When I arrived at the office one Monday, Tanya told me that she had let the Karkloof Conservancy know that I would assist them with a river walk in two weeks’ time. My immediate thought was that this was a walk to the river for monitoring, perhaps for 3 hours. As a result, my response to her was a big SURE. With a smile, she added that it was a source to confluence walk that would take 5 days and cover about 65 kilometers….. OK – now this is real I said to myself! She then asked me if I would be ok with that. Not sure if I should be happy or sad, I kept quiet for a few seconds. I then started visualizing all the possible activities that might happen and all the cool stuff we might see; the most interesting one for me was going to be actually seeing exactly where the river started. Then something said to me, “why not, this is a lifetime opportunity”, I started smiling again and said “yes” to Tanya, “I’m ok I’m looking forward to it.”
After that conversation with Tanya, there was a countdown happening in my mind. There was this short movie playing on my mind about the whole river walk and each day I would wake up with more excitement. I started posting on my facebook about it and noted how I was so looking forward to it.
As the days were passing I was feeling it, I was ready for it. On 25 March around 1 pm, I made my way to Howick to meet half of the team that was taking part on a river walk. In addition, there was Tanya with Twane from Karkloof Conservancy and Ayanda from Ground Truth. I realized this was really happening! We loaded our equipment and left for our accommodation, a farmer’s old stable that had been converted into accommodation. To our surprise, we met the farmer immediately and started telling him about the walk. He was very interested, but did express his wonder around whether we would still have the same energy and excitement after the first day
On 26 March, we woke up at 4 am to bath, pack our lunch and get ready for the day. The Chairman of the Karkloof Conservation was picking us up at 5 30 am. I cannot explain the feeling when he dropped us at our first point for our first day and he said, “Ok kids you go play, I will see you later”. I said right “we are here”, and they all laughed at me. The weather was not in our favor; it was drizzling. We therefore walked down the valley to find the river and walked upwards to find the river source. As we were making our way down, getting closer to the river, I realized there was no water actually in the river, just a structure that shows where the river is. The one component that makes it a river was missing in fact the main reason for our river walk WATER. Twane took out her GPS to see if are we at the right place and, yes, we were at the right place but there was no water – I was frustrated.
I started noticing changes in the vegetation 100 meters above us – the grass was different and the slope was starting to elevate. I said to them that if this was the source than we must find water that makes the Karkloof River. We walked up to see what was happening, and as we got closer, we heard the sound of water. Sue from WWF said, “Can you guys hear that?” We were all curious to find water and we rushed up the hill. When we got to a point where we were hoping to see water, we found nothing but small green ouhout trees growing. With sadness again, we realized that there was no water and that time was running out, as we needed to walk 10 kilometers per day. We therefore decided to walk downwards. In about 250 meters, and to our surprise, there was water rising from underground. The look on Twane’s face as she hugged all of us was amazing, and she nearly cried. It was so emotional to see how all of us were so excited, and to realise the importance of this.
The water was crystal clear and we started our monitoring: we tested for temperature, turbidity, total dissolved solids, alkaline and conducted the MiniSaSS and River Health Assessment. As we moved down the river, the amount of water was increasing and we noticed tributaries joining the main river. We crossed through some tight fences and went through fields of black jack; it was fun building crossing points using old wattle logs.
It was interesting to see changes in land use and also in water and the river structure as we moved down. We continued to do monitoring along the river for the next 5 days and 65 kilometers. During the course of the week, we were joined by The KZN Regional Environmental Manager from SAPPI and also by the Public Relations Officer from SAPPI.
Each day was filled with excitement and that sense of wonder around what bad and good things we were going to see during the day. Most of the time, we relied on printed maps and it was interesting to see land marks on the map and use them to navigate our way in thick bushes and wetland reeds.
All in all, I felt that what we did was not only fun but was so important for all the people who are using that river for different purposes and were able to find any major issues that people were not aware of. We were able to understand the river system from the source to the confluence. Witnessing the wonderful healing that the river system and wetlands can undergo and seeing those results was amazing.
After we finished the walk, the excitement I had when we started was still there! The difference was that it was more than when we started and I felt that I had archived a huge goal in 2017 within the conservation sector and was proud of myself for participating in such a wonderful activity. I was proud of us as a team and for the ICF/EWT Partnership for providing me with such opportunities.
Article by Nduduzo Khoza