The road through the poort is 21 km long and crosses the Groot River 25 times. The causeways have interesting names such as Skelmdrif, Perskeboomdrif, Ontploffingsdrif and Laastedrif (you can get a brochure at the tourism bureau in De Rust for the stories behind the names). As far as this report is concerned though Boesmansdrif is of interest.
Boesmansdrif was named after the San (Bushmen) who lived in a deep cleft in the rocks above the drift. Their ancient home is overgrown now but their artifacts were still being picked up as late as 1965.
The pool at Boesmansdrif:
I have not heard any reports of sightings here, but the name and reports of the cave caught my interest. How would they know Bushmen stayed in the cave? Rock Art of course! Now there are 25 known sights of rock art depicting the Watermeid, but the location of these places are not public knowledge as they are protected. If I was to find some of these paintings a cave in Meiringspoort was a pretty good bet.
Unfortunately this is the only thing resembling a cave I could find:
It was very small and basically at water level so no Bushmen would have stayed there. According to reports the cave was higher and overgrown which must be the case because I could not find it anywhere.
Riding out towards De Rust I met Jan Arries:
Jan Arries was collecting wood for the night but he was more than happy to take time out to talk to me. He was born in De Rust and also knows all about the Watermeid. He has two friends that were caught and drowned by the Watermeid, one at the pool in Meiringspoort and one at the Stompdrif dam.
Have you seen the Watermeid yourself? "No I have not and nor do I wish too."
How do you know that your friends were drowned by the Watermeid? "Well, both could swim, but they disappeared beneath the water and didn't resurface. Their bodies had to be recovered by police divers."
What does the Watermeid look like? "She has beautiful long black hair, blue eyes, pink cheeks and a perfect white skin without blemish. She is a very beautiful woman who can change her body between that of a human and a fish."
This is certainly the first time I've heard that she can alternate between human and fish forms, but I guess with these hearsay testimonies there's bound to be variation. Hopefully I'll have the chance to talk to some-one who's had a firsthand sighting sometime soon.
After hearing about the incident at Stompdrifdam I of course just had to go and have a look.
En route I saw this Feather Palace. "Feather Palaces" were famously opulent dwellings rich ostrich farmers built during the 2nd Ostrich Boom. Unfortunately the garden only allowed for a glimpse here and there and this is the best photo I could get.
(Google Earth placemark here)
Stompdrift Dam is a dam on the Olifants River and was established in 1965. It's the biggest dam in the Klein Karoo and boasts a 25km “coastline” that cuts into the foothills of the Great Swartberg Mountain Range. It's also a popular carp fishing spot, but as you can see it's very empty at the moment.
The dam wall gives a better idea of how big it really is:
I have not had a sighting yet, but it has become clear that the Watermeid is alive and well in the stories and heart of the community. You can literally stop next to a stranger next to the road and each has heard about / has a story to tell about the Watermeid.
I needed to talk to the experts, the scientists, those with firsthand sightings and at least see some Rock Art. That will be my next step...
Sources: gomag; ioltravel