Monday, 23 January 2012

22nd January – “The 2012 Floods”

Photo of the Day
The Flood coming past the lodge...bearing in mind this river hasnt flowed past the camp in 7 years!

Daily Synopsis
Little over 12 years ago, Cyclone Eline hit the east coast of Mozambique and dropped it’s watery contents over vast parts of South Africa’s Lowveld, including the Timbavati, in what was from that point onwards referred to as “The 2000 Floods”; they were quite devastating, especially in poverty-ridden Mozambique, and its destructive force was still evident until last week Wednesday.  However, from the 18th January 2012, we had new floods to refer to, as Cyclone Dando made it’s unforgettable mark on the Timbavati.
Cyclone Dando above South Africa's Limpopo Province
I had been happily sitting at home in Johannesburg enjoying my last day of leave, and via Facebook and Blackberry Messenger, I was getting updates of a lot of rain in the area, and reports were that it had been raining all day on Tuesday; not all that unusual, so I didn’t really pay much attention, and woke up on Wednesday expecting to go back to work...that was until I started seeing reports that the rain had not stopped at all on Tuesday night, and was still bucketing down on Wednesday morning.  I thought the guys were joing when they said I would only be coming back to work if I had a boat.  At that stage I didn’t realise it was so bad, but slowly figures of 250-300mm of rainfall were being reported in the news...and then I saw the image of Cyclone Dando, and it all suddenly made sense, and I knew I wasn't getting back to the reserve anytime soon!
I eventually had contact with the lodge and heard that despite my pessimism that the rain would have missed us as it usually does (and once more leaving our lodge dam empty), I was quite wrong.  So wrong in fact that not only did our dam have water in it, but it had so much water that our pool was flooded; and I was asked to try get back to assist Dave and the staff at the lodge.
This would not have been an issue had Hoedspruit, the closest town to Motswari not been totally cut-off and isolated by the floods!  All roads in and out of Hoedspruit were blocked off by rivers, and there was no way to access the town, and that meant no way to access Motswari...well, not by road anyway!
Although I tried to get in, it wasn't happening on Wednesday, and I spent the night in the nearby town of Graskop, and organised to get in via helicopter on Thursday morning, and after meeting Godfrey in town, we did just that.

Getting into Motswari in style - Godfrey and I catch a helicopter back to the reserve
Flying over the reserves in the area, we really started to get an idea of the damage that had been caused as every river in the area had flowed; and not just a trickle!  The tiniest drainage lines that one barely noticed became 20m wide rivers, and the large riverbeds that are normally sandy masses carrying no water, burst their banks and flowed over 100-150m wide!

Flying over the reserve - flooded roads, breached dams and little drainage lines running like rivers, the weather we had to fly through, and finally a herd of buffalo!
As the rain had stopped on Wednesday, the rivers had all subsided and didn’t look all that impressive from the air; but on seeing how dams had burst, roads had flooded, and camps been totally washed out, I began to realise that looks can be deceiving, and the little streams we saw from the air were not quite what had been present less than 24 hours earlier.
Klaserie River running through the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve adjoining the Timbavati

Klaserie Head Quarters

Destruction of a camp in the Klaserie

That was Vyeboom Dam, the biggest dam in the reserve!

The Nhlaralumi

Motswari Private Camp - safe and sound on higher ground

The Sohebele River in front of Motswari Game Lodge
View from the breakfast verandah

Debris indicating high water mark up to the lunch verandah

View from the pool

Where the camp dam wall was breached

Patterns in the mud
The pathways around camp had turned into rivers and were quite badly damaged, but only three rooms were affected by the water, but there was little structural damage, and considering how others in the area fared, we got off lucky; a neighbouring lodge – while not being washed away totally –was much more severely affected.

Damage to my families bungalow on the neighbouring Ingwelala property...

The other side of Motswari's dam

Andrea and I trekking to Ingwelala to see the state of my bungalow
So that was my first impression of the damage, but once I got a chance to sit down and chat to the people that had been around during The Flood, the real ferocity of the story came out!
Arriving at Motswari, Dave met us and took us around the camp; the water in the main camp dam was there, but as the earth part of the wall had been washed away, much of the water was pouring out, but the level was greatly reduced from where it had been yesterday, as we could see from the debris lying on the lawn.
It started early on Wednesday morning when the Sohebele started flowing, but as the morning pushed on and evidently dams upstream started breaking, the situation started to deteriorate, and the river kept on rising, and rising.  When the telephone lines and power went down, and the water still hadn’t stopped rising, the decision was taken to get our guests out of the area via helicopter.  While there was no danger to their lives, the logistics of trying to feed people and keep them happy in this weather was quite daunting, and we were not sure what the next 24 hours would bring, as the rain was still pouring down!

Staff village

New river running through camp

Our camp dam fills for the first time in seven years

A torrent down the paths

The flood reaches the pool

A wet looking Thea and Pete

Our poor pathways

A 180 degree view of the paths that became rivers in camp

The main pathway in camp

Flooding down to the pool
So with the guests safely out, there was little that could be done at the lodge, besides watching this amazing spectacle.  And man alive, from the videos I saw, it was something to behold.  Imagine this dry riverbed...

The usually dry Sohebele Riverbed in from of Motswari
...turning into this!

Our pool!!!

River in front of the verandah, now with one less tree!
The water rose above the breakfast verandah’s lower deck, and all the way up to the steps of the lunch verandah, the pool was inundated with flood waters, and the last rooms of the lodge were also in the water!

Water gushing past the breakfast verandah - the speed of it was unbelievable!

Our pool!

More views from around the pool and verandah

Elephant Room's deck surrounded by water
The strange part was that it was not just the river that was flowing so heavily!  Even where there was no river, water was gushing everywhere!  The pathways were knee-deep rivers!
As Wednesday afternoon pushed on, the rains slowed and eventually the waters slowly began residing.  After all that fell in the space of less than 36 hours, we measured 425mm of rain, with a little more having actually fallen, as at one point, our 100mm rain gauge had overflowed.  That is the equivalent of our annual rainfall in a day and a half!
The following days were spent assessing the situation; the guests, the staff and the camp all survived well.  Guests at Motswari Private Camp were safe on high ground, but we airlifted them out early on Thursday morning, and our Java guests were escorted out in 4x4s on Friday morning. 
The latter task sounded easy, but early on Thursday, it became apparent that it wasn't an easy task at all.  People went to check the river crossings on the tarred Argyle Rd, and while both the Nhlaralumi and Nyosi were crossable, the problems arose further south on the road, strangely at spots where we had never even noticed drainage lines they were hard to ignore as the road had totally been washed away!

Argyle Rd - not getting around those holes!
Driving guests out, we really got to see the power of nature, as even little streams like the one at Voel Dam had totally ripped through the dam wall and the damage below the dam was hard to imagine!  However, we pushed on and managed to get our guests out, albeit it in a roundabout way! 

A breached Voel Dam

Devestation down stream from Voel Dam
Voel Dam Panaramic (click for full image)
The great thing about such crises are how well people work together, and the days following the floods showed just this; Eskom had our electricity back within 3 days, the bridge heading out of Hoedspruit was fixed within a day, the holes on Argyle Rd, while not being fixed, can now be bypassed with 4x4s as temporary dirt tracks have been made around them, and we have been busy in the camp getting everything ready for our guests!
Pathways that were totally washed away are now back to normal, our rooms (barring the last two) are all functional, we have power, water and a fridge full of beer!  The pool is almost full, and we have a picturesque setting in front of the lodge!

Views from the Lodge with our waterhole partially full!
Heading out from the camp, the roads on the reserve are badly affected and still very wet, so we are not even considering game drives for a while, and off-road driving will be a no go for at least a couple of weeks!  Crossing have all been washed away, so we will be busy with those jobs over the coming weeks, and until the situation improves, we have decided to keep the lodge closed until the 30th January 2012, just so that when our first guests do arrive, we will be in a good position to provide them with a great experience!
Now I know that many of you have been worried about us and the animals, and again, we all made it through safe and sound, and while it is too early to tell about the animals, it seems they doing well!  A few impalas and bushbuck were seen floating down the river, but we have had some good viewing, even without doing game drives!  Wild dogs spent the day around the camp yesterday, having a fight with the hyenas in the evening, we have heard the Mahlathini males roaring, seen fresh tracks for Kuhanya crossing the river near camp, and even driving too and from the hole the other day, I had three different rhino sightings, zebras, wildebeest, elephant, giraffe, impala, kudus, jackals, and even a hyena with three cubs!  So they seem to be coping just fine!


Hyena family

A new species int he Timbavati...the lesser spotted fridge!  Washed out of an ingwelala bungalow!

A little banded mongoose rescued from the flood waters and returned to its family
So that is where we stand at the moment; a lot better position at this stage than many of us expected, and it was really great to see how everyone pulled together and did what was needed to do to get us here!  We will definitely keep you all posted on any changes, especially if any of the further cyclones predicted in the Indian Ocean head towards Mozambique, but at this stage, they seem unlikely, and the weatherman doesn’t predict any rain for the next 7-days, so we should be good!

Views up and down the Nhlaralumi from the Ingwelala Bridge

Views up and down the Sakarongonzo on De Luca Bridge
Until then, I hope you all stay safe, and thanks for all the wonderful words of support and offers of help that we have received!  Really very kind of all of you!
Chat soon!

Chad Cocking


  1. Man those are some HIGH water levels. Glad the lodge and you guys all survived relatively unscathed.

    Andre Bosch

  2. Thanks for the update, Chad. Good luck with the rest of the cleaning up and I hope everything up there returns to normal as soon as possible.


  3. It looks really bad. I hope you are all safe and sound because you will have a lot of work cleaning the place up.

    Jens H

  4. Thanks so much for the awesome visuals! Love the "new" lesser spotted breed! Glad you're all okay - the clean-up may take a while :)

  5. wow...what amazing but sad scenes..thanks for sharing...take care !

  6. Thank you so much for sharing and for giving us a clear picture of what was and what now is due to the floods. Durring this time, all we in Canada got was that you got alot of rain. Needless to say you and a few others have kept the world up to date as to what really was happening. Am glad that everyone is safe and that not much damage was done to your reserve, but am sad to see that others were not so lucky. I must say though that your pictures told a magnificent story and am glad that you have been able to capture this. Guess the promising thing that comes out of this is that their won't be the worry for alittle while that rain is needed to fill the dams and that u have wonderful view outside now with the river flowing. Hope that the progress in the area keeps up and that you and the others can get back to your daily routines quickly.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  7. You never know what Mother Nature is gonna throw at you, do you? Thanks for showing us what you guys are dealing with, must have been very worrying at the time! Amazing pictures. Its so good to know that everyone is safe. Keep well, and keep up the good work.
    Teresa, Dub. Irel

  8. Thanks for letting us know, we have been thinking of you all.
    Glad everyone is safe,
    Sue and John

  9. Thank you so much Chad for the time and effort you put into photos and blogging, so we may feel some sense of what you all have been experiencing. It's been nearly 20 years since I visited that area, although the memories are as vivid as if It had just been last week. Once Africa never back, it changes your for life forever. When I arrived, Kruger had just been through a devestating drought. So glad to hear everyone was safe, and yes it's times like these, that allow people to see what they are really made of, and that may be the silver lining.
    Cynthia, Ohio USA

  10. Great photos telling the story, thanks Chad.
    Can't wait for the drives to begin to find out more about the well being of some of the animals not seen yet (White lions etc...)

    Thanks for keeping us up to date, and good luck with the cleanup process bud.


  11. Tanya van der merwe24 January 2012 at 10:50

    Dear friends at Motswari - thanks for the update - we were swimming in the pool a few weeks ago - the photos are unbelievable. Glad the people are safe - if you need help with the clean up - let me know.

  12. great photos again Chad... and as the person mentioned above... thank you for all your efforts in the blogg and keeping everyone informed of your goings on.

  13. Great photos and the story explanation as well. So sad to see the bungalows being flooded, the damage and so much loss. The memories live on! My brothers bungalow is 149. It will be a long road to recovery. I hear Ingwelala staff are doing a super huge effort to clean up and restore things - fantastic and worthy to let the world know.
    I look forward to returning to Ingwelala one day again soon.
    Kevin (Perth, WA)

  14. Oh my god!! I was shocked when I saw those pictures. We always wanted water in the river in front of the camp, but not this way! I'm glad that everyone is safe. Now you have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks and I hope the weather will be good. If I wasn't so far away I would come to help. Will be thinking at you. Say hi to everybody from me. Thanks for the update Chad.

  15. Hi Chad

    I was working at Motswari during the floods of 2000. Your photo's are almost identical to those taken by us during the "clean up" post flood period of 2000. I vividly remember climbing out of bed in the staff quaters in the middle of the night and being knee deep in water - a terrifying experience as the electicity was down and my housemate was on leave at the time. Anyway, glad you are all well and safe.

  16. Hi Chad,

    Thanks for the photos and blog. I now have a better idea of the extend of the damage and how it unfolded.

    Cheers Ewan Mc Connell from bungalo 135 Ingwelala.

  17. Hi Chad,
    I myself work for the Kruger and I must say
    you took some amazing photo's.
    Have a much better idea of what it looks like
    at this stage and how bad it really was.


  18. Chad, It is so good to meet you and will be checking in from time to time. Thanks for the excellent photos and your descriptions are very interesting. Thanks for letting us see all that is happening half a world away. I think it is strange that nothing was mentioned in our newscasts or papers about this destructive storm in Africa. Hmmmm. Take care and keep writing. It brings us closer to you all.
    Thanks again, Diane

  19. Has been so interesting catching up with the "goings on" as we are due to visit you in February. Hope all goes well with the restoration and that all our favourites "Khanya" etc. are safe and sound!!

    See you soon. Best regards.

  20. Thanx so much for all the pics and info on what had been going on, I am really sorry to hear about the damage to your bungalow on Ingwelala. I can only imagine what you have to try and sort out in the next few weeks both in terms of your place @ Ingwelala and at Motswari.

    All the best for the weeks ahead.
    Centaine Wood
    Bungalow #174

  21. As one of the people who were stuck at Java through the rains, just a word of thanks to all the staff at Motswari for the help and efforts to get us out and back to "civilization". The efforts are very much appreciated. Good luck with the cleanup and repairs. Fanie

  22. Hi Chad,
    Thanks for taking the time to give us all an update.
    The pictures make it unbelieveale and shows how powerful mother nature is, it's amazing how everyone pulls together at times like this. It looks like youve got alot of work to do to get back to normality. Wishing you luck with that and if we were closer we too would come to help.
    Take Care all,
    Karen and Les

  23. It was great to hear you guys were safe and the damage was not too bad, unlike some of the other camps. I would love to come and help with the tidy up but know that I cant get away, I dont think my Boss would understand my priorities.

    Take care and be safe

  24. Hi Chad,
    The pics are unbelievable. Amazing and shocking at the same time! Good luck with the clean up and hope the damage is manageable with not too much headache under the circumstances!
    Say hi to everyone and all the best for you all!