19-Oct-2002 -- 26S 31E looked like a very challenging Confluence on the map. It lies within the Songimvelo Game Reserve (Songimvelo means "to protect nature"), on top of a mountain in a very remote part of the country about 10 km from the Swaziland border. The area used to be part of Kangwane, but now falls in the Mpumalanga Province. Some of the oldest rock formations on earth (3.5 billion years old) can be found in this area.
It seemed that it would require a hike of several kilometres up the mountain, and normally one is not allowed to leave your vehicle in a game reserve. Songimvelo boasts four of the Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard), but it does not have lion, so we thought we would be able to get permission for the hike.
Ferdi made contact with the game ranger weeks in advance. He said we would be welcome to visit the reserve and drive their 4x4 routes. He would also supply us with a guide, but warned us that there were no paths near the Confluence, and that hiking in the reserve could be dangerous. We decided to go and investigate in any case and left Pretoria late on Friday afternoon for the four hour drive to Kromdraai Camp where we had booked two wooden chalets for the weekend. The trip turned out to be quite epic, as the sun set just after we reached Carolina, and some of the towns we travelled through were not shown on our maps. Luckily we had good instructions from Rinie, Ferdi's wife, who had arrived there earlier in daylight after her usual Social work research, and after a few wrong turns we arrived there at 7h30.
The next morning we had a beautiful view over the Komati River towards the Confluence, which was at this point about 4 km due north of us. As we later learned, it would actually be an easier approach from Kromdraai Camp, crossing the Komati River at an old foot bridge and hiking up fairly good paths past two small kraals of people that actually live inside the game reserve. At this point we did not know this, so we left at seven for the main entrance to the reserve, where we picked up our guide, Moses Mnamati. The ranger once again warned us against hiking around in the reserve.
From here we drove along progressively worse and worse tracks (4x4 absolutely required) through Laaggenoeg ("Low enough"), Onverwacht ("Unexpected") and Rozentuin ("Rose Garden") towards Hooggenoeg ("High enough"). On the way we had some of the best views of game anywhere. We saw rhino, giraffe, wart hogs, eland, tsessebe, water buck, zebra, wildebeest, springbuck, impala, blesbuck, kudu, buffalo and even a leguaan. It being early spring there were lots of young animals, and we saw a few week's old rhino calf and several young giraffe. We never saw any elephant, but saw lots of elephant dung. Moses explained that the elephant keep to the Noisy area where it is more forested, but this area cannot be reached by vehicle. Our drive eventually terminated on a ridge overlooking the Noisy area, about 3 km south of the Confluence. Just before we got there we spotted a lone buffalo bull, by many considered to be one of the most dangerous animals. At this point Ferdi and I thought this was going to end as an attempt, but when I enquired about the possibility of hiking up the mountain, Moses said it was OK, as long as we left the wives and kids at the vehicles.
Before he could change his mind we rushed off up the mountain peak (about a 400 m climb), along a ridge to the next peak and a little bit down the side of another ridge to reach the Confluence after about one hour and twenty minutes. When the Confluence came into view, we saw a herd of animals grazing around it. We had seen eland and buffalo spoor on the way up, and this looked like buffalo from afar. Once again I though we were not going to make it, as we were not going to chase a herd of buffalo away from the Confluence with our bare hands. Then we realised that it was cattle belonging to the people from the kraals we had seen from Kromdraai Camp.
We took the necessary photos, and were back at the vehicles two hours after leaving them. That afternoon I discovered the foot bridge over the Komati river and hiked up part of the way to the Confluence from Kromdraai Camp. Afterwards we celebrated with a braai and a few beers, before returning to Pretoria the next day via 26S 30E.