SHOOT! A Canoe Marathon Aqua Action

Words, Photos & Video: Jacques Marais |


South Africa’s biggest river meanders through the Northern Cape’s incredible Green Kalahari desert region, and there surely can be no better place to present a multiday paddling race. Wide-sky desert vistas, wall-to-wall sunshine, big-hearted locals and an utterly unique Kalahari culture combine to make the Orange River one of South Africa’s favourite outdoor destinations. Verdant stretches of vineyards characterise this part of the Northern Cape, creating an appealing contrast with the arid surroundings.

Image 1: On Golden Pond

Few people realise it, but the Orange River Winery is the biggest volume-producing cellar in the southern hemisphere and the second biggest in the world. The Orange, or ‘Groot Rivier’, is the undeniable lifeblood of the area, supplying a burgeoning agricultural sector with consistent water for their crops.

This is not the only benefit of being close to the river, though, as it provides an exhilarating playground for adventurers in search of some aqua action. This was the primary reason why Gawie Niewoudt from Khamkirri Private Nature Reserve started canvassing paddlers around the country to organise a world-class canoeing event on this part of the river.

The inaugural Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon was presented in 2012, but the event really came into its own this year, growing by more than 300%. More than 60 K1 boats and around a dozen K2s and K3s took to the water this year, to fantastic feedback from the scores of paddlers involved.

For more information on this premier paddling event, click on or

Image 1: On Golden Pond

The Action: The start of Day 2 saw paddlers setting off at dawn from iKhaya, a gorgeous venue on the river near the village of Keimoes. Paddlers faced a 39 km stretch of river, with rapids, weirs and reed channels to negotiate en route to the finish line at ‘Die Mas’.
The Shot: A long lens may be a heavy piece of kit, but it enables you to explore compositions you won’t be able to replicate on other lenses. Pleasing diffusion because of the narrow depth of field made for a hazy, contrasting image.
The Technique: Pinpoint sharpness from Nikon’s advanced predictive focusing made it easy to focus on the paddlers, despite the shimmering water surface and extreme contrast.
The Specifications: 1/4,000th sec @ f11; Nikon D800 + 80-400 mm telephoto lens; ISO 1.0; WB Setting (Sunlight); AE Setting (0).
More Information:

Image 2: Into Neus Gorge

The Action: The paddle through Neus Gorge rates as one of the most scenic stretches of river anywhere in South Africa, with black rock canyon walls towering above you for kilometres. Getting a camera in there means you have to paddle in yourself, though!
The Shot: A waterproof housing or backpack is an absolute must on this, as you negotiate a number of serious rapids on the way into the gorge. I went light with only one camera and lens stored inside a bomb-proof WX-TEX backpack.
The Technique: A high angle juxtaposes your paddlers in relation to the landscape, so a bit of cliff scaling was in order. The shot itself was a mere formality.
The Specifications: 1/250th sec @ f5.6; Nikon D600 + 20 mm prime; ISO 1.0; WB Setting (Sunlight); AE Setting (-1); Polarising filter fitted; Flash from on-camera SB-910.
More Information:

Image 3: Canoe Candy

The Action: Paddlers line up at the start of the annual Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon, sponsored by, Orange River Cellars and Khamkirri Private Nature Reserve. The men’s contingent saw arguably the toughest field ever assembled at a South African river paddling event.
The Shot: The wide sweep of the Orange River near the Northern Cape town of Upington made for superb scenery, colour and light. What more could a photographer ask for?
The Technique: The high angle from the river bank offered a perfect opportunity to employ the shallow depth of field of a long lens, thus compressing the paddlers and enhancing the colourful spectacle of this amazing race.
The Specifications: 1/800th sec @ f5.6; Nikon D800 with 80-400 mm
zoom lens; ISO – 250; WB Setting: Auto; AE Setting (0); No flash.
More Information:

Image 4: Wild Waters

Image 4: Wild Water

The Action: Day 3 constitutes a 32 km paddle to Khamkirri Private Nature Reserve, one of the best finishing venues one could wish for. To reach the ice-cold beers and river-deck plunge pool, however, you need to first negotiate a number of exhilarating rapids.
The Shot: A high vantage point and a long lens is a must if you cannot safely get into the river, as it allows you to isolate and zoom into the action.
The Technique: This is where Nikon’s ‘Active D-Lighting’ system comes into its own; the contrast between paddler and white water would have made this a difficult image to capture without the assistance of automatic contrast control.
The Specifications: 1/1 200th sec @ f5.6; Nikon D800 + 80-400 mm zoom; ISO 250; WB Setting (Sunlight); No flash; AE Setting (0).
More Information:

Click on the gallery below to view all 4 images