30-May-2004 -- After having decided to be part of the Degree Confluence Project we scouted the map of South Africa for available Confluences. The problem was that the nearest unclaimed one was 360 km from Johannesburg. Unperturbed we set aside a Saturday, got our grubby paws on a land rover and set off at 8 in the morning. In the car were no less than 5 engineers with the following designations - Nic (navigator), Chris (driver), Edgar (comedian), John-Roy (drill sergeant) and Claire (logistics). After driving for approximately 3 hours, passing through Witbank and Middleburg, we came to within 9 km of the Confluence and pulled off the road to take a dirt path that looked like it headed in the correct direction. Along the way we decided to stop at a farmhouse to ask for assistance. The farmer wasn't in (we know this because we made ample use of the hooter) and his massive Boerbulls hounds just over the fence looked hungry. So we decided to press on down the track. After about 5 km and appalling road conditions we came to an impressively big fence with no less than 3 warning signs on it telling us that we would be prosecuted if we continued on the path. At this point we decided to turn around and head back to the tar road.
Back on the road we managed to get some information from the locals through broken Afrikaans and extensive hand waving. We decided to take another farm road. This road was even more deteriorated than the first, but kudos to the Landrover, we managed to navigate it. Coming round a corner we found another fence with a sign on it telling us that we would be shot if we entered. The owners phone number was on the gate and we managed to contact him in Pretoria. He had difficulty in understanding why we would like to stand on a particular spot and denied us thoroughfare. The depressing thing is that we were only 4 km from the Confluence. Again we had no choice but to head back to the tar road.
We decided that as a last ditch effort we should try the Confluence from the other side of the map. This took us another hour by road. By this time we were getting close to our cut off time of 3 o'clock in the afternoon. After more hand waving to the locals and multiple dirt road dead ends we found a road that snaked its way up the valley in the general direction of the Confluence. When we got to within 4 km of the Confluence, we parked the car at a kraal, grabbed our gear and started for the Confluence. The time was 3:15 p.m. The map indicated that the Confluence lay in the next valley, so we had to hike across a saddle, about 300 m high. The route involved lots of bush whacking and hacking. The steep slope ensured we were continuously falling and slipping. The undergrowth was thick with brambles and soon we found ourselves covered in minute pepper ticks. The only way we knew to get rid of them was to use methylated spirits, of which we had none.
With group moral dwindling and scratches and bruises accumulating, we finally arrived at the Confluence. The time was exactly sunset. In the fading light we took some snaps. The Confluence lay about 20 m up from a dried up riverbed and had a partially obscured view of the valley below. We decided it wouldn't be prudent to hang around and headed back in the dark. This was twice as difficult as the route in as we were bush whacking out in the dark. Luckily we were able to track back using the GPS so we didn't get too lost. We got back to the car at 8:30, after having walked over 8 km there and back. We high-tailed it out of there and got back to Johannesburg just after midnight. All in all it was an introduction to the beautiful Mpumalanga countryside, though quite epic as it involved a lot more effort than we initially expected, but good fun.