The trip was arranged at fairly short notice, and it seemed that just the three musket ears would make it as the rest of the world had opted to spend the day at Shongweni Dam. With just a few days to go I contacted Mo McCann and Grant Fryer. Mo and Karon decided to come along, but Grant had other things on his mind.
We met at the Rotunda shop complex near Cedara at about six that morning, and what a pleasant surprise to see Grant there too. Off we went to do Nola’s bidding and find a stupendous sunrise. I chose a spot along the road just beyond Howick where there’s a good view down onto Albert Falls Dam. We milled about in the chill and dark waiting for the sun to do something spectacular, fingers and toes getting less supple by the minute.
The sun reluctantly dispensed some colour into the gloom that contained no clouds at all, and only the smoke from sugar cane fires provided any reflector for the meagre sunlight. It soon became clear that we’d not see a breathtaking daybreak and as the light grew stronger and paler we headed off to other pastures.
We soon arrived at a spot that I’d used before, one that provided a good early morning view of Loskop, a lone hill standing away from the line of the Karkloof hills. The winter weather had made the landscape apparently bleak and dull with swathes of grass burned to black stubble and the surviving grass an almost uniform brown. The Plane trees still bore a few leaves that were now a deep reddish brown, while most branches reached for the sky to plead for rain to break the severe drought gripping the Midlands.
Again we milled about as if not sure that the effort of unzipping camera bags could be justified. One by one the cameras were taken up by stiff fingers, switched on, lenses changed and soon all eyes were surveying the scene and beginning to see the potential. First into action was Hugh who almost ended up swimming in the little dam to get the shot.
We all found vantage points and began to record the day. We braved the coat of ice on the grass leaves, wading to fences, walking along the dusty road, looking for angles that would illustrate the beauty we’d begun to see as the sunlight strengthened and blazoned its trademark golden light upon fence posts, leaves and tree trunks.
Few of our number had spent much time patrolling the more remote back roads before, and it was good to see that they were enjoying the new territory. The busiest intersection was the entrance to the adjacent farm, and the traffic volume showed just what dedication is needed for successful farming, bakkies, tractors and trucks arriving and leaving at short intervals. Farming is not for the slothful. Each vehicle that roared past left us with a swirling pall of fine pale dust in the still air with the farm workers on the backs of the bakkies looking incredulously at the mad people who didn’t seem to need to be out in the cold but were.
Here and there conversations were struck up, punctuated with puffs of frosted breath, topics ranging from Mo and Nola considering a land claim on the farm and building a home there, to complaints about the cold weather, to Hugh’s search for his temporarily misplaced tripod, to, can you believe it, photography! Gradually the crowd of six dispersed looking for angles and vantage points, some to chat to farmers curious about what we were up to, others doing what they could to marshal and regulate the landscape features into compositions pleasing to the eye.
Soon Mo, Karon and Grant took off for the Conservancy and the bird hides while Hugh, Nola and I rummaged further in the farmlands, finding people, tractors, buildings and cattle as photo fodder.
Eventually we too headed for the hides but our progress was rudely checked by a flock of some forty Grey Crowned Cranes feeding in a fallow field. It’s always a joy to find these birds, and a group that size is truly exciting. We watched them for some time, cameras blazing, while Nola tried to persuade the birds to fly by blowing her piercing alarm whistle right next to my ear. I was the one who almost took off.
We joined the others as they were leaving the conservancy and spent a short while in a hide, but the wind had begun to announce the arrival of the cold front and conditions weren’t too pleasant. We left soon afterward, all of us happy with a day in the open and new sights and places to remember the Karkloof Valley by. We’ll go again.