Sunday, 20 October 2013

Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Centre Review

On the very cold long weekend in August we made our way to majestic Drakensberg Mountains. This would be my first taste of the Berg’s streams and we opted to explore some lesser known rivers. The Thonyelana, Mnweni  and Ifidi Rivers all fall in the same catchment and drain into the Woodstock dam. We stayed at the Mnweni Cultural and Hiking centre, a community run project. Jo-Anne and Ian Glen from Chameleon Adventures hosted us during the weekend, they work closely with the centre and host large groups for hiking adventures.


The accommodation at Mnweni consist of 5 comfortable 4 sleeper Rondawels  with 4 single beds (linen provided) and a coffee table that is supplied with coffee, tea and hot water. There is a central ablution block with hot showers that is shared by all guests. The communal kitchen has all the necessary cutlery and crockery for self catering, or you can arrange with the manager for a catered option. During our stay Jo-Anne from Chameleon Adventures catered for us and we were pleasantly surprised with some proudly South African dishes such as an authentic Durban curry bunny chow.

View from the Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Centre (Photo by Ross Garrett)

The centre is located in a rural setting between the Royal National Park and Cathedral Peak National Park. The centre is situated close to a village and some of its residence have been trained and accredited as guides, rock art custodians and porters. Guests that are interested in hiking can arrange these porters for their expeditions in the Drakensberg Mountains.
Each morning when we stepped out of our rondawels we were met by a different nature scene, one morning with a misty blanket over the Drakensberg peaks the next with a sunrise coloring the peaks with different  shades of yellow and red.


The first day after our arrival we decided to fish the Thonyelana River for the remainder of the day. With a cold front moving in and some dark clouds around I was not to optimistic that we would catch a fish. The river was very low and skinny and I decided to use a French leader with two flies, a size 14 black jig with a silver bead and a smaller brown nymph on the tag.

The first thing I noticed about this river was the amount of black mayfly nymphs walking on the bottom of the stream. I have never before experienced a stream in such a pristine condition, crystal clear water, plentiful insect life, the only thing that was missing now was a lot of fish…

Pool on the Thonyelana River
The fishing proved to be tough, I worked each pocket and pool carefully, however I just couldn't manage to get a single take. As the day went on the weather got worse, first it started raining softly and then it turned into sleet.  My spirit was fairly low at this point, I got to a nice section of the river with a lot of pocket water as a I made my second drift through the first pocket  I suddenly felt  my fly disappear. I made a short wrist flick and I saw a silver flash shoot through the pocket, after a few nervous moments with the fish trying cut me off on every possible rock I managed to slip my hand under the fish.  It was a beautiful  11 inch Rainbow Trout that took my black jig, unfortunately I did not take a photo as I thought my Go Pro was on and I was sure that I would catch more fish (this proved to be a big mistake as it was the only fish I managed to catch). A few pockets further I managed to spook another fish, this was the last encounter I had on this stream before we had to call it a day with the daylight fading fast. I estimate I only covered approximately 5% of the river as you need to hike and camp to fish the upper reaches of the river.

The next day we fished a few sections of the Mnweni River and the last pool of the Ifidi River. The Mnweni had a lot of sandstone sections that gave some of the pools a fantastic turquoise color. Although we noticed a lot of fingerlings in the river we couldn’t manage any fish. The cold front had really settled in and made fishing conditions really tough.

French Nymphing on the Mnweni River (Photo by Ross Garrett)
This venue as great potential and for the adventurous fly-fisherman there are kilometers of river to explore. Due to the steep gradient of these rivers do tend to flood quite quickly during warmer months and it is recommend to fish these rivers before and after winter. During warmer months Natal Yellowfish migrate from the Woodstock dam into these rivers to feed and spawn, which offer the fly-fisherman another exciting target. I would recommend that for fly-fisherman that would like to target the upper reaches of the streams they should arrange with Chameleon Adventures to hike each of the rivers.

In Summary

Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Centre offers a unique and very affordable fly-fishing experience in crystal clear streams that offer the angler Natal Yellowfish and Rainbow Trout. If you have a boat you can also fish for Natal Yellowfish and Largemouth Bass in Woodstock. I will definitely head back to this venue in the feature to explore these rivers and target Natal Yellowfish on dry fly!

Venue Photos

Photo by Ross Garrett 
Mnweni River (Photo by Ross Garrett)

Mnweni River (Photo by Ross Garrett
Little Rainbow Trout caught by Ian Glen the day before our arrival

Baby Trout on the Mnweni River

The Video

Mnweni Fly Fishing from on Vimeo.

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