“Doing” the Duzi

Penny has returned from 3 days following the Duzi canoe race. She loved it.

I really enjoyed seeing a part of Africa that I didn’t know was so stunning – right on my doorstep. It is wild and beautiful beyond belief in the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

The race started at Camps Drift on the uMsunduzi River in Pietermaritzburg. A mud filled, brown river, with small patches of water hyacinth floating past, looking for all the world like a chocolate pudding with sprigs of mint on top. After watching everyone get going, Preven & I headed out to the first overnight point on the race, at a place a short distance above the Duzi’s confluence with the uMngeni River.

We drove down, down, down a tortuous winding road all the way from Cato Ridge, stunned at the wild beauty of the Valley of a Thousand Hills close up: cliffs perched above steep slopes of incredibly thick, verdant green bush with rock out crops here and there, and below that, the lower slopes dotted with homesteads. Nguni cattle, lots of goats, laughing, waving kids, scrawny dogs and even some drumming in the night.  There was lots of traffic too, comprising: Over 2,800 canoes, their paddlers and seconds, their families, friends, people come to watch; Five or six helicopters zooming around with press photographers, music and commentary over the loudspeakers; Police – the mounted unit and police on scramblers.

All of these people down in the valley, with these beautiful hills around us, and a mountain (that I think is Table Mountain) looming over us all the time, making its presence felt.  The steep, bushy slopes were topped with sheer cliffs all the way around. A silent sentinel –I couldn’t help wondering what that mountain could tell us of it’s past, of the local history.

After almost 40 degree heat, day two dawned wonderfully overcast, with The Mountain hidden in the clouds. And then the exodus of canoes and vehicles, and we climbed up through patches of cloud and drizzle, the valley appearing and disappearing intermittently in the low clouds.  Back on the highway and then off at Hillcrest, and down we went again – and then – a glimpse of Inanda Dam. Around another corner, more dam, then more and more. It is HUGE! It is mind blowingly massive. Around it natural bush alternates with communities on the north banks, and in the Msinsi game reserve on the south are green lawns with dotted Acacia trees and inlets thick with reeds alternating with narrow sandy beaches. Even the bays have bays, you cannot grasp the extent of this dam if you haven’t seen it! One can’t even get a photo of it from the top of the mountains, because it is so big. The water is beautiful and clear – wonderful to swim in. Cloudy or not, everyone had a couple of dips.

My tent was pitched two metres from the water’s edge facing downstream to catch the wonderful breeze that blows up the valley every day. At night when the sun has set and the heated air currents cool down, the wind drops. We watched glow worms in the reeds in the dark, followed by a swim before bed.


Day 3 began with a dawn swim too. There is a lot to be said for being able to literally roll out of your tent into a dam. Drove round to the dam wall, (where the river below the wall reminded me of the upper reached of the uMngeni, it was so clear) and onto the far side of the dam.  More wild country – the smell of wood smoke and fresh water breezes, the sound of chickens clucking and cattle lowing. Stunningly beautiful to look at, but it is going to be very interesting to walk there in May.

And then farewell to Inanda dam, back up through the clouds and down to Durban to Blue Lagoon, where the uMngeni River ends its journey and enters the ocean. This should be renamed Grey Lagoon. Oh my word, what have we done to this poor river?  Dirty, murky grey water, lots of litter floating amongst more water hyacinth – all I can say is – Eish. My friend Pat Hoffman calls it the “Great, Grey, Greasy uMngeni” and here she is certainly quite right. I wonder how many people at the finish of the Duzi realise that the water that comes out of their taps comes from this same river?

Follow Penny’s adventures by clicking the FOLLOW button on the right had side.



About Nikki Brighton

I live in Howick, between the river and the hills. I enjoy pre-dawn walks in the streets with my dog, sitting on the veranda with crochet and tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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