Morning arrived before we could say “MAYDAY for Rivers”, and the almost 5 months of organising (from maps to research books to the team members personal equipment) was loaded into John “Mr Silver Bullet” Fourie’s panel van. It was a bit like Pandora’s box (not our team mate’s) because it looked small from outside, but everything fitted in. 1 month’s supply, 1 river and 29 days. We met all the well wishers and invited guests who had bent over backwards to help us. It was a small gathering of around 20 people including landowners, DUCT personnel and many more (a more detailed list and thank you will be added later so watch this space).
We got to New Forest and Mr. Kobus Kruger led us up the fire track to the elusive source of the uMngeni near Drinkkop, which is part of the uMngeni Vlei Nature Reserve. All of this is in a protected area and we had Greg Martindale the Biodiversity Stewardship Manager for KZN Wildlife who guided us off this beaten track as well. As soon as we entered under a canopy of trees a blast of fresh air hit our senses and we were amazed at the scenic views all around. We got to the top of the hill (an elevation of 1904 meters) and then headed down to the spring which the mighty uMgeni flows from. Here it starts as a little trickle. After a picnic with our guests, we gave thanks to the river goddess, emptied a gourd of traditional beerinto the water.
We spoke our invocation to the river and gathered up the precious pure water in the Ostrich egg shell which we brought for this purpose. Penny then stuffed the opening with grass and we started our journey. A lovely little waterfall was like a starter’s gun and the team bounded away after many goodbyes.
There was so much to see that we were GPSing every point and making notes walking along the edge and taking in the view and before we knew it, it was 2 pm. The most amazing aspect was the fresh cold water that was available as soon as you put your hand in the water. It was refreshing and the best water I ever tasted – pure, uncontaminated and nourishing. The rest of the team eagerly lapped up nature’s bounty as well. Amazingly, in just 5 days we will not be able to do this simple act with such abandon and trust as the river’s condition steadily declines.
We headed on rushing to beat the dark. We followed the amazing river across dolerite boulders, fantastic pure lakes that begged to be swum in and past friendly landowners who were always helpful and obliging. Although not much was seen in the way of wildlife we found plenty of otter and caracal, civet and porcupine scats, and others reported seeing oribi. We also saw some kites, a secretary bird, jackal buzzard and fish eagle and towards evening, heard the howls of jackal mates. Most of the time we were surrounded by the stillness and beauty of the vlei.
We never did beat the dark – the descent from the plateau where the vlei is situated was made as dusk was falling. We descended on the dirt road, with the spectacular indigenous forest to our left, the trees fading into the dusk, the sound of the water below us rushing over rocks and waterfalls. The delay was caused partially by Radio 702 phoning Penny and doing a live interview as she was about to start the descent.
Finally reached our first days end at the edge of New Forest. Tonight we have the privilege of staying in Greg and Wilma’s beautiful house. From the inception we are amazed at all the support and good will of everyone alongside and involved with this river. So here we are – I am as sore as hell and my fingers are numbly working. Wendy has been flitting around like a wonderful elf getting food warm and feeding everyone. We covered 25 kilometres today and walked down an altitude of 500 meters. I think we set a good pace for the rest of the journey. My team mates are amazing and have such positive energy. It is inspiring. Even the camera crew of Lorraine, Philani and Siphiwe were infected with the awesomeness of this special place that very few people have the privilege to see. Pandora, Penelope, Sthembiso, Penny, Moraig Peden (who joined for the day) and Mike were troupers however poor Mike sunk into certain parts of the vlei deeper than his knees and now is resting his feet, His too tired to comment. From the rest of the team goodnight and here’s to Day 2.
Let it flow, let it blossom, let it grow,
Preven @ Greg’s kitchen table, Lions Bush Conservancy, 09h04pm