Tag Archives: drakensberg

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – September 2016

Helen Booysen – Crab Apple Cottages

Windy day…My Mobile did its best… Wildflowers and an unknown bug pictured on our walk over the hills:

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Leonotus in the hills

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Granny’s Bonnet orchids

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Carnivorous Snail on D707

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Pat & Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm, Lidgetton

Welcome to the Snake farm. I have been expecting it – the hot days this month. On Monday my maid went out to sit outside next to the rockery – 12.30 – that’s when they emerge from the rockery – a metre long cobra. I told her not to sit there anymore. Then on Thursday Pat was doing a block burn in front of the house. The one labourer was putting out the fire with the fire hose when a puff adder shot between his legs and slithered down the hill at speed. Who said puffies move slowly. I’m afraid the other huge puff adder got burnt in the fire. I am now wondering how many more snakes are around the garden.

Our Black Sparrowhawk chick revealed his rufous feathers on the 27th august. A few days later I saw him sitting on a branch high up in one of the gum trees (6th sept). After that I saw him only on a few occasions when I whistled – then he would fly out from one of the trees and whistle back. I have not seen them since beginning of September but Pat sees them occasionally.

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There have been lots of Reedbuck around. One day there were 4 adult females and 4 youngsters together,

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and for the first time we have had 2 sets of oribi on the farm – 3 males and 3 females – the one male only has one horn. (I did fill in and send off the Oribi survey form) We see them almost daily.

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At the beginning of September a buzzard arrived and sat on the dead tree for about an hour – it has been identified as a juvenile Jackal Buzzard. Thanks to the Birdlife KZN Midlands Club for their assistance in this identification.

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The Burchell’s Coucal keeps evading my camera – flew past the house with large worm in its beak and went straight into the shrubbery once more where I think it may be nesting.
One very windy night there was a scratching on our bedroom door while I was reading. This glass door leads onto the verandah. I was a bit nervous about opening the curtain but was surprised to find that it was a Speckled Mousebird who had probably been blown out of the trees. Pat placed it in a box and released him next morning.

juvenile-speckled-mousebird

Our 2 Blue Cranes are back on the farm and wade in the puddle of a dam each evening. On the 14th sept 20 crowned crane flew over the farm flying west. A porcupine was trying to get into the garden by digging a huge hole at the farm gate – the dogs would stand and bark at it but he took no notice – he did get in the one night and dug up a lot of my dietes bulbs. Pat attached more wire to the bottom of the gate which seems to have worked. Still hear the howling of the jackal at night – my dogs love to howl along with them – gets very rowdy at times.

The swallows arrived ten days ago and once again are trying to make a nest on the glass light bowl at front verandah. I have left the light on which seems to have deterred them, but not sure where they have gone now. The sparrows are busy making nests under the eaves at all corners of the house and the wagtails are once more nesting in the jasmine creeper. The rock pigeons are nesting in the one chimney. We occasionally hear the Barn Owl when he clonks onto the roof of the study where we watch TV or sometimes on the bedroom roof late at night where he busily eats his prey. We are not sure if he/she is still in the study chimney. We think she may be living in the forest behind the house.
We are thankful for the rain this past month. Just pray we get a good season this year.

Male Amethyst sunbird

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Female White-bellied Sunbird

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Long-crested Eagle

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Male Southern masked weaver building a nest

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Red-billed Quelea (non-breeding males)

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Scadoxus puniceus

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Evert van Breemen – Old Furth

I have a vague memory of you asking for snow pictures some months back.
Herewith my belated reply.

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Detail of picture:

The closest part of the Berg is some 70 kms away and I estimate we are seeing
about 100 km of snow along the range which varies from 2.5 to 3.3 km in height. The picture is taken from a mast which is at 1.6 km altitude

Thunderstorms, Termites and Tarns

Dodging potholes brimming with muddy water and splashing through the torrents rushing along farm tracks and over the road, we wondered at the wisdom of a mid-summer break in the ‘berg. However, as we emerged from the Kamberg Valley, gaps in the clouds revealed the Giant having an afternoon snooze, oblivious of the thunder. Yes, it is always worth simply heading out whatever the weather – one never knows what is actually in store. Besides, occasional glimpses of the mountains simply make them all the more mysterious.r snowflake 182

Mtshezi

An early evening stroll along the banks of the Mtshezi (Bushman’s River) provided plenty of opportunity to chat about erosion, river valleys and smooth stones. As the rain stopped, hundreds of termites emerged from their underground haven into the calm evening, sitting on our arms and fluttering off across the river.

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Later we found another mound that was in the process of being repaired. The new section clearly illustrating the ‘air-conditioning tunnels’ we had described earlier.

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We had packed our miniSASS kit in the hope of overturning some rocks in the river and finding invertebrates that we have never come across in Mpophomeni streams. The Bushman’s River was flowing too strongly and we gave up. Bright Hesperantha coccinea was flowering on the river banks.

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Some of us simply had to swim and soon got used to the cold water.

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Others explored the river banks, rock hopped and took plenty of photos.

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Some sat quietly simply absorbing the splendour.

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After looking through the ID guides and books about Giant’s Castle and watching the mountains through the binoculars, we enjoyed supper on the veranda and a cosy evening beside the fireplace in the cottage at Snowflake.

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Pouring over the map of the area after breakfast the next morning revealed two tarns located on the plateau we had planned to head towards that day. So we plotted our course – up the forested ravine then along the ridge towards the ‘Berg. Two black storks flew by as we set off.

Wildflowers & Waterfalls

The grass was long and wet, water was pouring off the hillside – delicious, cold and fresh.

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Peak flowering season was over, but we did find many lovely specimens of Gladiolus crassifolius

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Other memorable flowers included Eucomis autumnalis, Dicoma anomala, Gladiolus ecklonii, Crassula vaginata, Commelina Africana, Persicaria attenuate, Satyrium macrophyllym & cristatum, Habenaria lithophila. We saw lots of lovely beetles too.

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Proteas are always a favourite when found on our trips to natural areas. This one was Protea roupelliae, one of five species found in KZN.

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We found the tracks of buck and of jackal – both fresh – with the jackal definitely following the buck.

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An antlion rested on the tip of tall grass.

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We spotted a Cussonia paniculata (umsenge) in flower and on closer inspection discovered it was growing beside the stone wall of an old livestock enclosure. Clearly, previous inhabitants of the area had been pastoralists, although there were no cows anymore.

r snowflake stone wall

We came across really big specimens of Aloe maculata that everyone recognised from Mpophomeni – particularly because it is part of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group logo.

r snowflake sihle aloe

The sound of a waterfall enticed us to keep climbing. Nkulu and Bulelani could not resist standing beneath the icy water, clambering across huge boulders to get there.

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Asanda was fascinated that the stream disappeared into the rocks before emerging as a waterfall and set about finding the route it took through the rocks – discovering it was just a small crevice that he could fit his arm into.

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Tarns & Tadpoles

On top of the plateau, we all wandered off in different directions to find the tarns. Asanda particularly enjoyed the time alone, following the sound of birds that he thought might lead him to the water. “I really enjoyed this trip without lots of small children making noise.” he said quietly.

r snowflake asa tarn

Christeen followed the frog sounds and found them eventually – not really what we had expected. The pools had been invaded by grass and it was more of a wetland now with just a few pools of water. It was really beautiful and unusual.

r snowflake sihle tarn

Along with the rest of South Africa celebrating Leap Day for Frogs, we had hoped to find a few of our own. With our eyes closed we identified four different calls, but all we found were lots and lots of dead tadpoles. We wondered if the water had been struck by lightning in the storm the day before. (Jeanne Tarrant of EWT suggested it might be the amphibian fungal disease – chytrid)

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We spent some quiet time absorbing the peacefulness and incredible views.

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Discussing ecology, religion, climate change and life, as we walked.

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We had hoped to bump into an Eland, but only found an old bone.

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We flushed a Marsh Owl on our way back through the grassland, characteristically it circled around us before heading off, giving us a wonderful opportunity to have a good look at it. Pretty damp, we were jolly pleased to head for home at Snowflake to page through the bird book and learn more about this owl,

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Everyone pitched in to get lunch ready as quickly as possible – we were starving.

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Later, relaxing with cups of tea, Christeen explained how the Drakensberg Mountains were formed. Reaching back in time to about 180 million years ago, just before the break up of Gonwana a super continent that was originally part of Pangea, and consisted of Africa, South America, Madagascar, India, Antartica and Australia; a mantle plume ruptured the earth’s crust, causing a vast outpouring of lava on the surface of most of what is now southern Africa. In places this basalt layer was up to 1.5km in depth and the remains still form the mountainous areas in Lesotho.

About 150 million years ago Gondwana began to separate, and continues to move apart in what is known as continental drift. In an imaginary ‘fast-forward’ India flew north west into what is now Asia, causing the formation of the Himalayas. Madagascar and Australia moved east, Antartica moved south and South America moved west of Africa. Huge cliffs dropped down to the emerging Indian Ocean on our east coast of southern Africa, further raised by another mantle plume centered beneath southern Mozambique. These cliffs were gradually eroded back from our coastline, mainly by water drainage, eventually becoming the Drakensberg.

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The Drakensberg is therefore a cliff or escarpment, forming the backbone or continental divide of southern Africa, stretching from Mozambique all the way down to the Eastern Cape. It is also the southern African watershed, east of the Drakensberg, rivers all drain into the Indian Ocean and to the west the main drainage system is via the Senqu River in Lesotho, becoming the Gariep (Orange) River and eventually draining into the Atlantic Ocean on South Africa’s west coast.

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In KwaZulu-Natal the Drakensberg is also the international border between South Africa and Lesotho. The escarpment is known by the Basotho as ‘The Cliffs of Natal’ – we imagined herdsmen peering down on us from the top of the cliffs. Bulelani commented “You have made our dreams of seeing the Drakensberg come true.”

Moonlight & Main Caves

Late at night, the moon lit up the landscape. The star filled skies were absolutely astonishing.

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“Waking up to the flow of the river, with birds singing and mountains staring at you is amazing. This is a stunning and peaceful environment.” said Asanda the next morning. After breakfast we prepared a picnic lunch in anticipation of our visit to Giant’s Castle Reserve, as the autumn sun streamed in through the kitchen window.

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As we drove to the Reserve, waterfalls pouring down the hillsides around us provided the perfect opportunity to talk about the role of the Drakensberg and foothills as the ‘water factories’ of KZN. Intact grasslands are important for storing rainwater in wetlands or as ground water which is gradually released throughout the year. We discussed how important it is to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of 5 million people downstream. Other ecosystem services provided by these grasslands include pollination, soil production, flood amelioration, carbon storage, cultural and recreational amenities and support to subsistence livelihoods.

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We were in plenty of time for the next scheduled tour of the Rock Art at Main Caves, so savoured the views of the cliffs and the river, watched raptors swirling and kept our eyes peeled for eland and baboons.

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Here we really got the feeling of being close to the mountains.

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A bridge over a stream provided a perfect photo opportunity,

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a chance to have another dip amongst the rocks beneath the forest trees,

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and to spend time with a spectacular grasshopper.

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On the path to the Main Caves, there were overhangs to explore, huge rocks to scramble up, and flowers to admire like this daintly Stenoglottis fimbriata.

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Right up at the cliff edge, large chunks of sandstone had fallen creating an interesting landscape.

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In the caves, Mncedisi was our guide as thunder rolled above us – it felt as if the whole hillside vibrated with the sound.

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The display depicted life as it had been in the 19th Century. He explained how the Bushman had lived in small groups of about 15 individuals with two shamans (one to go hunting and another to stay with the home group). He described their trance dances and spiritual beliefs and had us all practicing clicks saying icici (ear ring) and ixoxo (frog).

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A simple display of the various artefacts found in the cave by archeological excavations showed that hunter gatherers lived here 5000 years ago. We gasped in horror to hear that British soldiers had shot at some of the paintings – the bullet holes were clearly visible.

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The earlier paintings depicted Eland, other antelope and a puffadder, later cows and horses featured as other tribes and groups arrived in the area. Implements like digging sticks and fire making stones offered us a glimpse of their lifestyle. They traded honey, game and ostrich eggshells and for metal and ceramic items, livestock, maize and tobacco with the early colonists and Black farmers. Nkulu was intrigued by the display and paintings – it was a highlight of the weekend for him. “I can’t wait to show my grandfather the pictures,” he said.

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The heavens opened and it poured with rain as we were about to leave the caves. So we asked plenty of questions and read all the information boards in the hope that it would stop. It didn’t. Bravely we set off back to the camp sloshing through torrents on the pathways and getting thoroughly drenched in the process. “I loved walking in the rain, splashing in the puddles, even though it was freezing!” laughed Philani.

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Baboons and Goodbye to the Bushman’s River

Back at the car park we were thrilled to come across a troop of baboons picking acorns from the oak trees and calmly crunching them very near to us. We watched them for ages.

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Chilled to the bone, we built a fire while we ate the picnic we had carried up the mountain and back. Bulelani thoroughly enjoyed all the meals, but this one right in the fireplace was most likely his favourite!

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We bid farewell to the mountains, the river and the charming cottage. Mzwandile said hopefully “I think  there will be another weekend just like this coming up soon.” Nkulu added “This is the trip that will NEVER be forgotten.” Sihle echoed everyone’s thoughts saying “We had a supercalifragolisticexpialidocious weekend!”

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Thank you to Gina and Chris Brown for the use of Snowflake and Christeen Grant for contributing her mountain knowledge, enthusiasm and love. These generous contributions enable us to stretch the N3TC funding for our Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme a whole lot further.

Photos in this compilation were taken by ALL participants in the excursion.

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Ice & Fire (and Mud)

Despite the cold, wet forecast for our wilderness weekend at Cobham, spirits were high as we trundled through the Midlands, crossing swollen rivers and passing small towns.  Lungisani commented: “I enjoyed the journey passing new features like rivers and dams and learning their special names.”

After claiming our beds in Pholela Hut at Cobham Nature Reserve, we headed down to the Pholela River in the mizzle. Rocks glistened blue-grey beneath the clouds.

Checking out the Pholela R CGrant

Before we had even crossed the suspension bridge there were cries of “Can we swim?” and six teenagers stripped and jumped right in!

boys swimming R

It was absolutely freezing, but sliding down the rocks, wallowing in the ‘jacuzzi’ and splashing in the pools proved to be too much fun to resist! “Ey, the water was cold. It was hard to breathe and I felt I was not really alive!” laughed Sanele when he got out.

swimming R

“I love the Pholela river with adorable rocks and clean fresh water.” said a grinning Nondumiso.  Christeen huddled under the bridge in her rain-suit keeping the towels dry for when the novelty wore off. It took a while.

Christeen rain suit R

Fortunately, hot showers awaited and after getting dry, we huddled around the fire, chatting about the uKahlamba World Heritage site, san rock art and life.

Reading Wood Ash Stars R CGrant

After supper, Nondumiso read us the enchanting San story “Wood Ash Stars” and we sang songs to keep us toasty.

singing around the fire R

The next morning dawned pretty gloomy too. The party sharing the hut decided to leave, but we stayed put, feasting on ‘happy eggs’ for breakfast donated by Highveld.

happy eggs R

We found an interesting insect on a breakfast banana and after searching through the Insect Book identified it as a Stonefly. Stoneflies occur only in areas where there is no pollution so are indicators of a healthy environment.

Stonefly on banana R  CGrant

We poured over a map of Cobham, imagining where we might walk if the weather improved.  Christeen showed everyone how to use a compass and we discussed how the Drakensberg landscape was formed.  “I learnt a lot. In actual fact, it was the addition of lessons at school – applying skills to reality. We learnt how to use a map, making sure the map is facing North using a compass.  Wildlife, Geology, Ecology and Biodiversity studies took place this weekend.” Said Lungisani enthusiastically absorbing every scrap of information.

mapping R

As soon as we spotted a break in the weather, we dressed up warmly and headed along the path beside the river.  Nondumiso commented (after observing the mix of nationalities in the party sharing the hut, no doubt) “It is important to take care of this beautiful environment because it attracts tourists.”

walking past leucosidea R

We splashed through so many puddles that by the time we reached the big pools in the river, we were drenched anyway. Swimming seemed like a sensible option.  With dry clothes safely stowed in a big orange plastic bag, everyone frolicked and froze.  The river was really high after all the rain.

swimming in deep pools R

Then it was a mad dash back to get warm over lunch around the bonfire in the boma.

afternoon tea. R

Food was all local, mostly organic and meals provided plenty of opportunity to talk about food miles, healthy living and taste new things. The delicious ‘sausages’ donated by Fry’s vegetarian foods, had everyone fooled into thinking they were eating animals. “I learnt that I mustn’t always eat meat, I must also eat veggies a lot.”  said Thabo tucking in, hungrily.

cooking and eating kebabs R CGrant

Despite getting to bed really, really late, when the sun rose on Sunday morning and lit up the snow-capped peaks we were all rearing to go.

wrapped up warm and off we go R

Yay! We can see the mountains! Good morning Mr Sunshine!

Yay! sunshine and snow R

We decided to hike along the second day of the famous Giant’s Cup Trail which we had seen on the map the day before. “I was a little scared to be in the wild, because I am not used to being alone in a place like that.” said Sanele, adding “I was so interested to learn why the Drakensberg is a World Heritage Site.”

SANELE spots something R

It had stopped raining but was still pretty cool. Brisk walking kept us warm.

sun came out R

We added rocks to the cairn markers and admired the view down the valley.

group with Christeen R

There were not many flowers in the grassland, except the occasional Dicoma anomala (below)

Dicoma R

We explored rock crevices and Lungisani was thrilled to find a Watsonia which he recognised from the SANBI CREW Bioblitz held last year in Nottingham Road.

Lungisani discovers a Watsonia R

Naledi carefully noted everything she observed “The best things for me were seeing the animals tracks (jackal and water mongoose) baboons and indigenous plants like Leucosidea serica and protea.  I learnt a lot about nature.”

Naledi taking notes R

We saw eland and baboons across the river and then a troop of baboons on the rocks above us too.  “I enjoyed hiking because we saw animals and I love animals.” commented Thabo who was fortunate to take up the place of someone who fell ill at the last minute. “Thank you for letting me go with you guys even though I am new”  he said.

colourful grasshopper R

To make the most of the break in the weather, we settled down out of sight of one another for a period of quiet.  This was a highlight for all of us.

alone with nature R

Naledi said “You know, a person needs some quiet time. It felt good listening to the sound of nature and the river flowing.  I observed that there were clouds covering the mountain and they were rising. Watching them rise was the best part.”

“During quiet time, I felt peace, love and the presence of the Nature. I just couldn’t resist it, the love of nature grew more inside me. Now I’m in love with Nature.” added Nondumiso

Quiet time R JPG

We decided to be quiet all the way home and savour the majesty of the mountains surrounding us.

walking through grassland R

After a short detour to admire Merxmuellera, the beautiful tufted grass found along Drakensberg streams, and one last swim as the weather closed in,  we had to head home.

Merxmuellera lined stream R JPG

The road had been slippery on the way in and we were unsure how easy it would be to get back to Himeville.  We managed fine until the road was narrowed by a stuck milk truck and we slid into the slush.  Shoes off and out we got to push!

stuck in the mud R

Later someone quipped “you know you are having an adventure when you wish you were home with a cup of tea!”

mudddy feet R

On the trip home, Nokukhanya summed up her experience: “I saw snow, mountains, rocks and rivers. I enjoyed eating vegetables, swimming and staying up late at night by the fire. Being with you is full of joy and we learnt a lot, not only about the environment but also how to treat others when working as a team.   I am speechless, I don’t know what to say or what to do to show you the way I feel about this trip. God bless you until a new generation comes and has your hands and love that you have given us.”

Even her mum, Bonisiwe Zondi, was excited saying afterwards “Nokukhanya has told me about each and every thing that happened at Cobham. She says she didn’t even miss me because she was having such a good time. She is trying to make us all live a sustainable life and I am so impressed.”

“I felt like I was in a new planet, not the ordinary one because of the beauty. I really loved that time and I wish I could be there for much of my existence – in a place where nature is the priority. It is the best , peaceful place.” concluded Lungisani

Thank you N3TC for your continued contribution to enriching the lives of communities on the N3 Route. “They really help us a lot.” said one of the kids after recognising the N3TC logo on the latest edition of N3 Heroes. 

morning snow R CGrant