The long-awaited arrival of the summer rains in the Southern Drakensberg effectively signals that start of the Mzimkhulu River canoeing season that centres on the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnership with FNB on 1 and 2 February, and ends the dry season through which the organisers work tirelessly at preserving the ecology of the valley.
The winter months when the flow of the river is strangled by the dearth of rainfall is the opportunity for the Canyon Kayak Club members to tackle the removal of debris, plastic and other waste from the river, and to continue the decade-long battle against wattle growth in the Mzimkhulu valley.
Since the race and it’s sponsor started earmarking funds for the eradication of wattle, much of the 75 kilometre section of the Mzimkhulu has been cleared of the alien invader, and efforts made to curb any regrowth of the water-thirsty tree.
In keeping with the race philosophy, all this work has been undertaken using local labour and contractors, and creating local business opportunities to sell firewood from the harvested wattle.
With the Mzimkhulu at its lowest in mid-winter, club members took to the river to remove tree branches and other plant debris, identify any foreign objects and remove plastic that had been left in the river bed during the heightened flow of the river during the summer months.
From the Trout Hatcheries, through the Underberg Gorge to Callaway Bridge club volunteers combed the valley for plastic waste in the river, some walking and paddling down the river while others cleared the banks and used their elevated position to help spot plastic in the river.
The mid-winter river clean-up resulted in the removal of plastic drums, broken kayaks, irrigation pipes and hundreds of metres of white baling plastic from the river bed, together with cabling, string and fencing wire.
After the day long exercise a bakkie-load of waste removed from the river was taken to the municipal dump for disposal.
“As a club and as race organisers were are committed to protecting the Mzimkhulu valley,” said race committee head Lloyd Riggien.
“Every time we remove rubbish from the river or chop down wattle invaders I hope we send a message and set an example to others. The plastic rubbish has to come from somewhere, and we hope landowners and river users can take a more responsible attitude and dispose of their waste properly so that it doesn’t end up in our rivers,” he added.