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Bell River, Upper Beats

20 min - 1 hour from Rhodes

-30.707, 28.1372

The River

This hallowed stream rises on the escarpment near Tenahead Lodge. The high-altitude portion of the river is characterised by shallow, fast-flowing water over bedrock streambeds. Occasional boulders, that had their origins on the surrounding peaks, lie in the streambed and influence the flow. The well-grassed banks often have very productive undercuts. No trees survive here, but you will see alpine flowers in season. Closer to its source, the Bell River flows through a valley with a relatively small, one-sided flood plain with a few contributing wetlands. The river then flows into a gorge and through a schism in the landscape, losing altitude rapidly over a relatively short distance.

The Bell picks up a few tributaries on the way downstream, namely the Kloppershoek, Carlisleshoek and Maartenshoek streams. Further downstream, where the gradient flattens out, the river widens its meanders and flattens, now with sand and gravel bottoms. The banks used to be shaded by crack willow trees (Salix fragilis), but a government sponsored “Working for Water” program has eradicated most these. Although most people fish the Bell for trout, yellowfish is occasionally encountered, as they move up towards the source to spawn during the warmer months. Beware of the sun and elements when visiting the higher beats; in the mountains, prevailing conditions can change rapidly.

Tenahead (Tenahead Hotel)

The lodge reserves its waters for guests. The rocky-bottomed stream curves around the lodge on its journey downstream, where it flows into a steep-sided valley that widens over its course. The river remains small, narrow and relatively shallow as it descends, with a few larger pools. There are no trees and the banks are grassed with occasional shrubs in the stream course. A classic small stream cuts through fragile wetlands. Look out for seasonal sunbirds and some spectacular Knifophia, Cyrtanthus and Moraeas.

Ben Lawers  (Francois and Hannelie Nel)

The Bell drops all the while, with small pools interspersed with tight little bends and riffles at every corner. It is scoured out and smooth-bottomed, with the odd stream-bed boulder and cobble influencing the flow. There are no trees but it has well-grassed banks (beware of potholes). This is classical small-stream fly fishing at its best. Fish rise frequently in this shallow water. Waist deep is the deepest the water gets. During some seasons, this is a nursery for smaller fish but there are larger residents to be found in the undercuts and deeper holes.

Boarman’s Chase (WTA)

From the gate to the property, you can drive down to the ruin of the old farmhouse if your vehicle allows, but be careful when wet, and make sure you can get out again before descending down the steep slope to the first little river crossing. The stream has a basalt streambed and rarely gets beyond knee deep. The banks are well grassed but watch out for potholes. This is dry-fly water. Don’t be scared to stay late.  When conditions are right, it can deliver spectacular shallow-water dry-fly action. Fish the undercut banks and don’t ignore the tails of pools. One may well be surprised at the size of fish living here. The river starts to lose altitude as it flows down into a gorge situated on Tinto. Take a survival kit as conditions can change rapidly this close to the escarpment.  (We are not joking!)

Tinto  (WTA)

Tinto is normally fished as part of the Boarman’s Chase experience. Parking detail is the same as for Boarman’s Chase.  From here, hike over the mountain and into the gorge. Once in the gorge, there is no way out except by following the streambed. The gorge channels the river down a series of basaltic bedrock plunge pools, some quite deep and large and some with small waterfalls. This is where the Bell loses altitude and the gradient ensures fast-flowing water resulting in a clean stream bottom. Concentrate on fishing the tails of pools and watch out for drag. This water delivers fish of size. Ensure you take a survival kit and beware of changing weather.

Upper Hamilton and Hamilton (Francois and Hannelie Nel)

Only use this road with a vehicle with high-ground clearance and be careful when wet. Park at the gate on the bend or, if you have a 4X4 vehicle, follow the track down to where it meets the stream. The upper reaches of this property are very similar to the upstream beat (Tinto). The river flows through a steep-sided gorge (at times there is no way out other than the stream bed and it may even be easier to get out by climbing the steep-sided valley.) This is very rugged countryside, a dangerous place for the unwary and is not to be fished alone. With lots of gradient, the clean-bottomed pools grow quality fish.

Hamilton (Francois and Hannelie Nel)

There are a number of family names you will encounter again and again when travelling through this rugged mountain landscape. One of these is Naude. The Naude Monument, at downstream boundary of beat, honours the Nuade who was responsible for building the very road that gives access to these fishing waters, although that was probably not the primary intent at the time. Hamilton is a tamer version of the previous beat, with the valley widening into a slightly larger stream.  The stream still mostly flows over basaltic bedrock.

Dunley (WTA)

This property stills belongs to descendants of the Naudesnek Naudes. Drive through the gate to the shaded parking at the side of the river below the homestead.  Here the Bell speeds up on its way downhill, with clean bedrock bottoms changing over the course of the beat from basalt upstream to sandstone downstream. There are small waterfalls, pools and runs. A poplar forest graces the river bank near the homestead but otherwise the banks are treeless and well grassed. Fish respond to both dries and nymphs but stick to the sunken fly when the flow is strong. This beat generally produces hard-fighting, good quality fish with a very high condition factor.

Malpas (WTA)

Take the track that runs from the gate to the riverside, and fish in either direction. This beat consists of a descending series of runs and riffles with a few small pools in between. There are often rock faces on the outside of stream bends. The substrate is either bedrock or gravel and the banks are well grassed. This beat can deliver quality fishing, but is mostly hard to fish and often produces nothing. It seems to be very sensitive to flow. There are not many good holding pools, most of the structure consisting of shallow pocket water with well-grassed banks.

Loch Ness (WTA)

The Kloppershoek stream rises to the northwest of the Tiffindell Ski Resort and flows through a series of small weirs to where it was dammed to make Loch Ness. It is also fed by drainage from Benmacdui, the peak adjacent to Tiffindell’s ski run. After flowing through Loch Ness, it enters a gorge and flows down to join the Bell River on the farm Mertoun. Loch Ness is one of the few still waters in the area. This high-altitude dam is significant for the quality of its fish. There is no longer any stocking and the fish population is sustained by natural recruitment. There are brown trout as well as rainbows. Be aware that temperatures will be at least five degrees lower than in Rhodes and that the wind can really blow here.

GPS Entries

Bell Fly Fishing, Tenahead

-30.707, 28.1372

Bell Fly Fishing, Ben Lawers Lower Boundary

-30.7312, 28.1043

Bell Fly Fishing, Boarman’s Chase & Ben Lawers Gate

-30.7348, 28.1088

Bell Fly Fishing, Boarman’s Chase Parking

-30.7321, 28.1045

Bell Fly Fishing, Tinto Upstream Boundary

-30.7292, 28.0945

Bell Fly Fishing, Hamilton Gate

-30.7538, 28.0636

Bell Fly Fishing, Dunley Parking

-30.7637, 28.0531

Bell Fly Fishing, Malpas Gate

-30.7559, 28.0282

Bell Fly Fishing, Malpas Confluence

-30.753, 28.0133

Bell Fly Fishing, Loch Ness Wall

-30.6655, 27.9333

Friendly N6

Eastern Cape

About

The Friendly N6 route runs between Bloemfontein and East London, connecting the provinces of the Free State and the Eastern Cape. Aliwal North is at the border of the 2 provinces.

South Africa is famous for horizons that stretch for kilometres, so wide open spaces and endless skies are a traveller’s constant companions on the N6. The route takes one through about 600km of peaceful, diverse and beautiful land, giving one a sense of just how vast the country really is.

The N6’s attractions include everything from sea to snow, interspersed with charming towns. These are only slightly off the beaten highway, and are intriguing and pleasant places to explore. In the Free State, Bethulie and Zastron are within easy travelling distance of the N6, while Reddersburg, Smithfield and Rouxville are main stops along the route.

In the Eastern Cape the towns of Dordrecht, Molteno, Elliot, Rhodes, Burgersdorp, Barkly East and Lady Grey are all worthwhile diversions for curious travellers with time on their hands. For those sticking to the highway, Aliwal North, Jamestown, Queenstown, Cathcart and Stutterheim are along the route. These provide a sufficient diversity of interests and activities for guests. The highway is also relatively close to the Gariep Dam, Oviston and Hogsback Nature Reserves.

Sprawling sheep farms are probably the most obvious and frequent feature of the landscape, but the area is rich in cultural significance and interest. 

Apart from San (or Bushman) history and rock art, there are also interesting museums and art galleries, and fine local arts and crafts. The route’s proximity to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho means that Basotho culture is an important and unique influence on the culture of the area. Xhosa culture is proudly and strongly entrenched in the Eastern Cape.

The hills and towns of this area were witness to the Great Trek. This was the migration of the ‘Trekboers’ from the Eastern Cape across the Gariep River, (previously the Orange River) further into the central interior. It is often mentioned as an example of Afrikaner rebellion, perseverance and endurance. 

This same Afrikaner resilience cost Britain an unanticipated £190 million in the South African (or Anglo-Boer) War, which is commemorated at many sites and towns along the N6 route. 

Travelling south to East London from Aliwal North, tourists are afforded a majestic view of the Maluti mountains of Lesotho, as well as a sample of the Great Karoo in Stutterheim and Queenstown. East London itself is a lovely city which really lives up to the ‘friendly’ N6 brand. It has some interesting tangible links to prehistory: the East London Museum displays the last remaining dodo egg, as well as the body of a coelacanth, one of the oldest species on the planet. This fish was thought to be extinct until one was found alive on a fishing boat in the East London harbour in 1938.

Look out for

Relax and rejuvenate in Aliwal North’s hot springs and appreciate its beautiful old buildings. 

The Kologha Forest and the Kubisi Indigenous State Forests are less than 10km from Stutterheim. Large swathes of ancient indigenous forest are home to yellowwoods, ironwoods, white stinkwoods, Cape holly and Cape chestnuts with montane grassland cresting the slopes. Six well-marked forest trails, from 3-17km long, start and end at the Kologha Picnic site. They lead to waterfalls and good trout fishing and birdwatching spots. Rare birds found here include the endangered Cape parrot, grey-crowned crane and white-starred robin.  Mountain bik­ing and horse rid­ing are allowed on certain trails. Maps are avail­able at the forest kiosk. 

The Thomas River Historical Village is in the Amathole mountain region on the 31 000ha Thomas River Conservancy between Stutterheim and Cathcart on the N6 highway.  The area was named after Thomas Bentley, a deserter from the Van Der Kemps Missionary who was shot dead with an arrow while crossing the river. The conservancy offers a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, hiking, rock art talks and trails, fishing, birding, and paintball. The village dates back to the 1870s, has a popular restaurant and houses museums themed on wagons, rock art, pubs and vintage motor cars.

Mgwali Cultural Village near Stutterheim showcases Xhosa culture, with crafts and traditional food on sale. 

Tiffindell Ski and Alpine Resortnear the picturesque village of Rhodes is South Africa’s only ski resort. It offers snow adventures on the slopes of Ben McDhui, the tallest mountain in the Eastern Cape. 

Lady Grey and Cathcart are quaint, peaceful towns to visit. There is a Cape vulture sanctuary 12km from Lady Grey at the Karringmelkspruit gorge. Cathcart is known for its wildflowers, San rock art, excellent hang-gliding launch sites, fishing, birdwatching and adventure activities. 

Malaria-free game viewing is possible at the Lawrence De Lange Nature and the Longhill Nature Reserve near Queenstown, as well as at Tsolwana Game Reserve near Tarkastad. Big 5 game viewing is possible at the Mpongo and Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserves, both within 35km of East London. 

At the N6 route’s end, East London, visit the Python Park and Lion Park, the Queen’s Park Zoo, the East London museum and the aquarium. Enjoy the shopping, restaurants and, of course, surf the waves. The Calgary Transport Museum (5km north of East London on the N6) has a quaint collection of carts, wagons and buggies. It is open daily from 09h00 to 16h30.

When to go

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