Ashburton Aloe Festival 2017

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A Day in Nature
July is Aloe Festival time and everyone is invited to visit the Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd July for a ‘Day in Nature’!

What started eleven years ago as a celebration of the flowering of the gigantic Aloe Candelabrum in this beautiful little valley near Ashburton, 10km east of Pietermaritzburg, is now an established annual event attracting hundreds of visitors from far and near. A 5km drive off the N3 highway at Ashburton, brings you into a little hidden valley near the confluence of the Mpushini and Msunduzi Rivers.

Fraught with inappropriate development challenges over many years, the conservation conscious community got together to protect the valley by formally setting 665h aside as the first Community Protected Environment in Kwazulu-Natal. As part of the 3000 hectare, Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy, these conservation initiatives form part of a much broader conservation effort that aims to conserve more than 20 000 hectares of bushveld, and the wildlife it supports, in the Eastern Gateway of Pietermaritzburg.

This Festival is all about a day out in nature, finding a sense of peace and tranquility amidst busy city lives. It’s about walking in the last little refuge of ‘wild Africa’ right on Pietermaritzburg’s doorstep, enjoying the scents, sights and sounds of this bushveld paradise. People come to meet interesting people and listen to fascinating talks about a range of environmental and cultural topics. It’s a time to sit back and enjoy hearty homespun fare amidst the down to earth atmosphere of a sharing and caring community. This year, there are six venues, open from 9h00 – 17h00, that act as hosts to visitors.

Galago Farm is situated alongside the Mpushini River

Venue 1: Galago Farm is situated alongside the Mpushini River, a dry riverbed seriously impacted on by upstream impoundments. Pandora Long, with the help of her children and NGO support, is developing an environmental centre that will focus on connecting children to nature, sustainability practice and youth development within a green economy. Apart from conserving the beautiful natural heritage, this centre also aims to conserve the extrinsic and intrinsic culture of the valley.
On Saturday 1st July at 10am, Galago Farm hosts the first talk Rock Art Specialist, Celeste Rossouw and Hester Roodt, head of archaeology at Amafa. “Discover your past and reclaim your heritage!” takes you on a walk alongside the dry Mpushini River to imagine the first iron smelting site found in KZN. At 14h30 return to this venue for Campfire Stories with Howard Bradshaw and friends reading extracts from Bosman, Paton, Mtshali, Bessie Head and others. Bring your own favourite reading or poem and share.

On Sunday 2nd July at 10h00 join renowned Dendrologist and Ornithologist, Dr David Johnson for a walk and talk titled, “A Guide to Indigenous Trees” Join David under the trees for a chat about his book, a collector’s item, “Gardening with indigenous trees and shrubs”. David will have a number of his books available for sale over the weekend.
Ashburton Pony club is on hand at Galago Farm to offer you tea and cake at the tea garden, pancakes and delicious home baked bread and soup. There is a children’s programme of environmental and art activities as well as safe supervision for a nominal fee, leaving parents free to enjoy the venues, unencumbered by tired little ones. Choose from a variety of indigenous plants, chat to exhibiting artists or relax with a new found book from the book stall. Choose a self-guided trail that takes you up the hillside and into the Euphorbia forest, the perfect place to sit quietly and meditate high up amongst the dappled shade overlooking the valley. Or take the children on a short walk along Tufty’s (the little Duiker) Trail or follow Mtini’s Trail along the riverbed and ask the question that Mtini the Otter wakes up to everyday, “Where has all the river’s water gone?”

TopRock is a treasure trove of crystals, minerals and fossils

Venue 2:  TopRock is a treasure trove of crystals, minerals and fossils, beautifully presented in Nick & Nicole May’s TopRock Museum and Crystal Shop, one of the largest collections of its kind. With live Peruvian Mountain style music by folk musician Ketch, original art & homemade craft stalls, antique and bric a brac and ‘wonderbags’, hot food including vegetarian options and a cash bar, this venue nestled into the bushveld hillside, is alive with creativity and warmth. For those who are stressed there is even reflexology for tired feet and hands!
At 15h30 on Saturday 1st July Alexander Haig Parkinson will talk on “The Golden Age of Palaeoanthropology – Why the current decade will go down in History.” Alexander is an entertaining speaker who is able to convey complex concepts in an easy going way to both adults and children. Alex shares fascinating insights into his work, which specialises in reconstructing the physical and biological processes which affect fossil remains from the point of death to the point of recovery. The specialist talk on Sunday 2nd July at TopRock is called “Snake’s Live’s Matter” by snake fundi, Zane Barnard. Zane will share his in depth knowledge of these reptiles and their environmental requirements with visitors.

Venue 3: Impala Bend has an exciting line up of activities for this year’s Aloe Festival. At 11h30 on Saturday 1st July, Alison Young will give a talk titled, “Ideas for Ecological Water wise Gardening with Indigenous Plants” and on Sunday at 15h30 Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Honorary Officer, Darlene Bond, will share her presentation “Honorary Officers, Our Work for Wildlife.” General attractions at venue 3 include Keith and Kathy’s delicious hot lunches including curries, breyani and lasagne as well as a cash bar. This venue hosts African wirework and craft including beading and grass mats. There will be indigenous grasses, groundcovers and plants on sale by Ronnocco Nursery. Impala Bend has magnificent views over the valley and you are encouraged to enjoy a self-guided trail through the bushveld to see the majestic Aloe candelabrum, in the wild, with their flaming spikes of orange in full flower reaching up to an azure sky. At around 15h00 each day, Impala, Nyala and other wildlife appear for feeding time at Impala Bend. You can join host Keith Brown and guest speaker Karin Saks, talking about Samango Monkey research in the Midlands on Saturday and at 15h00 on Sunday wildlife feeding time will be introduced by Wade Whitehead talking about ‘Freeme’ Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
Do join Kathy and Keith for Aloe Festival sundowners as the sun set’s over the magnificent vista’s over this little piece of wild Africa.

Rocky Wonder Aloes Nursery.

Venue 4: Peter and Heather Poulsen are the owners of Rocky Wonder Aloes Nursery. This beautiful nursery has a display garden as well as a selection of over 200 species of Aloes from South Africa, Madagascar and the rest of Africa and 75 species of succulents and ground covers to fill your beds and keep them in colour. The nursery is surrounded by beautiful bush veld, with flocks of sun birds at flowering time and many species of birds and game on the self-guided walking trails. There are two exceptional talks at Rocky Wonder Aloes Nursery. On Saturday at 14h00 there is a talk titled, “Critically Endangered Vultures” by Tammy Caine, and on Sunday at 11h30, Timo van der Niet will give a fascinating presentation titled “Wild Orchid, Blood Orchid & Orchid Thief – Why are orchid flowers special?” Peter and Heather will have refreshments and boerewors rolls available for thirsty visitors.

Venue 5: Allan and Louise Spencer invite Aloe Festival visitors to come and enjoy an early morning self-guided birding trail on Spencer’s Place, venue 5. This trail opens at 6am. The trail is fairly easy walking until you reach the lookout point. For those looking to see Purple Crested Touracan, it’s well worth going all the way to the bottom. There are amazing striations in the granite bedrock in the stream that date back millions of years ago that are well worth investigating if you brave it all the way down. Louise and Allen are happy to open their farm for Aloe Festival visitors once a year, the first aloe flowers signal the onset of winter, but the bird life is always prolific, no matter the season! For a special attraction at Spencer’s Place, visitors are invited to watch David Padbury’s Gundog display on Sunday at 11h30, in the arena. Children can have pony rides at this farm and see the spotted Appaloosa ponies grazing in their fields.

Femma and Rick Hackland’s Aloe Garden is Venue 6, at the Ashburton Aloe Festival

Venue 6: Femma and Rick Hackland’s Aloe Garden is a fair 12km drive from the other venues, but well worth it through beautiful bushveld of the lower Mpushini Valley, across the Msunduzi River and into the sugarcane belt at Bishopstowe. Femma’s garden is a delight of various hybrids that she has bought as well as crosses that have occurred through natural pollination in her own garden. “Some of my special favourites include, Aloe ferox, Aloe Chebodia and Aloe africana, which flowers twice a year. I love the Aloe superfolitia, known as the ‘book aloe’ because when young, its leaves come out flat like a book,” says Femma. Femma’s advice for visitors to her garden at this year’s Ashburton Aloe Festival is to bring their walking shoes, a camera and sunhat. Refreshments including home-made soup and bread are available at this venue, as well as a cash bar. This is one Aloe paradise that you don’t want to miss!

Ticket Sales:  Entry is R30.00 per person and allows admission to all six venues on both days and is purchased at the ticket sales booth alongside the Ashburton Training Centre as you enter the valley. Children under 12 years are free. All funds raised go towards the conservation of the fauna and flora in the Valley.

Food at the Festival
Venues 2 and 3 sell hot meals including chicken breyani, curries, lasagne and venue 2 has vegetarian options as well. Tea and cake and pancakes can be purchased from the tea garden at venue 1 as well as delicious home baked bread and soup. Venue 6 also offers homemade soup & bread. Cool drinks, water and refreshments will be on sale at most venues. There is a cash bar at venues 2, 3 and 6.

Children’s art & environment programme
Venue 1 offers a children’s art & environment programme, activities on the hour or half day/all day supervision plus activities at R50 per child.

Directions: To get to venues 1 – 5, take the N3 exit 69, Ashburton Turnoff, 10km east of Pietermaritzburg. Turn right into Pope Ellis Drive towards Ashburton East and continue for 4 km till the ticket sales outside the Ashburton Training Centre. Continue to venues 1 – 5 which are within 3km from the ticket sales point, watch out for the yellow venue signs. To get to venue 6, continue along D389 beyond venue 5 and proceed for 12 km as follows. After crossing the Msunduzi river at the junction of D389 turn right towards Bishopstowe. Continue 2km and turn right. Continue for 2km and turn left at the signpost Rick Hackland Farm. After 50m turn right into the palm lined avenue to reach Femma and Rick Hackland’s Aloe Garden.

For more information please contact Darlene Bond on 082 933 5036 darlene@icon.co.za.

Visitors can access our facebook page Ashburton Aloe Festival 2017, or our website www.lowermpushini.com or use the QR code provided.