Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve is a striking, rugged nature reserve 1852ha in the Breede River valley, about 15km south of Robertson on the road to McGregor. The rocky landscape is starkly beautiful, dominated by patches of succulents, dwarf trees and shrubs.
In spring, Vrolijkheid lives up to its name –happiness or cheerfulness – as splashes of bright orange botterblom daisies decorate the reserve.
The vegetation in this area of the Little Karoo is known as Robertson Karoo vegetation, with guarri, karee and melkbos shrubs, patches of mountain renosterveld and sweet-thorn trees. Grasses are scarce in this arid area, which has extremely high temperatures from November to March every year, but it is usually quite good for some of the arid habitat bird species.
Best times to visit are from July to November, especially after good rains when the veld is green and bright with spring flowers. In summer, as mentioned, temperatures can be very hot.
Habitats are quite diverse. The circular trail will take one into rocky outcrops where Layard’s Titbabbler, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Bunting and in the past African Rock Pipit has occurred.
In the low scrub Karoo Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler, Clapper, Karoo Long-billed and Large-billed Lark are present. Taller bushes support Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Grey Tit, Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Bokmakerie, Cape Bulbul and Cape Penduline Tit.
All three species of mousebird occur Red-faced, Speckled with White-backed being the most common. Acacia Pied Barbet is often quite vocal; listen out for its low pitched “poop-oop-oop-oop” call.
There are two hides, one overlooking the lower dam and the other overlooking the upper dam. In recent drought years these dams have become dry. But good rains during winter 2019 have seen water return.
Generally, if the dams are full, a good selection of waterbirds can be present. Little Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, African Black Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, South African Shelduck, Cape and Red-billed Teals, African Spoonbill along with African Darter, Reed and White-breasted Cormorant. African Rail and Black Crake inhabit dense reeds along with Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warbler. Malachite Kingfisher can be seen perched over the water.
Resident waders often present are Kittlitz’s Plover, Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing and in summer migrant Wood and Common Sandpiper.
Resident raptors include Jackal Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk, African Marsh Harrier, Rock Kestrel and Black-shouldered (winged) Kite. Martial Eagle and African Harrier Hawk have occurred as vagrants.
In summer migrant swallows occur, Barn, White-throated, Pearl-breasted and Greater Striped, all but Barn Swallow are breeding migrants. Summer migrant raptors are Booted Eagle and Common (Steppe) Buzzard.
Weavers, sparrows, doves and canaries are always present, but look out for Streaky-headed Seedeater which is rare. Flocks of Pied Starlings often seen in the late afternoon.
The bird list is around 175 species.
There is a shaded picnic area and an ablution block. Entrance fee is by self issued permits currently being R50.00 per person.
For wheelchair access, park on the Steenboksvlakte side of Vrolijkheid. The hide at the upper dam now has a wheelchair- friendly boardwalk sponsored by the Friends of Vrolijkheid.
Accommodation is available not in the reserve but opposite and managed by Cape Nature. There are five new self-catering cottages, each sleeping up to eight people. For full details, info and booking contact https://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/vrolijkheid-nature-reserve/
Office hours: 07:30–16:00 Tel: +27 (0)23 625 1621
Emergency tel: +27 (0)82 496 2448
Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: 087 087 8250
Directions from Worcester on the N1: Take the turn-off R60 to Robertson, when in the town of Robertson lookout for the turn right on to the McGregor Road, which crosses the railway.
The reserve entrance is signposted on the left approx 15km from the McGregor Road turn off.
From Cape Town approximately 2hrs, 170km
The Friends of Vrolijkheid, is an organisation which supports Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve, and promotes nature conservation in the locality. Fundraising and social occasions are organised, as well as an annual quiz, and educational events. They have an active Facebook page, which encourages people to share photographs of the reserve and local wildlife. A newsletter, The Rooikat, is published three to four times a year, with a focus on articles relevant to the Breede River area. If you have an interest in their work, please contact the Conservation Manager at Vrolijkheid, Piet van Zyl, on firstname.lastname@example.org.