Starting at the source of the mighty Tugela river in the Drakensberg, and following the river to its’ outlet into the Indian Ocean, might sound to some of us like a fairly easy paddle downhill letting the water carry us to our destination. However nothing could be further from the truth, as a team of eleven post-matric students (or POSTIES as they are affectionately called) and their support team realized a few days into the event.
The post-matric program, is in essence a gap year based at Treverton College in the beautiful and scenic KwaZulu Natal midlands, where young adults that have completed their matric, have the opportunity of spending a year learning essential life skills, and at the same time having a ball.
Mountain biking, sailing, canoeing, white water rafting, scuba, parachuting and horse riding are but a few of the highlights of this program, and combined with a focus on community education and environmental awareness, gives these young individuals, a year that they will never forget.
The 2009 ‘Posties’ decided on the Tugela Project, both as an extreme adventure, but also as importantly, a mechanism of educating school children and teachers along the route of the vital importance of water to us all in South Africa, and taking water samples at various places along the route for research purposes. Hence the projects name of “Water- Wise”.
The plan was to navigate the entire route essentially on canoes and crocs (Inflatables), and on mountain bikes where the river was not an option. Water levels on the Tugela turned out to be a lot lower than expected, which in turn resulted in more cycling having to be done.
This of course meant that all of the carefully planning went out the window – no longer were we always able to reach our overnight destination and yet on some days we were able to proceed further than expected. So for the support team of four people and four vehicles (three with trailers), the challenges continuously mounted. Always attempting to find a path down to the river to keep an eye on those in the water, watching them go past and then searching for the next access point became a huge challenge, and in fact on a couple of evenings, the team on the water had to beach due to lack of light, and as a support team we had no idea where they were, or how to get to them.
Using the emergency siren and lights on the top of our medical Land Rover Discovery, the team were able to get an approximate bearing on us, walk to high ground, and by flashing a torch were able to give us their position.
Twelve exhausted and extremely cold paddlers were soon huddled around a fire whilst we organized transport to a farm in the area, the owners of which had very kindly opened up their house to the team.
Another evening was spent camped in tents in a cattle kraal on a property near Jamesons Drift that belongs to the family of Johny Cleggs dancer – Sipho Mnchunu, and one has to comment on their amazing hospitality to the team – an experience none of us will forget easily..
All in all, the generosity, interest in the project, hospitality and smiles are just some of the memories that we will all take with us. The raw emotion of the team when they finally reached their goal of the Tugela mouth, after having experienced extreme heat, lengthy periods of rain with cold conditions, long hours in the canoes and saddles of their mountain bikes, lack of sleep and pure fatigue is a memory that one will keep.
From a medical crew perspective, ensuring hydration was always an issue, with adequate drinking water very seldom freely available. Massaging of tired muscles and the odd complaining tendon were the order of the day.
Attempting to maintain contact with the team, both on the water and on the various tracks that were used next to the river whilst cycling, was perhaps our biggest challenge, and here one has to say that the Land Rover Discovery 3 that we were using reigned supreme.
There were many instances where we had serious off-road challenges, compounded by heavy rains and slippery muddy conditions, and not once did the Landy feel that it was out of control or in fact even getting into some difficulty. It’s been a little while since I’ve taken a vehicle into harsh conditions such as we experienced on this event, but it reminded me of just what an amazing vehicle the Land Rover Discovery really is. Our total fuel consumption on the trip of 2981kms was 11,87 litres per 100kms, and that includes towing a one-ton trailer for 1600 kms of the total distance.
To the Treverton “Posties” and their Director Athol Davies – congratulations on a worthy event!
To Land Rover South Africa, a massive thank you for the privilege of enjoying such an amazing vehicle.
To Garmin, we would have been lost without you! Categorically, and without any doubt, your system is by far the best navigation option that we have experienced both on and off road.
To N3TC, a huge “Thank You” for organizing for us to assist on this amazing event and for partnering with Treverton on this really worthwhile expedition!