Olifants River – Close Crocodile Encounter

Neil and I woke up at 06:00 at Karl’s house. It was a warm, clear morning and the scene was set for a super relaxing day. We weren’t certain on the water levels but knew that it would be dropping. With some luck we’d have a good level. Only one way to find out and that was to take the short drive from Witbank down to the magnificent Kingdom Farm. 

The three of us squeezed into Karl’s single cab Toyota and we were followed by Karl’s brother, Sven and his mate Jamie. They had kindly offered to drive with us to the take-out and then bring us to the put-in. They drive from the house, to the farm, within the farm and back must have been around two hundred odd kilometres. So they were really helping us out a lot! Thanks a million guys, appreciate it.


The Kingdom Farm itself is a 15 000 ha privately owned nature reserve. It is truly spectacular and definitely one of the most coveted farms in the country. Offering wide open bushveld and also rough terrain, with vertical cliffs meeting a snaking Olifants River that winds its way for several kilometres inside of the farm. The roads on the farm are passable with a normal high clearance vehicle but a 4x4 is recommended in case it rains. You wouldn’t want to be stuck on the far side of the farm and have to walk twenty kilometres back to the farm house. Within this splendid area is a wide variety of game that includes kudu, impala, wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, warthog and giraffe and of course the odd crocodile in the river, which, as we found out first hand, are there! Read on…


The drive in, before the farm. Luckily this wasn't too wet still, although at places we slipped around a bit.


After driving for a while and even getting a little lost, we arrived. We entered from the southern side of the farm and unlocked the gate with the code that Karl had received beforehand. Once inside we cruised down for a while, enjoying the bushveld from our cramped position inside of the bakkie. At a fence there is a secret road which if you didn’t know about, would be 100% impossible to find. The road goes through some long grass and then a path becomes recognisable where it soon changes from a gravel road to that of a concrete slab surfaced one. The going it reasonably steep and this time we brought along a saw and axe to remove any blockages by trees. The previous time we had been down here we had our path blocked by a fallen tree which took almost an hour to remove.


Down at the take-out. Although this spot is still about 45 minutes walk from it. Toyota, VIVA!  :-) 


The river is in the distance, at the bottom. A walk similar to the Thrombi walk... Longer but not as steep. Similar elevation gain, maybe more.


Once down the hill we drove along for a little while until the road started descending steeply again, this time staying gravel. If you don’t have a 4x4 vehicle with high ground clearance and a low ratio box then don’t bother going down as there is one particular little section which would probably cause you a lot of grief. So we left the one vehicle right there and we all jumped onto the second bakkie to go back up the hill. Karl was really stressed out about getting out and already wanted to abandon the idea of paddling as he was convinced we would not get out the steep, concreted hill which at that stage was wet and slippery. In the end, we got out quite quickly and easily. We crossed over the low level bridge, driving carefully through the water that was flowing over the top of it and were dropped off.


Some impala in their natural habitat. If I win the National Lottery, I'll buy this farm I reckon!


On the farm still, very near to the put-in on the low level bridge.


The low level bridge with Karl walking in front to check the depth and Neil hanging on the back, ready to jump ship if need be!


A smart locust at the put-in. I've got a growing collection of locust photos now already. I just love their colours and patterns! Don't you?  :-)


Neil was in his brand new Fluid Solo in the recently released medium size and was eager to get going. The level looked pretty low but I hoped that the rapids would be good. The very first pool was long and painful. Things were not looking up. Then the next rapid had a little gradient and was quite fun. The rapids are of the pool drop nature throughout and the pools long in between.


Some scenery in the beginning.


Neil running the first rapid of the day.


Neil O'Leary in his brand new Fluid Solo in the medium size. And yes, he is pretty damn tall in case you were wondering.


After about two kilometres the river takes a turn to the left and some tall cliffs join on the right bank. There is a nice little ledge drop here about a metre high; meaty in the middle and a bit friendlier on the right. Neil went first and ran it far right while I took some photos. Karl took the same line. I decided to try the middle line and ran it without any problems. There is a calm pool below this and then another rapid which had more guts to it.


Karl running a fun ledge drop in his large Fluid Solo.


The ledge drop which gets a little more serious with more water. I think we had around 30 cumecs (according to the internet) on this trip. Maybe a little less.


The same ledge drop with almost now water. Dodgy pothole!!!


The view just upstream from the ledge drop pictured above.


Adrian running the middle line. Photos by Neil O'Leary.


I had run this drop with Karl at a super low level and I actually wished I hadn’t. The first river wide drop lands directly onto a shelf and then down into a sticky hole. The hole is backed up by a ledge that is directly downstream of it. Of course this ledge was underwater but I knew it was there. I also knew exactly how it looked at a low level. Speed would be lost after the first drop and punching the hole would be difficult. We were at a remote part of the farm and any type of accident would be disastrous. After a bit of analysis we decided to all portage it and perhaps run it another day. With more water it is more runnable according to Karl. At this level it is quite runnable though, maybe we are just chicken? The photo shown here is too pictures merged so perhaps it looks a little smaller here.


The drop below the ledge drop which we portaged... chickens we are...  :-|


The same drop as above, but with almost no water. Note the ledge behind me is bone dry in this photo. Photo by Karl Martin.


The view back to the ledge drop showing how long the pool is. Great place to be though.


From here on the pools were very long and the rapids small. I must however mention that the scenery is really good. It’s hard to believe that as the crow flies we were not even that far away from Witbank, which by contrast is a truly horrible place. The river winds its way slowly through some magical walls covered in lush vegetation and also some typical bushveld. It really is a splendid place and even though the rapids were a disappointment, the place itself made up for it.


Karl was telling us about all the crocodiles he had seen on this entire stretch and pointed out the spots he had seen them in. At one long pool I could clearly see a well worn path where a croc would gain access to the water and started to believe Karl. For sure there are loads of crocs further down in Loskop Dam but here? Well, it seemed so. We paddle quickly across the pool which was wide, probably pretty deep given the cliffs next to us and about a kilometre long. Eventually we reached the other side and continued on.


View upstream (top) and downstream (bottom) below the Wilge River, which added some more volume!


More and more scenery along the way. Fantastic!


We passed more pools and still no sign of any crocs. I was beginning to have my doubts and we forgot about them eventually. As we paddled on a right hand bend about four to five metres away from the reed covered bank we heard the sound of movement in the dirt and branches snapping and reeds breaking. I was the closest to the bank and looked to my right to see a large grey shape moving. Normally this would have been an animal that we would have startled and I still thought to myself, damn that’s a big warthog. But those thoughts were quickly dispelled as this large crocodile came charging into the water, right next to me! I saw the length of it as it pierced the water and then immediately broke into sprint that would have made world renowned sprint and marathon ace Shaun Rubenstein proud! With every single bit of my strength I sprinted away and was surprised to see Karl very near to me and Neil a short way behind. Without stopping we sprinted to the next rapid which was thankfully only about one hundred and fifty metres away.


It had been a close call! We had probably both been given a massive fright, the crocodile as well as us. But when a roughly three and half to four metre beast that is far wider than my own shoulders comes charging into the water at full tilt I paddle away. It would be stupid to hang around. Even though he was probably trying to get away with wild animals one never knows and only a fool takes the chance. After that encounter we proceeded a little more carefully and didn’t paddle too far to the banks.


A broad rapid with a variety of lines to choose from. This one should produce some good waves at high/flood level.


Neil O'Leary throwing in a powerful right stroke before punching a hole in his medium Solo.


Karl Martin flying through a rapid in his large Solo.


Adrian in his beloved and well travelled large Solo.


Eventually we got to the take-out. Watch out. If you’ve never run this section you will miss the take-out. Luckily I had been there once before and Karl had been there several times. But for anyone else there isn’t much to let you know that you’ve arrived. Do yourself a favour and walk down to the water and put up some kind of reliable marker. The walk up is steep, unpleasant and long. I think it took us about forty five to sixty minutes to get back to the car and by then we were sweating profusely. Neil made it up in one shot and then eventually came back to kindly help us out! He was doing the Dusi the following week and was clearly far fitter than Karl or me.


Karl taking strain on the long walk up, even though it looks like he is smiling. I also almost died...  :-)


Africa! I love Africa.


This section of about 23km is suitable for intermediate paddlers, not beginners though. Even though the rapids are not especially challenging it is remote and any kind of mishap will quickly turn into a disaster. Of course the difficulty also depends on water levels and if the section is pumping at 450 m³/s like it was the other day, the rapids will have a bit more bite to them, no doubt about it. The scenery is good and it would be a very good idea to do an overnight trip down to Loskop Dam itself. The take out is not far from the dam itself, about 13 km. This would also avoid the drive down to the take-out we used which requires a proper vehicle and the knowledge to be able to find the road! Have fun…




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: A park and huck of a sweet little drop also on the Olifants known as Valletjies.