Memel, Thabo Mofutsanyana

The other Memel is a town and river based in Lithuania, from which the South African town of Memel in the Eastern Free State derives its name - the Prussian 'memel' means 'surrounded by water' and refers in no small way to the Seekoeivlei wetlands in and around the peaceful little town.

Memel lies in the north eastern reaches of the Free State virtually in the Drakensberg, and as such, is an utterly beautiful, unspoilt area almost dominated by mountain scenery and water. It lies close to the neighbouring towns of Newcastle and Vrede, and is regarded as a central hub of the local farming community. Memel is also a very important birding spot, which is not hard to imagine given the breathtaking scenery in Memel.

The Drakensberg escarpment at Moorefield is only 25 kilometres from Memel, which provides a picture of the easy beauty of the area - Jo'burgers are reputed to use Memel as their 'hideaway' to commune with nature and mountain air, and it's easy to see why. A major contributing factor, other than the consistently looming presence of the Drakensberg Mountains, with accompanying grasslands and indigenous forests, is the 5 000 hectare Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve, on the Klip River. It is listed as a RAMSAR site and is a beautifully meandering floodplain - home to hippos and thousands of water birds that include endangered species like the blue crane and crowned crane.

350 bird species have been estimated in Memel that include 15 Red Data listed species and genuine gems like the southern bald ibis, Rudd's and Botha's larks and the yellow-breasted pipit. Memel is a place where time stands still and one's greatest exertion is spotting birds through binoculars, and the night sky that provides incredible star-gazing possibilities.

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