The third morning was a chilly one. We had camped in the lee of a hill and there the sun wouldn’t have been able to rouse us for quite some time, so we had to get going without its warmth. April is encroaching on winter time in South Africa and mornings can have a bite in the air. It looked like another excellent day ahead.

Soon below our camp, we encountered some rapids which, given about 20 times more water, would have been quite awesome. But alas the water was not with us so we passed through easily (although I believe I claimed the first roll of the trip there) and continued to the waterfall which was now not very far away.

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Scott Reinders (left) and Jakes Saaiman (right) Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_125_E1 copy

From our camp from the second night we packed up and headed across the river, to some sunshine. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_133_E1 copy

Andrew Pollock on a rapid down from the camp. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_144_E1 copy Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_145_E1 copy Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_147_E1 copy Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_148_E1 copy Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_149_E1 copyAdrian Tregoning on that same rapid. Photos by Andrew Pollock. 

The impressive Mzimvubu Falls span the river at a spot over a hundred metres wide. There is a village on river left and the people there confirmed we were only the third ever group to have been there. This waterfall must be quite a sight in flood. There are no roads to it, so this is one of those ‘tourist attractions’ that will probably (hopefully) never become one. River left has two lead in rapids which run in different channels parallel to each other, followed by a single drop which is probably close to 18m or 20m high. There was much debate on how to get around this waterfall and soon the group was split with no plan whatsoever while some went to inspect the river right side. While all this was happening Hugh du Preez notched up a first descent of the left channel above the big drop. His run was great and no problems. Eventually, after starting a painful portage, we had to retrace our steps as someone mentioned an easier route around on the right side, with a drop or two which we could run. While it was a pain to then walk back, the route we were already on would have been way longer, with more hardships, no doubt.

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A local lady watching us with interest. The mud on her face keeps the sun off of it. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_190_E1 copy

Andrew Pollock filming Will Clark above the Mzimvubu Falls.  Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_192_E1 copy

Scott Reinders saying that way?  Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_193_E1_CR copy

Jakes Saaiman taking it easy while everyone was wondering around. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_197_E1 copy

The view to the entry of the left, top drop. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_200_E1 copy

The left channel’s right drop. No one ran this one. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_201_E1 copy

The left channel’s left drop. Hugh du Preez ran this. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_205_E1 copyThe view down the big one on the left channel.

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River right had a small lead in rapid, a little pool and then a waterfall of around 9 or 10m. The entry was sloping and not very basic and about halfway a rock jutted out almost into the main flow, which wasn’t much. The only good thing about it was the big pool below. Without hesitation I decided to portage. No roads, no cell phone signal, probably more than a day’s walk out to the nearest car is enough to convince most people, especially me. Andrew Kellett stepped up and decided to try it. He cracked out a sweet first descent, doing pretty much everything right, except that he turned his head on impact and he hurt his neck a bit on the landing. The hit caused some lack of feeling in one of his forearms which he chose not to tell anyone about until much later. But all good, it was awesome to see. Next up was Will Clark. His run wasn’t quite as good and he rotated a bit but still pretty decent. No injuries really thus far. Phil Solomon decided he’d also run it and while it started off well he went into the meanest boof I’ve ever seen and luckily he landed totally on edge, which probably prevented his from breaking his back. With the current trend of runs going from great to where we stood then, no one else wanted to run it and the rest portaged. Good call.

Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_232_E1 copyWill Clark scouting the river right channel’s top drop.

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Right below was a simple little 2.5m drop and then the entry to a sloping entry drop which ended in a clean drop of 7 to 8m. There was very little water so we decided to portage. This was tricky and slippery work but as a team we did it damn quickly. Once in position above the drop myself and Scott made our way down the side and then jumped. I’m not a big fan of heights and felt nervous but once I jumped, I actually really enjoyed it. Someone had the idea to throw the boats down. Scott Reinders’ boat went first. It hit a rock at the base of the drop and the tail cracked. Oops. Throwing extremely heavy and loaded boats down, turns out is not such a great idea afterall. The rest of the boats were lowered using ropes. I managed to swim to Scott’s boat, get that on the bank, then swim to fetch another boat and once in someone else’s I kept bringing them to the side where someone else was stacking them up. The cool water was a huge relief as the day had turned into a real scorcher with no wind.

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Lunch time during the mission through the falls. This is an island between the two channels, at these water levels… Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_296_E1_CR copy Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_297_E1_CR copy
Adrian Tregoning running a small drop. Photos by Scott Reinders. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_301_E1 copy

Andrew Pollock running the same drop as above, with his tripod slung over his shoulder. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_309_E1 copy

Leon Pieters in the medium Fluid Detox. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_313_E1 copy

Andrew Pollock posing for the camera. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_316_E1_CRP copy

Scott Reinders on that same drop, different camera angle. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_318_E1 copyCelliers Kruger too, with the camera’s clicking away.

Once everyone had jumped and were back with their boats we had a look at the big drop on river left and paddled below it. I’ll never forget that feeling of being so close to a drop like that. It was just awesome to see and hear that water slamming into the water. Huge boils were coming up and I doubt that that drop was deep enough at that water level for an attempt.

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Leon Pieters stock piling boats after lowering them down. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_324_E1 copyCelliers Kruger jumping down the final drop which we couldn’t run. 

A few hundred metres down we paddled past one of the Mzimvubu’s main tributaries, the Mzintlava. It was pumping in about 0.1 cumecs and looked like an army of ants could have marched across the river at its widest point. Pity, we were hoping for a little more water to aid our trip. Not far from this we made camp. We had paddled only 3km that day. But the waterfall had been a full day mission.

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Hugh du Preez with the big drop of the left channel in view.  Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_337_E1 copy

Scott Reinders after the whole waterfall mission.  Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_342_E1 copy

Our group below the falls. What a beautiful place! Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_345_E1 copy

Leon Pieters and the medium Detox at camp.  Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_346_E1 copy

The gear which came out of my boat. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_347_E1 copy

Andrew Pollock looking tired. It was a long, hot day. Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_354_E1 copy

Leon Pieters cooking up a storm! Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_358_E1 copy

My supper. Yum, yum!!!! Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_359_E1_CR copy

Hugh du Preez went to town!!!!!!!!!!!! :-) I bet you’ve never seen this on a river.  Vubu_17_to_25_April_2010_362_E1 copyScott Reinders getting ready for bed under his contraption that him and Andrew Pollock always built. 

I had my best supper that night. Noodles laced with smoked mussels a tin of John West tuna with that thousand islands dressing sauce, and some chilli sauce, of course. Celliers’ suggestion was that the 12 of us would be split into 3 groups of 4 where 1 person would cook for their group on one given night, and a rotation done within the group. I opted to cook for myself and while this was frowned upon by certain members of the group and seen as ‘non-team like’ they’re not the ones who have to live with my stomach. I guess you can’t please all of the people all the time anyway. By that stage our whisky reserves were just beyond halfway. We nursed a few delightful sips and relaxed as the night got cooler. I don’t think we stayed up very late and soon our camp was quiet with tired paddlers sleeping soundly. Another tough day in Africa.


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Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning.