Rietspruit Day Three – 16 December 2016
Preven was still eating breakfast as we left home at our usual time of 05h45 and headed out to the next section.
The day dawned overcast and cool, and stayed that way! What a pleasure. Starting with a Mini SASS at the St Joseph’s Dam, scoring a horrible 4.5 (very poor condition), we set off to the greeting call of a Fish Eagle. See the map on our recce post. Day three in pale blue.
The left bank of the dam is surrounded by near impenetrable wattle, bug weed, bramble and other invasive plants. The surface of the water is barely visible under a smothering of duck weed and the invasive water poppy (Hydrocleys nymphoides)
Preven takes up the day’s story:
A pump station enclosed in a wire cage is at the river’s edge, it’s one of the two pump stations we have seen on this walk, making the Rietspruit the river with the fewest pump houses yet.
We wander through marvelous fields of wildflowers that flank the rivers edge. We also encounter the easiest fence we have ever had to tackle!
The river banks are still choked with aliens from privet to bramble, bugweed and wattle. The aliens have a firm hold of the left bank and one cannot see the wood for the trees, or in this case the indigenous from the invasives. Cattle trampling where the animals come to drink has damaged the river banks and infuses nutrients into the water making them breeding grounds for Planaria and true flies.
Here, hidden between the trees, we find a rickety old boat abandoned or ‘beached’ by floods and decide to take the obligatory rub-a-dub- dub-five river-walkers-in-a-tub group photo. The boat to nowhere would not budge no matter how much we rowed.
We continue down the river and encounter old stone walls and the river meandering along its lovely path. We also spot a type of Haemanthus which we were not able to identify. Could any of you gentle readers help us with this one?
Due to the constant log jams and sometimes large pools that are in the river’s path, we have no alternative but to climb the steep sides of the river banks to pass these obstacles. We were quite high in altitude and the constant up and down started to make my ears ring. I also got stung by a bug on my forearm and had to cool the entire length of my arm in the river for relief.
We get to the first major waterfall, the water cascades down the rocks below. Penny figures that this is not the waterfall that can be seen from Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve and is wondering which one this is? Little do we realise that this is but the first of a series of waterfalls that grow in height and splendour, and that will take our breath away.
This waterfall is guarded by an old granddaddy River Bush Willow (Combretum erythrophyllum) whose arms branch out in benediction over this sacred place.
At the bottom of this waterfall the water cascades into sparkling curtains and, even though it is not a sunny day, we get under them to be showered with the cool spray of the Rietspruit.
We continue in the riverbed, it being easier than attempting to walk along the overcrowded banks choked with invasives.
We encounter the middens of otter and water mongoose – remnants of their supper of crab – and found the stool of a predator – possibly jackal. Then, leaving the river, we start climbing higher and higher into the hills as the river cascades down into the valley below.
We cannot walk in the riverbed now as it cuts its way through sheer rock faces and plunges into pools.
The river is getting wilder. I am astonished at its beauty and how it keeps getting better and better. The Umgeni Water Reservoir looms into the distance. On our maps we felt that we were near this reservoir – a landmark indicating that we were near our journey’s end, but the river obviously had other plans for us. It took us 2 and a half hours just to cover 1km! The reservoir which we thought we were near to at 10h00 in the morning only came into view 12h22!
The river had greatly increased in volume at this stage, its waters thundering past us and roaring into crevasses and plunge pools.
The Umgeni Water pipeline that carries water from Midmar to the large reservoir crossed the river encased in a huge concrete slab built across the rocks. A small ‘furrow’ channels the waters of the Rietspruit past the edge of the concrete block, canalising the river next to its concrete path (in times of good rain the concrete slab must become a waterfall!). Here I stopped to take a breath and play a flute solo.
At the pool we stopped for lunch, then continued to wade in the water. It gets quite high and we have all completely soaked pants – a river walker’s badge of honour.
The ground gets higher and higher and we find a path that leads to the last three waterfalls.
The first is one rushed down into a deep pool in a semi cave.
We wander around and find ourselves at the end of our journey, the wide, wild open gorge before us and the two massive waterfalls rushing down into the valley.
We have reached the end because from here the only way towards the confluence is down into the valley – a drop of nearly 100 metres.
We have successfully navigated the course of the Rietspruit and our signature photo at journey’s end is taken.
We sit in silence for a few minutes and then say goodbye to mama river and her wild open valley and head back to the top of the hill (a longer than expected journey of winding pathways to the top) where we hop into Doug’s vehicle and begin the journey back home.