Lotheni River Fly Fishing
1h 30min from Nottingham Road
The Lotheni River rises below the towering escarpment of the southern region of the Drakensberg mountain range, almost midway between the towns of Nottingham Road and Underberg. Typical of the southern Drakensberg, the landscape is softer in visual appearance, with less woody vegetation other than patches of indigenous forest, open valleys and picturesque vistas of sandstone rock bands in the foothills and rolling grasslands, framed with a backdrop of mountain buttresses and peaks.
Lotheni Camp is accessed either from Nottingham Road to the east or Underberg to the west via gravel roads, which can, at times, be rough and stony – or slippery and muddy after rain.However, although it is passable with most ordinary cars with a reasonable clearance, caution must be exercised when road conditions are poor. The turn-off to the camp is at a place known as Lower Lotheni.
The Lotheni River, which in the upper reaches is under the control of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and is part of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Park, has long been recognised as a prime brown-trout water.
The trout population, which was first introduced into this stream about 120 years ago, is perhaps not as great as some of those found in the streams in the central regions. Nevertheless, they will provide the visiting fly-fisher with challenging and rewarding light-line fishing using small flies that imitate the aquatic and terrestrial insects found in these waters.
The vegetation and form of the Lotheni are such that both wading and bank fishing are relatively easy. The gradient of the upper reaches in the conservation area is generally not as steep as those of rivers found to the east in the central and northern Drakensberg regions.
As a result, the structure is also different. It consists of long boulder-strewn riffles, some pocket water, fairly extensive sections of bedrock and the occasional larger, deeper pools. The clarity of the water is almost always as clear as the mountain air and even after rain it usually clears and fines off quickly.
The section described as the upper reaches falls within the protected wilderness area. Starting below the entrance gate, it is fishable for as high into the mountains as the intrepid fly-fisher chooses to go. However, the stretch likely to be the most productive is between the entrance gate and the camp. This is also the easiest in term of access.
It is also worth exploring the two main tributaries, both of which enter the Lotheni a short distance above the camp. Most of the stream can be waded, other than the odd deeper section, where fishing from the banks may be necessary.
As the river flows downstream and across the boundary of the conservation area, it enters an area of tribal land, where human settlement and poor subsistence farming practices have affected the natural habitat by way of siltation and discoloration of the water from run-off, even after light rain. Here the river is slower and wider, with long runs and riffles but less of a rocky structure. If conditions are good, it does occasionally fish well.
However, after a number of kilometers, the water conditions gradually change and become less suitable as a habitat for trout. Anyone deciding to fish below the conservation area must be aware of potential security risks, especially theft from unattended vehicles. It is also not advisable to fish alone in this area.
The parks authorities provide the only accommodation available. These consist of rustic, comfortable self-catering three-bed chalets, as well as two larger family units. There is also a stand-alone unit called Simes Cottage, which has its own small dam stocked with trout for use by the occupants.
There are basic camping facilities in a small campsite on the gravel road between the cluster of chalets and Simes cottage. Bookings can be arranged online (http://www.kznwildlife.com/).
Entrance fees and fishing permits are obtainable at the camp office, where visitors are required to report on arrival. There is a small shop with a very limited stock of essentials. It is advisable for visitors to bring all they need for the duration of their stay.
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Entrance Gate
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Turn off to Lotheni
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Lotheni Camp
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Simes Cottage
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Lotheni Camp Site
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Reserve Fishing
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Lower Confluence
eLotheni Fly Fishing, Higher Confluence
The Drakensberg mountain range begins its rise in the Eastern Cape, running along the length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western border. It also extends in fits and starts into Mpumalanga and covers a vast area stretching into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
It is generally agreed that the ‘Dragon mountains’ got their name from their ragged, irregular silhouette that looks like a dragon’s back from a distance. It was so-named by Dutch settlers. Another, albeit less popular, explanation is that early settlers were told by the locals that dragons lived in the mountains. This theory was given a bit more credence when numerous dinosaur footprints were discovered in the Eastern Free State.
The Zulu tribe has given the mountains its own, equally descriptive name – Ukhahlamba, or ‘the barrier of spears’. Whatever the language and whatever the explanation, there is no argument that the Drakensberg mountains are evocative and mysterious. It is a wild and beautiful area that can change from sunny to snowy in mere moments.
In 2001 a park was established that encompasses a huge tract of the mountains. Known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area, it covers 13 000km² of Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. It includes the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage Site that by itself covers some 2 400km² and is 150km long.
The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a place of immense beauty and enormous spaces. It is one of the few true remaining wildernesses where hikers can walk for days without encountering other people.
It is no surprise, then, that this place is as dangerous as it is beautiful, and one must be well-prepared if tackling it on foot.
In the very north of the park is Royal Natal National Park. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the proud guardian of the world famous ‘Amphitheatre’. This can be easily viewed from the road to the main camp of the park. A short walk along the river gives amazing photographic opportunities. The attractions of this park are many, from pleasant walks to fly-fishing and swimming in clear mountain streams. It is also home to the 850m-high Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world.
Other notable parks within the greater Drakensberg Park are Giant’s Castle, Kamberg and Loteni Nature Reserves. Each has its own attractions, capable of keeping the tourist busy for days on end.
The Drakensberg was declared a World Heritage Site for a number of reasons. It is an area of incredible natural diversity with over 2 100 plant species, more than 200 of which are endemic to the area. It is also home to over 60 species of mammal, including the threatened oribi and herds of eland and black wildebeest. It has nearly 50 species of reptile and more than 300 bird species. The naturalist will definitely find a visit to the Drakensberg incredibly rewarding.
No less interesting is the human history of the area. A prime drawcard is the San rock art. Excellent examples can be seen in Giant’s Castle. There is also a recreation of how these people prospered in the mountains until they were ruthlessly hunted out of existence by both black and white settlers.
Look out for
The Bushmen paintings are a unique art form that shrouded in mystery and deserving of at least an afternoon’s attention. The fact that they are almost always to be found in remote, beautiful caves adds to their allure. And the walk there adds to the attraction.
Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in the Drakensberg. Depending on fitness and time, hikers can choose from short but beautiful walks to multi-day hikes. On the latter one needs to be entirely self-sufficient and equipped for inclement weather - including snow - no matter what time of the year it is.
The Giants Cup Hiking Trail is the premier ‘Berg hike, totalling almost 60km and usually taking five days to complete. It runs from Sani Pass to Busman’s Nek in the south.
The Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park is one of the first things that should be put on the ‘To Do’ list. You haven’t really been to the Drakensberg until you’ve viewed it from below - and then again from the top. Here you will encounter one of the most breathtaking views in South Africa.
Fly-fishing is another excellent reason to visit the Drakensberg. KZN-Ezemvelo has a collection of very good trout waters in their reserves. Other dams and rivers are privately owned, but many are accessible to fisherman for a day fee.
The Lammergeier Hide at Giant’s Castle is an amazing place from which to get incredible sightings and photographs of birds. Highlights are the bearded vulture, Verreaux’s eagle, white-necked raven, lanner falcon and Cape vulture. Many smaller species can also be spotted. Booking is essential.
Sani Pass is one of South Africa’s great drives. In winter the pass is often closed due to ice and snow and can be a very hazardous drive. Remember that a passport is necessary to get onto the pass and a 4x4 vehicle is required by law.