Mooi River Fly Fishing
45 min from Nottingham Road
Historically, the Mooi River is more synonymous with trout and their acclimatisation in South Africa than any other river in the country. It was in these waters that John Parker first introduced brown trout from ova shipped from the Solway Hatchery in Scotland to South Africa.
In KwaZulu-Natal, it is also the river that has possibly the longest length of suitable habitat trout, where the trout have been self-sustaining since 1893.
Rising in the Drakensberg Mountains above the Kamberg Nature Reserve, the Mooi River starts it journey as a clear freestone stream with runs, pools and riffles and plenty of natural structure. It is tight in places, with overhanging vegetation. The trout are small; between 20 and 25 centimetres long, with anything over 30 centimetres being a cause for celebration.
On leaving the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Park, it quickly changes character to a more classical fly-fishing river in a pastoral setting, flowing through mostly privately owned farms. Here the trout are fewer, but larger. Brown trout of 30 to 35 centimetres can be expected, but fish weighing 900 grams are not uncommon in these waters. Records show the occasional surprise of fish between 1,3 kilograms and 2,2 kilograms having been caught. These large specimens notoriously favour the bank undercuts during the day, moving out into the stream in the late afternoon and evenings to actively feed, often taking insects off the surface.
The Mooi River has a head of brown trout from its source all the way down to a few kilometers below the establishment known as “The Bend”, which is situated about 15 kilometres to the west of the village of Rosetta.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife controls the higher reaches in the conservation area. The riparian owners control the private lands. The Pietermaritzburg-based Natal Fly-Fishers Club has secured the rights for its members over some of the privately owned stretches, notably the farms Riverside and Reekie Lyn.
Whilst the upper sections are typical of the Drakensberg mountain streams, clear and quick, the lower reaches are predominated by long, slow runs, deep pools with high grassy banks and just the occasional riffle and rocky structure. The lower water is often affected by discoloured and muddy conditions, especially during the rainy season in summer – it can remain that way for long periods, making it unsuitable for fly-fishing. Much of the Mooi River will need to be fished from the banks, with limited stretches suitable for wading.
Accommodation for the upper section in the park is available in comfortable self-catering cottages at Kamberg Nature Reserve camp. Reservation can be booked online at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s website (www.kznwildlife.com). Below the camp and adjacent to the Mooi River, there are also a number of small stocked dams for the use of visitors to the reserve. These are ideal, in particular, for those starting out and learning the art of fly-fishing.
The private water outside of the reserve, known as “Riverside”, is on a working dairy farm of the same name and can be booked online at www.kamberg.co.za. There is also well-stocked still water available for use by visitors staying in the cottages.
Between the Riverside and Reekie Lyn waters, there is another short stretch known as “Stillerus”, which falls under the Kamberg Nature Reserve’s jurisdiction. There is a small rustic cottage for hire through the parks authorities.
From Reekie Lyn downstream, the waters all fall within private land and fishing is permitted only with the prior consent of the riparian owners. Unless one knows someone who knows the owner, it is not easy to gain access to these sections of the Mooi River. Anyone fishing any of these stretches of the river is advised to check with the owner where their water begins and ends to avoid conflict with adjoining riparian owners. The co-ordinates have purposely been excluded for this reason.
On the middle stretch of the river is Trout Bungalow, historically significant with trout- and fly-fishing in KwaZulu-Natal: it was the first establishment providing accommodation for guests wanting to fish the Mooi River. There is a monument in the gardens to John Clark Parker for his efforts at trout acclimatisation during the early 1890s, the first to achieve this in South Africa.
Trout Bungalow hosted many well-known dignitaries in the past, such as Lord Baden Powell of Boy Scout fame, the governor-general of the Cape at the time, and his wife, Princess Alexander of Connaught. It also boasts the oldest fishing record book in the country. However, it is now a private residence, no longer providing accommodation to the general public.
There are a number of other accommodation establishments, such as “Glengarry” (www.glengarry.co.za) in the Kamberg valley, that make an ideal central base for fly-fishers wanting to try the various river and still-water options available in the area, especially the Mooi and Little Mooi rivers and even for access to the Bushman’s River at Giants Castle.
Mooi Fly Fishing, Kamberg Reserve Gate
Mooi Fly Fishing, Kamberg Camp
Mooi Fly Fishing, Kamberg Lower Boundary
Mooi Fly Fishing, Kamberg Upper Boundary
Mooi Fly Fishing, Riverside Farm House
Mooi Fly Fishing, Stillerus Cottage
Mooi Fly Fishing, Reekie Lyn Cottage
Mooi Fly Fishing, The Bend Country House
Mooi Fly Fishing, Glengary
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.