Giant Rocks, Magic Trees and 363 Steps

The dizzle had settled in for the weekend, r P1260050but 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. r IMG_2777 Connecting with friends made last year in Hlatikulu was high on the agenda, but first there was some exploring to do. r The whole gang One group headed off to splash in uMhlangeni stream, looking for creatures in the cascades

r P1260014and learn how to do a miniSASS test.

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“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. r thulisile brunsvegiaEveryone knew about Aloes and their many uses.rr IMG_0772 Learning basic photography skills unleashed unknown creativity.

2013 12 07 09 Umgeni Valley

res IMG_2859 Many interesting insects were discovered and caterpillars, termite mounds, porcupine quills, mossy rocks and the warthogs were photographed. rr IMG_0745 The kids from the Mpophomeni Enviro Club each chose a plant which represented them best and explained why this was so to their friends. r philani, asa, sihle leaf Nomfundo Mlotshwa selected a fern. r Explaining about the plant we chose and why it reminds us of ourselves - NomfundoThey stuffed their nostrils with medicinal Artemesia leaves and headed for the Magic Fig Tree to make wishes. r Making our wishes at the Magic Fig with Kakibos up our noses - cropped 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, r mushroom by Mnqobi Ndlela Trees which produce bitter tannin in their leaves to avoid being eaten and Hypoxis which are important medicinal plants.umgeni valley dec 2013 019 After a hearty lunch of pasta with tomatoes and fresh herbs, coleslaw and cordial r P1250988 they hiked far into the valley past Cycad Camp to discover where Chief Ngwenya had lived many, many years ago. r hiking umgeni valley by Nkulu Mdladla “He wanted to keep his surname and not become a Zulu under Shaka’s rule, so he hid in this place.” explained Nomfundo Kunene. r tree nkulu umgeni valley 098 There, to their absolute delight, they spotted George the Giraffe! r It's George the Giraffe! by Nkanyiso Ndlela 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. r nkulu umgeni valley 106 Sunrise Rock, just below Indulo camp was a favourite spot when anyone needed to escape from all the activity…. r IMG_2983 This big flat rock – tall as the tree tops – is accessed by a long ladder and a very special place to spend quiet time. res IMG_2972 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.” Shea O'Connor Eco Committee on Sunrise Rock with Penny Rees After an evening around the campfire (cooking sausages sponsored by Fry’s Foods),

res IMG_3012‘Bush Idols’ provided plenty of entertainment – ranging from drama r IMG_3075 to song and dance. r IMG_3100 The older boys chose to sleep on top of Sunrise Rock. r nkulu umgeni valley 084 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, r IMG_6184then make up a bundle of sticks to protect them on their journey. umgeni valley dec 2013 101 Following the map was not as easy as expected. r umgeni valley dec 2013 106 It was a long hike and quite tiring – particularly climbing the 363 steps through the forest. r Hiking in Umgeni Valley 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

r P1260149It was too late to walk back down to ‘Bum Slide’ as planned, but the water in the nearby stream was too much to resist and everyone splashed gleefully,

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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.

r ann penny christeen

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.

r qiniso photographing

“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.”

r P1020713This was certainly a successful weekend despite the weather, cold showers and drafty accommodation.  We do hope to encourage the kids to bring a little less luggage next time, though!

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5 thoughts on “Giant Rocks, Magic Trees and 363 Steps

  1. David Clulow

    Some very privileged young folk, whose experiences of a damp but memorable weekend must change their appreciation of the wonders of our corner of the earth. All I can do is to doff my hat to the sponsors, organisers and leaders who made this occasion come to fruition


  2. Sarah Ellis

    Oh Nikki – you are such a gem! Thank you, thank you for all you tirelessly do to help with environmental awareness in every possible way – I do salute you. Your energy and enthusiasm is contagious through your writing (all the MCF newsletters) and I admire the way you so selflessly give up so much of your time for this. We are all the richer for your amazing input into these wonderful newsletters too – they must take a huge amount of time and organisational ability, so I really do sincerely thank you.

    I trust you will have a happy Christmas season and that 2014 is a really fantastic year for you – and that I will get to see a bit of you this coming year too.

    With lots of love and special thanks

    Sarah xxx


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