There’s a lovely old sandstone farmhouse in the Lotheni Valley, one of the Drakensberg / uKhahlamba’s beautiful valleys. We had some great adventures with good friends and our kids up there.
As an adult retreat it’s our idea of paradise: no electricity, no cellphone reception, no wifi. Peace. Plenty of hot water, a gas stove to cook and boil water on, candlelight, a lovely fireplace, cozy inside. Luxury. Long-suffering friends the Adlams, Taylors and Abercrombies, all blissfully child-free, would tolerate the disruption our two – who were aged from about one to about thirteen over the ten years we went there – could cause. I think they loved it! I know they loved the brats and were very kind to them.
A great spot for fishing, birding, botanising or sitting with a G&T and gazing into the distance . .
Adventure in Yellowwood Cave
It had been years since I’d slept out in the ‘Berg and I was pleased when Gayle and Grant readily agreed to spend a night in a cave in 2011. Aitch was feeling a bit weak, so decided to stay in the comfort of the cottage. It was May already, so getting a bit chilly.
Settling down for the night on the hard floor of the cave I gazed out through the yellowwood tree branches at the night sky, ablaze with a million stars. I was just thinking ‘It’s been too long, this is the life! I’m in paradise!’ when a small voice piped up next to my ear, ‘Daddy I don’t like it here.’ Oh, well, she may not repeat the exercise, but I doubt she’ll ever forget it. Jessie lay on my one side. Tom on the other side in a double sleeping bag we shared. At least they were warm.
Getting Bolder on Bikes
Fun with Aitch
Once Ma took the kids off up the mountain trail, to give the fishing and reading adults ‘a piece of quiet,’ as TomTom used to say for peace and quiet.
Another Piece of Quiet
We snuck the kids off to have breakfast one morning in the kombi soon after they woke, to allow the adults to sleep in. Good birding opportunity, too.
Go to bed early and be up early guys! That’s Tom, Ryan and Ziggy. They want to go fishing in Kelso on the rocks in front of Tom’s happy childhood haunt Happy Wanderers.
So they get to bed at 2am and I have to roust them at 5:45am. C’mon, move! We drive off at 6:20am and get there in an hour. They go fishin’ and I go for a peaceful breakfast in Scottburgh, then birding and butterflying. No pictures, though, nothing would sit still. Luckily Ziggy took pickishas of them . .
They even catch. Shad and an eel. The eel gets released, but two shad are brought home against my wishes. Too late, by the time they get back to me they’re dead. But Dad, they’re legal and we want to have them for lunch!
I take them a mid-morning snack which is accepted with huge cries of welcome and relief like they were dying of thirst and starving. I have to interrupt Tom and tell him to write a book about the tough time he had in The Struggle!
More surprises: At the end they go for a swim in the waves and even Tom goes in! Amazing. Tom got wet in the sea! – and he wore shorts! ex Africa semper aliquid novi ! On the way home they’re bubbling over with excitement and chuffedness and tall tales and heroics and what-they-would-have-done stories.
We’re talking so crazily and over each other and laughing and shouting that I don’t see the cop till he jumps right in front of me and flags me down! Yes, YOU, he indicates. It didn’t feel like I was going fast, but I spose it never does.
I pull over in front of a big truck they have also flagged down and haul out my licence and wait. They’re all over the truck, write him a ticket and walk back to their camera. The truck pulls out past us and the passenger shouts to us in isiZulu: ‘They pulled you over for nothing! Go!’
So we go.
As I write there’s a happy fish braai happening outside my office window. Watch the chefs perform for the camera!
Later: The fresh shad was succulent and delicious! Ziggy is a qualified chef and she seasoned it to perfection! I told the fellas to take notes . .
Back at Kelso, while waiting for the fisherfolk, I lurked in the coastal bush shade.
A few days before, Ryan’s Dad Andy had taken them to Durban harbour, where they caught a tiny little smelt:
The bass in Inanda Dam had not been unduly troubled by Tom and Ryan’s kayak-based onslaught some time ago. In Albert Falls Dam they also needn’t have worried. This time Tom and Ryan attacked them from the shore. But the bass were safe again.
The old lake was called Peattie’s Lake. The dam wall was just above Albert Falls. Then they built a bigger dam which drowned the old dam wall and the falls. Pity.
Those falls are drowned somewhere under this:
The frying pan wasn’t needed. Luckily I had bought some meat to cook.
Early Sunday morning I roust the lil bastids. C’mon, Up! Let’s go. Off to Inanda Dam where they’re going to slay the bass. Tom, Jose & Ryan. 45yrs of trouble on six legs and, according to them, fishermen of note.
We hire two canoes from Msinsi and off they go. “See you in about two hours, Dad!” shouts Tom as they wobble off.
I chill and watch the terrific birdlife. Wrynecks, woodpeckers, waxbills, prinias, canaries, sunbirds, geese, a fish eagle, herons, neddicky, bush shrikes, etc.
Six hours later a weary and sunburnt crew return. They had flattened the eats and drinks I packed and it’s lucky I did: No fish were harmed in the filming of this movie (none were even disturbed).
Lugging the boats back to the boathouse (with much help from Dad) they unanimously decide they would not be doing the Dusi anytime soon.
Dusi – The Dusi Canoe Marathon, 120km 3-day river race from Maritzburg to Durban passes by this point on the Umgeni river.
The first time: He found a bamboo with a line tied on the end at Kelso beach when visiting the Harveys, Margaret and Bryce. This rustic contraption immediately sparked his interest. A fascination started that has endured.
When Trish’s Dad Gompa Neil found out, he gave Tom two big surf rods as he had decided to give up fishing. We took them along to Cape Vidal and three year-old TomTom waved them around like fly rods in the surf. The fish were quite safe, there wasn’t time for them to grab hold of the hook!
Some of the other times:
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Tom found a fishing rod – Uh Oh!!!
fishing at coffee bay
Look Ma! We both caught a fish!
One of these okes is a fisherman
Hurry up, gillie. I got fishin’ to do . . .
Can’t catch with my rod – let’s go after them with my hands!
fishing at coffee bay
His first competition
Happy as a pig in dirt
Michael & Tom show off their catches
Tom catches his first sea fish!! A monster blacktail that put up a fierce fight
Gail & Sean Robinson invited us along to join them and friends Len and Ann on their Salt Rock getaway. Brave souls! They probly thought “Let’s ask Pete, Jess and Tom”. They got Pete, Jess, Tom, Lungelo, Ryan and Andile!!
Luckily the boys slotted in smoothly, eating, sleeping and fishing like Vaalies-by-die-see. And even getting a bit of exercise walking to Tiffany’s centre a few km’s away when they ran out of bait.
The girls did much the same except for the exercise and fishing parts. They did swim, and they rescued tiny toadlets from the pool – so the birds could eat them.
Whatta lovely weekend, with the weather doing all its things: Rain, wind, sun, quiet and cool. Everything but hot. Wonderful.
I walked to Chaka’s Rock a kilometre or so South where we had enjoyed our first by-die-see as Vrystaters in 1963! It has changed somewhat!
This time in winter. Tom loved it. Caught many small blacktail, karanteen, bronze bream, one shad and stayed on the rocks for hours. I had to fetch him and march him to the showers threatening not to feed him till he smelt civilised.
Jess and friend Jordi lay in their tent and watched videos. Could just as well have been at home. Then she asked to go home a day early, after four nights instead of five. Tom said fine so we got home today instead of tomorrow. Suits me.
When we got there Monday I found I had only forgotten the tent poles, the flysheet, the groundsheet, the kettle and the food, but otherwise we were Be Prepared. Like Boy Scouts.
So we ate at the restaurant, the girls slept in the back of the bakkie, Tom slept on the front seat and I slept under the stars. It rained, but I was warm despite my ear filling up. Tuesday I went home and fetched the above-mentioned and we were snug as bugs thereafter.
Get the kids to put together a check list for next camping trip while the discomfort is still fresh in their memories…. Tape it to the inside of the bakkie. And put them in charge of “equipment”
Just joking. my two would just roll their eyes…
(They both arrived last night on a flight from Auckland)
Ending the trip a day earlier – sounds familiar.
I think it happens when the home comforts beckon
Specially that new bathroom.
Thats so funny ! We forgot our tentpoles too once and had to crash on some poor chalets carpet as it was 4 hours from home . All five of us . very embarressing . But you beat me here ! Nice fishing Tom , Leo would be so jealous . Those two must fish together one day . And you know , kids , there is dad – killing himself and sleeping in the rain and they wanna watch videos and go home early . I can picture mine saying that too . Id force them all to stay and we d pull faces at each other for 2 days . You re much wiser . We had this grim holiday in Port Alfred once where it rained nonstop and was freezing . Jacques got flu and depression and stayed in bed . I tortured the kids for a week until Jacques persuaded me to give up and go home . He drove back so fast and only stopped once for a sandwich – no peeing allowed . You win some , you lose some .
Two avid fishermen, Lungelo and me went down to the sea. Or to the Umtamvuna River at The Old Pont. Lungelo and I were not the avid ones. That was Tommy and Ryan, passionate, persevering pêcheurs.
Fishermen in blue.
Luxury accommodation on the banks of the Umtamvuna.
Besides the river fishing I also took them to the rocks near the Port Edward lighthouse.
Lovely sunsets and one rain squall – with the boys’ tent left wide open, so the second night they had a bit of a damp night. The fishermen latched on to many, many fish, most of them BIG and desirable (yeah, right!). But they landed far fewer – and smaller – ones. Crabs plundering their bait gave them hours of amusement. All but one fish (used for bait) survived their endeavours I’m pleased to say (pathetic bunny-hugger that I am. Or is that guppy-hugger?).
Jess and her two mates giggled away the weekend looking for big beasts. Elephants was what they were after, but they stayed in hiding. Eventually we were placing bets on seeing elephant poo! not even the whole animal! Still no luck. We saw lots of rhino and a a few buffalo instead. Plenty antelope and lots & lots of birds. Beautiful.
Evenings they watched movies while I read Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything (again!) and listened to the nightjar.
Mkhuze is very dry, so all the animals from miles around crowd the waterhole. Mudhole, really – very little water. Amazing that just a few miles away at Nsumo Pan there is miles of shoreline and clear blue water, but we saw very few animals there. Just hippos.
Dunno if it was this visit or another, but in walking around the camp I saw the bluest bird I’d ever seen – and it was a Black Cuckooshrike! I would have confidently asserted to you that Black Cuckooshrikes are black. Well, usually, but have a good look in bright sunlight:
Tom back in civilization had a ball too. His weekend was very different to ours: beach, shopping mall, KFC, two movies, a home in Durban North with dogs and pet pythons. Plus he was given three shad his host had caught. He brought them home, scaled them, filleted them and fried them with fresh-cut potato chips. Delicious! Quite the chef, my Tom!
In 2008 we took ourselves up to Mabibi. Lovely snorkelling spot on the Zululand coast. Aitch had just finished her chemo and this is what she chose as her “what would you like to do now?” With best friends Jon & Dizzi.
We luxuriated in the lodge and went for a daily snorkel in the reef at the point nearby. Lolling around the shallow reef checking out flocks of fish of all shapes n sizes one day, Aitch suddenly rose up and leapt about shrieking something about a sore earlobe. Luckily the water was only thigh deep so she could wade shorewards shouting ouch! and eina!
Six year-old TomTom had seen the fish, got out and rushed off to fetch his tackle. Getting back he had cast in where he’d seen the pansizers, and caught his Ma!!
We took the trailer and found a lovely campsite and settled in.
Tom was a mad keen fisherman and Jess loved the waves. Blissful. Peaceful. Tom had his first real fishing rod – a huge surf rod given to him by Trish’s Dad Gompa Neil. Jess was mad keen on gymnastics and swimming back then. Game drives were not as exciting – let’s go back to the beach! – but when I let them drive the kombi they were thrilled again. Such an easy-to-please stage of their lives!
While the gillie unties knots and baits up, the fisherman dreams of big catches: C’mon gillie, move it up already!
When we got back to camp from the beach fings had changed: The Boksburg and Benoni Fishing and Hengel Club had moved in with their V8 4X4’s, their caravans, tents and boats with twin Many-hp Yamaha oitboard engines, and surrounded us! There goes the neighbourhood, we thought. Huge tents and gazebos and afdaks and windscreens, caravans and trailers had sprung up, complete with large braais, TV satellite dishes and you-name-it!
Lovely people. We soon struck up a conversation with our nearest neighbour. The Boksburg and Benoni Fishing and Hengel Club had been coming to Vidal for their annual By-Die-See excursion for decades. The Highlight of Our Year, he told us. That night there was revelry and much smoke and brandy, but not too late – they planned an early start the next day to get their boats out to sea to fill their hatches and deep freezes. Serious fishermen, these.
Things settled and the night went quiet a while; then a big storm sprang up. A real gale. Soon the wind was howling through the trees and our trailer-top tent was rocking. I climbed down that treacherous ladder to check all was secured. Soon afterwards I heard an almighty crack and the sound of something heavy falling and striking a tent pole. Uh! Oh! I thought and listened to the voices in the dark all around us, barely audible above the howling gale.
Soon a few engines were started and I thought “Here we go, they’re revving up their 4X4’s and the boat motors ready for a first-light departure”. Then a chainsaw started snarling and I thought “Give it a break, guys! Wait till morning!” but it carried on! Mayhem!
At last there was quiet. Next morning I hailed our neighbour: “Hey! Did you survive the storm?” He came scurrying over and in a hushed voice said “Yes, but Joan didn’t!”
Turns out a massive branch had fallen on top of one of their friends sleeping in a tent, missing her husband by inches. Durban friends of ours camping nearby went to assist, as the lady was a vet. She had to give them the sad news that Joan’s chest was crushed, she had no chance and had died instantly. The police arrived, then a mortuary van. The whole gang from the Boksburg and Benoni Fishing and Hengel Club, tight-knit friends as they were, packed up and left to accompany Joan’s husband home, the adventure over before it had really started.
We had a look at the branch: Now in pieces, it had been over 3m long and over 50cm in diameter and had fallen from about 10m up. What a bummer.
We’ve always looked for the biggest, shadiest trees to camp under. Now we do a more careful assessment of where exactly to position ourselves.