Upper Sabie & Blyde – a long weekend


With the drought in South Africa still hanging over our heads and the fact that winter was encroaching, water was fairly scarce. Friday and Tuesday were public holidays so all that was needed was to knock off a Monday and then voila, an extra long weekend. Our mission was to hit two sections on the Upper Sabie and also the Upper Blyde. We were not to be disappointed.

Neil O’Leary, Dave Rice and I left my house late Thursday night and arrived at Induna Adventures at around one in the morning. The following morning we met up with Wihan Basson, Robin Kock, Peter Ridgway and Hendrik Schloemann, with Wihan’s girlfriend, Lee, doing the driving for us. The plan was to paddle the U2 section of the Sabie.


Now, for those that don’t know what the numbers stand for it’s pretty simple. Stupid, but simple. The Sabie ‘levels’ off just before the confluence with the Mac-Mac. From here, upstream, is the U1, the Upper Sabie. Upstream of that is the U2, the Upper Upper Sabie and above that the rarely paddled U3, namely, Upper Upper Upper Sabie. Well, now that that’s been cleared up, along with the story.




So we decided to not put in at the bridge where the U2 starts to avoid the flat pools and small rapids. To get to this bridge. One leaves Induna Adventures (next to the road between Hazyview and Sabie) and drive back towards Sabie. We carried on with the road and turned right at the first right, downhill, across a small bridge thing and as the road rises, turn right again. Unfortunately, the second car was not a 4x4 and I wasn’t 100% convinced to take my car through the sticky mud with a sheer drop to my right. We turned around and headed back to the bridge.


Dave Rice on a nice rapid just avoiding a nasty log!


The put-in looks really boring and ultra low volume and those that hadn’t paddled any of the Upper Sabie sections held serious doubts. The river starts off very gently with some very small rapids and long flat pools. The clear water winds its way through the lush forests and this is a very chilled way to start the trip. The rapids grow in size and difficulty and soon we were at the same spot where we would have put-in, a nice simple slide.


The Sabie is chock a block with trees in many of the rapids and one should be careful not to just bomb down a blind horizon line. Just follow to old rule, ‘if in doubt, scout’. We had the odd tricky situations and also some very annoying logs to get over in the pools, sometimes requiring a quick portage. One could cut them up with a saw but then the problem remains of getting a huge log out of the water and the pieces could go downstream and block up another spot that may be far harder to reach. There are many good rapids and I can’t wait to finally hit the Sabie with some more water. It’s just always worked out that I end up going there at very low levels and when there’s water, I tend to go elsewhere. At low water, the other rivers are impossible to run whereas the Sabie is still possible.


The first portage, I think, is a dodgy, roughly four metre waterfall. There is a small drop in front of it and at these levels it is easy to make the pool between this drop and the waterfall. If you’re not sure, rather portage this drop. Portage is on river right and one can, as Hugh du Preez has done, run the stepped waterfall river right of the unrunnable drop. Otherwise just seal launch off the 4 metre ledge. The pool below is pretty deep.


There are some great rapids that follow and also a particularly good one where the water channels well. It drops down and towards a rock where the water goes around the left and you want to be far left to avoid ‘falling’ into a slot next to the rock. You could be hurt doing that and potentially get stuck which would be a very big problem.


Robin Kock entering the rapid with the slot next to the rock.


Adrian T on a small drop above the big slide. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


Neil O'Leary on the same slide.


Some more small slides/drops follow and then one arrives at the big slide. At low levels, portage! No doubt about it. At low levels like this the water channels all on the right and smacks directly into the rock at the bottom. You cannot see the rock but water sprays off of it and is pretty obvious. There is a second option to running this big slide. On river right is a small slot/channel where some water feeds and you run down this slot and then join up with the main current on the face of the slide. With the cross grain speed you gain you then get enough speed and direction (provided you throw a hard forward stroke on your right) and then avoid the rock and finish off somewhere in the middle of the hole that forms below the slide. If you feel tempted, ask Philip Claassens about hitting that rock. He thought he could miss it at a low level but could not. Only at much higher levels will the water flow over more to the left.


Directly after this is the infamous double drop. A nice drop but a little tricky at low levels. There are two logs, for the last year or more, across the river about 3 or 4 metres above the first drop. This makes the entry a little trickier. I had run the drop before and after doing the first drop, my right edge was grabbed and a hurried brace followed! It was a close call and I lost a little confidence after that near miss that day. The memory of that was fresh in my mind as I watched Peter, Hendrik and Wihan run the drop. I should have portaged and wasn’t feeling too confident but ran it anyway, big mistake. Always trust your instinct. I lifted my right edge and leaned left but also a little back. That was probably my undoing. It grabbed my right edge and over I went.


The sound of the water was almost very soothing and I immediately tucked forward and set-up for a roll. I hesitated thinking if trying to roll was a good idea or just taking the beating was a better option but before any more thinking could take place a good hit to my head was felt (maybe heard too) and then another 2 more much harder hits. My paddle was now gone and a hand roll didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted out and I wanted out now! I pulled the deck and out I was. Initially I felt fine and was smiling but then realised that my paddle had snapped and cut my hand and was now missing.


I swam back to the other side and Dave and Hendrik helped me to try and find the paddle. We saw the one half on the face of the drop and attempted to get it. After touching it with a log, it slipped away, never to be seen again. We wasted quite a bit of time there but then moved on, using a split paddle from Robin.


Wihan managing the double drop, just...


Adrian T not making the double drop! Photos by Neil O'Leary.


Peter Ridgway coming dangerously close to going over. Photo by Robin Kock.


As is normal on the Upper Sabie sections, more rapids followed, including another nice little slide. Eventually one comes to the bridge that is the put-in for the U1 section. Unfortunately the land owners have a rather large hatred to kayakers and no one is allowed to gain access to the bridge. How short sighted of them? If they only realised that we are also just people enjoying nature and are not litter bugs or trouble causers. I am sure that a number of paddlers would love to stay there overnight but how can we support or recommend the place to non-paddlers if they don’t support us? Fair enough, the cheapest room is R1300 per person sharing (about 190 US Dollars) so I guess it’s out of most kayakers’ leagues, but still, Timamoon Lodge shouldn’t be so anti-kayaker.

Here’s some free advertising for them in the meanwhile. Click HERE.


Robin Kock running a fun slide.


But all is not lost. One paddles down the entry rapid, if there is water. At this level one does a dodgy seal launch. Then there are a few smallish drops and then a narrow section that has a solid hole at the bottom at higher levels. We could not paddle this section as it had some dangerous logs in it. Directly after this is Siphon Falls and another take-out for the U2 section and then also the put-in for the U1 section.


The rock that forms the siphon is totally exposed and at better levels one paddles right over to run the roughly 3 metre drop that is, Siphon Falls. We took out here and did the steep hike out. Peter and Hendrik opted to hide their boats in the bushes as we would return the following day while the rest of us lugged them up the hill. Once one reaches the ‘road’ turn left and walked up another 200 hundred metres or so until you reach a house. The owner is very friendly and I think he owns ‘House of Coffees’ or something like that. To find this spot from the main road, drive from Induna towards Sabie and go uphill for a few kilometres. When you reach the banana plantations keep a sharp lookout for the coffee sign, on your right. I remember it because there is a line of tall, dead trees at the road. The road also goes underneath a wire which I guess limits the road to something less than a truck. A few hints to note when finding the road.


The take-out at Siphon Falls involves a short but steep hike!


Dave, Neil and I took a drive to Hazyview and bought some supplies at the Pick ‘n Pay. We couldn’t believe the size of the mall there. Hazyview has it all these days. Next to the main road is a choice of a couple of places to chow down and we opted for a pizza place. It was quite a relaxing and open setting with a huge tree growing through the deck. The food was expensive but damn good! Enough to satisfy the hunger of some weary kayakers. We analysed the days’ happenings over very few, for a change, beers and returned back to the Induna Adventures campsite.


My Bibler Hooped Bivi matches my new boat nicely...


The following morning we arose early because Wihan and Lee needed to attend a wedding in Pretoria that afternoon. We returned to Siphon Falls and while I was doing the shuttle Peter and Hendrik ran the drop. As I got down to the boats the heavens opened and the rain began. It came in spurts and it was very annoying as far as photo opportunities go. The rapid below Siphon Falls should be called siphon rapid. A continuous rapid with log jams and siphons. Interesting stuff.


Because of the rain I missed out on many photo opportunities and we just marched on. On one tricky rapid, Dave went over and on while trying to roll and getting creamed by rocks he snapped his paddle. A swim resulted and that was that. We were at some kind of a deck with a BBQ there and he decided to walk out right away. Split paddles were available but he had had enough. There was one very nice rapid with a tight line, the main flow going towards a large rock and then past it on the right, very enjoyable at this low level. Many of the other rapids were just too bony and not much fun. At low levels I would recommend the U2 section over the U1 any day! I’m sure at high level it is awesome. I’ve seen pictures from Scott Reinders and you can see them HERE. (the top few)


The first portage is a large waterfall which will remain un-run for a long time still. Watch out as a rapid leads into the drop and caution should be exercised. There is a nice drop below the waterfall that is not really possible to run at a low level. At high levels it looks like good fun, although a little tight.


Top waterfall remains unrun. Bottom drop is very bony at this level.


Shortly after this was another tight run, and only a few people ran it. I decided to walk it and get some photos. Tight slots don’t appeal to me. I will be running an article with a comparison of low VS high water on a few rivers in the next two months or so, including this rapid. Another tricky rapid at low level that goes directly into a broad rock and running right and then a river wide drop that forms a viscous keeper hole at high levels as on the DVD, Chasing Water.  


Hendrik Schloemann running a tight drop.


Two large Fluid Solo's. With and without the hatch, that is the question. I chose without.


Then another long and dangerous portage over some huge granite boulders, or maybe just one really big one! A dodgy waterfall that has never been run and then 3 or 4 more drops below that are pretty good fun. We didn’t even bother to check them out at these low levels and carried on.


The dodgy portage over some steep and slippery rocks.


After this the river flattens out a fair amount with more bumping and scraping. It was a disappointing way to finish the day, which hadn’t been as good as the previous day. Dave, Neil and I took out at Induna and the rest carried on to their accommodation which was on the river. ‘Oudts’ asked if we saw the crocodile but we had not. Perhaps the large number of paddlers scared it off. It has chased Scott and Craig before and you should keep your eyes peeled for it on the lower section of the U1, as well as hippos that cruise around this lower and less steep area. The croc should be ok, hopefully, but meeting a hippo on this narrow and shallow river could potentially be fatal. Always be careful.



After an early start to the day and a relatively short paddle. We made our way to Chris Huddles house. Initially we arrived and I sent an sms to him, saying that we had arrived. He phoned me and said, “Really? Because I’m at home right now.”

Well, we were at the wrong house. Still on their property but about 400 metres back towards the dam side. Oops. We had arranged with Chris to paddle the Upper Blyde with him and his cronies as he is the owner of Blyde Canyon Adventures and also a friend of ours. Chris had kindly allowed us to stay at his house that night.


We were chilling on the lawn, drying our equipment, when Neil remarked that if one breaks a paddle, one should drink from it. Well, how convenient that Dave’s was right there on the lawn and some ice cold beers a stones throw away. Seeing as though he broke his and me, mine, we decided to give it a bash. I was quite amazed that a half a paddle shaft and whatever is inside the blade can hold more than a beer. The problem is when the shaft is tilted up the beer comes out at first steadily. Then all of a sudden it comes out full tilt and that can be seen in the photo of me giving it a try. It actually tastes great! A lekker foamy taste.


Adrian T getting a bit carried away with the beer in a paddle trick. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


That night Chris invited the usual suspects and the not so usual from Johannesburg too and a roaring party ensued. The tequila made its rounds as well as some Russian coffees that were disgusting. Later on I noticed Dave and Neil had disappeared and went to look for them. They had cleverly decided to go to bed and I retired as well. Anymore boozing and I would have gotten fully into the swing of things and then regretted it in the morning.


The party at Chris Huddles house. Good times indeed.


I woke up feeling alright and various people came out of the house not looking too good. The party had had its effect on some but that was not to dampen the spirits of the majority. ‘Oudts from Induna had joined us, as well as George Louw and his girlfriend, Caroline and also Jakes Saaiman and Cornelia, Lelani Boshoff and a couple of other people. There were also to be about four clients on the rafts. It was going to be a good day. You just knew it!


That morning was freezing cold and while driving on the open truck I mentally thanked, whoever it was, that reminded me to put on a jersey. Brrrrr! The drive took more than two hours but is always a good one as you descend to the canyon floor. The level was a little lower than it had been the previous time I was there for the festival but still more than the full on winter level. A little disappointing but it turned out to be still great.


The rest of the group making their way down.


Oudts gooing a lekker rock 360.


Taking photographs on a kayaking trip is always a mission. Before a selected spot, you have to try and get people to wait, while you scramble into position. This is usually not a problem as people want their photo taken but then after the rapid they just take off again and leave you behind. It happens time and again and then it’s a mission to catch up to them. Sometimes there is an excellent opportunity for a photograph but the rapid is small or a continuous section and then it is virtually impossible to get people to cooperate. This time I had a different plan to overcome these difficulties. I would paddle well ahead of everyone and then have ample time to climb into a good position for some better photos.


It worked out well and I ended paddling sometimes more than half a kilometre ahead of anyone else. This gave me enough time to relax once I found a good spot. Not the safest of ideas to paddle on your own but I have done the river twice before and feel very comfortable with it. To paddle on your own is something I actually really enjoy doing and I find it so much more satisfying. I think in the future I will be doing some solo runs on the easier stuff. With no one else to worry about you can really concentrate on what’s going on around you and your boat and paddle far better then. Just absorb in the scenery and bomb down the rapids. Well, that’s my personal opinion and I’m sure many people disagree with the practise. At least the photos came out quite nicely and the odd picture is really good.


We had a fairly uneventful run until just before Poachers Corner, where the action started. A small swim from one of the paddlers and then at Poachers Corner itself, Jakes managed to snap his paddle shaft. On the second hand roll attempt he came up and was pleasantly surprised that he could still hand roll. He searched high and low for the other hand of the paddle, diving down to the river bottom and searching in the clear water. Chris Huddle went on a mission to the big rock with the log next to it. The rock is nicely undercut and the log forms a siphon. Not the ideal place to be tramping around on but he swam around there, looking for the paddle. He eventually found it, underwater, a little downstream. A master of the river, Chris knows all the hiding spots for lost paddles…


George and Caroline running Poachers Corner. Very dangerous tree in the left side of the picture.


Jakes with his broken paddle and Cornelia behind him.


Lunch at Poachers Corner. Check out the clear water!!!


We had a lunch break here and then carried on downstream. There is a really tight, technical and long rapid below this and one I enjoy quite a bit. There is dodgy siphon on the left about halfway down, which most people don’t even know about. On my first time down this river, which was also my second ever river trip, a guy got pulled into this siphon, backwards. He was chilling in the small eddy formed there when all of a sudden he was sucked in. The dude sat bolt upright and his back stopped him from going in. It took 3 people to pull him out. At these low levels the siphon was clearly visible and I got out there to have a look at this little beastie. It had some lovely sticks stuck in it. It didn’t look like a fun place to hang around at higher levels.


A few rapids down comes Log Waterfall. It still baffles me as to why they call it this. They should name is something like ‘Siphon Drop’ or ‘Siphon City’. At low levels it is a fairly straight forward drop of about two feet, but with severe consequences. You enter from river left through a narrow gap and cross the grain diagonally to run the drop on the far left, away from this siphon that lies in wait just after the drop, on the right. One person has already been in there, got stuck, passed out and once his body relaxed (after blacking out) he popped out like a water melon seed. Not the kind of place you want to be. With some prompting from Hugh du Preez on another trip, Chris Huddle climbed through a dry siphon with his boat, set-up below the above mentioned siphon, next to three other siphons, and ran a little drop. Pretty dangerous activity to run that little drop and he ended up breaking his boat. Well, what some people will do for ‘fun’.


Adrian T on Log Water. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


Dave Rice running down some gentle stretches. Awesome scenery. One of my favourite photos.


After Log Waterfall are several more gentle rapids, some of them quite long. The scenery is world class and it is sometimes hard to believe that you are paddling in such a beautiful place. The Blyde River Canyon, or Motlatse Canyon as it is now know, is the largest vegetated canyon in the world, an amazing place. I would rate it in my top 10 runs in South, easily sitting somewhere near the top. Just above Alley’s Staircase is a nice little rapid and then Alley’s itself. We stopped here for another lunch and I decided to run it without scouting as I’ve done it before. With the water being lower than it was last time, it was a real difference. I didn’t have a clean line for the first half and hit several rocks, maybe even all the rocks. Not much fun to be honest and the only rapid that was a little disappointing. I believe in winter it doesn’t get much lower. Maybe a couple of inches and is still fully run able. So if you don’t mind the drive and there’s nothing better to do, go for it.


Adrian T on Alleys Staircase. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


Cornelia on Alleys Staircase.


Lelani on Alleys Staircase.


The other runs were nice, except for a swim from Lelani that was smartly captured on camera. It was her first time in her small Fluid Flirt on the river and she seemed a little nervous. Next up, came Gutter, where George and Caroline decided to go into the gutter on the right and didn’t have a good time in there when they got stuck. This is followed by Mark’s Drop and a very sweet rapid indeed. Super simple on the left, a nice chute forms where one can drop down. At high levels it forms a big hole that can hold a swimmer and then of course the natural weir below that which can hold you at any level. The Terminator is the drop to the right of Mark’s Drop. I was going to run it but wasn’t sure on my line so gave it a miss. Oudts ran it and almost hit the rock at the bottom. Everyone else ran Mark’s Drop and I went back up for photos and ran it again. Lelani had a very near miss. Going over just above the Terminator and executing a smart roll just in time to make Mark’s. A close call!


Oudts running the Terminator.


Neil O'Leary running Mark's Drop.


Downstream is Gutter number two which is dodgy at this level and infested with rocks so we missed that and ran left. Just past another siphon, then Curtain Falls. This is a great rapid and makes very good photos. Boof on the left and you will be fine. This rapid can really eat you and I know of more than one person that has been absolutely hammered in there. Be warned. It is also hollow behind the curtain and you will probably spend some time there too! At these levels, not too bad. There is also an option on river left if you don’t want to run the main drop. A short pool follows and then a little drop that has a nice, retentive hole. If you are brave, go in to throw multiple ends. Another 30 metres and one arrives at Amaglug. Very bony at these levels but still possible. Most of us slid down on the right. Just above the drop is a HUGE siphon where at higher levels, you could paddle right through with your boat and all. Be careful. It is just to the right of the drop and next to the main flow. I would imagine the water would have to be up for it to start sucking and then you better be on your game in any case.


George and Caroline styling Curtain Falls.


Adrian T on Curtain Falls. Photo by Neil O'Leary.


There is really only one more drop worthy of any mention after this. It is a slide that has a rock at the bottom on the left and also one more to the right, pretty simple though. Then the gradient eases off, with only one more continuous one, and a short rapid that are sweet. The trip ended at the dam and the ferry was waiting for us already. It had been a great day and the ice cold beers in the cooler box tasted only too good! The trip across was chilled and this time we managed to get some great photos of old George, the crocodile. He is much more chilled and his keen interest in kayakers has waned ever since the local guys stopped feeding him fish!!! Take that as a good thing…


Old George, chilling on the rocks.


The trees in this area are fantastic!


Tufas running into the dam.


Looking back to the end of the river as it enters the dam.


That evening the majority of guys left us and with only a few left we headed out to a restaurant in search of some good food. We had a good time but were disappointed with the food. After asking three times for a scale from the kitchen, getting the chef out and also the manager we came to no satisfactory conclusion. To the eventual disgust of the manager we short changed them by about R200 from our bill that was over R1000. Moral of the story – don’t advertise a 1 kg eisbein to several kayakers and then bring maybe half a kilogram that is way over cooked and 600g ribs that were more like 300g and then still treat them like crap. The customer is always right. I think almost every business in South Africa has forgotten that nowadays, but that’s another story altogether.


The three of us left reasonably early from Chris’ house and took a gentle drive back. We turned off to Graskop after the tunnel and took the dirt road to Pilgrims Rest. From there we went to Sabie and then to Montrose Falls. The level was low and the protruding rock on the left didn’t look good. We decided to give it a miss and headed on home. Only one more stop past the huge waterfall at Waterval Boven and that was that. It has been a fantastic weekend - great company, good rapids and even better times. Thanks to everyone for an excellent weekend!


Neil looking down disappointingly at Montrose Falls.


The incredible falls at Waterval Boven.


* My mission for the weekend was to become familiar with the boat before my Scandinavia trip in June and I was very pleased with the boat. In the meantime I’ve outfitted it a little more and ran the Ash recently again. Apart from some heavy drinking by everyone on the Friday night and Dave not even paddling on Saturday, we had a great time. The Fluid Solo performed as expected and there are no complaints from my side. *


For a gallery of this trip on the Blyde, click HERE and for the Sabie, click HERE.

BY: Adrian T.

Photography by: Adrian T, unless otherwise stated. And a big thanks to Neil O’Leary for swapping over with me from time to time with my camera.