year.

Along with the mechanical and chemical treatment of the black wattle trees is a Biological component for control.

Hakea biological control is being introduced this year. Release sites will be identified to release different control agents depending on the age of the Hakea. Some agents control the Hakea saplings, others control Hakea plants around the age of two years and other agents control the adult trees and seed pods. These agents will be released in the hard to reach areas such as Trees loop and Protea forest.

The black wattle biological control is well established at Gondwana. The first galls were released in 2012/2013 .The larvae of the midge stimulates the wattle to grow and encapsulate the inflorescence leading to reduced seed production that takes place. Once the larvae has eaten off the inflorescence, the gall opens and the midge flies out to lay eggs in another inflorescence. The gall forming midge that encapsulates the inflorescence preventing pollination is everywhere, from the far east to the far west of the reserve. There is very little seed being produced with as much as a 90 percent reduction in seed germination. Key areas for sustaining the midges need to be identified so that they do not die out. The bomas is one key area along with a few other forests, where the wattle will be prevented from spreading but able to maintain and breed the midges. 

Another form of biological control was introduced in the form of weevils which destroy the black wattle seed. The effect of the weevils is visible in some areas of black wattle but is not being as effective at this stage with stopping seed production as the midge.

Text: Nadine Clarke
Photographs: Raquel de Castro Maia

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May 8, 2018

Home owner profile – Brenda Li Hansen


What brought us to Gondwana?
Caracal, the Sales Manager that greeted us at the doorstep of our house-to-be in Gondwana.  Mark told us that Mr Caracal is the resident sales manager.  We bought the house with the expectation that he will visit us regularly.  The lazy one, however, visited us only once afterwards!  Lousy after-sale service!

We went to Gondwana for a short safari trip away from our house in Paarl in September 2016.  We love the place and we learned that there are houses for sale.  Since we were there already we managed to see some houses.  Then came Mr Caracal the impressive sales manager…

What is our favourite species on the reserve?
Cats cats and cats, and every member of Mr Caracal’s sales team in Gondwana, minus the baboons. 

The scariest/funniest/most interesting moment in the reserve?
We’ve been to many game reserves in Africa and we could never get close to elands, rhinos, sables, hartebeests and bonteboks the way we can in Gondwana.  In other places, they are usually super shy and disappear the moment we see them.  We have rarely seen a single rhino in our 30+ years of game viewing experience and in Gondwana they are just there every time to greet you!  

What do we do for a living?
We are both retired and we moved from Hong Kong my hometown to South Africa in November 2015.  My last life was the Human Resources Director of a Paris listed IT services company “Atos” in Hong Kong.  Larry was the CEO for a camera company in Sweden (Hasselblad) just before retirement.  Before that he worked for the German company Carl Zeiss for 27 years, in charge of the Asia Pacific region.  He was also the CEO of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), a charity organization based in London for several years.

Africa was our favourite place for holiday when we were working.  We went to Cape Town and the wine lands after many years of wild life safari trips in Africa and fell in love with the vast landscapes, blue skies, craggy mountains and wonderful people there, not to mention the sumptuous and extremely high quality food and wines in the region!  South Africa is naturally the place we chose for our retirement.

Favourite food?
Japanese, unfortunately the fresh seafood essential for fine Japanese cuisine is not available here.  We love of course Chinese food too but they are not quite authentic here in this part of the world.  We therefore need to travel back to Asia once in a while to satisfy our cravings.

Larry has a lot of bad and expensive hobbies, but after retirement most of them had to disappear! (except cars…)

We both love wild life and photography.  I have no clue about the technical aspects of photography but I have a good Technical Director who sets up the gear and I just shoot whatever I think looks nice.

We are married with 9 house tigers.  The picture shows one of our Maine Coon “tigers”.  They are our bosses.  We moved them all from Hong Kong to South Africa so that we can continue to serve them and entertain them here.

What are we passionate about?
Wild life conservation.  Larry has set up the “Rhino Conservation Awards” 7 years ago together with the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Game Rangers Association of Africa, with Prince Albert of Monaco as Patron. 

18 years ago Larry also set up the “Wildlife (Tiger) Conservation Awards” in India and it’s still running.  

We also love travelling, eating and interesting wines.

Favourite spots in the Reserve?
Wherever the lions, cheetahs, rhinos and sables are.

Nicknames?  Hmmmmm, I’m not telling you…..  

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May 8, 2018

Protea coronata ~ Green Sugarbush


According to the Red List of South African Plants (assessment of 2006), Protea coronata is considered near threatened as populations are decreasing. We are blessed to have a few healthy stands of Protea coronata on the reserve and they are all coming into flower now.

These beautiful “green” proteas are one of the bearded proteas. The beard being the dense fringe of long hairs on the floral bracts which characteristically curve inwards.

Cape Sugar Birds, sunbirds and many different insects visit Protea coronate in search of its nectar and pollen. The birds mainly feed on the nectar and the insects feed on both the nectar and the pollen.

The Cape Sugar bird is well adapted to accessing the nectar in these dense flower heads. The Sugar bird has strong feet and claws to grip onto the proteas while forcing his head into the flowers. To reach the nectar the sugar bird pushes his head between the massed flowers till he reaches the nectar at the base. While doing this the pollen in the flower is rubbed off onto the bird’s head, it then flies off to another bush and repeats the process and in doing so transfers the pollen to another flower head.

Our delightful little sunbirds are not pollinators, they have found a way to cheat the whole process of pollination and stick their little beaks into the side of the flower heads straight to the base of the flower where the sweet nectar collects. Sugarbirds and Sunbirds obtain all the energy they need from the sugar in the nectar.

If you take a good look inside the protea flower heads or turn them upside down and tap them you will be amazed at how many little insects fall out. The insects vary most of them are there to feed on the pollen or on each other but some damage the flowers and eat the seeds. The insects are also extra food for the Sugarbirds and sunbirds who sometimes eat insects and spiders to supplement their mineral intake.

Protea coronate produces large amounts of seed. It does not survive fire only the seeds survive. Protea coronata has adapted to germinate and grow after fire and can re-establish itself successfully and quickly after the primary bushes have been burnt and die off.

Text & Photographs: Raquel de Castro Maia

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March 12, 2018

Wildlife update with Jono Berry (Conservation and sustainability Manager)


Photo credits: Zebra – Magdelene, Rainbow – Pierre

Gondwana has enjoyed some lovely rain in January with over 94 mm falling at Lehele and an additional 15mm in February. This is up to three times the figure of neighbouring farmers in the area. The rainfall has provided a fantastic green flush of grass for the grazers.


There has been a lot happening with the lion pride. It was observed by the rangers and wildlife team that the big male lion had begun to chase the three sub adult males off the kills. This behavior is completely normal and in the wild the sub adult males would take this as a sign to move off and start their own territory. Unfortunately this is not possible at Gondwana as the sub adult males could begin to break through fences in order to source new territories, which would jeopardize relationships with neighbouring farmers. The three sub adult males have therefore been caught and are currently being held in the predator holding boma. The wildlife team is working closely with the Game Rangers Association who are in the process of setting up a new Game Reserve in Angola. The Association will be sourcing animals for this reserve and the plan is to release the 3 sub adult Gondwana males into this reserve along with some females from other areas  so that they can set up their own pride. It is interesting to note that up to now lion populations in reserves like Gondwana were never recognized. Many Lion foundations however are now sitting up and taking notice of lion populations in smaller reserves as these populations are growing, whereas lion population numbers on the whole are declining. It is reserves like Gondwana that are contributing to the survival of the lion species.

The male has subsequently mated with the two adult females and the sub adult females broke away from them during this time. 

The sable have not been doing very well in the protected area so a process was set up to move the Sable into the Mountain Ridge and Sunset Ridge areas where they can be closely monitored. Homeowners are enjoying getting up close to these magnificent antelope in these homeowner areas.


Photo Credit: Brenda Li

There have been many young ones born on the reserve over the last three months, including impala, waterbuck, eland, red hartebeest and wildebeest. The populations are healthy and enjoying the supplementary licks to help with lactation and fertility. The wildebeest population is the hardest hit however as they are the favorite prey species of the lion. It is always a balancing act to manage the predator prey numbers on the reserve so with this in mind one of the short term wildlife plans is to introduce more antelope species towards winter.


Photo Credit: Brenda Li

With the recent bushfire at Red Rocks 20, it bares mentioning that the fast response of the fire team assisted in containing the fire to under 2 hectares, even though they were called out on a Sunday afternoon.

Last and certainly not least PG is hard at work currently setting up the wattle eradication program for 2018.

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March 12, 2018

Radio Jargon at Gondwana


Whilst out on game drive in many reserves in South Africa, there is another language that comes into play between field guides over their radio network. This radio jargon has evolved over time derived mostly from local African languages to allow the field guides to discuss sightings and updates . There is no translation app or google connection to help one at this time! With this in mind here are some common names that can be heard frequently over the radio…

Hippo – Imvubu

Elephant – Indlovu

Giraffe – Dlulamiti

Lion – Ingonyama

Youngsters – Impanpane

Kill ( grip, grasp, hold) – Bamba

Male/husband – Madoda

Female/wife – Mufasi

Bush/Thicket – Hlathini

Old one – Madala

Text: Nadine Clarke
Photo: Raquel de Castro Maia

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March 12, 2018

Home owner profile – Italo Fioravanti

1. What brought us to Gondwana?

We did some research on the internet for different types of investments during the downturn in the economy a few years ago and came across Gondwana. We first bought stand FC2 with the intention of one day building on it. We instantly fell in love with Gondwana and when FC3 came on the market a little later, we decided to buy a ready built home and start enjoying our Gondwana lifestyle sooner rather than later.

(Incidentally, we have decided to now put the FC2 stand on the market now but we will be quite selective as whom the buyer will be for obvious reasons).

2. What is our favourite species on the reserve?

I don’t think we have a favourite but having recently read “The Elephant Whisperer”, we feel that the ellies are even more special. Personally I think that anyone connected with the bush should read this book.

3. The scariest/funniest/most interesting moment in the reserve?

Quite a few. However, two of the most exciting ones were both with the elephants. The first one being when driving down to the Nouga Valley with overseas friends and we came across the 2 mothers with 3 young. We thought they were going to cross the road about 50 meters from where we stopped. Instead they decided to walk up and we had nowhere to go as we simply could not reverse. We switched off the engine and froze. They managed to just squeeze past us but as one of the mothers passed by, she decided to show her displeasure in finding our car in her way and gave us a warning “tap” with her tusk on the side of the car. That was a BIG moment for all of us and so very thrilling.

The second was quite recent. We have decided to place licks for the wildlife outside our house whenever we come to Gondwana and this has been a great hit (both for the animals and us), mainly with the zebras and the elands. However, Mbitsi somehow “heard” about the licks and one evening when we were getting ready for dinner, decided to come and hoover up what was left. At one stage we had him right outside our bedroom glass door and windows no more than 2 meters away. One does not fully realise just how big he is until he is that close. At one stage he was smelling our braai which we had used earlier in the day and then decided to drink what little water there was in the bird bath. WOW!

4. What do we do for a living?

We have a wholesale business called Zawadi. We supply mostly tourist shops (including Gondwana), art galleries, gift shops etc with mainly African art, interior décor and African gift items. It is a fairly large range which we change and add to all the time. The whole range can be seen on our web site

5. Favourite food?

We like most foods, Indian, Chinese, most things but being Italian and Greek, we do lean towards a Mediterranean type of cuisine. Not only for taste but also for health reasons.

6. Hobbies?

Work & Shopping – I’ll let you decide which one is for whom.

7. Family?

We are very fortunate in that our son Giorgio works with me and his wife Engela works for a firm of attorneys in Knysna. We have two fabulous grand daughters Nina and Alexa and, did I mention how fortunate we are?

8. What are we passionate about?

Travelling and Gondwana. The reserve and the friends we have made in Gondwana have enriched our lives and we always look forward to our visits to Gondwana no matter how brief they sometimes are.

9. Favourite spots in the Reserve?

We have a few but to mention 2 of them they are: The homeowners picnic area and a spot, high up on a hill in the Nauga Valley where we like to take our sundowners.

10. Nicknames?

None really but I am known as Gump (or Gumpy) to our grand daughters as Nina could not mention ‘gramps’ when she was younger. I am very glad she couldn’t as Gump is now more meaningful.

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March 12, 2018

Erica cerinthoides


A relatively common heath, widespread and native to South Africa, Erica cerinthoides is flowering in bursts of crimson on the reserve at the moment. It is also known as fire heath, red hairy heath or rooihaartjie. The flowers on Erica cerinthoides are fascinating as they are an unusually deep shade of red and are arranged in umbels of 7 to 10 flowers at branch tips. The tubular flowers are covered in red hairs which seem to have a swelling at the tip.

Photographs and text: Raquel de Castro Maia


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February 19, 2018

Bobartia Orientalis


Bobartia Orientalis is flowering all over the reserve at the moment. It is commonly known as the rush lily or blombiesie.

Flowers are yellow and densely clustered on the end of flower stalks. The main flowering season is from September to November, however plants may flower sporadically throughout the year, depending largely on rainfall.

Fire is thought to be important in its life history as woody rhizomes below the ground are able to re­sprout after fire.

Not much is known about its exact pollinators, however its flowers are hardly ever found intact as a variety of beetle have been found eating its petals.

There is reason to believe that the rush iris might have a special symbiotic relationship with bostrichoid beetles, three species of which have been found feeding on the plants. This is unusual as the bostrichoid beetles usually feeds on wood or dry organic materials throughout its life cycle. These are the beetles that are often found eating furniture and wooden floor boards.

It has been found that the seed capsule on the Bobartia Orientalis, has a capsule lid that is just large enough for the bostrichoid beetles to lay one egg in one of the three seed locules. The seed locules contain lots of red brown seed. As the larva of the beetle grows it will consume the seeds present in one of the locules, before it is ready to leave the seed capsule as a beetle. The seeds in the other two chambers then mature and are released when the capsule dries and opens, to produce more plants. The bostrichoid beetles also seems to favour eating Bobartia Orientalis petals and this may be where it is involved in pollinating the flowers as it moves from flower to flower.

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