A White-water Christmas

Words: Deon Breytenbach


My favourite thing about South Africa is the fact that our country isn’t flat, which means there are loads of great places to go to, to kayak and have fun on our flowing waterways and rivers. And living in a summer-rainfall region means that we can look forward to the December holidays being a little wetter and the water a little wilder.

A White-water Christmas

Before we look at my favourite places for a December paddle session, there are two websites that you should get to know as they’ll help you find the most water. The first is www.weatherphotos.co.za, and this site has all kinds of short- to long-term forecasts for where the most rain is expected or has been falling. The other one is www.dwaf.gov.za/hydrology, and here you should look at the unverified data, which lists the various river stations and daily flow of the different rivers in an area. It might take you a couple of minutes to figure out which drainage region covers what rivers, but once you have that sorted you'll be able to see what the rivers you might go to or are planning to visit are doing on a daily basis. The station read-outs are in cubic metres per second, so just remember that each river is different, for example, a 100cumecs on the Vaal River may be brilliant, but the same amount of water in the Blyde Canyon is deadly.


Now that you know where to look for rain and water, deciding on where to go for a summer session that paddlers of all skill levels can enjoy is a little trickier because there are quite a few to choose from. If you are heading to KwaZulu-Natal, then my top choices would be the Tugela, Umzimkulu, and Umkomaas Rivers. All these rivers have different sections, but the more accessible stretches have commercial operations on them that make getting to and from these sites easier. Reputable operators in the area include Dr. Gustav Greffrath through IchyFeet SA, Rich Domleo from Trailblazers or Nino Cloete who runs Kayak Freestyle. They can be contacted via their websites or on Facebook.


If you are more north, towards Mpumalanga or the Limpopo, then my top three rivers would be the Blyde, Olifants, and Sabie Rivers. The Blyde is quite tricky to get to as it is situated in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and under the guardianship of the Parks Board, and you are only allowed to paddle it on pre-organised trips with the Blyde Adventure Camp. This river will always be my favourite place, but the story behind that is a long one. To arrange a paddle on any of these rivers, you can contact the Induna Adventures boys and chat to the owner Jaco Lubbe, or myself. Another fantastic little river that has grown in popularity over the last couple of years is the Steelpoort River, but beware of this little guy on anything above 20 cumecs.


The last destination I would highly recommend is the wonderful Kingdom of Swaziland. Once here, you will want to head on over to Swazi Trails and join them on the commercial section of the Great Usutu River. Speak to Shane and Darron Raw, as they are a mine of information and more than happy to lend a helping hand to get you to the different sections of the Usutu. But don’t be fooled by what you get on the commercial section as the rest of the Usutu is a notch up. The two best sections here, and the easiest in terms of access, are the Dwaleni and Bhunya, but if the rivers are full then they will be rough and tough, so make sure you've packed your 'big-girl panties'.


Something else I would suggest is to join the Google group 'Whitewater Tangent'. This is the biggest communication platform for kayakers in the country, and everything kayaking-related gets posted there, from people looking for paddling buddies, to making a trip happen, as well as gear, events, training, well like I said, everything paddling related comes through the Tangent.


Ok, so you know where to look for water, which rivers offer the most joy without major headaches in terms of access, and how to find anything kayaking related. But December is also Christmas time, a time of giving and receiving new toys wrapped in funny paper. So my top choices for a little something under the Christmas tree are:
• The new WRSI Trident helmet has uber style and provides top-notch protection.
• First Ascent's X-tech paddling top is not only super comfy and hard working, it has built-in sun protection too!
• FiveFingers Komodo Sports are killer.
• And if you have a big tree, then take a look at the new Fluid Bazooka creek boat, the ultimate creeking kayak. It has enough edge to help catch that last eddy before the waterfall, and is probably Fluid's best designed hull shape ever to help you punch through the big holes and surface safely, smoothly, and in style from the bottom of your first waterfall run!


Travel safe over the holidays and remember, walk fast - drive slow.



Here’s our kayaker's gift guide with a few more winning ideas that will work for any single- or double-bladed paddler on your list.
• Camera bag - Getting to that perfect paddling destination isn’t enough these days. Now you have to photograph it, take a video and blog about it, and that means you’ve got a heap of equipment to move about. The Pelican Case, especially the 1200, is a great all rounder for putting anything and everything in, plus you get a lifetime guarantee. For a camera-only bag that rocks, try Watershed's Ocoee or Chattooga.
• Sunglasses - The SeaSpecs polarised lenses and contoured shape keeps the glare at bay so that you can see clearly on the brightest of days. They also have the best retention straps on the market, as other similar glasses tend to have bulkier straps that create some comfort issues when worn under your helmet.
• General protection bag - The WXtex dry bag range is still one of the best all-round dry bag ranges, but tricky to get hold of. Luckily for us, First Ascent will soon be releasing their own dry bag range, which I have poked, stretched, and roughed up, and like all things from Lizzard it has been performance tested and performs like a Siamese fighting hamster on Redbull. It will keep your lunch, torch, sleeping bag, and socks safe and completely dry, and protected from the elements.
• Snacks - When you feel like a little snack on the water, satisfy your hunger pangs with some rock-solid peanuts and raisins. These natural munchies contain protein, sugar, and salt, and are top notch. Biltong is great too.
• Water bottle - What’s the one item that always gets lost and needs replacing? No holiday gift item is more needed than a good water bottle. The Nalgene range is now available in South Africa and they are simply the best.
• Headlamp - Ever lost a headlamp to a rainstorm, or had it crushed in your dry bag? The Petzl Tikka Plus is tough as nails and handles wetness without too many short circuits. I wouldn’t go scuba diving with it though, but I have run around in the rain for hours with mine and it kept going as long as I could.
• Hat - The First Ascent Fresco cap is my favourite, but if you are worried about burning your top (especially for those of us who are endowed with less hair) then the Dundee Sun Hat is a beastie with built-in SPF 50 protection and indispensable on a sunny day.


Issue 20 Dec '12
Deon Breytenbach