May Day 19 : Stunning Scenery, Impossible Terrain

After 18 days of attempting to cross rivers by rock hopping in order to keep boots dry, the group today finally realised that the best way to get through a river is literally that – through!

Sibusiso Ntinga, one of the DUCT River Care Team supervisors, joined us as our guide this morning. Having grown up in the area, he knows it like the back of his hand.  He arrived at the river and announced that we had to cross it – he proceeded to walk right through, boots and all.

I was delighted as this is my means of crossing, and I had begun to think I (Penny) was a little mad wading every river, getting my teesav trousers wet, often to the knees, while the rest of the team carefully rock hopped and kept dry.

After a while I looked back at the team, and they had all given up and done the same, wading through a wide stretch of river onto an island, then through a tunnel of reeds and a last section of river.

We proceeded through areas similar to yesterday, cliffs topping wild steep slopes dropping down to the river – up to 100 metres wide in places, long still pools and fast rapids tumbling over thousands of rounded boulders.

Beautiful but filled with predominantly lantana and Chromolaena, with a smattering of all the other alien plants we have come to know so well.

After a second river crossing, about 75 metres wide and top of the thigh deep, we all collapsed into a heap under some thick bush for a 10 minute break, and then continued for hours.

We crossed into Msinsi property up stream of Nagle Dam, and were horrified at the state of the bush. It is just choked with lantana and Chromolaena as far as the eye can see, and maybe two metres high.

We bent and scrambled through this for over half an hour, and then managed to get to the river again.

We climbed a tortuous hill that rewarded us with stunning views up the river and valley towards Cumberland (lost upstream in the maze of horseshoe bends of this section of the river).

Cutting across a long ridge, the river glimmered far below us. What an amazing wild piece of countryside. The route march continued in 32 degree heat – Sibusisio had to get us to Nagel Dam in order to go and collect his River Care Team.

We finally arrived at Nagle Dam, hot, weary. We were greeted by a group of Friday afternoon revellers who arrived and decided, true to form, to park right next to our camp site, braai their meat, pump their head banging music, and get louder and louder as time goes by!

Horseshoe shaped, the dam wall was designed before the Second World War.

It has a weir and system of sluice gates at the inlet. These sluices can be opened to drain out any flood water carrying silt – into the river below the wall – and apparently thus the dam is remarkably free of silt.

The weir serves as a tunnel as well, so communities can cross the river – Sibusiso walks through the tunnel to work each day, and so we tried it. Pretty freaky, 32 steps lead down into the tunnel which is 6 foot high, and very narrow, and dripping water for the +-150 metre length!

It is now late afternoon, and a group of 10 youngsters have just arrived at the dam’s edge to paddle – they belong to the same development canoeing club that has produced some top paddlers, including the 4 young men who paddled us from Albert Falls to Greytown Road.

The scenery here is fantastic, a Fish Eagle just called, weird mountains rear up above the dam, and all is perfect – aside from the noise in the next campsite. There is no swimming, wading or paddling allowed due to the presence of crocodiles – maybe at last we will see one of these elusive creatures.

We have covered just over 170 kilometres since setting off – 19 days ago, seems like yesterday in one way, and seems like we have been walking for ever in another way. The team’s spirits are still high, and we have all had times when we have had to push ourselves mentally and physically – this morning we were so cold in the valley that our fingers would not function. We have been melting from heat, so tired that it is difficult to put one foot in front of the other, we have raced the fading light and pick up point some evenings, battled to find the support vehicle at other times.  Yet never ever have there been harsh disagreements, nor bad moods nor even the hint of the thought of throwing in the towel. What an amazing group I have the privilege of walking with.

So from the depths of Africa, under a giant Trichelia emetica tree, with the sun sinking low in the valley, I bid you all a wonderful weekend. Don’t forget to go and walk a river sometime this month, even for only a couple of hours and send your story and photos to Nikki to put on the blog –

Salakahle! Submitted by Penny

PS : Our thanks to :

  • Liz Taylor for the food resupply
  • Moraig for last nights dinner and delivery of equipment, very much appreciated
  • Riaz for bringing our dinner all the way to Nagle Dam and for sharing our passion and vision for river health under a magnificent starry African sky, and to
  • Msinsi for once again supplying a beautifully scenic spot to pitch our camp


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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One Response to May Day 19 : Stunning Scenery, Impossible Terrain

  1. Pat Hoffmann says:

    Well done, everyone. What an amazing group of people you are. And what an incredible experience you are having.

    Great comment from Penny about river crossings. I discovered, when I went on my first tramp (hike) in New Zealand, that none of the locals take off their hiking boots for river crossings. Maybe that’s because there are just SO MANY river crossings to be made? Kiwis like to joke that that is the easiest way to spot a tourist. I tried it when I hiked the Milford Track in Milford Sound and ended up with blisters from walking for so long in wet boots. Maybe there is something I am missing?

    Only 1 week to go, hey?
    Take care, everyone
    (from Invercargill, New Zealand)

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