Sunday morning is supposed to be easy (according to Lionel Richie) but here I am awake and thinking about the last stretch of this river. Only six kilometres to go but I know the twist and turns will surprise us. At 7am we wait at Thokan’s Store for our essential companion, Pandora Long, artist, a rider on the storm and our photographer par excellence,
Yesterday’s seemingly impenetrable bramble has disappeared and we are left following a path along a slow meandering river.
Unknown to us, the bundu bashing early this morning through some thick undergrowth was our last. It was relatively easy to conquer – have we become so good at crashing through the undergrowth or was it really just not so thick?
We found the farmers flooded causeway and I felt relief that we had decided to walk out along the uMngeni River from the confluence rather than have the support crew come through the fast flowing drift to collect us from the confluence.
cattle , yellow Irises
as a Fish Eagle called to us.
With Penny and I traipsing through the trails along the river bank constantly it was such a pleasant addition to have Pandora with us again, her smile and perspectives brought new meanings to many of the river scenes we passed.
We crossed our first fence for the day – an easy one which posed no challenges but we were confounded by a hill of land on the floodplain which we could not explain. With bluegum trees, poplars, honey locust, wisteria and privet (all beautiful, invasive and deadly) crowning the skies, and a river by our side the team took a photo together.
We explored the terrain looking for clues to this sudden change of landscape and we found it within the first meters. It was either an old dumping ground or a landfill site, remnants of old shoes, purity bottles, loads of plastic and other waste littered the river’s edge.
and then we marched on.
Our google aerials for the walk have been marked at 200 metre intervals to assist with our data recording, and with a couple of kilometres to go, Preven took great delight in counting down the distance to the uMngeni River as we meandered on.“Three” he called out, “two” “one” and before we knew it we saw Mama River, our beloved uMngeni, in front of us. With cheers and whoops we realised that we had done it. We had just walked the length of the Lions River – such an important tributary of the uMngeni.
THE END – of the Lions River walk – but not of today’s story…
After a brief rest we had to reach our pick up spot, a few kilometres downstream of the Lions/uMngeni confluence. We thought it was an easy walk, targeting our destination to Petrusstroom Bridge visible in the distance – we cut across the floodplain, skirting the edges of the wet areas until we reached the sloping ground leading away from us. It was here we encountered the mother of all fences. After crossing more than 70 fences in the last week, fences composed of every landowner’s wily ingenuity, comprising barbed wire, electric wires, tight strands, loose strands, low fences, high fences, wooden poles and metal poles this was the fence that beat them all and it was destined to beat us. We had forgotten our motto, gaily skipping like schoolchildren hand in hand, “never count your fences till you cross them”
We never did manage to cross that fence. Using experience gained on past fences this week we scouted up and down looking for the weak point and like all fences, it had an Achilles heel. We didn’t cross it, we rolled under it.
Our relief of getting through this Juggernaut was short lived as we were soon out of the frying pan and into the fire.
We discovered we had rolled ourselves unto the edge of the mother of all drainage ditches. It seemed nearly as wide as a garage door and was fearfully deep. The bottom comprised of running water and thick evil looking mud. So Pandora came up with the idea to roll a huge boulder into the ditch to create a stepping stone for us to cross on. Preven and Pandora heaved and shoved the biggest boulder they could lay their hands on and guided it to the edge.
We were all stunned and horrified and Pandora collapsed into heaves of laughter but we were well aware that we had just escaped a watery grave.
It did not end there either. We had to get across that ditch so we headed upwards trying to find a narrower channel to leap across. The we hit bramble on the edge, fence our right, river at our back and nowhere to go…we were well and truly stuck. Searching fervently for a way out, we chanced across a pole that lay across the ditch, some glorious pioneer had been here before us and we were truly grateful. We crossed the wobbly pole with sighs of relief.
But, the show was not over. We now found ourselves at the edge of a vast wetland running the length of the drainage ditch with frightened geese taking flight and mocking our feeble endeavours. With Preven as the canary in the coalmine,
we gingerly plodded onward, checking each step standing only on tufts of grass and with great effort reached the end of the wetland- and another squishy stream.
That crossed, we were on the last straight for home and soon crossed the Petrusstroom bridge glad to find our reliable support crew at journeys end.
Our elation was short lived. Like Frodo returning from Mordor after successfully completing his quest only to find his hometown scoured, we found our beloved uMngeni ripped at the seams
Bulldozed to twice her former width, bulldozed down to bedrock, bulldozed beyond recognition, the piles of river rocks pushed onto the river banks. What foolishness, ignorance, or downright arrogance would lead someone to do this to a river? For what reason? In full view of the Petrusstroom Bridge. Mindblowing!
This picture was taken in the same spot, pre-bulldozing:
After recovering from our shock we remembered why we were here – and took off at a sprint across the bridge.
Breandan brought Penny to tears when he told her to look in Bejane (our support vehicle) to see her two dogs waiting for her on the back seat.
After a last team photo we said farewell to Mama River and headed off into the sunset, our discussion already planning our next walk…
Our thanks to all our readers for sharing our adventures. Thanks also to:
Midlands Conservancies Forum for believing in our mission, the importance of protecting our water catchment and for fundraising so that we could continue this work.
N3Toll Concession (Pty) Ltd for providing the funds to make it easier.
Bryce at Staebraes, Peter & Trish Robarts, Brett Miller & Ray Choromanski for allowing us to camp on their properties.
Dean & Belinda Lentz of Hawklee Country House, the Blythe and Alexander families for superb accommodation and company, and to our support crew member John Fourie for putting us up in his cottage for the last two rainy nights.
To John and Linda Hall for the use of their facilities at Pleasant Places.
To Brian Green for his assistance in pointing us to the source, and Chris Worral for his indispensable ground information.
To Lynford Clarke for the guided tour and Dean Lentz for collecting us at days end.
To Pam Haynes for the two divine meals; and John, who not only had us invade his cottage but who cooked a superb meal for us; Tamara for the delicious home made rusks that kick started our mornings.
To the neighbours who joined us at Hawklee for a delightful evening and yummy snacks.
To each of the 96 landowners down the Lions River – thank you for giving us permission to walk alongside the river.
To Mike, Stembiso and Pandora for sharing our first day, to Sue & Nikara from WWF for joining us along the river, to Pandora for your love, support and company on the last leg and to Bart, Doug and Mike for your visit and the beers.
To Nikki for helping share our stories on the blog, for your encouragement, lovely meals and company.
From Preven and Penny: thank you to our long suffering support team – Breandan and John for making a home for us wherever the river took us. We couldn’t have done it with out you guys – your laughter, cooking, driving, navigation skills and companionship made it happen.
And last but not least my thanks to Prev, my sole co-walker, for sticking it out with me and never letting me down. Thanks for your sense of humour, for your fence crossing, bramble smashing, energising company.