The dizzle had settled in for the weekend, but spirits were high as 50 eco-conscious learners from Mpophomeni, Bruntville, Rosetta and Nottingham Road lugged their bags down the hill to Indulo Camp in Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. Connecting with friends made last year in Hlatikulu was high on the agenda, but first there was some exploring to do. One group headed off to splash in uMhlangeni stream, looking for creatures in the cascades
and learn how to do a miniSASS test.
“The method used to measure how clean the water is was very interesting. We were actually looking at the biodiversity of the stream. I’m looking forward to school re-opening to share this new activity with my buddies.” enthused Lungisani Mthalane. Another group headed up the hill to photograph the many gorgeous summer flowers in the grassland – the Brunsvegia in particular, were spectacular. Everyone knew about Aloes and their many uses. Learning basic photography skills unleashed unknown creativity.
Many interesting insects were discovered and caterpillars, termite mounds, porcupine quills, mossy rocks and the warthogs were photographed. The kids from the Mpophomeni Enviro Club each chose a plant which represented them best and explained why this was so to their friends. Nomfundo Mlotshwa selected a fern. They stuffed their nostrils with medicinal Artemesia leaves and headed for the Magic Fig Tree to make wishes. Many hoped they had passed their exams but a couple wished to see the giraffe that lives there, especially as they has already seen giraffe spoor on the the muddy road. Sisanda Hadebe was enthralled: “The giraffe’s footprint is huge. Bigger than a person’s hand! We also found giraffe dung and learnt that it’s favourite food is thorn trees.”
Just wandering along provided many opportunities for learning – the mushrooms doing their job as decomposers, Trees which produce bitter tannin in their leaves to avoid being eaten and Hypoxis which are important medicinal plants. After a hearty lunch of pasta with tomatoes and fresh herbs, coleslaw and cordial they hiked far into the valley past Cycad Camp to discover where Chief Ngwenya had lived many, many years ago. “He wanted to keep his surname and not become a Zulu under Shaka’s rule, so he hid in this place.” explained Nomfundo Kunene. There, to their absolute delight, they spotted George the Giraffe! Nomfundo also enjoyed learning about the African Rock Python found in the area, although she hoped she wouldn’t actually see it! “It was pretty cool exploring and learning things that we have never heard of before” she said. Sunrise Rock, just below Indulo camp was a favourite spot when anyone needed to escape from all the activity…. This big flat rock – tall as the tree tops – is accessed by a long ladder and a very special place to spend quiet time. Some of the girls looked anxiously at the cliffs wondering when another enormous boulder might roll down. Naledi Ngake said she really enjoyed climbing the rock because she had always been afraid of heights “When I faced the challenge of climbing the ladder, I realised that high altitude places aren’t so bad. I didn’t give up and this taught me that giving up isn’t an option.” After an evening around the campfire (cooking sausages sponsored by Fry’s Foods),
‘Bush Idols’ provided plenty of entertainment – ranging from drama to song and dance. The older boys chose to sleep on top of Sunrise Rock. Nkululeko Mdladla said “The Sunrise Rock at night was sooo cool. That was fantastic.” in the morning a tired looking Vusi Hoyi commented “I don’t think I’ll try sleep on a rock again”
After breakfast the entire group set off enthusiastically on a Quest – just as the young men of Chief Ngwenya’s clan would have done. Testing their endurance, determination and ability to solve problems. Searching for hidden clues to find their way to a picnic at The Pines on the other side of the Reserve. First they had to camouflage themselves using mud and leaves, then make up a bundle of sticks to protect them on their journey. Following the map was not as easy as expected. It was a long hike and quite tiring – particularly climbing the 363 steps through the forest. Little Lungisani Maphanga (in yellow below) counted each step! and with the rest of his team was first to arrive at The Pines for lunch. “The long hike was tiring yet enjoyable. We got to explore the forest and the landscape. The plants are looking superb as it is summer. I feel like going back again.” said Lungisani Mthalane
This wilderness weekend was a joint project of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project and Midlands Conservancies Forum, funded by the N3 Toll Concession, with additional volunteers from KZN Crane Foundation, DUCT and Southern Secrets.
Thanks to SANBI for the loan of their cameras which helped focus attention and unearthed a few budding photographers. Many of the photos in this post were taken by the learners.
“Thank you so much for the delicious food and the lovely camp and everything you have done for us.” said Wendy Mkhwanazi as she headed home. Qiniso Zuma added “I had a great time with all you guys, can’t wait for the next one.”