There were so many astonishing moments during our Cobham weekend that “Wow” simply couldn’t do them justice. “Hawu we ma!” became the exclamation of choice. Stars, streams, mountains, waterfalls, caves, flowers, food and friendship ensured the experience was utterly magical. Four students about to start Matric at Shea O’Connor School in Nottingham Road had been looking forward to the adventure for weeks. The weekend was organised by MCF with funding from N3Toll Concession.
The journey began on a cold, wet Midlands morning. There was little point rushing to the mountains where it was likely to even colder and mistier, so we explored along the way. First stop, the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial in Mpophomeni, where we chatted about the violence which lead to her death, the origins of the township and the Mpophomeni Conservation Group initiative.
We popped in to tell the friends we had made on the Hlatikulu trip recently, Zamambo and Bulelani, about our planned adventure – back to the mountains. They were green with envy.
We visited the Yellowwood Church in Bulwer, it was too wet to walk in the forest to see the real live Yellowwood trees. The headstones with dates from the early 1900s had everyone astonished. “Unbelievable” quipped Nkulu, shaking his head.
After crossing the uMkomazi river, we stopped at Pucketty Farm Stall to stock up on fresh bread, local cheese and chocolate brownies, and stroke the cat. As the mizzle was really thick, we spent a few hours exploring the Himeville Museum crammed full of fascinating artefacts before heading through the mud to Cobham.
On arrival at Pholela hiking hut, we were thrilled to find a big wood pile (invasive wattle) and set about building a fire to snuggle around. Wendy made some new friends and headed out in the rain for a swim! “What a wonderful weekend – a fabulous thing that I have never done in my life.” She said.
After a good night’s sleep in absolute darkness the really astonishing moments began… Breakfast on the verandah included happy eggs donated by Aloe Ridge Farm and discussions about the day’s possibilities. Christeen Grant, an experienced Berg Guide, had joined us and made some suggestions about where to walk.
Despite the damp, grey weather we wandered through the Ouhout scrub – following jackal prints along the path – to make the most of our few precious days.
Undeterred by the weather, the deep pools in the river enticed us to swim, taking our breath away at first.
Soon we were used to the cold, and no one wanted to get out.
The exclamations and laughter faded as we spent time in quiet contemplation of our surroundings.
Finding a spot to be entirely alone.
Listening to the water and the birds, feeling the breeze on our skins and just being still.
With both Nikki and Christeen passionate about plants, there were many stops to admire the floral treasures in the grassland. Everyone taking a turn with the camera to capture their beauty. Polygala hottentotta.
The cliffs beckoned and we climbed up to a waterfall
We explored a hidden cave, filled with animal prints, that looked out across the river valley. “We had a whimsical experience with you. Thank you for showing us the beauty of nature. I loved learning about the many wonders the mountains keep dear to their hearts. Wonders that we will now keep dear to OUR hearts.” said Vusi.
We stopped often to chat about rocks, admire insects, discuss scats. Christeen’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the area, adding depth and a special dimension. “Christeen, thank you for being with us this weekend. We wouldn’t have done it without you. You gave up your time, family and everything for us and we love you for that.” said Nkulu.
After the invigorating exercise, lunch on the verandah went down well. “Hawu we ma – izingane zidla kakhulu!” said Nikki. Everyone competed to make the most interesting sandwiches – startling combinations of ingredients which elicited lots of exclamations! Banana and beetroot anyone?
A herd of horses joined us for afternoon tea.
On Sunday, we walked part of day two of the Giant’s Cup trail. We packed plenty of snacks and our water bottles and headed for the hills.
How exciting when the clouds lifted and Hodgson’s Peaks and the Drakensberg emerged.
Every possible moment was spent quietly, watching Cape Vultures circle, the shadows on the mountains move and relishing being almost alone in nature.
We drank fresh, cold water from the streams.
As the sky got bluer, we climbed higher and higher,
We crept through the forest to discover a beautiful, cool cave where Qiniso magically pulled nougat from his backpack.
This was Bath Plug falls – water rushing in from above, but no sign of it leaving the deep pool. “I loved the waterfalls” said Qiniso, “we visited six this weekend.”
We walked back to camp in silence. Vusi particularly enjoyed the quiet moments. “Thank you, you have made this experience a Moment for Life.
After lunch, we packed a watermelon and headed to the river to swim and wallow and bask in the sunshine. Nkulu said “What a wonderful afternoon. I enjoyed the swimming and diving with you and I really enjoyed the floating lesson you gave me.”
Early evening was spent chatting and playing cards in the outdoor boma before building a fire to cook our colourful kebabs. After tucking in, Wendy said “We must be happy for the food we eat because it is given to us with an opened heart.” Ever mindful of our carbon footprint, all our food was local and organic and we took all the peelings home for the compost. We collected all other packaging materials to recycle – this filled only half of a plastic Woollies bag. We left no trace of our adventure at all.
Then as the darkness grew and the stars sparkled in the moonless sky, we lay on the swing bridge across the Pholela River, the water rushing below us. No one had ever seen a sky quite like it – absolutely crammed with twinkling lights, and shooting stars galore. Qiniso “I had so much fun watching the stars at night. It was wonderful.”
We met the Reserve Field Rangers and joined them on their patrol. This provided a good opportunity to chat to them about the animals in the area, their jobs and the training they had received, and to take advantage of their experienced eyes pointing out baboons and buck and birds.
After another dip in the Pholela, we said our goodbyes “What a fabulous trip we had. The things I learnt from each of us is that we must share our knowledge and we must not leave our group members behind when we are walking in the mountains.” Wendy said.
On the way home we stopped at Marutswa to walk in the forest and picnic on leftovers, enjoying the protection of the cool canopy after the heat of the grasslands.
The journey home to Mooi River, Rosetta and Nottingham Road provided opportunities to compose text messages:
“Thank you for each and every support that you’ve been giving to us and it was such a wonderful experience.” Qiniso Zuma
“The walk to the cave and the stars were so amazing. I have never had a great weekend like this ever, but I didn’t like washing dishes. Thank you for everything. Lots of love” Nkululeko Mdladla
“It was a great weekend. You have given me hope and strength and washed my worries away. Ngiyabonga. Love” Wendy Mkwanazi
“I remember our trips to the river and enjoyed learning to float, but the really amazing part of this trip was the time we spent on the suspension bridge looking at stars. I even got to see a shooting star (I made a wish, but I can’t tell). I can’t explain how much fun I had, this was truly a time to remember and in the words of my favortite artist ‘I wish that I have this moment for life’.” Vusimusi Mvelase
Christeen Grant “Thank you for the privilege of spending an inspiring time with you, Wendy, Vusi, Nkulu and Qiniso over the past few days at Cobham! Your commitment and dedication to inspiring, caring and nurturing these young lives is awesome, a very real motivation as you guide, not impose ideas and experiences in their lives. For me it was a real and heart-warming pleasure to share the mountains with all of you!”
Nikki concludes: “Sidlalile, sifundile kahle ePholela. Sobuya futhi.” Thank you to Penny Rees for the inspiration.
May the sun bring you new energy by day
May the moon softly restore you at night
May the rain wash away your worries
May the breeze blow new strength into your being
May you walk gently through the world and
Know it’s beauty all the days of your life.