The summer holidays are just the time to immerse yourself in the natural world with gripping book. These wild reads are touching, funny, beautiful and inspiring.

Moods of Nature

Picture a fixated male lion in the rain. Behind him, equally handsome, the blurry presence of his soul mate. The drama is palpable, the tension intensified by the starkness of a black and white photograph. Now ponder the poetry of the philosophical caption: “The present ripples through time. At this moment we are all riding the wave, surfing the white water of consciousness and foaming the past. But waves crash, futures pass and tides change. Surf while you can. Time will foam us all.”

Heinrich van den Berg is a multiple award-winning wildlife photographer who publishes some of the most beautiful books about South Africa’s wild places. I’ve eagerly collected his previous coffee table books, and can say without hesitation that this is his finest work yet. As always his photos are powerful and his commentary relevant. What sets Moods of Nature apart is the calibre of the perceptive text, enhanced by visual simplicity, and the unusual way of conveying mood through orange layers.

I can hardly think of a better holiday treat, regardless of where you are, than spending hours and hours enjoying the Moods of Nature.

– Romi Boom, Wild magazine editor

Moods of Nature (R795, holiday special offer R495) by Heinrich van den Berg. HPH Publishing.

Just a Blade of Grass

One of the great pleasures of going on a guided game drive is being treated to the wide-ranging knowledge of the guide. Paddy Hagelthorn is one of these legendary professionals, with more than 30 years’ experience in the bush, first at Londolozi and more recently in the Sabi Sand.

In Just a Blade of Grass he shares his depth of experience, recounting unforgettable encounters (like thick-knees chasing a wild dog from their nest!) and musing on the marvels of the natural world.

This coffee-table book, co-written by Molly Buchanan, is filled with large photographs by Paddy and fellow guide Richard du Toit that capture the thrill of special sightings. A leopard moving its kill from a tree, newborn cheetah cubs, elephants taking delight in fresh water. Paging through it I felt I’d scored a seat on a safari vehicle for the ultimate game drive.

Paddy’s deep love for the bush shines through, along with his concern for the challenges faced by the natural world. Like a sinister villain, the drought of 2015/2016 is ever present in the book and the authors make the point that while weather is beyond our control, humankind exerts a major influence for good and ill. The book addresses controversial issues such as culling and legalising the trade in rhino horn, giving the views of one at the coalface.

– Magriet Kruger, Wild deputy editor

Just a Blade of Grass (R500) by Paddy Hagelthorn and Molly Buchanan.

Win a copy

Wild is giving away three copies of Just a Blade of Grass. To stand a chance to win, send the answer to the below question to [email protected] (subject line: Paddy) before 17:00 on 19 December 2018. Be sure to include your full name, postal address and contact details. Winners will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Question: How many years’ experience as a guide does Paddy Hagelthorn have?

Winners: Errol Douwes, Tayla-Jade Scott, Willemien van Hoepen

The First Safari. Searching for Francois Levaillant

Why are we drawn to safari? Francois Levaillant, the first and greatest South African birder, first anthropologist at the Cape and first investigative reporter into colonial culture led the way. Ian Glenn retraced the famous naturalist’s steps based on his Cape expedition report, Travels into the Interior (1789/90), a best seller across Europe and the most widely translated text on South Africa until Nelson Mandela’s autobiography two centuries later.

Glenn pursued historical illustrations, museum specimens, maps and naturalist writing to paint a picture of Levaillant’s contributions to ornithology, botany, anthropology and zoology. In a chapter devoted to Levaillant’s collection of mammals, plants, birds, insects and material objects, Glenn recounts his trip to the Paris Natural History Museum where he worked behind the scenes and gained entry to the vaults containing 30,000 dead birds – the culmination of a quarter century’s sleuthing.

True to his impressive list of academic accomplishments (yours truly was one of Glenn’s students in the English department at UCT), the author’s own journey is intellectual, though rich in a sense of wonder. I too will share his contentedness listening to southern boubous and bokmakieries calling, knowing that Levaillant named them.

– Romi Boom

The First Safari. Searching for Francois Levaillant (R280) by Ian Glenn. Jacana.

An Elephant In My Kitchen

From the very first page, this memoir had me hooked. Author Françoise Malby was a city girl when she fell in love with conservationist Lawrence Anthony and swapped Paris for rural KwaZulu-Natal.

The book opens with a powerful cyclone threatening Thula Thula, the Anthonys’ game reserve, and their herd of rescued elephant seek shelter away from the lodge. Then in the midst of the chaos Lawrence dies from a heart attack and Françoise is left to take charge. When the elephants show up at the main house a few days later, rumbling a low-frequency goodbye to the man who had rescued them, she finds new courage.

With her wild family to draw strength from and the support of her staff, Françoise takes on the challenge of not only running Thula Thula, but opening a wildlife rehabilitation centre. This utterly charming tale features orphaned rhinos, a runaway baby ellie and a hippo with a fear of water.

Heartwarming and sorrowful by turns, this book is an inspiration.

– Magriet Kruger

An Elephant In My Kitchen (R375) by Françoise Malby-Anthony and Katja Willemsen. Pan Macmillan.

Cat Among the Pigeons

Longtime English writer and journalist David Muirhead proves a book of animal facts needn’t be boring. Despite his billing of the book as “bedtime reading”, his blend of humour, mythology and folkloric anecdotes paints a captivating portrait of many a hairy, winged or horned subject.

Cat Among the Pigeons is no typical anthology of wildlife profiles — each is not only accurate but witty and in some cases, downright shocking! Did you know, for instance, that the fossil record of some species of dragonfly reveal they once had wingspans of close to 1-metre? Imagine one of those whizzing past your picnic!

From killer whales to elephants, fireflies and cockroaches, Muirhead tackles the big, small, exciting and seemingly mundane (hint: they’re not) members of the animal kingdom. The text is accompanied by delightful pen-and-ink drawings by Cape Town artist Patricia de Villiers.

This collection of animal CVs is sure to make you laugh – and teach you a few new things (including a word or two, thanks to Muirhead’s vast and colourful lexicon).

Muirhead is also the author of The Bedside Ark – A riotous assembly of unrespectable creatures. He lives in Vermont, Western Cape.

– Rebekah Funk, travel journalist

Cat Among the Pigeons (R185) by David Muirhead. Struik Nature.

Sea Change

More than 70% of our planet is covered by ocean and yet we know surprisingly little about what lives below the surface. Craig Foster has devoted years of his life to uncovering the treasure that lies at the tip of the Cape Peninsula: a vast undersea forest populated by strange and wonderful creatures.

Sea Change is a beautiful book, filled with astonishing images of marine life: vibrant anemones that seem to glow, a tangle of blue bottle tentacles, a curled-up and dozing pyjama catshark. My jaw dropped when I came across the photographs showing a shark egg and the development of the shark embryo inside. What makes these magnificent pictures even more impressive is that Craig took them while free diving these icy waters without a wetsuit.

But this book is much more than eye candy. The captions provide fascinating insights while the story by Ross Frylinck reads like a gripping adventure tale. Ross traces his own induction into skin diving in the kelp forest and the breakthroughs made in this period.

The sub-title is a clue: Primal Joy and the Art of Underwater Tracking. Through close observation Craig has learnt to read the tracks and signs in the underwater world, and the book is a sensitive study into the behaviour of various marine creatures. It is also a meditation on the transformative power of wilderness and the unalloyed bliss we feel when we truly connect to nature.

I can’t recommend Sea Change highly enough.

– Magriet Kruger

Sea Change (R850) by Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck. Quivertree Publications.

Tankwa and the Roggeveld Escarpment

If you love maps, like I do, you’ll enjoy each astonishing one produced by Peter and Maggie Slingsby, adventurers who drive every road to scour the countryside for their monumental projects. Their latest offering covers Tankwa Karoo National Park and its vast surroundings, from mighty plains and peaks to breathtaking passes and ravines, the fynbos-clad Cederberg to the west, the Roggeveld mountains around Sutherland to the east.

As a Wild Card destination, Tankwa (plus this map) is a must for those who crave isolation and don’t fear lonely roads. Armed with this double-sided, full relief map, you’ll feel like an explorer on the gravel roads thanks to multiple classifications that indicate the quality of each road to help you plan your route. The waterproof, tear resistant map links to the Slingsby maps of the Cederberg and the Swartberg and Klein Karoo.

The Slingsbys excel at detail. Look for the sad sites of war graves, trekboer wagon tracks, the tortuous routes taken by fortune seekers to diamond diggings, the birthplaces of poets… as well as background information gathered first-hand from locals who have lived here for generations.

– Romi Boom

Tankwa and the Roggeveld Escarpment (R190) by Peter and Maggie Slingsby. Slingsby Maps.