Just along the road to Wartburg

Posted by Doug Morton on Saturday, 19 February 2011

Less than a half-hour's drive from my home in Pietermaritzburg lies Wartburg, a village that's not really en route to anywhere, unless you're a local farmer.  The town lies in the midst of vast areas of sugar cane and timber operations, dwarfed by the sheer extent of the mono cultures.  Here and there are breaks in the landscape, hosting beef farmers, game ranches and poultry producers.  The village serves the farming community and has a small but attractive suburban area, with the normal array of shops and civic organisations.

Wartburg has a very strong German flavour, taking its name from the castle in Germany.  It's one of several German settlements, some of which date back to the nineteenth century.  In our colonial history, this is pretty ancient.  There are several other towns that form part of the German community, including New Germany (now part of the Ethekwini, or Durban, Metropolitan region,) Hermannsburg, Dalton, New Hanover and Harburg.  I have a number of friends and former and current clients there, and names like Rudi, Hans, Wolfgang, Heidi, Manfred and Dieter abound.  The Afrikaans community has blended in well, and as an English speaker I've always been made to feel very welcome.  Wonderful, warm people.

Wartburg Castle is probably best known as the hideout of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century while he was being persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church.  There it was that he translated the New Testament of the Bible into German, and legend has it that there was an ink stain somewhere in the castle caused by Luther throwing his inkwell at the Devil.  Another renowned 'guest' was Johann Goethe who produced several celebrted drawings of the castle, and Richard Wagner's opera Tannhaeuser was associated with a song from the history of the castle.

What a rich background for a sleepy Midlands town!  Perhaps the most visible connection with the castle is the large Lutheran Christian community.  There are two beautiful Lutheran Churches in the village, one of which I've photographed, with the other still to be done.  One day soon.

What a beautifully landscaped and maintained property

With the light looking promising this morning, I left Terri sleeping the sleep of the innocent (she was probably trying desperately to stave off housework while I was out having fun with my camera) and took off for Wartburg.  I wanted to capture images of farm buildings as well as of activities and people.   I thought I'd left home too late, but was pleasantly surprised at the daybreak.

A visual feast.  Imagine waking up to that panoply.

One of the properties I've been very keen to visit is Fountainhill Lodge.  I called in and met the owner, Victor, and quickly cemented a friendship based on common interests like photography, conservation and wildlife.  I'd wanted to photograph their church that's visible from the main road, and Victor was just too obliging, though by that time of day the light was bad, and I promised to be back.  The property is also the home of the Hlambamasoka Game Reserve.  In the early morning it looks like this..........

I'll go back soon to do a proper job on the property.  Many thanks to Victor.

Wartburg is pretty well in the heart of the sugar cane growing area.  You just can't escape the cane trucks and tractors, and the landscape is a sea of green.  Or is it?

The early sunlight with the Karkloof hills in the background is a treat.

There's constant activity, and the tractor driver seemed thrilled to get into the camera.

The cane fields stretch almost as far as the eye can see,

and homesteads and farm buildings supervise everything and everyone.

The bird life is substantial, with some 250 species having been recorded, including all three species of cranes.  I found this teal enjoying some solitude along a stream that winds through the cane fields.

A slightly bigger bird, an ostrich, turned out to be an aggressive father of eight chicks, challenging anyone to come close.  I've had encounters with ostriches before, and I don't want another one.  I stayed far away and was grateful for a long lens.

While all this was going on on the water and on the ground, the air above was buzzing with birds too.  I saw huge numbers of White Stork, Yellow-billed Kites, Pied Crows, Hadeda Ibis and many others.  Here's a White Stork looking for a spot for a safe landing and a welcoming locust or worm.

How graceful can it get?

On the way back to Maritzburg my eye was assailed by a Common Cabbage Tree (Cussonia spicata) that has somehow survived the sugar industry.  It's a strangely formed tree, and is a good friend in times of need.  Its roots can be pulped and eaten as a nutritious porridge that I'm told tastes reasonably OK.  Perhaps it's not vital information for city dwellers like me, but I'm always fascinated by such snippets of knowledge.

Until next time.


Good one - Doug, those photos are wonderful.  Showed them to Trace and she loved them.  Well done.   S

By: simonjoubert on February 19, 2011

Cane break - I really like the field with the cane break running through the centre and the dramatic cloud-scape.

By: Deryk on February 19, 2011

Blogging good - Just keep them coming.  Fantastic photos and what a day!  I have spent some time trying to decide on a favourite but I have just given up.  They are all incredible.

By: Blondie on February 21, 2011

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