Walking the Dargle – Heaven and Hell

Preven begins the story… We arrived at the bridge to Khululeka where we ended yesterday’s walk, to continue our journey down the Dargle River. Dargle day 3 Here the river has gauged a deep channel in the alluvial land and her flow and depth was constant and the sediment was a thick layer over the rocks. We entered into the river – beginning our day with our feet deep in the water. After conducting a miniSASS we decided to continue up the river in the stream bed because the banks were completely choked with alien vegetation (mostly bramble) and we couldn’t walk along the edge.

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The sky was a cool overcast grey and we found walking in the river an absolute pleasure.

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Penny and I feasted on bramble berries as we waded through and my Crocs were experts in the water.

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After a few meters the sand threatened to swallow our feet and the water began to get deeper.

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We exited the river and climbed onto the banks.

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We had only walked only 200 metres along the river but it had taken us almost an hour. Finding a path above the brambles we then followed the river into horse country. The lands here were expertly ploughed and the horses roamed free (but the forest was on the verge of being consumed by voracious bugweed).

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The indigenous forest with its towering Yellowwoods was flanked on either side by bugweed, Scottish thistle and a variety of other newcomers. This is why it is called an alien invasion.


The river ran slower and seemed to be under more pressure. Here we found the river had been diverted,


so we attempted to find the original river. We found the channel bed – its water was stagnant and a sickly green

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and the land seemed to have been robbed of its splendour.


Cutting back to the now new river channel, we found almost the same amount of water but the rate at which the ground was being eroded was frightening.


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We followed the river to the dam

Sinclair dam

and then up above the farm where finally, the land was devoid of aliens and was covered in wildflowers and grassland.

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a gorgeous Satyrium


Here the river walk team at least had a moment of respite from the ravaged land which had so attacked our senses previously. We had a quick lunch amongst the wildflowers and pushed on.

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Stopping at the bridge with the Dargle River sign to pose for a few photos.

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We also found evidence of the alien invasive clearing done by the Dargle Conservancy. The first treatment managed to remove most of the wattle, bugweed and bramble but they will rise again and thus repeated treatment is necessary.


It was midway through the day and we had still quite come distance to cover. We followed the river passing along fields of lettuce and cabbage, its gas-like aroma filling our noses.

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The river meandered on

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and then we entered the most pristine stretch, since the first part of the indigenous forest at the source, that we have seen so far on this walk.

The most beautiful water fall fell

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through the gorge to the weir below.

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We made our way through the rocky gorge, through a little mini amphitheatre where Penny fouund an unbroken clay pigeon shell.  Here a little tributary fed the main river stem and we encountered our first Acacia sieberiana.

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Penny continues the story….

Our senses and spirits were dulled and  jaded after two and a half days of heavy impacts, as were our leg muscles from two and a half days of climbing – up in the forest on day one and in and out of steep river banks interspersed with high stepping through overgrown kikuyu, ducking under and through thickets, pulling our legs out of mud, wading through deep water and rock hopping. So we were shocked out of our stupor by the vista of pristine grasslands sloping down to the burbling river.


both grasslands and stream completely clear of invasive plants; the stream bed free of silt or algae; the water once again crystal clear.


Clumps of indigenous forest clung to the steep ravines – without a bugweed or wattle in sight and we all agreed we could be in the berg!  This was the Dargle River in its natural state.


Sadly, due to the time consuming hacking and wading of the day, we couldn’t stop to enjoy or savour this area as the day was growing late and we still had a way to go. Pandora suggested we stop to do a miniSASS, but my immediate thought was we have to keep going or we won’t finish – the heavy, low cloud meant the dusk would arrive early.  However, we did stop and we hit the minSASS jackpot!  Not one, but three stoneflies (indicators of a healthy river, as they cannot tolerate pollution)!


Proof once again (as seen on the uMngeni and Lions Rivers) that given a long enough length without impacts, rivers can, and do, heal! Well done Howard Long, the landowner of this healed section, for taking such loving care of this part of the Dargle River.

The final leg of the day passed rapidly as we hurried onwards as best we could.  Murphy’s law kicked in – of the 26 fences we crossed today, 12 were in this last couple of kilometres, and they were the most challenging of the entire rivers fences.  However, we remain undefeated!


We finally threw in the towel about 1km from the confluence of the Dargle uMngeni, with the light too bad for photos necessary to record everything.


We will return to complete the last kilometre and say farewell to the Dargle River.  What a wonderful surprise 10 minutes after we arrived back at our base – Barry Downard suddenly appeared, looming out of the mist with delicious il Positino pizzas for dinner!


We were joined by Rose Downard, Nikki Brighton, and Ashley Crookes for a relaxing evening full of laughter and sharing. Thank you all so much, Dargle Conservancy, just what the doctor ordered.



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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4 Responses to Walking the Dargle – Heaven and Hell

  1. Ashley Crookes says:

    I will come eat pizza with you guys anytime ;D (thanks to Nikki for the invite). Haha, jokes aside it was very interesting to see all the raw “unedited” footage which most folks are not going to see. I’ll be interested to see the final video when it’s completed. Well done guys, great job once again!

  2. Jean Martens says:

    What an intrepid group! I don’t read all the postings, but learn and enjoy when I do. Thank you for your work, and for sharing story and photos. Greetings from icy but sunny winter in Maine, USA.

  3. Down-to-Earth Designs says:

    Hello River Walk team!

    Thankyou for loving the river and reminding the rest of us to as well. I feel like I have been given a good kick up the rear end….at Khululeka we havew an agreement with the person who rents grazing from us to clear the alien vegetation…..he just hasnt managed to do it properly yet..to his credit he has been working on other sections of the stream at Maritzdaal. Your blog is a reminder that we need to be more proactive in making sure this happens – otherwise we are irresponsible absent landlord and lady!!

    love reading of your adventures!

    Love Margie Pretorius

  4. Liz Gow, Western Cape says:

    Hello River Walkers and Team, I think this is almost the best ‘story’ depicting, with very clear photos, what you do and what you encounter – everything from aliens to invasives to degradation to pristine healthy systems to the wonderful caring people living along these river banks and further inland. Couldn’t summarise it better. I’m in awe of what you each do and miss it all, Love and thanks, Liz Gow

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