Umlambonja River Fly Fishing
1 hour from Bergville
The Umlambonja River rises and starts its journey deep in the folds of the earth below the Umlambonja Buttress in the Drakensberg mountains. It is situated in the central Drakensberg region in one of the most beautiful, rugged places.
The higher reaches above the trout hatchery are not generally recognised as productive water. Here, the stream is tiny by any standards and severely affected by dry weather.
The better stretch to fish for rainbow and brown trout, as well as Natal scaly, is from the Cathedral Peak Hotel property down to about a kilometre or so below the confluence with the Umhlwazini stream.
It may also be worth trying the section of the Umhlwazini from the confluence up to the road bridge. Fly-fishers will find that in these lower waters, rural settlement is quite dense and they are likely to have a following of local youngsters keen to give advice on where the fish are holding and pester one for a hook or two. It is advisable not to succumb to their requests.
The Umlambonja begins as a steep, fast-flowing freestone stream, levelling out below the hotel property, where it begins a meandering course across a wide valley on its way down to the confluence with the Umhlwazini and beyond. Here, it consists of a stony course with many gravel bars, shallow riffles and the odd deeper pool or run.
The banks are mainly grassy, with some woody vegetation. Wading is easy and is the recommended way of moving along the stream. The stream also splits and rejoins fairly frequently, so it is worth trying what usually appears as a tiny offshoot - there is often good holding structure in this water.
The lower one goes, the more chance there is of catching brown trout as well as Natal scalies, the latter of which can be great sport on similar tackle and flies as used for the trout. The nature and character of the stream is such that a carefully drifted dry fly will more often than not pull the trout out of the holding or feeding lies.
From above the hatchery, the stream winds its way down through the conservation area, then passes the hotel, which is private property, and the flagship Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife camp, Didima, before it enters tribal lands, where there is fairly dense human settlement and subsistence farming, the effect of which in times of rain does cause the river to be discoloured and even muddy.
For security reasons, fly-fishers must not leave their motor vehicles unattended outside the hotel or Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife areas, as theft is a real possibility. It is also preferable to fish with a companion in the lower stretches.
Because of the availability of accommodation at the Hotel (www.cathedralpeak.co.za) and Didima Camp (www.kznwildlife.com), the latter of which provides for both self-catering and camping, there is a fair amount of pressure on this stream along the sections mentioned, as well as a degree of poaching by the local population. This does have an effect on the fish population. There are about 12 kilometres of recommended fishable water as described.
Umlambonja Fly Fishing, Didima Campsite
Umlambonja Fly Fishing, Cathedral Peak Hotel
Umlambonja Fly Fishing, Hatchery
Umlambonja Fly Fishing, Didima Camp
Umlambonja Fly Fishing, Umhlwazini Confluence
Umlambonja Fly Fishing, Bridge
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.