Tag Archives: river walk

Catchment to Confluence Complete

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The excitement was brewing as the team were heading to the start of the final leg of the journey along the Karkloof river. This would involve walking the section from below the Karkloof Falls to the confluence where the Karkloof meets the uMngeni River.

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Aerial view of the Karkloof Falls

This entire stretch traverses through the Karkloof Safari Spa property, which is an upmarket private game reserve, lodge and spa with restricted access. This day was set to be a little different from the rest, as we were missing half our team (Ndu and Ayanda), however, we were fortunate to be joined by Jenna Taylor of GroundTruth and Dr. Hans Grobler who is the specialist environmental and wildlife conservation advisor to Mr Worner (the landowner).

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From left: Jenna Taylor, Dr Hans Grobler and Sue Viljoen.

The highlight of the day was reaching the base of the Karkloof falls (normally only seen from above) via a winding wooden boardwalk built by the Karkloof Spa.

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The boardwalk that leads to the base of the Karkloof falls

The team enjoyed the lush mistbelt forest with the many flora treasures within, expansive cliffs that tell an incredible geological story, and the damp spray of the waterfall with misty clouds rising above the falls.

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The magnificent Karkloof Falls

In this sacred place where time stands still, and one gets to just soak up the majesty and beauty of one of nature’s natural wonders, no one would guess that we were just 30 minutes from civilisation and the town of Howick.

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A team selfie at the base of the Karkloof Falls, which is the starting point for the final leg of our journey.  From left: Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Jenna Taylor (GroundTruth) and Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Although the team could have stayed at these magnificent falls all day, they knew they had a journey to complete. Once back out of the forested boardwalk section, the valley opened up into savannah with thorn trees and grassland, with a wealth of indigenous species tracking the river’s course through the reserve.

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Dierama sp.

A Buffalo stood watching us quietly from behind a large rock at the river. For at least 8km, the Karkloof’s last stretch before the confluence enjoys natural habitats all along its path, which gives the river an opportunity to heal itself of any impacts experienced higher up in the catchment. Water clarity noticeably improved as well as the levels of dissolved oxygen due to the regular riffles, rapids, and general fast flow of this section.

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Fast flowing river through a natural area.

It is interesting to note that Lantana camara was absent along the entire stretch of river from the source to the falls, but was prolific throughout the last day’s journey. We could see that work was being done to combat this invasive alien plant, as well as many others.

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Dr Grobler taking the water clarity reading at the weir for us. The clarity test tube is a brilliant citizen science tool which can be purchased through GroundTruth.

While taking water sample readings near the confluence, a young Spotted-necked Otter peeked its head out of the water with curiosity to see what we were doing. Spotted-necked Otters require clean, good quality water with clear visibility in order to catch fish. It was an encouraging sign to have this sighting at the end of our journey and certainly a highlight for the team.

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Spotted-necked Otter just above the confluence at the end of our 64km journey,

The team were amused to see that hippo also rely on the Karkloof River as home. Have you ever seen a hippo in a natural flowing river in the KZN midlands? A rare sight indeed. We were also treated to sightings of Eland, Giraffe, Zebra, Bushbuck, Warthog and many more game species.

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Hippo enjoying the tranquility of the Karkloof Safari Spa

The river walkers were indeed extremely privileged to have experienced the wildlife and scenery at the Karkloof Safari Spa and are very grateful for being afforded access in order to complete the journey and collect the necessary data along the full stretch of the river.

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Identifying water invertebrates to obtain a miniSASS score

Very soon after the confluence where the Karkloof river joins onto the uMngeni, we could see the quick deterioration of water quality and the first signs of invasive water weeds on the uMngeni river at Morton’s Drift. Fortunately the Karkloof River is free of aquatic invasive weeds, and will hopefully remain that way.

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Mortons Drift. Just below the confluence on the uMngeni River.

The team celebrated the end of the 6 day Karkloof River walk from Catchment to Confluence with sundowners at the top of the Karkloof Falls at the Sappi picnic site, joined by members of the Karkloof Conservancy and WWF staff. A toast was made to the river walk accomplishment and conquering the 64km journey through hill and vale, rain and shine.

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Cheers! To a successful journey.

There is keen interest to see the official results of the river health sampling and the video that is being made of the C2C Karkloof River Walk journey, sponsored by Woolworths. Both of these will be shared at an upcoming Karkloof Conservancy event to be announced.

A huge note of thanks to all the sponsors and partners that have contributed in both cash and kind towards this project, and to the landowners who so willingly allowed access to their properties.

So which river is next? And who else is going to raise their hand to get to know the river in their own catchment?

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Great to see the Goble family at the end of our journey. The support from landowners has been fantastic. We look forward to sharing the results with them. From left: Ros Lindley, Fuzz Goble and his mum, Carolyn Goble.

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Finally the Falls!

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On Day 5 of the Catchment to Confluence Karkloof River Walk the team was thrilled to be joined by 2 fresh pairs of legs, Mbuso Khambule (new SAPPI Environmental Officer) and Mondli Goba (SAPPI Communications Officer), just in time to pass through some of the SAPPI Shafton plantation areas on the Karkloof floodplain.

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Team setting off. From Left: Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger), Mondli Goba (Sappi), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth) and the photographer behind the camera is Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Our destination for the day was the Karkloof Falls, starting at the pumphouse on Gartmore farm, which as the crow flies did not seem all that far. But we now knew by experience that following the meanders of a river over rough terrain or tall vegetation where there is no path is not likely to be a walk in the park.

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Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA) pushing through the tall vegetation in the wetland

As we pushed through the wetland, we stopped to gaze at the distant Karkloof mountains, home to the river’s source where we had come from 5 days earlier, feeling pleased with the distance we had conquered so far.

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The team felt a sense of pride as we gazed upon the distant mountain

We were excited to see 2 Grey Crowned Cranes fly over us, with their characteristic “mahem” call, en route to one of the bird hides at the Karkloof Conservation Centre. What would Karkloof be without its treasured cranes? We had been treated to sightings of a number of cranes on the previous days as well. In total 11 Grey Crowned Cranes were seen and 4 Wattled Cranes. And it was only fitting that most of these cranes were spotted on farms belonging to “Crane Custodians”.

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Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy) excited to see these custodianship signs.

Custodians are landowners who are formally recognised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for their voluntary contribution to the conservation of threatened species on their farms, such as crane, oribi or blue swallows. (Download “Guidelines for Custodianship in SA” here)

By tea time, we had traversed the Shafton wetland and reached the Karkloof River bridge which crosses over the road to Cramond.

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Karkloof River bridge along the Cramond road. From left: Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA), Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Mondli Goba (Sappi)

Mbuso reminded us of the extent of SAPPI plantations that had been removed from the Shafton wetland a number of years ago and allowed to rehabilitate back to natural vegetation – some 186 ha were not replanted due to the existence of this important wetland system.

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Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

The next section of the river was slow moving, noticeably poorer in water quality and showed signs of being at the bottom of the valley’s catchment area, which ultimately receives all the nutrient rich runoff from the various activities along the way. The water colour had changed to a more murky greenish colour, there was a type of sludge on the rocks, in some quieter corners, traces of foam was seen on the surface and the sewage weed could be seen in many places along the river’s edge.

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At the first set of large, impressive rocks above the falls, we did a Mini-SASS test, which showed the water was “critically modified”, confirming our impressions that the river’s quality was now compromised. At this site, a dead bushbuck was found between the large rocks, leaving us wondering what happened here. It looks like it lost its footing while trying to have a drink.

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Doing a miniSASS before heading off on the last section to the Karkloof Falls

The condition of riverine buffer along this last stretch was also compromised due to high levels of alien invasive vegetation (such as the big clump of bamboo shown below, poplar saplings, elderflower and all the other commonly seen invasives we had seen higher up in the catchment). Pastures were unfortunately established very close to the river, and therefore without a wide section of natural vegetation to act as buffer and filter for the runoff, the river is all the more impacted.

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A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

Having followed every twist and turn of the river now for 5 days, we felt a certain sadness at the deterioration of the river’s health. However, the sight of the picnic site for the Karkloof falls picked up our spirits. Destination at last! Hooray for being able to pull off our boots and take a break in the shade! Here we were spoilt with orange ice-lollies by our videographer, Jayne Symes, who is putting a video clip together of the river walk. What a welcome gift! Thank you Jane!

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Jane Symes (Black & White Studios) was our hero that day. These ice cold treats were welcomed after a day of scorching heat and little shade.

While catching our breath over lunch, we chatted at length about the problem of litter at a public picnic site like this, and how increasingly popular the Karkloof Falls had become. Would new signage saying “litter free zone” and removing the dustbins help to change people’s behaviour so that all rubbish is taken away by visitors?

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Karkloof Falls picnic site along the river could be the perfect setting for a litter free zone

There was just 1 section left to walk down to the actual Karkloof falls viewing point and lower picnic site, our end point for the day. We said “bye for now” to the river, with the very last leg of the river’s journey to be continued the following Thursday, 6th April. A team photo in front of the falls was a fitting way to exclaim “WE MADE IT!”.

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We made it! The Karkloof River Walk team have reached the Karkloof falls

A Winding Watercourse

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After difficult and long days, Day 4 promised to be less strenuous as the team were now truly in the Karkloof floodplain, where the terrain was more open and the river starts its characteristic meanders.

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With Sue Viljoen (WWF) unable to join us for day 4, Simon Bruton of GroundTruth stepped in as a substitute for the day.

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Day 4’s river walk team. From left: Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Simon Bruton (GroundTruth), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), and Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger)

Given the open terrain, by tea time we could see in the far distance the start of a line of trees, the end of which marked our finish point for the day. However, we knew there was still much walking ahead, given the many meanders, oxbow lakes and fences we would still need to navigate.

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On the floodplain cattle became a common sight, along with some of the impacts and risks they can introduce in proximity to watercourses. Eroded cattle crossings, drinking and feeding points (with associated cattle dung and trampling) contributed to water which showed gradual but increasing visual signs of change such as cloudiness, froth and abundant growth of nuisance vegetation, possibly thriving on an increased nutrient load. It will be interesting to see if the laboratory water quality analysis sponsored by Talbot & Talbot confirm the visual observations.

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Sewerage plant along with other signs of deteriorating water quality

Days 3 and 4 were the days of fence crossings. Given the fatigue setting in, humour was found in the different ways each of us may tackle a fence in the least strenuous manner, given our different loads and skills. Some would prefer to vault over and leave pack and kit intact, while others would disrobe all kit, squeeze through and kit up again.

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Ayanda negotiating yet another fence

Given the many meanders and fences, a tree trunk footbridge was a welcome but tricky crossing to negotiate.

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Negotiating the log bridge

Twané showing the muscle required of a river walker.

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After lunch we made a poor call on which side of the river to take, ultimately resulting in the need for a detour around a large mosaic of impenetrable wetland vegetation, which separated us from the river for some distance. Once re-united, water quality samples were again collected.

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At the tar road bridge over the Karkloof River, illegal and irresponsible dumping of waste tar material into the river was noted, posing a significant constriction to flow, and perhaps even affecting flood risk to the bridge, with one of the two culverts effectively barricaded.

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Waste tar material dumped off the Karkloof tar road bridge, introducing river impacts and potential flood risk

In the early afternoon Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea, was again found for the first time since the headwater sections. Numerous alien plants still made their presence felt (particularly bramble and bugweed), but not in the same densities that had been experienced on day 3. Having said that, some large isolated patches of bramble required some cautious retreat and detour.

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Nduduzo taking a water clarity reading at one of the last water quality sites of the day.

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As dusk approached and each camp fence was crossed, the team were joined by relays of inquisitive river walkers who call this beautiful area home.

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Source Seeking and Catchment Clambering

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Clamber (verb): to climb or move in an awkward and laborious manner, typically using both hands and feet.

This sums Day 1 up quite adequately, especially whilst we were trying to find the source of the Karkloof River! The source proved to be well hidden within a thicket of Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea, mixed with some other indigenous shrubs and trees such as the Nana-berry, Searsia dentata, and a few ferns and creepers.

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The river walk team at the source of the Karkloof river

The river walkers were ready to start their intrepid journey of the first 10.6km of the Karkloof River at 7am, with a light misty drizzle – typical of the Midlands mistbelt. Our team comprised of Twané Clarke of the Karkloof Conservancy, Ayanda Lipheyana from GroundTruth who do routine water quality monitoring for the Karkloof Irrigation Board, Sue Viljoen of WWF-SA who have been working on a number of Water Stewardship initiatives in the Umngeni catchment, and Nduduzo Khoza an Eco-Ranger for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

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Off we go… From left: Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA); Nduduzo Khoza (EWT); Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth); and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy)

The team followed the stream until they reached a sight with sufficient water to begin the first set of water quality sampling techniques. These methods will be repeated down the length of the Karkloof river to build up a better picture of the river’s current status quo.

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MiniSASS – identifying the invertebrates to determine river health

Tests included a miniSASS (using aquatic invertebrates to determine river condition), a Riparian Health Audit (RHA) and taking water quality readings such as pH, clarity, dissolved oxygen and temperature. All results have been captured on smart devices using a new app called GeoODK, which GroundTruth have customised for river monitoring purposes.

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Testing the clarity of the water

Most miniSASS tests indicated good condition, with one site boasting near natural conditions. The highlight of the day was finding an elusive Stonefly at this site which is known to be the most sensitive invertebrate to river impacts.

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Yes folks, that little insect made our day!

The site that only had a fair condition was possibly indicating the impact of erosion, invasive alien vegetation and log jamming.

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An example of log jamming. Removing these obstacles in the river will make a world of difference.

We were all fascinated by the abundance of Ouhout growing  along drainage lines, gullies and riverine areas. We’re particularly interested to find out from the locals about the history of this area and whether these trees have always been here or if it has gotten denser through the years – ideas welcome.

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Overall, we were quite surprised by the extent of the impacts so soon in the river’s journey. Wattle, Bramble and Blackjack are prevalent and will require large scale and carefully planned clearing, with assistance of other organisations, if the vision of an alien free Karkloof river is ever to be realised.

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We were also treated to some of the most beautiful scenery,

Panoramic view

unique flowers,

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spoor of what we suspect to be a Brown Hyaena that we followed for a while,

Hyaena spoor

and lots of frogs.

Ndu Kisses a frog

As the sun began to set over the picturesque hills, we realised we were chasing the clock to reach our final point before dark. The flying ants glistened in the dusky light and the temperatures began to drop.

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The team finally reached the end at 6:30 pm where we were warmly greeted by Charlie MacGillivray who is both a landowner and the Chairman of the Karkloof Conservancy. Let’s hope Day 2’s stretch of the Karkloof river is kinder to us.

Our sincere thanks to all landowners who gave us permission to walk on their properties today. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring your part of the Karkloof which set the tone for the rest of the journey.