On the Wings of Eagles

On my two previous visits to uMngeni Vlei – at the start of last year’s river walk, and earlier this year – we watched a Martial Eagle soaring above us and the vlei. I had the privilege last weekend to feel like that beautiful eagle, as I flew above the vlei in a tiny single engine, 4 seater plane, courtesy of the Bateleurs.


Flying up from Maritzburg and following the river to the vlei, put everything into perspective as we sailed past stretches of the river that I recognised from May last year.


The bays on Midmar dam from the Thurlow Bay to Pylon Bay didn’t look at all healthy, with the Mthinzima Bay the worst.


Thereafter we flew over a patchwork quilt of open veld, streams and wetlands interspersed with large green circles of centre-pivot irrigated lands, the glint of numerous small farm dams glinting in the sunlight. Bulelani  counted 20 something of these small dams.


As we approached the high hills around Inhlosane and Umgeni Vlei, intense agriculture gave way to grasslands, forests and timber plantations


I realised how close Impendle is to the vlei – literally on the other side of the hill


and suddenly, there was Umgeni Vlei birthplace of the uMngeni River


Our pilot , Craig Wing commented: “As an erstwhile paddler, I really enjoyed getting to see where the uMngeni is born.”

Turning, we followed the river through the gorge, and saw that much of the timber below the gorge has been felled. This should help top up the river for a few years till the next batch of timber is big – however on the steep slope, so close to the river, a concern is that the approaching rainy season could wash the bare earth into the river.


The Lions River floodplain just upstream of the confluence with the uMngeni is a stunning mass of meandering river and ox-bow lakes.


Howick Falls and the gorge below the falls passed below us, Albert Falls dam came and went, we saw the crocodile farm below Albert Falls dam


and then we were over the Valley of a Thousand Hills


and Nagle Dam, the silt weir and sluices clearly visible


This is a well designed dam situated on an enormous horseshoe-shaped bend of the river. The weir traps the silt, preventing it from entering the dam. The downside is that the silt sluices are opened up annually to let the build up of silt out – straight into the river below the dam wall, with devastating impacts on the river.

The confluence of the uMsunduzi and uMngeni was a shocker – upstream of the confluence, a long narrow ridge separates the two rivers, so that from the air they appear to flow next to each other – the uMngeni sparking in the sunlight, the Duzi a green ribbon.


On turning to head for Oribi airport, I was sad that this wonderful flight was nearly over, and there are no words sufficient enough to thank both the Bateleurs for donating this flight, and Craig Wing our pilot for an awesome time soaring with the eagles.   “As an erstwhile Dusi paddler myself, it was very interesting to see the source and initial course of our beloved Umgeni which, as paddlers, we do not usually see because all the races take place from Midmar and below.”

Bateleurs  is an organisation that “flies for the environment” – offering free flights to environmental organisations that could benefit from an aerial perspective. www.bateleurs.org

The Midlands Conservancies Forum organised this opportunity for Penny and two members of the MMAEP Mpophomeni Enviro Club – read their account of the adventure here: http://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/all-the-mpop-action/


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 On the Wings of Eagles

  1. Thanks for this photo essay which made my heart soar. Though I haven’t paddled the Umngeni, I have visited the Vlei area on foot, and many parts downstream to the Mouth. THe trouble you have taken to share this aerial journey inspires me to get to know the river better, and to do more about protecting it.

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