How the adventure began
The idea of our expedition to spend the weekend camping at the beautiful Midmar Dam in the KZN midlands started as many great plans do… on a Sunday evening while the Monday blues were setting in. I had been longing to get away and just do something as we spend most weekends in shopping malls and coffee shops. But those really do not constitute actual activities. So the plan was hatched, we would go to Midmar Dam and try do some sailing and camp the following Saturday night.
I spent many happy weekends in my varsity days camping, hiking and rock climbing in the Drakensberg and I longed to get outside again and re-connect with nature.
I understand that what was a good plan back then would not cut the mustard anymore. In the days of my youthful camping we would head off on a Friday afternoon and sometimes not know where we would be sleeping that night. We had minimal supplies and even less money and to top it all off, the money we did have, we needed to use to buy enough petrol to get us home again. Anyway like I said I was going to have to up my game in planning this little adventure.
I was travelling with my girlfriend who had never been camping before. The deal was that she would try it, and if she did not like it, I would not bring up the subject of camping ever again. I suggested we go to Midmar Dam as it is about an hour and a half drive from my home in Durban and I figured if things were going seriously wrong, we could just pack up and drive the relatively short distance back home. So I phoned Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and after chatting to a very efficient lady at central reservations, campsite number 53 had been booked for Saturday night at Morgenzon Bay campsite Block B.
The Journey Begins
We left Durban at about 7:30 am on Saturday morning, it was a beautiful cloudless KZN day and we arrived at Midmar Dam just after 9 am. We were greeted by very friendly Ezemvelo staff members who took our details and processed the payment for the nights camping. The friendliness of the staff puts some five star accommodation to shame. They seemed happy that we were spending the weekend with them, something I found so refreshing.
Our plan was to do some sailing, another activity from my youth. We went straight to Midmar Boat Hire and we were advised that the conditions were a bit blustery for sailing. As I had not been sailing in many years it might not be the best day to reacquaint myself with it. We then decided to hire a 10hp motor boat and with fishing rods packed we were soon on the water. The boat hire cost was about R 300 for 2 hours, R 150 for a tank of fuel and then a further R 200 deposit. We then spent our hours slowly floating around the banks of the dam while we did our best to catch some fish for our dinner. Soon our time was up and at 12pm we returned the boat without incident. We received our deposit back but sadly no fish had yet been caught.
Upon returning the boat and chatting to the boat hire staff, I was sad to learn that boating and sailing on Midmar Dam is not as popular as it once was. Other than busy holiday weekends, business was slow and the Midmar Yacht club was also not as busy as it was before. In my primary school years I had a friend whose father owned a small sailing dingy and we spent many Saturday mornings sailing on the dam. My recollection of which is arriving early on a Saturday morning to find the dam full of brightly coloured sails. In light of this, I wondered to myself why sailing has “fallen out of fashion”.
I had requested a non-electrical camp site knowing that it would be slightly quieter than those that had electricity as part of the purpose of the trip was to get away from the hubbub of people. It must have been just before 1 pm that the tent had been erected, the table and chairs set up, the bedding and sleeping equipment placed inside the tent and lunch of cold meat and potato salad was being enjoyed. Afterwards it was time for the most noble of institutions and we had a glorious two-hour afternoon siesta in the cool shade of an old oak tree on the bank of the dam.
After our sleep it was time to supplement our dinner with a freshly caught fish. We walked down to the edge of the water, selected our position based on the view, and proceeded to fish for the next few hours. The cool welcoming water was just covering our ankles and was so refreshing against the heat of a hot midlands day.
As the sun started to slowly set behind the building clouds, the most beautiful scene was set. Being a passionate photographer, I was sorry that my camera was not at hand but I was enjoying the moment too much to stop and get it. The lighting was perfect and with the sun fading, a coolness had descended. By this time, the wind had also died down completely and the surface of the dam looked like sheet of perfectly flat glass. As I was standing watching the beauty of the early evening, I realised that it truly is the simple things in life that bring us the most joy. Life should focus on the people we love and spending quality time with them and we all should surely make it more of a priority in our lives. Even though the fishing once again proved unsuccessful, I could hardly imagine a better Saturday afternoon.
The braai had soon been lit and I was, at this point, very grateful that we had packed some meat to cook and did not have to rely on our fishing ability.
We enjoyed a simple yet beautifully romantic dinner under the stars and again I was reminded of the simple things in life. After dinner we sat near the fire and we spent some time chatting and watching the flames until the inevitable happened. Oh yes, it was starting to rain. This was not part of the plan at all, but at least we had had our dinner and a shower so we retreated into the tent.
To say it was raining is an understatement, we watched a very impressive and slightly terrifying lightning storm move across the dam and for what seemed like hours the heavens had opened. It was really raining hard but luckily, the tent was not leaking. We made tea and chatted all night whilst listening to the rain lashing down on us. Somehow you appreciate the weather a bit more when all that separates you from it is a thin layer of cheap nylon. At this point it seemed prudent to invest in a more expensive and or fancy tent, however despite my fears of floating away we awoke the next morning all in one piece, and dry.
After a simple breakfast of cereal and tea we packed up the tent and went onto explore the lower reaches of the Midlands Meander and then slowly headed home.
I have a few points to share at this point so please bear with me:
Firstly, camping at Midmar Dam has to be one of the most romantic weekends we have spent together, and before I get hate mail, please hear me out. There was certainly no luxury, no fancy food or first class dining, however, we spent two whole days doing everything together. We had actual conversations about real life. Guys I am not giving you an excuse or easy way out here and I am not saying cancel that exotic holiday you have planned or the fancy dinner reservations you have. I am simply making the point that we spent two days of quality time together without TV, cell phones, whatsapp, email or any of the disruptions that modern life throws our way, and it was amazing.
Secondly, travelling around South Africa does not have to be expensive. I accept that I already owned a tent and some limited camping gear but all in all the camping weekend, excluding the boating, cost the following: camping fees R 240, food R 210 and petrol R 150, which brings me to a total of R 600 for two people for the night. This is a figure that would only have been slightly higher had we also stayed Friday night as well.
Thirdly, we have no excuses not to go outside and enjoy what South Africa has to offer. I accept that life does get in the way and sacrifices have to be made but the point I am making is that life is short and we need to get outside and enjoy the simple things. You do not have to go camping to do this, I know it is not for everyone, but it is a good example for how not to let things get in the way. I drive a two-door coupe, which has a boot that fits two small suitcases at best, so we travelled up in my girlfriend’s 2003 non air-conditioned 1.4 litre Polo. We had both windows down and to keep the conversation to a reasonable volume we travelled at a speed between 100 – 110 km/h. We just got into the holiday zone and again, you do not need a fancy car or 4×4 to explore.
Lastly as I conclude, a great friend of mine once said to me, you have always got to have something to look forward to, and in this light, there are now a string of camping adventures planned. Also some more luxurious holidays, but the outdoor bug has bitten. Hopefully you will no longer find us wondering the corridors of shopping centres or glued to the television, but rather exploring the beautiful outdoors South Africa has to offer us.
So get outside, breath some fresh air, re-connect with the people you love by spending some quality time with them and explore South Africa, the beautiful country we call home.