May Day 14:Mother’s Day Madness

He he. When my daughter’s best friend, Jess, heard of my plans to walk the length of the uMngeni River, Jess told Kerry that I (Penny) must be going through mid life crisis!!!!! Well, today I wondered if maybe she was correct. After a 2 night stay at Albert Falls Dam, we headed out this morning in convoy – followed by Andrew Booth who is assisting us from Albert Falls Dam to Nagle.

His vehicle towed a trailer carrying 7 double canoes. Yup, today was the day that the non-paddling members of DUCT had to learn to paddle, and fast.

We drove to the picnic site below the dam wall, and proceeded up the river on foot to the actual Albert Falls – I had always thought that the falls had been drowned by the dam, but not so – they lie less than a kilometre below the wall and are very beautiful.

Not spectacularly high, maybe 8 to 10 metres high, but they stretch right across a wide section of the river. Rock figs and River Combretum line the banks, and, as always happens around “civilisation”, plastic litter lay on the shores of this beautiful place. Some spray painted graffiti adorned the rocks of the falls

– why do people have to do this? Why carry a tin of spray paint all the way with you to deface the rocks? It boggles my mind. The Mini SASS score this morning was disappointingly low – 4.2 indicating severe impact: and the water looked so clean!

We then walked back down the river and through the picnic site which apparently belongs to the municipality and is leased out to someone. We were charged R5 per person, and the lady collecting the money didn’t really see our point when we commented that as we had to pay, the owner should perhaps keep the area free of litter.

The walk through the picnic site revealed heavy infestation of bug weed, bramble, mulberry and all the usual alien invasive plants. And then, just below the gauging weir, waited Andrew and the canoes. He had with him 4 paddlers – Mthobisi Cele, Emmanuel Kirk, Ndumiso Ngcobo and Miyeli Cele from the Lamberti Development Canoeing Club at Nagle Dam, all experienced paddlers and Duzi veterans.

They were to take us down a +-3km stretch of river that was unnavigable on foot due to the thick bush on one side and all the private homes with river frontage that comprise Albert Falls Village on the other.

Life jackets donned,instructions given,

and then came the shocker – the only place to get the canoes into the water was ABOVE the weir – we would thus have to shoot the weir!

We all survived and found it an exhilarating, awesome experience to boot.

After exiting the canoes at the Greytown road bridge, we had a quick swim in the river. After waving our able guides farewell, we donned our hiking boots and set off on foot again.

We passed sugar cane farms and veggie farms.

Farms that were pure beautiful thorn veld, and eventually as day was ending, found the spot we had been told that we could cross – at the first rapids we came to – 6 kilometres down the river. So for 6 km the river formed a long lazy slow flowing pool.

Interestingly enough along sections where there was no agriculture, there were less alien plants along the river banks.

Also interestingly, we have seen no water lettuce since Albert Falls dam which must be forming a barrier to this weed that floats on the surface of the river.

Fording the river was the second madness of the day – a natural ford, the rocks were extremely slippery and after progressing across the 1st half we found that we had to retrace our steps and re-route.

All I can say it was like ice skating blindfolded.

Sphiwe, our camera man somehow managed to make it across – at snail’s pace – and avoided drowning his camera. Penz wasn’t so lucky and landed with a splash on her nether end in the water. The rest of us had some close shaves!

But what a stunning section of the river, it is a typical lowveld river

with tall Phragmites reeds waving in the breeze, so much so that I was fully expecting a hippo to pop his head up or an ellie to emerge from the reeds.

We had no idea where we were and somehow, Mike managed to give John detailed enough land marks over the 2 way radio, so that by an amazing feat of navigation, John managed to find us – just as we pulled out of a cane farmer’s driveway on the back of his land cruiser.  The farmer very kindly having offered to take us to the district road.

To top off an amazing day we arrived at Cumberland Nature Reserve in the dark, to discover that we were not to stay at the camp site, but in the self catering house. What luxury, we have 5 nights based here, where we don’t have to pack up every morning, and can settle in a beautiful home away from home. After 14 nights living out of lug boxes (we each have one 80 litre lug box which has to hold all our wordly river walk possessions), and the last two nights all living in one 5 x 5 metre army tent, this is a bigger treat than any one can imagine.  Dave Still arrived bearing a divine dinner for us. What a treat to all sit together at the dinner table and tell stories of our last 14 days adventures.

So, to all who helped make this extraordinary mother’s day one never to be forgotten – a big thank you: to Alice for the chocolate muffins, to our paddling teachers, to all the strangers we passed on the river who shouted Happy Mothers Day, to Dave for the delicious dinner, and last but most certainly not least to John & Stella Behn for the amazing accommodation.

Submitted by Penny Rees


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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3 Responses to May Day 14:Mother’s Day Madness

  1. Am I the only one starting to wish that he was also part of this adventure?

  2. Belated Mother’s Day Greetings to the Moms in the Fellowship. It sounds like you celebrated in style.

    I’m also wishing I could have been along for more than just my seven hours in the Upper Catchment.

    Wishing you much enjoyment, good health, and wonderful responses to all your all your environmental education work at Cumberland, and in your community outreach!


    For A Rocha South Africa

  3. Pam Haynes says:

    This is so interesting really giving me an insight into the uMngeni river below the upper catchment, so pleased you had such a treat after all your adventures shooting rapids and walking on slippery rocks! You are all very brave and I salute you. Thank you river walkers and supporters for making my day so interesting …. and this includes Nikki and Liz Taylor.

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