Fun and a flurry of fluttering

The entrance to the Butterflies for Africa complex in Pietermaritzburg.

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BY BILLY SUTER

THE butterfly, much like love, goes where it pleases and pleases wherever it goes, according to the old saying.

That is certainly the case with a visit to Pietermaritzburg’s enchanting Butterflies for Africa, only 5km from the Midlands Mall. It’s in a complex at 37 Willowton Road, an industrial area, where it was established 17 years ago on a site that, at one time, accommodated a shoe factory.

It’s a venue offering a two-level art gallery, a colourful coffee shop serving light meals, a butterfly-themed gift shop, an educational centre catering to the many visiting school groups and – best of all – a Butterly House.

There one gets to mingle in special enclosures with winged wonders from all over the world – and not only butterflies. There are colourful parakeets, turtle doves,  zebra finches and quail. Oh, and also keep an eye out for terrapin turtles and koi fish.

Also there is a 6 000 square-metre garden created soley to attract butterflies, and which has lured more than 100 species of the fab flutterers.

The Butterfly Garden forms an important part of the Butterflies for Africa complex where the public can view these creatures in their natural environment.

An orange butterfly is almost perfectly camouflaged on this buffet of tasty treats for the winged creatures.

More than this, the venue’s website states, the garden aims to create an awareness for visitors on how they can play a part in attracting butterflies to their own gardens – thus helping to preserve these fragile creatures by growing indigenous plants.

I spent a fascinating hour in the Butterfly House where, according to amiable guide Pieter Potgieter, there are currently some 23 different species, including exotic varieties from South East Asia, Central America, South America and southern Africa.

The walk-through enclosure also features side attractions that include enclosures for cute hedgehogs and less-cute green iguanas, which Pieter is happy to offer info about.

There is also a special enclosure for weird, rather ugly stick insects. Also, an enclosure for the cute, petite and rare, cotton-top tamarind monkey.

I most enjoyed simply taking a slow stroll and having a quiet sitdown on a bench to take in the constant flurry and flutter of colours from the butterflies, small and large.

Many seem quite tame, one alighting on someone’s arm when I visited. Others paid no attention to the inquisitive stares as they settled on slices of orange or a squish of banana, to enjoy a tasty treat.

There is an abundance of foliage and jets of mist in the enclosure which gets quite humid because of the conditions.

Good to note that the place is now wheelchair-friendly.  In the past, only the lower sections of the Butterfly House could accommodate visitors in wheelchairs but this has changed with the construction of a new bridge near the main waterfall. Yes, there’s even a small waterfall here.

Paths have also been widened for wheelchair access and the bridge takes visitors over a stream, which runs through the house, directly into the main flight path of the butterflies. It’s a great opportunity to stand next to the cascading waterfall in the midst of dancing butterflies, as the Butterflies for Africa website points out.

“Most of our butterflies and other creatures come from warm, tropical regions, so the butterfly enclosure is warm and humid especially on hot days,” explains a spokesman.

A section of the Butterly House enclosure at Butterflies for Africa. Picture from the complex’s website.

“We do have fans operating in summer, and visitors are welcome to use their tickets to enter the butterfly house as many times as they like on the day of purchase.”

Take your time in the enclosure – there are many hidden gems.

The Blue Caterpillar Art Gallery in the complex, managed since 2005 by friendly Jeni Cramer, was established in 2001.

Over two floors of complex, the gallery exhibits the work of some 30 local and international artists, covering a wide range of styles, medium and subjects.

It is also, interestingly, the only venue in Africa which sells original paintings and lithographs by acclaimed Spanish artist Didier Lourenco. There’s also a selection of works by South African masters such as Maud Sumner, Frans Claerhout, Errol Boyley and William Kentridge.

“Since 2008 we have featured Didier Lourenco, whose work portrays idyllic moments captured in time, of Mediterranean villages, jazz clubs and both men and women on bicycles and Vespas,” explains Cramer.

“It’s not surprising that Didier’s work has captured a global audience with exhibitions across the world – from New York to Saint Tropez, Madrid, France and Bangkok.

“Our gallery hosts the only collection of both his original oils, lithographs and water colours in South Africa as we have a close working relationship with this talented artist.”

Guide Pieter Potgieter with a cuter than cute hedgehog.

The spacious, non-stuffy gallery offers a friendly and comfortable environment for those who may never have set foot in an art gallery but are looking at starting an art collection. Art may also be viewed online on their website: www.artsales.co.za.

Cramer, while showing me around, explained that the gallery offers the personal touch of working with a client and artist to create an artwork to their specifications, resulting in a valued addition to their personal collections. The gallery also couriers art both locally and internationally.

Some of the popular artists include Sandi Beukes, who is based in Durban and has a good following both at home and abroad. Sandi mostly paints in acrylics, but also uses pastels to create a by-gone era of 1920’s Paris.

I love her work, which draws inspiration from both her visits to France as well as old photographs, used as references. Her beguiling paintings mean that clients frequently come back looking for more of her works, says Cramer.

Another artist, Charmaine Eastment, who spent many years being tutored by the late Errol Boyley, is another firm favourite, with her captivating seascapes of Umhlanga and the Transkei coasts against beautiful, moody skies.

Jeni Cramer of the Blue Caterpillar Art Gallery with works by Spanish artist Didier Lourenco

Charmaine has also continued to work on her own unique style which is visible in her Midlands scenes and floral still-life paintings.

The gallery is currently running an exhibition by Marion Townsend which has filled the lower extension of the gallery with beautiful landscape scenes, from across South Africa.

The large exhibition encompasses a good selection of pieces, with some of her watercolours but more of her acrylics – portraying Arniston, Clarens, old farmhouse buildings and Berg scenes.

The Blue Caterpillar Art Gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays (and on Mondays only during KwaZulu-Natal school holidays). For further information contact Jeni Cramer at (033) 3871 356 or art@butterflies.co.za.

A rare cotton-topped tamarind monkey, just 500g… and all the way from Colombia.

FAST FACTS

HOW TO GET THERE
Butterflies For Africa is to be found just off the N3 highway. Those arriving from the coast should take the Ohrtmann Road turnoff (exit 79) and turn right (going over the highway) then turn left into Willowton Road, just after the auctioneers.
If you are coming from inland, take the Church Street offramp (exit 81 after the Midlands Mall). Turn left at the offramp then right at the first set of robots into Willowton Road. The complex is on the left after about one kilometre.

TICKET PRICES
The cost is R45 for adults, R30 for children aged three to 16, and R35 for pensioners. There is an additional R17 fee (applicable to all age groups) to enter the Monkey House.

OPENING HOURS
During KZN School Term:
Tuesday to Friday: 9am to 3.30pm
Saturday: 9.30am to 3.30pm
Sunday: 10.30am to 3.30pm
Monday: Closed (Except on public holidays)
Please note that in the event of loadshedding on Fridays the venue will close at 2pm. On other days, a generator will cover most of the public areas.

Views of the coffee shop and colourful, butterfly-themed gift shop at Butterflies for Africa.

During KZN School Holidays:
Mon: 9.30am to 3.30pm
Tuesday to Friday: 9am to 4pm
Saturday 9.30am to 3.30pm
Sunday: 10.30am to 3.30pm
Public Holidays 9.30am to 3pm
The complex is closed on New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day .

CONTACT
Phone:  (033) 3871 356
Website: www.butterflies.co.za
Email: info@butterflies.co.za.


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