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South Africa

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Words: Alan Hobson. Photos: Angler & Antelope. Article from the November 2014 issue of DO IT NOW Online Magazine.


Natural features are special, touching us all in different ways, but always leaving an indelible imprint on each our souls. When we moved to Somerset East ten years ago as corporate refugees, we did not realise what an exciting journey lay ahead of us. 

The adrenalin rush

Soon after arriving in this historical town, I was dragged off to see the renowned Walter Battiss Art Museum; unenthusiastically to say the least. My first impressions of Battiss were that he had quite an imagination in the way he expressed himself in shape, colour and subject. He had also developed an imaginary place called Fook Island, with its own vocabulary, postage stamps and currency. Truth be told, I thought he must have either smoked a Karoo bush or two or been in the Karoo sun too long, especially when I saw his drawing of ‘Arizona clouds’. But somehow he struck a chord in me, just as the Tinus de Jong landscape painting of the Western Cape Mountains that my mother passed on to me had done. This painting had captivated my imagination whilst growing up not because it was a family heirloom, but because the mystery of the mountains had tugged at my inner being. Walter Battiss did the same thing to me, without me realising it.

The 90 m Glen Avon Waterfall is one of South Africa’s Natural Provincial Heritage Sites and the inspiration behind many of Walter Battiss’s artworksThe inspiration behind many of Walter Battiss’s artworks is the 90 m Glen Avon Waterfall, one of South Africa’s Natural Provincial Heritage Sites. You’ll find this beautiful waterfall close to Somerset East on the Naude’s River, a tributary source of the Little Fish River system, in the midst of an indigenous forest in the Karoo.

To keep the waterfall’s authenticity, the farmer has a sense of humour by maintaining the naturalness of the road; a path that even a baboon would need a walking stick to navigate. But getting there is part of the adventure as it forces you to drive real slowly, thus affording you ample opportunity to observe the lush indigenous forest. That’s the secret, I tell you, because everyone rushes through the Karoo thinking it is innocuous, chasing blistered horizons and not realising its bountiful beauty.

I have been managing the stocking of rainbow trout in this small stream for the past eight years now and every time I visit the waterfall, she captures a little more of my being.

A flash of colourI recently shared a small piece of my soul with Hans and Beth, who were on safari with Bjorn, to try their hand at catching one of these wily trout. En route to the waterfall, the conversation was interrupted frequently when we stopped the vehicle to roll stones out of the way that the baboons had rolled over in search of a day-time snack of insects. The terrain is wild and if you are lucky, one occasionally catches a glimpse of a Knysna loerie venturing closer to see who is intruding in their space. After parking the bakkie under the glorious shade of a wild olive tree, which was a few hundred years old, we filled our rucksacks with refreshments and snacks, gathered our walking sticks, cameras and fly fishing gear and set off for the falls.

Despite having to carry all our gear, the pleasure of indulging next to the waterfall with the sound of cascading water, mist refreshing your face as it fades off the cliff and the shadow of a pair of resident Veraux eagles gliding over the water as they soar above you, makes it worth the effort.

Sparkling sunlight reflects off the water

The natural road had now dwindled into a single goat track directing us to the river. The splendour of the red and white cliffs towering above were beautifully complemented by the majestic yellowwoods, white stinkwoods and red and white pear trees that surrounded us. Even with the development of modern technology, digital cameras, zoom lenses, light filters and photo shop, we cannot, or rather I cannot capture the colours, the reflections of light, the majesty of the view or the essence of the beauty of nature before you, as well as Walter Battiss managed to do with his water-colour paintings. He was an absolute genius and it is easy to see why the waterfall was a major inspiration behind in his artwork. I say this not because I have been in the sun too long, but rather in total awe of his incredible talent.

As we made our way through the trees, the sound of running water grew stronger. An opening revealed a massive boulder and beautiful stream, which sparkled in the sunlight. Slightly off colour from the rain a few days prior, we hustled together at the water’s edge. Turning over a rock to see what was hiding in this ecosystem, I explained the entomology of the bold brown mayfly nymphs found there. I opened my fly box and took out a brown Zak variation that had been specifically developed for this river system and explained to Hans that this was what the trout would be eating. On his second cast, Hans felt an enthusiastic tug. In response, he set the hook and a healthy rainbow cock fish burst out the water to greet us before diving towards the deeper water below the big boulder. He eventually succumbed to the net, but not before providing Hans with an adrenalin rush, a flash of colour and a moment he will never forget.

After fooling four healthy rainbows from their lies, we moved upstream, zigzagging our way through the dappled shade and shallow glides between huge indigenous trees. We stopped at the base of the pool below the falls to pose and ponder on Walter Battiss, who claimed his mother was a butterfly and his father was a waterfall.

Although we caught two more feisty fish, it was the celebration of enjoying a beer below the waterfall that was the highlight of the day. The size, sounds and view had all of us in silence as we revered the sheer beauty of the waterfall. It was a spiritual adventure!

More info on the town of Somerset East More info on the Karoo Heartland


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