Steelpoort Meets Fluid Spice

Another early morning and Adrian Vroom arrived merrily at my house. Well, maybe not that merrily as mornings aren’t really his thing and he claims that ‘normal’ people don’t get up that early. Ha, we kayakers aren’t too normal anyway. Still he was as stoked as I was to be getting away from this horrible place they call Johannesburg and we left armed with two boats each. Our mission was to paddle the Steelpoort on the Saturday, then drive down to Vygeboom Dam and stay with a good mate of mine and then the  following morning we would continue to Nelspruit to paddle the notorious Crocodile Gorge.

We picked up Karl Martin at his house after a quick breakfast at Wimpy in Witbank and headed off to Stoffberg where we’d meet Lelani Boshoff. Once there we took off to the river and were greeted with a rather low river. There was evidence to back up the fact that the river had indeed risen to roughly 200 m³/s a few weeks prior and this had opened up the tree block below the bridge a bit. For sure it was disappointing but the level was not as low as when I first paddled this river. Karl and Lelani did the shuttle while Adrian Vroom (Aqua Man) and I stayed behind and chilled out. Fifty long minutes later they returned!


Looking upstream at the low flow.


No hole under the bridge this time!!!


Adrian Vroom (Aqua Man) messing around at the put-in. Eventually we moved all the gear to river level as we had nothing to do.


The bridge has opened up now at least.


Another day, another locust to my collection of locust photos.


Once on the river the going was slow. Very different to when we had paddled it the last time. Now we were hitting rocks with the bottom of our boats and there weren’t the play waves we were hoping for. It was the first time I was taking my medium Fluid Spice onto a river and even though the level was low I was really enjoying the boat. Aqua Man didn’t seem to be enjoying himself too much and he was clearly not impressed with the low volume. Oh well, we really had no idea what would be happening as the gauge on the internet had been bust by the floods. (It is working now though)


Some cattle next to the river within the first few kilometres. After that, you see no sign of humans and only the occassional antelope etc.


Lelani Boshoff on some random rapid.


Early on in the trip is a hang bridge across the river and even though the bottom of the bridge was usually about three to four metres above the water, it had been ripped up by the floods and even the concrete support pillars lay broken and defeated. Throughout the run down we would pass the spots where Carl van Wyk had taken his first swim, then the spot where he took his second, then the short rapid that almost beat me, thrashed Dave Joyce and also worked Brendan Bosman a bit. Even at a low level it still had a bit of substance to it, causing Lelani to flip twice and almost getting caught in a hole. Got to watch out for that one for sure! But if you don’t know where it is then a surprise will be waiting. At high levels some spray and a horizon line should be ample warning. I think I’ll call that rapid Quad Trouble because of the four holes in it. The rapid immediately below this is not too bad although nothing at a low level. I went down first and got some photos of Lelani and Karl.


Karl Martin on the rapid after Quad Trouble with Lelani Boshoff in the background.


Lelani Boshoff running the same rapid.


Adrian Tregoning on another rapid further down. Photos by Adrian Vroom. (Aqua Man)


Adrian Tregoning enjoying the Fluid Spice (medium). Photo by Adrian Vroom.


Karl Martin (yellow boat) and Lelani Boshoff (green boat) on the same rapid. Photo by Adrian Vroom. (sweet photo!)


A few rapids further and we arrived at the ‘Grass Rapid’. We had portaged this one at flood level because of a mean pourover at the bottom right but this time I paddled blindly into it. It is actually a horrible rapid to start and one paddles through grass tufts that are higher than your head while the river drops. So moving through the grass at a high speed one has to duck and dive to not be thrashed too much in the face by it and charge around blind corners, a scary proposition at the best of times but when the fast stream is only a boat width wide it isn’t fun. There is a one foot drop in the grass which is tricky (depending which channel you take!!) and then another one foot drop as it opens up and becomes a normal rapid again. I looked back to see how the others were faring and saw Lelani upside down. She had lost her paddle already but was refusing to swim. Luckily she got eddied out after the one foot drop and was trying to get up off of the bottom. Eventually she did bail and swam down the rest of the rapid. Thumbs up for hanging on for so long, I’m sure most people would have bailed quicker. After a boat empting session she was good to go; tough lady that, and one female paddler to keep an eye on. With so many great rivers (Blyde, Olifants) on her doorstep she is going to be improving rather rapidly.


Tonsillitis rapid with a lot less water than at flood!!! See below for a picture from our last trip down this section!


Dave Joyce going deep (IN FLOOD!)


On and on the river went until we finally got to Tonsillitis. We scouted from the left bank and I decided I’d test this Spice on something more substantial than the rapids we had been running thus far. The pool below was quite slow moving compared to flood level but the unavoidable hole on river right was looking very meaty. I had no illusions that a fluffed line would result in a severe beating and an almost guaranteed swim. It sucks back from quite a distance, even with only a small flow. At first, I was almost expecting to swim but as the adrenalin rose it pushed my confidence levels up and I knew that I’d make it. I just had to. Aqua Man stood near the hole with a throw bag and Karl close by to render assistance just in case. Lelani was in charge of taking photos. My line wasn’t bad I guess although I could have had a better boof stroke. The entrance is super fast and at least this gives the needed speed to punch the hole. The boat hit the hole very hard as it decelerated and threw my body forward and threw up the nose, edging the boat viscously but I stayed upright, cleared the hole and was swung into an eddy on the right. Shew!


Adrian Tregoning scouting from higher up. The main line on the right is not very visible from this bank. Photo by Lelani Boshoff.


Adrian Tregoning running Tonsillitis and almost going over and into the dreadful hole. Photos by Lelani Boshoff.


Karl Martin taking the chicken line on Tonsillitis.


No one else wanted to run the main line. Karl ran the chicken run on the left and did this easily. Aqua Man wasn’t bothered and really wanted to sleep right there and then. He too had not enough sleep, although far more then me. The previous night I had starting reading at 22:30 and eventually stopped at around midnight. At 03:00 I made some hot milk and honey and then still couldn’t sleep. At 03:45 I started watching kayaking DVD’s. By the time Aqua Man picked me up I hadn’t slept a wink. That was the first time that had ever happened to me! I wondered when the lack of sleep would catch up to me.


The rapid below that, had caused two swims in our group the previous time and we approached with a bit of caution. The big hole at the top was still there but after that the rapid was now about four times wider! Boulders lay littering the entire left bank and even some of the dangerous trees on the right were gone. Clearly the floods had washed this rapid out. It was far too narrow for its own good and far too powerful for that much water with banks not strong enough to support the flow. In fact, from here down to the take-out, we saw many rapids which had changed quite a bit. The force of water is something which is sometimes difficult to fathom.


Eventually we landed up at the end and I think everyone was pretty tired. Aqua Man had paddled his play boat down the 35km stretch and wasn’t keen on doing it anytime soon at that level. Shame, not a good day for him as he was hitting everyone rock and probably fairly bored. With more water it would have been a lot more fun. I enjoyed my day and loved the Spice! What a super boat. It took us 9 hours to paddle down that day but the boat was comfortable the whole time and behaved exactly like it should. I can’t wait to try this boat out on some bigger water. There is no doubt that I’m going to get good use out of this boat. It's edges are awesome and make moving about on the river a real pleasure and the reasonably long length make it more of a river runner than a play boat, which is really schweeeet. No doubt that even flat water cartwheels are still possible. I believe it's great in the surf! Should be interesting to try that too.


The Fluid Spice in the medium size. This wasn't / isn't meant to be a review or anything as I've only just received the boat but here it is. Isn't she a beaut? :-)


Nemesis (left) and Spice (right), both in the medium size.


From the take-out we bid Lelani farewell and she took the long drive home. With three of us crammed into the front of Aqua Man’s bakkie we took a drive down to Vygeboom Dam. The road was long and pot holed and eventually darkness overtook us. We tried to find a bite to eat in Badplaas but in defeat turned around to find the dam. Here we met up with my long time friend (the friend I’ve known the longest!), Stephen Lea. I went to nursery school and most of my primary school with Stephen and we often still party and go fishing in Plettenberg  Bay every year. Night fishing missions on the boat have some stories to tell. He lives in Barberton still, where we grew up. Super place and a hot spot for paragliding too!


After waiting a few minutes he arrived in a Polaris Ranger, coming around the corner at full speed and mostly sideways. Nothing changes! From here we had a big braai at some other people’s house and the beers flowed freely. By about midnight we were tired and Aqua Man looked pretty gone by then. I decided to show Stephen my wild rally driving skills and we took off at a blistering pace back to his house. It was action packed and I don’t recommend hitting the brakes full tilt at 80km/h while under the affluence of incohol!! Hehehe.


Some action shots of Adrian Tregoning trying to surf behind the boat. Those photos are in no particular order. Photos by Karl Martin.


Stephen Lea, showing us how, next to the boat. (he was out of practise after a long absence to go properly behind the boat)


The next morning we decided to go out super early and mess around on the boat. I tried to kayak behind the boat in my Spice but it didn’t work out too well. After missioning with the paddle for a while and not being able to get enough speed for some aerial moves I left the paddle. The boat bounced around a lot and eventually, after a few unsuccessful runs I went over and my hand roll failed me. I tried again and again and eventually I swam, on flat water. Oops! Karl tried some barefoot water skiing and Stephen also showed us how to do it. With that we packed up our gear and took the roughly 100km drive to Nelspruit. Here we would tackle the notorious Crocodile Gorge that same day! Don’t miss the next article...




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: The infamous Crocodile Gorge. Don’t miss this one! Near misses with hippo...