Deepdale Gorge – KwaZulu Natal’s Hidden Gem

Deepdale Gorge on the Umkomaas River is one of my favourite runs if not my favourite. It’s not the biggest of rivers nor is it the smallest. It isn’t the most radical either nor is it the easiest. It’s just a plainly awesome run that will draw me back time and time again. I think it’s probably just the remoteness and raw beauty of this roughly 32km stretch that makes it for me. The sometimes house sized boulders in the river bed leaves a snaking path for the water to follow and makes for some really sweet rapids, all the while in a beautiful valley with some amazing trees, thorn bushes, flowers and various fascinating plants. This would be my third trip down here and I was not to be disappointed.


This trip started off a little unorthodoxly. We would not be taking the Friday off to take a leisurely drive down, nor would we leaving late Friday afternoon to make a dash down. We would be leaving at midnight! Yup, that’s correct, in the middle of the night. Not exactly the smartest thing to do but Dave Joyce had gotten into a dinner that he just couldn’t get out of. No prizes for guessing why. So at 00:34 on Saturday morning Dave Joyce, Neil O’Leary and I set off to drive down to the paddling paradise province of KwaZulu Natal. Dave had not slept at all, Neil had slept from six o’clock that evening for about 4 hours and I had managed about two and half hours. Somehow I volunteered to drive and away we went with Dave in the back, under the canopy, trying to get some sleep in.


We hadn’t even reached the highway when we came across a nasty accident. It looked like a hit and run and I’d guess that a motorbike crashed into the back of a truck at full speed. There was just one cop car, a bakkie and lots of plastic and metals bits everywhere and a long haired, blonde woman lying out stretched with her bloodied top ripped off, eyes staring openly at us as we drove slowly past. A truly gruesome sight and one I will never forget.


Well, with that over we carried on. The thought of a nice quiet drowning made me feel so much better. The road was very quiet and as we reached the toll gates there were plenty of trucks just parked there. Quite a number of trucking companies don’t allow their drivers to drive during certain hours of the morning. About an hour before Harrismith we noticed the wind picked up a lot and lightning lashed angrily at the ground as the rain then came down in sheets. By the time we got to Harrismith it was a real relief to take a break after fighting to see through the windscreen and hanging on to the steering wheel. A short stop and a toasted chicken and mayonnaise sandwich from the Wimpy and we were on our way again at about quarter to four. This time Neil jumped into the back and Dave sat passenger and I still drove on.


Van Reenens pass was not really a problem and if I had bet money I would have lost it. No accidents; surprise, surprise. Shortly after the pass though, we encountered a severe truck accident. Two super links had collided, one into the back of the other. If there was a passenger on the left side of the truck at the back then that person is now gone. The gearbox was totally smashed and Dave said the gears where sticking out everywhere. I have never seen such a totalled truck. A few kilometres further another truck at the side of the road and I saw someone standing on the left. I put on my brights and saw that the driver of the truck had driven over some small antelope, about the size and colour and a reedbuck, and was lifting one leg probably in preparation to load it up as some fresh protein! The roads in South Africa are a total circus, that, I can promise you! 


The bridge at Highover crossing the Umkomaas or Mkomazi River as it known in proper Zulu. Shaka Zulu named it 'Place of Whales' when he was amazed at the whales at the river mouth. 


Just before Estcourt we stopped at the Ultra City and I jumped into the back for a much needed sleep. The time then was about 04:45. When I woke up the sun was shining and we were lost in Pietermaritzburg. This was nothing unusual and next time we’ll just carry on and take Umlaas Road to join up on the R56 to Richmond. Through Richmond, then left at the first road and then straight until the tar road becomes gravel. The road then dropped down another 9 kilometres as we descended down to the river. We had been anticipating what the level would be like and as we stopped on the bridge at 07:10 we were not to be disappointed. It looked fairly decent! At the bridge there it looked to be about 1.5m, maybe a fraction less. Brett Pennefather had advised me that the level was medium to low and his report was spot on. It should be as he works just downstream. Too bad Brett couldn’t join us as he had to deal with a sick Rhino that ended up dying anyway; a real shame for all parties.


The deck overlooking the river. The thatch roof is a communal area used for eating/cooking/socialising.


The place to leave your car is Highover. They now own the property on the river left hand side and the reception is now there, before the bridge on the left. We hadn’t been able to contact them about the shuttle as they were out the previous day but we soon got hold of Dave and he wasn’t stressed in the least. For a very reasonable fee of R325 (this may change) he would drive us up the put-in and we could leave our car at the bush camp, on river right, downstream of the bridge. We had more than an hour to kill and relaxed and took our time getting the boats ready and making sure we had everything for the trip ahead. The bush camp is really sweet and the ideal place to take your girlfriend, wife and/or family. A very safe and relaxed place and you are guaranteed a good time in really first class surroundings. Whether you’re camping or staying in the bunkhouses, chalets, cottages or the lodge you won’t be disappointed. There are many activities to choose from and day visitors are welcome too.


Dave standing in the corner as we made our way to the put-in.

The three of us climbed into the back of the bakkie and got reasonably comfortable for the long drive ahead. The drive to the put-in is about fifty kilometres and takes around an hour or more and if you were to do the shuttle on your own it would be really long and annoying. It is far easier to pay someone from Highover to drop you off. I’ve only ever gotten in at Deepdale Falls. It is possible to drive further to the bridge upstream but you’re only missing some small rapids and long, flat pools. Or so everyone tells me. But from the hill above the falls it does look quite flat.


The right line of Deepdale Falls.


The walk down to the falls is a bit unpleasant. The path is fairly steep and very rocky. On the other times I had hired some porters to carry the boat down as did some of the other guys. This time was no exception. I managed to get two dudes but only one seemed capable enough. The two of us made our way down to the water carrying the fully laden kayak carefully over the tricky terrain. Lazy you say? No, just creating jobs. It’s like Neil says, we don’t live in Africa for the strong currency! We must have at least some advantages. I paid him R20 which is probably more than he can scrape together in a year for someone his age. No jokes. The people in rural Natal are very poor and are only too glad to do anything for money. So it’s a win-win situation.


Help is always on hand in Africa...


The full view of Deepdale Falls. Visit Desre Pickers' site to see Steve Fisher and Dale Jardine running this drop at very high levels! Click here.


Down at water level I looked up at Deepdale Falls and wondered when we’d have enough water to ‘safely’ run them. At that level you could probably run the far right line but it’s pretty high. Fifteen metres is plenty for something to go wrong. A mistake from that height with not much water going over could easily lead to injury or paralysis. Not exactly something I want to experience. I can’t live with that type of outcome so I’ll wait until the level is nice and high and then maybe, maybe, I’ll run it.


Dave asked if any of us wanted to paddle the falls but there were no volunteers. He mentioned that it is very rarely run. An interesting story to also note is when a couple of people from various parts of the world had grouped together to paddle this section. When they had left the camp the level was quite high, around 1.8m. Dave then dropped them off and when he returned over the bridge just above the take-out, the water had increased to about 2.5m. There was nothing he could do now but wait. Eventually the group arrived back at camp later that day and were super stoked. The one paddler said that a flight from London alone would justify paddling that stretch! That person had paddled all over the world and had never had such a great run. Exaggerated I see you thinking to yourself. Well, come over and try it. You won’t be disappointed. There are many other first class rivers to paddle in the area.


Just as a quick comparison to another river which I haven’t done yet but is said to be incredible, the Umtamvuna River. This river drops 270m over a distance of 32 km giving a gradient of 8.44 m/km. Deepdale also drops 270 but over 31.5 km so the gradient is, in theory, a little more. That said the Umtamvuna is flat for the last 4 km of its journey. But still, Deepdale is an awesome section and shouldn’t be underestimated particularly when the level gets high.


The first time I paddled this section the water was at about 0.9m. That is probably about as low as you want to go. There are sections where it is still fun and for the most of the run the water channels very nicely but towards the end it can be really bad as you get stuck on the rocks where the river is broad. It is also important to note that when the rivers are low in the area then Deepdale is the only section you can run. The river has no dams on it from source to sea and is totally rain dependant so levels can rise very fast and then drop a lot slower. It is quite common for the water to rise a metre at the bridge within about twenty minutes after some good rains. At the bridge the river is very broad so in the gorge upstream, where it’s a lot narrower, you can expect the actual water level to rise about double that in places.


The second time I paddled it the river was at about 1.7m to 1.8m. Then it was really good! We spent the entire night in the rain and in the morning the river was even higher. When we got to the bridge it was close to 2m. Don’t paddle this stretch at more than 1.8m unless you are fairly competent. At high levels there are a number of serious rapids and swimming here is not a good idea. The water becomes quite pushy and fast with very strong eddy lines, boils, pressure areas, holes, pourovers and not to mention siphons. There are a large number of siphons due to the boulder type structure of the river bed, avoid them at all costs. There are also some mean holes and pourovers to keep you on your toes at high levels.


Some people do this as a long day trip but I really wouldn’t. It takes away too much from the trip and I’ll take any excuse to do an overnight trip. There are no villages that are near enough to be a problem and only at the start do you see a few people. After that it’s pretty remote until the second day. Paddling with a heavy boat is not that bad anyway if you’re in the right boat.


We said our goodbyes to Dave as he left us there and the three of us climbed into our boats and headed off through the first little drop and into the calm pool below. The water is a lovely rich brown and it almost welcomes you. The clear water I paddled on in Scandinavia was really incredible but also at the same time intimidating. I prefer paddling the darker rivers where you cannot clearly see the rocks. It makes for a less frightening experience for me. I know most people up in the north would disagree and would be terrified at the thought of paddling the ‘brown’ waters found in the majority of our rivers.


Neil is still waiting for his medium Solo so he borrowed my Blunt. The old Necky was my first boat and it still comes in useful from time to time. Dave was in a large Fluid Expedition Solo and I was in my standard large Fluid Solo. With me being the one who knew the river a little I took the lead and the other two followed.


The river starts out quite gently with some small ledge type drops. There were a few small waves and holes to have fun in but unfortunately not for us in our creek boats. We found some locals at the side of the river and they ran after us as we made our way down the reasonably simple rapids. They laughed and cheered and made good ground as we just carried on. Soon they met up with another group that had been fishing. One young boy proudly held up a catch of about fifteen to twenty eels! I hadn’t seen that many eels before.


The boys followed us like the first time I paddled the gorge, until we got to a rapid known as The Ledge. Why is it called the ledge? Well, let me try to explain the complexity of this one. It consists of a shallow angled slide/drop that ends in a ledge. Wow, this is complicated stuff hey? At the base is a hole that gets larger and more retentive as the water level rises. I had planned to take photos here and caught the eddy directly above the drop. Neil joined me and then Dave followed. Unfortunately he did not make the eddy and went straight down. I shouted to his that it’s not serious as he hurriedly tried to correct the angle of his boat. There was no carnage and he made it through in one piece. Our spectators hooted with laugher and were really enjoying the show.


I decided against taking any photos and peeled out of the eddy and ran the drop, followed by Neil. We paddled down into the fast flowing current and again the boys on the right bank followed. The next rapid has a small island on the left with a choice of either left or right of the island. I ran right as I knew it was a small slide. The others followed without problems. One more small rapid and then the boys were obstructed by a steep cliff. We waved them off and they excitedly returned the waves.


One or two more rapids and then we were at a rapid that actually doesn’t have a name, I don’t think. So let me call it Lunch Time. Unless of course it has a name already then I’ll gladly edit this. At a low level you run far right and then break ninety degrees left down an annoying boulder garden. At high levels there is an awesome boof on the left. It has a small one foot drop before the main drop (of around two metres) and then you join the main flow coming in from the right perpendicular to you after the drop. At these levels the boof was not really possible so we had to run far right and then into the main flow down the boulder garden which still had a few rocks exposed.


Our run (left) and my last trip (right) - Adrian about to run the sweet boof.


Fun, fun, fun. Adrian on Lunch Time. Photos by Neil O'Leary.


Be careful here as you cannot see the entry as a large rock is hiding it. I ran it first and was surprised at the entry. Then I paddled hard left to make my line to the left of an exposed rock and completed the rapid. I had underestimated the rapid a little but the surprise was fun.


Neil didn’t look convinced and so Dave went for it. The entry caught him out and he flipped over. For a few seconds he disappeared and I wondered what was happening. He has gone over but been stopped in a small eddy next to a rock and we couldn’t see him. Once he had rolled he was swept back into the current and came out from behind the rock backwards. His line was now totally blown as he went to the right of the rock but he recovered very well. It must be noted that Dave has only been paddling a few months but I guess his natural athletic ability and his paddling on wave skis on the ocean for years has stood him in good stead for the challenges of paddling on a river.


Dave messing up the entry but recovering well.


After this Neil still wasn’t convinced and paddling a fully laden boat that he wasn’t used to yet made his mind up for a short portage around. When you are in a remote spot you don’t need someone to run something if they’re not sure. An injury here could easily spell disaster and will ruin any trip. We were taking it easy anyway and relaxing.


From here there are many, many rapids and here on they change to more boulder type rapids; very typical of the Umkomaas. Sometimes the boulders get really large and when this happens you know the river is about to drop again. The pools between rapids are reasonably short so it is a pleasure to run the top stretch.


The beautiful scenery on this section in the beginning. Then it just gets better.

After a couple of kilometres the river goes through a small rapid ending in a massive rock with the main flow going directly into it. Stay away from it as it has a slot in it and produces a sieve effect with the logs usually stacked up against it. Directly after this the river turns a little to the right and into Short Drop, a short rapid that has about three large holes in it. At the level we had the holes were fairly easy but at a high level this rapid is fast and furious with the holes pretty big. The rapid itself is very straight forward. You just paddle straight and there is no manoeuvring or anything other than punching the holes, even at a high level. We took turns running Short Drop and taking some video footage and of course many, many photos. There were no problems with any of our runs and on we went.


Neil O'Leary in Short Drop punching the holes without any problems.


Dave Joyce with a sweet boof at the top of Short Drop.


Adrian Tregoning boofing the holes in Short Drop.


Adrian in Short Drop at a very low level. Note how well the water channels enabling one to still have a good time. Photos by Brett Pennefather.


From here on there is one smaller rapid and then the river turns left and drops down a little more than it has so far on its journey. This rapid is a few hundred metres long and good fun. We started eddy hopping down and everything seemed to be going ok. I led the way and the other two followed quite easily. At some stage Neil must have broached on a rock and Dave went right into him, resulting in a flip. He battled to roll for a while and then bailed.


I shouted for him to leave his boat and swim to the bank but he did not listen. Again I shouted with all my strength and I paddled near him as he swam down some bony drops. My shouting had no effect whatsoever. I guess this often happens to people. Dave eventually left the boat and managed to climb up onto a rock. Luckily he was quite near to the bank so I threw him my rope and with Neil’s help we swung him into an eddy on the bank. His boat had gone a short distance and then gotten pinned and luckily he was still holding onto his paddle. Just after we got him to the bank his boat broke free and carried on downstream. Luck was with us again as there was a large pool below so Neil took of to fetch the boat while I stuffed the throw bag again and Dave walked down on the right side of the river.


Neil managed just fine with the boat and was empting it out on the left bank when I got down there. A quick swim across for Dave and he was reunited with his boat. The swim had torn a hole in his pants as well as a knock on his elbow and some new battle scars on his helmet. Apart from that he was mentally perfectly fine and the swim hadn’t affected him in the slightest. Many times people are a bit shaken up after a swim but Dave was good to go. This was good news.


The rapid where Dave got a little unstuck. Note how the water is flowing under, around and through the rocks. When the boulders get bigger this effect gets worse and some siphons do occur at the odd spot.


Looking downstream now.


We carried on to the next few rapids which are also quite long. There are about two or three shorter ones and then it starts dropping down into a narrow section with huge boulders forcing the water to twist and turn as it drops down this really super section. Even at low water this short but intense section is still fun. At these levels it was good but not anything too tough. We took our time and I got out ahead for photos and would sometimes be joined by Dave or Neil to take some video too. There are a few good rapids here and at a high level this section is thick with action. The only downside was that a thunderstorm was nearby and we were loosing light very fast, hence the bad photos. Later on I kicked myself for not cranking up the ISO setting as this alone would have helped a lot.


Adrian in one of the first rapid where it narrows up. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


Dave heading to another drop.


Neil punching through another hole on one of the last rapids in the narrow section.


Adrian in the narrow section. Photo by Dave Joyce.


All too soon we were at the bottom and we started to look for a campsite. The first spot on the left had too many rocks but a couple of metres downstream we found an ok looking spot on the right. The ground was covered with lots of sticks and reeds but generally it was ok. There were also the furry remains of some creature and it looked like a leopard had been here. The leopards in an area such as this would be pretty small and they’re not a hassle anyway. At least there was lots of firewood. I decided not to get out of my gear as it looked like it was going to rain soon and I wasn’t keen to get my dry clothes wet. Ok, so I just lied. I had a dry t-shirt, a beanie and I thought I packed in a thin fleece jersey but it turned out that I had forgotten that, so no real dry clothes. The only logical thing to do was to collect some wood and start up a fire. So that is exactly what we did and just in time too.


Lightning began thrashing down nearby and some light rain began to fall. Dave set up his one man tent and Neil and I eyed it out enviously. He climbed in and there was silence from him. The second time when I was here I had ‘slept’ the entire night in the rain and so in the meantime had forked out the cash for a proper bivi bag. I had learnt my lesson! Bibler tents have been a part of Black Diamond since the mid-90’s so you can be assured that the quality is very high. The hooped bivi that I bought is not to everyone’s taste but I bought it because it is very small enclosure that will keep one warm and dry. At about 890 grams this is not very heavy and it hardly takes up any space. Once inside it can be claustrophobic so if you’re that type then don’t buy something like this. Everyone asks me how it breathes and if I’m dry. For sure, the bag is very breathable and super dry. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a super light weight bag for the occasional night out. There are other models to also choose from like the Big Wall Bivi and Bipod and Tripod Bivi. You can buy all of these bags right here in South Africa from Mountain Mail Order in Cape Town. Bibler’s tents are also incredible. They are not cheap but you know the saying, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.


Dave's one man tent (left) and my bivi bag (right)


Neil waking up and still smiling and luckily still dry.


So Dave was sorted and so was I. But once I climbed in I wasn’t going to get out again. Neil didn’t have any sort of shelter except for a plastic bivi bag. I’ve slept in these before and you end up getting almost as wet in one as if you actually slept in the rain. There was still just less than two hours worth of light before it got dark so Neil and I built a small structure out of some bushes to help with the rain. The fire kept going even though it rained a little and life was not bad at all. This time I had also brought along a half litre bottle of Coke Light. Of course it was mixed with some Captain Morgan Rum and the ratio was about 60% rum to 40% Coke Light. It went down well, although the other two didn’t drink much as it was incredibly strong and I ended up drinking most of it. Oh well, I’ve had tougher things to do...


Dave cooked himself a sweet meal and Neil some 2-minute noodles. I ate my standard rolls and this is usually the way I do it. I’ve previously had some space issues in my boat but ever since I bought a super small sleeping bag I have taken a big step forward. The back of the large Fluid Solo also has loads more room than my previous boat and I easily fitted in a Thermarest, sleeping bag, inflatable pillow, bivi bag and all the other stuff like food, three and a half litres worth of water and a first aid kit, safety gear, split paddle etc. Next time I may take a stove with to up the luxury levels.


Speaking of water - I’ve brought along a lot of water and then finished it on the morning of the second day. I wasn’t partial to drinking the river water straight so I suffered a bit that day and boy was it hot too! Second time I took the stove and a big pot and boiled water. This time I took some purification tablets and Dave had some special drops. I ended up not needing to use my tablets. I drank a lot of water before getting on the river at mid morning on Saturday. By midday the following day one tends to be off the river already so it’s actually about 30 odd hours on the water. The three and a half litres of water I paddled with turned out to be enough. The water that Dave had added the drops to tasted just fine and he didn’t get sick. I had a couple of sips and I was fine too so that is far easier than boiling water. That is such a big mission.


After having only slept for a few meagre hours in the past twenty four we hit the sack early that night. Sleep came fairly easy for all of us. Neil slept next to a boulder that offered a wee bit of shelter but it didn’t rain in any case.


Early morning looking downstream. What a beautiful sight. Africa's a great place and I don't think I could ever leave it!


The next morning the sky looked clear and the day ahead seemed like it would be a scorcher. My breakfast consisted of two peanut butter rolls and some dried wors. Now for those that don’t know, wors is an Afrikaans word for sausage. So that would be some dried sausage. The full on Afrikaans way of saying it is droë wors. You can make your own if you want, just follow this recipe. There are many different types of excellent wors so good luck! Wors made from a Kudu is one of my favourites but unless you live in South Africa I’m sure you won’t be getting your hands on Kudu meat.


We messed around in the morning a little and then suddenly Dave found a chameleon in our camp site. I hadn’t seen one in a while as they are pretty rare these days. People like to take them out of the wild and keep them as pets, an illegal and detrimental activity. Rather enjoy them in the wild and leave them alone. Initially he/she, let’s call it a he, hissed and opened his mouth but after a few minutes we got him to climb onto Dave’s hand, getting a few photos of ‘Carl the chameleon’ climbing up Dave’s arm and also on the back of my boat. After Carl had is five minutes of fame we brought him back to where we found him and he happily climbed into a position. I walked back later on and there were some flies buzzing around him. Carl just remained very still and I’m sure a meal was coming his way very soon.


Carl the Chameleon! What a lovely little creature. Please note: no chameleons were harmed in the taking of these photos.  :-)


Out of interest the name ‘chameleon’ means “Earth lion”. It is derived from two Greek words – chamai (on the ground/earth) and leon (lion). See, you do learn something new everyday!


With that I left him there and we and packed our boats. I think we got onto the water at around half past seven that morning, maybe a little later. The next rapid was straight forward and we eased our stiff muscles into the day. The next couple of drops are pretty straight forward and then it starts dropping a little more. Big boulders litter the river bed again and the fun factor increases. The rapids are a little frightening at higher levels and there are some large holes and waves here. Watch out for the odd siphon, they seem to lurk near the sides but not always.


Some more rapids in the gorge.


Dave running another rapid.


Adrian finishing off the same rapid as above. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


Some more rapids closer to Long Drop.


The river eases off a little and then it starts to really drop and tighten up even more. These rapids are very good and pretty big at a high level. If you read the book that Celliers Kruger wrote you’ll know that there a number of class V rapids in this gorge at a high level. These rapids and the ones from the previous day are quite mean at high levels. How high exactly I don’t know but I’m not sure anyone has paddled this gorge over about 2.5m… If you haven’t got the book Run the Rivers of Southern Africa, then get it. It has a whole bunch of information and is a must for every kayaker in Southern Africa. If you don’t live here then I’m sure you’ll just enjoy the good quality photographs and the river descriptions.


These rapids just above Long Drop are good fun. The big boulders in the river bed are so visually appealing, well, to me anyway. The rocks now become larger and more plentiful and when you see a really large rock on the left hand side and the river seems like it’s almost totally blocked off with boulders then you know you’ve reached Long Drop. Once out of your boat, if you can see a pool below the rapid you know you’re at the right spot. The lines for running Long Drop are different for varying levels but watch out for the siphons. There is a siphon underneath the huge boulder on the left. This is quite easy to miss as you paddle right but near the right on the other side is also a very tight slot between two rocks that has a lot of water going through it and not enough for you or your boat to pass through. You will get stuck, watch out! So that means a hard ferry from far left to far river right.


Even though there is a small cushion wave on the left, don't be fooled. This is a siphon.


One then paddles around another massive rock and then all the way to the left side where one drops down a small drop ideally on a left boof stroke and the boat angled from left to right. There is a short pool before you have to boof the pourover at the bottom. At this level it isn’t too bad but I wouldn’t go in there on purpose.


At high levels we ran it river left, right next to the huge boulder with the siphon underneath as the rocks that block the path at a lower level are now under water. Then just before another ‘sieve thing’ on the left one can drop down a small drop and make a hard ferry right above the last pourover to complete the rapid on the far right. It doesn’t look like a good time to be in that pourover at high levels. The problem too is that there is a rock to the left of the pourover and also downstream that back it up, making it even more retentive. To see the article on this section at a low level, click here. And at a high level here.


I ran it first and my line wasn’t too bad. The start wasn’t ideal but then the rest I was fairly satisfied with. Neil stood at the bottom with my camera while Dave stood on the large rock with the siphon underneath it with my other camera, taking video. This way he could relay to Neil if everything was going smoothly as from the bottom you cannot see what is going on at the top of the rapid. Once I was down I took the camera from Neil and moved to the river right side to get another angle but still looking up. Neil walked up to get into his boat and Dave remained where he was. His run looked good too and there were no hassles. Once at the bottom, Neil walked up to where Dave was and stood watch while I climbed up higher on the rapid. Dave’s run wasn’t too bad. He hit the rock at the bottom of the pourover but luckily made it out. The far left side is a little shallow still but safer than running in the middle. Just boof smartly and then it’s fine.


Adrian running Long Drop. Photos by Neil O'Leary.


Neil running Long Drop.


A pot hole with a view into another siphon...albeit a very small one.


Dave running Long Drop.


I found this entire fence on the side of the river. To the right of this photo is.... yes you guessed, another siphon that would only work at very high levels at least.


Long Drop the first time I paddled down here (left, very low and looking downstream) and at a much higher level (right and looking upstream).


There is another nice little rapid below Long Drop and then a river wide ledge. It’s pretty weird as some sort of rock layer is coming across the river. The rock is black in colour and very slippery underneath the feet, totally different to anything else on the river. At high levels it is covered with water and offers a variety of different lines but at our level there are about four options. At low levels there isn’t an option at all. All the water flows through a notch in the ledge to the left of a larger outcrop.


Neil went far left while Dave and I hit the main run to the left of the rock that sticks out the most. The drop is nothing really to write home about. Downstream from this ledge drop are a few smaller drops and then a slightly larger one as it drops down and a little right. Keep on your toes here as there are a few tricky ones.


Neil going far left on the ledge rapid just downstream from Long Drop.


Our level (left) and a higher level (right) with Scott Reinders in the green boat in the foreground and Craig Rivett in the red boat. Mike Pennefather is free wheeling the drop behind Craig, he is barely visible though.


Adrian on the same rapid originally doing a melt down but then changing tactics midway through. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


Sometime further on there are some much longer rapids that are actually very good. One specifically, starts off really easy for a few hundred metres before it begins to drop. It is here where we saw some fisherman at the side of the river. They were surprised to see us and returned our waves. It seemed they wanted cigarettes too but as none of us are smokers we carried on paddling.

There are still a few good rapids before they start to become a lot smaller. An exceptionally long pool marks the spot where the fun decreases a little but at least the scenery is magnificent. It is a relaxing way to end a fantastic trip and there are still many rapids over the next kilometres at least.


The rapids get smaller and the pools longer but it's still fun towards the end.


Eventually there is a narrow but gently sloping rapid that turns a ninety degree to the right. If you can see some sort of village, or buildings (mud-huts) against the hill, then get out on the left straight away. This is where the natural weir is and you’d want to scout this, particularly at a high level. There is a safe line on the extreme left and also far right and a super safe line that misses the natural weir totally on extreme right, if there is enough water. The centre line is fine at very low water but even at the level we had you’d be taking a chance. There is a small hole right above the main hole that will slow you down and without some speed you’re not going to punch that main hole. At the level we had there is an exit from the hole on river left but at higher levels there is a strong feeder eddy that blocks this escape. Swimming is then about the only option.


I ran the drop just to the right of the far left line to boof a hump of water there and hit a little bit of meat. You can see the centre line behind me in the pictures and the double step that forms a hole above the main hole. Lot’s of fun! Neil ran it next and took the extreme left line. He made it too easily and didn’t even get his head wet. While I was deciding if I should run it again somewhere else and get a different camera angle, Dave’s boat decided to run it on its own. It had slipped into the water while we were downstream and took off. The boat surfed for a little while in the hole before it exited on the left. With that done Dave started to walk up to the top. This time I decided to run the exact same line but I made one stupid mistake. I climbed in at the eddy directly above the drop.


Neil taking the extreme left line.


Our level (left) and a higher level (right). The natural weir becomes very retentive at this high level!


Adrian running a little boof. Photos by Neil O'Leary.


Dave missing his intended line the first time round and almost getting pulled into the hole.


I thought I would probably make my line but wasn’t actually certain of it. Out I went and almost to the middle of the hole. I threw in a correction stroke on the right and then tried to straighten the boat with a left sweep. I went into the hole at an angle and it stopped me dead. It’s funny what you can sometimes think but I immediately thought of Tuomas and me swimming in Sweden on the Piteälven, I thought that I wasn’t going to swim unless I really had to. I knew that I could get out of the right so I rolled up. Still it held me and I thought briefly about Samuli too! Again I rolled and stroked hard to catch some ‘green’ water flowing out of the hole and also pull myself to the left. I think I may have rolled again but after a little while I managed to get out. Ha ha! Mission accomplished. I’ve had three swims this year already and even though swimming here wouldn’t be a problem I was keen to keep the figure down, for now at least.


Adrian with a messed up line. I rolled there about three times before getting out. Photos by Neil O'Leary.


Dave decided to try for a small boof on the far right but ended up missing his line. The water was shallower than what he thought and the rocks at the bottom interrupted his plans. He slipped past the right side of the main hole and narrowly missed being eaten. After this run he walked up again to redeem himself. This time he made his intended line and that was that.


Dave making his intended line the second time around.


This is a photo of a hole (with Craig Rivett surfing) somewhere between the natural weir and the take-out at a high level. And here's a tip, you don't need to paddle the gorge to reach this spot. Drive up from the bridge near the take-out and put-in right below the natural weir.


The rapids from here on are fairly small and can be a little bony. Down to the bridge takes another forty minutes and then we were there. The level under the bridge read about 1.4m, slightly lower than the previous morning. We continued to the bush camp around the corner and enjoyed the last little rapid in front of the first chalets. It had been another fantastic trip. The level wasn’t the greatest but the company was excellent and a good time was had by all. There is no doubt that I will return soon to paddle this stretch again, and again.


A frog chiling next to the lawns of Highover.


Some flower at Highover.


Dave managed to hit one of the biggest rocks on the gravel road on the way back. With this dodgy bulge it was time to change the tyre.


A settlement where the gravel road become tar, just before Richmond.


On the way home we had some huge thunderstorms! I'm sure with our coming rains the rivers will really start to crank very soon!


Below is a video of the trip. A big thanks to Dave and Neil for taking some video footage and photos for me. The video is not the greatest and we had some problems so if you're wondering why some footage has just stopped it hasn't, the little digital stops after about 45 seconds... Oops. I did my best so enjoy, it's not the greatest though:


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On the green lawns of Highover we packed up our gear and realised then how warm it was. Summer is definitely here and we are in for a big season. The drive back was a lot more uneventful than the drive down. Dave decided to drive the entire journey. By 20:50 I was back home. 48 hours had not even passed since we had left at the wee hours of Saturday morning. Within that time we had driven over 1200km and paddled a super overnight trip. It’s amazing what you can do in so little time. What are you doing in yours?  



Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. A big thanks to Dave and Neil for taking video and some photos too. Much appreciated!

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.