Mpofana – The River that Went Away

How does one describe the excitement and expectation that goes with walking rivers? Eight months after ‘Doing the Dargle’ we are about to walk the Mpofana. Penny Rees with the help of Balgowan Conservancy chairperson, Yvonne Thompson and secretary, Priscilla Young, have done all the homework. Landowners informed, team organised, supplies purchased, technology loaded, route checked, groundteam on the ready, kit packed and lunches made.


For me (Pandora Long), unable to join the team any earlier in the day, it was a late night foray deep into the heart of Balgowan country, my headlights startling several grey duiker as my car bounced along the rutted track. Finally arriving at Caversham Hall, where all but our gracious hostess, Yvonne, were already fast asleep. I can’t wait, tomorrow we walk the Mpofana!

caverham hall

Day 1

Moraig Peden, who has joined the River Walk team for the first time writes: This is not like going for a walk, this is something completely different. It’s a new kind of adventure because you don’t know where you are going and no one has set out any signs for you, or mowed any paths, or left any cairns.

new kind of adventure

There are places that may be completely impassable or perhaps even inescapable. There are fallen down wattles across the river, arms sticking out spikily and unhelpfully; there are ranges of bramble, that scratch and catch even through long pants. Steep slopes covered with slippery pine needles. The world is tinder dry and I sniff for fire, I don’t want to be caught on a slope like this.

completely impassable

I wonder, when the world was young, and un-invaded, and the stream trilled through a grassland, with occasional patches of indigenous forest, how easy it must have been to walk along the Mpofana’s banks.

morag how easy to walk

Siyabonga Ndlovu, DUCT Intern (and mobile mapper fundi) joined the group for the first day.  ‘Now you see me, now you don’t’ was the sad story the river told for the first few kilometres from the source. The latter was attributed to the farms whose owners are not aware of the cumulative impacts of not releasing water from a dam, and pine plantations not delineated from the river.

now you dont

Other impacts included wetland areas that have been totally dug up and soil with mottles left of the side to dry out in the sun. Mother Nature always finds a way to heal herself and this was seen as the river picked up further down flowing underground.

totally dug up

Bramble, bugweed and wattle were the main problem invasive plant species. Walking the first eight kilometres of the Mpofana has been quite energy consuming and hard on the body. Good luck to the team for the duration of the walk.

bramble bug weed wattle are main problem

The river has ended before she has begun.


Seasoned River Walker, Preven Chetty:  Waking up in Yvonne’s beautiful guest house at Caversham Hall where she is hosting us with fabulous dinners and breakfasts – where regal peacocks strut the yard hoping to get a nod from plain peahen -I was amped and ready to begin our usual soirée down pristine streams that seep magically into a bubbling river.


This was not to be, the river disappeared not less than 500 meters from the source, swallowed in dams and not allowed out. A dry riverbed was our path to walk along.

river dissappeared

This was our first day, occasionally punctured by cries of fish eagles, but mostly a barren dry river struggling to find a foothold amongst alien vegetation.

moraig rocks

The scores of the Mini Sass tests unfortunately painted the same picture. The river has disappeared and yet, she comes to life again fed a little further along the way by perennial springs that seep and find their way to the main river.

mini sass scores moraig penny

Nature cannot be contained yet she can be hurt and it is this hurt that eventually will hurt us all. When rains fall no more and when our aquifers have dried up, who will we turn to for the precious and simple gift of water?

Nature is hurt

Intrepid team leader Penny Rees has the final word: Here one moment, gone the next. One expects to see impacts along rivers, one expects to see the cumulative impacts of abuse as one moves down the rivers. But to have a small river disappear before one’s eyes only 500 or so metres from the source. That’s not only unexpected but shocking. In fact today seemed to just be a series of reminders as to how little regard, respect, love or even care, there is for our rivers.

scattering of springs

The source of the Mpofana, a scattering of at least 10 springs, interconnected via wetlands, has been disrupted by a large housing development.

stream trickles into housing estate

The stream eventually comes to life again and where the stream trickles off the housing estate, it is channelled with a pipe to keep the water clear of the new pipeline being built that will transfer water from the Mooi River to the uMngeni catchment.

penny rock

Then an abandoned pine plantation sucks the life out of the stream yet again and there is no sign of a water course let alone any water.

abandoned pine plantation

Way down below, we suddenly hear water and where a tributary has joined, the stream is running again – not that it is given much chance at life – repeated places where the Mooi uMngeni pipeline crosses the stream it is piped; overgrown wattle trees shade out the stream, and the pipeline servitude has been bulldozed in one place right into the edge of the stream bank.

buldozed stream bank

Today was not one to celebrate. Let’s hope tomorrow is better.

The Mpofana River is around 23km long and runs through Balgowan Conservancy from Nottingham Road to Caversham. Established as the first conservancy in South Africa in the late 1970’s, the Balgowan Conservancy recognises the immense value that the valley plays as a watershed and encourages landowners and those living in the area to take custodianship of the land and to treat it with respect. Alien Weed Infestation is seen as one of the primary challenges facing the ability of the Mpofana catchment to be resilient and to function optimally to deliver water downstream.

If you are interested in the fate of the Mpofana, read Mpofana in Peril

mpofana is 23 kms long

The DUCT ‘Mayday for Rivers’ Team would like to thank Balgowan Conservancy for their support. Thanks also to Balgowan Conservancy chairperson, Yvonne Thompson, for accommodating the team at her beautiful 100 year old home at Caversham Hall, steeped in history (part of the original Voortrekker farm, Boschfontein) and for her generous hospitality.

The River Walk Team for the Mpofana:

Team leader Penny Rees

Team leader Penny Rees

Preven Chetty

Preven Chetty

Pandora Long

Pandora Long

Moraig Peden

Moraig Peden

Siyabonga Ndlovu

Siyabonga Ndlovu

John Fourie (Ground Team)

John Fourie (Ground Team)

At the end of day one - Mpofana River 23 September 2014

At the end of day one – Mpofana River 23 September 2014


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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2 Responses to Mpofana – The River that Went Away

  1. Peter Thomson says:

    Well done (again) you guys. look forward to the final report. Best, Peter T

  2. Pingback: Mpofana River – Report & Recommendations | Midlands Conservancies Forum

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