The Sand River

Text: Ranger Pieter van Wyk

Elephants visit the river daily

For 25 picturesque kilometers this precious liquid pathway flows through MalaMala Game Reserve. Along the way it nourishes and quenches an incredible array of flora and fauna as well as being home to 36 different species of fish. It has in fact been scientifically proven to be one of the richest and most diverse rivers in all of Southern Africa. It is the lifeblood of MalaMala.

A Yellow-billed kite takes off after bathing in the Sand River

The source of the Sand River is located some 70 kilometers west of here, in the northern Drakensberg Mountains. If it’s a clear day you can actually see a section of this 1000km mountain range whilst on game drive. The terrain that surrounds the source is almost inaccessible to humans, thus ensuring a perfect start to the river’s journey. However, that changes briefly as it descends the mountains and flows through flatter, more populated lands. But then, just as abruptly, the river enters game reserves and flourishes under the protection of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin and MalaMala Game Reserve. Next, the Sand River enters the Kruger National Park where it flows into the Sabie River, which continues eastwards into Corumana Dam in Mozambique before joining the Komati River, which, in turn, runs into the Indian Ocean.  The stretch of the Sand River that runs through MalaMala is arguably its most beautiful. The sandy beaches, dramatic rocks and hippo pools within its banks are complimented by massive trees within lush riverine thickets on the banks. Add a spectacular abundance of wildlife into the mix and you have a slice of paradise.

The Sand River’s journey

The river, and the vegetation along it, can change drastically from season to season. After particularly heavy summer rainfall it becomes a raging force of nature and during times of drought it even ceases to flow. Wildlife is abundant throughout the year but sightings of large mammals peaks during the drier months. Thanks to our open boundaries, animals can move from the 4 million acres of wilderness east of the Sand River, through MalaMala to the river and back again, resulting in two-way traffic across the reserve. In addition, the large portion of our reserve that’s east of the river has no buildings or power lines. There is no human habitation between the Sand River and the Kruger National Park boundary so for approximately 16 hours a day; this area is left to the wildlife.

The Sand River through the seasons

Increased human inhabitation and poor management in a large part of the river’s catchment area has led to a drop in water levels, poorer water quality and more erosion (clearly visible in the red circle). The conservation of this river, and indeed all rivers, is of the upmost importance, to both man and beast.