Away from it all

Away from it all

Anyone wanting to savour a weekend filled with peace and quiet, has to go the extra mile. Nicolene Olckers visits one of her favourite outdoor places to observe dragonflies and starry skies.

To say I like travelling the wild outdoors, is an understatement. Most of all visiting places that haven’t been touched by development are the best to be at any time. These hidden gems allow you to escape the daily pressures of life and technology that make negotiating often treacherous roads well worth the effort.

One such a place is the mountainous area surrounding Shiyalongubo Dam. Nestled in the rocky folds of the Makhonjwa Mountains, the dam was originally built to provide water for irrigation on farms in the Low’s Creek area. It is accessible from either the Bulembu Pass via Barberton or the Louieville Road turn-off at Low’s Creek. Taking the long way round, Bulembu Pass way, will take you past massive pine trees and a rare indigenous forest vibrant with birdlife. Take it slow and enjoy the sprawling views.

The dam is known as one of two that has smallmouth bass. The other is Driekoppies Dam in the Jeppes Reef area near the Swaziland border. Anglers are not allowed large boats with outboard motors, as there is no jetty or slipway to launch the craft. This makes it great to enjoy the quiet outdoors and to wander among the forest. The best place to stay is at Moonlight Cabins, in one of the the wooden cabins owned and operated by Lara and Carl Langeveld.

These rustic cabins offer great views of the dam and are shaded by tall bluegums. It is the quiet tourist and nature lovers’ dream stay over. Although they do not have the luxury of electricity, lighting is provided via solar panels and LED lights. I really liked the relaxed ambience and quiet this created. The kitchen has a gas stove and hot water can be provided by lighting the fire in the rocket heater.
The design of the rocket stove or geyser is more effective and much safer than the old donkey system when it comes to warming water. It heats up faster and burns the wood much more effectively when a hot shower is wanted.
The cabins sleep four in comfort and style and are operated on a self-catering basis. Pack a well-stocked cooler box and take along your own drinking water. Bedding is provided, but visitors should bring extra if they need to set up the sleeper couch for kids. This is a fantastic place for children to experience the outdoors over a quick weekend getaway.

Moonlight Cabins is a mere 70km from Mbombela via the Low’s Creek/Louieville Road. Take their bicycles along as the roads are great for mountain biking.
Although I tried my rather inexperienced hand at fly-fishing I didn’t catch anything, but I did receive some handy advice from Carl. He is quite knowledgeable on the species found in the dam and is also a keen fly-fisherman. He prefers making his own flies and going out on his canoe to fish. The best time to fish at Shiyalongubo is likely to be from August to March.
The bush and forest are teeming with bugs and birdlife. A slow walk along the water’s edge will reveal all sorts of treasures. The dragonflies flitting among the grass make for great macrophotography as they delicately cling to the tips of the stalks. Take your gogga guidebook and remember to pack the bird guide if you are a keen twitcher.

The fact that the cabins and the dam are situated in the mountains makes the nighttime cooler near the water and I advise travellers to take along a warm jacket for nights beside the fire.
I can only imagine the starry sky on moonless nights.

The road

From Low’s Creek end, the turn-off to Louieville, the tar section is potholed and the speed humps are unmarked.
Drive slowly. The road turns into gravel soon after the village and the “pass” has steep inclines. The road becomes rather tricky to negotiate in rainy weather.
The legend of the dam

Local Swazi villagers believe there is a dragon that makes an appearance when the full moon rises over the Makhonjwa Mountains. He leaves the dam and makes a long journey into the mountain Kingdom where he visits his concubines. Returning to Shiyalongubo Dam, he once more recedes into the waters to await the next full moon. The cloak of mist that lies over the water on early mornings may well be proof of his presence in the deep.

Another interesting story about this dam is that it was never really inaugurated. On the day of the supposed inauguration the ceremony was interrupted by a runaway car. The vehicle, which was parked just uphill from the ceremonial platform, rolled down the hill due to a faulty handbrake. This resulted in the destruction of the inauguration platform and the death of a number of dignitaries, including the mayor’s wife. Because of this disaster the ceremony never actually occurred.

What to pack

• Take along fresh water to drink, at least 25 litres as you will cook with it too.
• Food and drinks of your choice.
• A cold beer at the fire is always welcome at the end of an activity-filled day. This is also a reminder that there is no fridge and a cool box filled with ice or a battery-operated cooler is handy to keep your food and drinks cold.
• Extra bedding if you need to set up the sleeper couch for your kids or extra guests.
• Nights can be cool, so a warm jacket is advised.
• For the keen photographer, a macro lens and tripod will be a joy to have on this trip. The dragonflies, in various colours, are great to photograph as they perch on the tips of the long grass in the sun.

The dragonfly

The dragonfly is the national emblem of Japan. In folklore it is often depicted as a symbol of joy, rebirth, creativity and adaptability. It is also believed that the dragonfly was given an extra set of wings to carry angels to earth.


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