The Injusuthi River – Interesting Start to the Trip

This is the first article of a series of nine articles on a road trip I did last year with Luke Longridge in my own country, South Africa. Too often we rush off to some distant place only to forget that adventure is just down the road. Well, at least in South Africa it is. I am truly lucky to live in this wonderful country! After these articles you might agree. Stay tuned.

This trip came about quite simply. I was unemployed and able to hit some rivers and Luke was (and still is) doing his doctorate so that left him a little more flexible than most people. We tried to get several other people to join and I also invited a couple from overseas but mostly it was just short notice so no one could go. The first thing to get around was how I was to get up to Johannesburg, as I live in Cape Town. They are about 1450km apart for those not knowing a great deal about South Africa (SA). If I flew up it would be cheaper but then you can’t take very much gear with and it’s always a stress as to whether or not you’ll be allowed onto the plane or not. Also, Luke’s bakkie (pick up truck) doesn’t have a canopy and mine does. SA is not the safest country in the world so the relative security of a canopy does make a difference. The plan finally came together and it was for me to drive up, and drive down, alone. Quite an expensive option but I was very keen to paddle and looking back, it was well worth it. I love driving long distances alone, gives one time to think clearly. In fact, I really enjoy doing a lot of things alone.

I loaded up my car on a Sunday afternoon (16 November 2008), threw my large and small Solo onto the roof and then chilled a bit for the rest of the evening. I then left home at 20:15 and headed onto the N1. Initially I wasn’t sure I could as floods had forced the N1 to be shut down for a few days. I called 5 police stations in the area to find out what was happening and guess what? No one ever answered the phone. Not once. I could not believe it. I think that alone says a lot about our wonderful police so I’ll just leave it at that. Eventually my mom got hold of someone at the SABC News and they said the road was open again. The N1 runs diagonally across the country from the south west (Cape Town) to the north east corner of the country where it ends at the border of Zimbabwe near Mussina (formally known as Messina before our Government decided to waste more money and change the name!). While I love my country, I think the government needs a wakeup call on what’s important and what’s not! People are starving, living in squalor and the fat cats at the top spend millions changing the names of everything. The international airport in Johannesburg just changed names again. What a waste. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting.


Packing for a 2 week road trip...


Finished packing the car on the Sunday afternoon.


Driving through the dry and arid Karoo region of SA. What a beautiful day.


The Orange River. SA's largest river and the 5th largest river in Africa!


The Orange River where the N1 crosses it.


The drive was ok and the evening beautiful. Once past the Hex Mountains the road becomes very straight and boring, and hence dangerous. People coming from the opposite direction have more than likely been driving the entire day from Johannesburg or thereabouts and start falling asleep on this section. Over a small hill with a left bend I suddenly found a taxi (with trailer) in my lane. I swerved hard to the left and missed him by about five metres and almost had a head on at 120 km/h. It was a real shock to the system! Let me not get started on taxis otherwise I’ll never end. 30km outside of Beaufort West a taxi (again with trailer) had rolled and several people had been killed. I drove past the grisly scene as the usually quiet desert air was punctuated with break-down trucks and radios crackling information across to some far removed persons. I arrived in Beaufort West at 00:30 and booked myself into Young’s Guest House. This was my rough plan from the beginning. It was R175 for the night and for that I got a small bedroom with 4 beds, a bath (no shower) and that was about it. I hit the sack and fell into a dreamless sleep.


The next morning I woke up and got going immediately. By 07:15 I was on the road. Not a cloud in sight and zero wind. It was a splendid day to drive through this arid and dry environment as I munched on my two remained peanut butter and syrup rolls with the window rolled down. Although I love kayaking and especially just water I really enjoy deserts too. Give me a desert before a tropical rain forest any day. I drove slowly that day and was enjoying the drive until I hit some road works. As I was forced to drive 80 and then sometimes stop and wait (heat sink...), the engine suddenly got very, very hot. The gauge shot up and I had to turn the heater and fan on full blast. Considering it was already about 35 degrees the heater did not make my life very pleasant in the cramped confines of my little Volkswagen Caddy. When one Caddy driver passes another there is a brief moment when we often just look at each other and time stands still. I think it’s the mutual understanding between us that we are both suffering in this tiny car. There is a bond amongst us that other drivers can never understand! Hahaha. I have to sit with my legs very wide otherwise they rest on the bottom of the steering wheel! Not an ideal long distance vehicle I can assure you. Turning on the heater helped and was also fully necessary as the car would then almost cut out. Sometimes it would bring me down to 40 km/h. If I put my foot down nothing would happen and I could not accelerate at all. If I put the clutch all the way in the car would just die. So it got so hot that driving was impossible. After about two or three (sometimes more) minutes driving in the yellow lane at 40 or less I would then be able to slowly accelerate and get up to speed. If I sat at 110 it was quite happy. If I slowed down, I was screwed. As you can imagine, I had to plan any overtaking with the utmost precision. If I slowed down I would be crippled and the attack would have to be reorganised. A few times I had to stop for longer periods of time. Zero fun I can assure you.


Eventually at about 17:00 I rolled into Parys. I went straight to the Fluid factory where Celliers Kruger (Mr Fluid in case you didn’t know) showed me a bunch of new and exciting things. Keep your eyes on the site or else join Playak and get their newsletters; information from around the world is in there. Eventually we left the factory at about 19:00, went to his house where I showered and we went out for supper. Finnigan’s had their kitchen closed on a Monday night so we hit Spur, which in my books, is always great. Once back we chatted for a long time and I had a look at some awesome photos from the Transkei. It made me realise that I should definitely head there and see what I can find during this trip. Some quality rivers and great rapids! The new boat from Fluid is also looking ever so beautiful and will hit the shelves sometime this year! Eventually I hit the sack at about 01:00 – Celliers can talk a lot, but I guess so can I!


The next morning I got up at 07:30 and we went to the factory again to do a few things. I was worried about my car but saw Hugh du Preez there as he was loading a new boat. Hugh took me to a mechanic called Eddy and we left my car there. The remainder of the day I spent waiting at Whitewater Training talking to Deon Breyetenbach and whoever else happened to come in. I also met Brian Joubert there and also Graeme Addison (Corran’s father). It was quite interesting actually. After a few hours of waiting I got a lift with Hugh at 15:00 and went back to the mechanics. They were testing the car and so far, so good. They had replaced the thermostatic expansion valve. Exactly what I had thought it was. It cost me a mere R180 so I just gave him R200 and left. I took the car for a burn down towards Gatsien and even though it was raining quite hard I pushed the car to see if it would get hot. It seemed good to go! A massive thanks to Eddy, Deon and especially to Hugh du Preez from Whitewater Training for helping me out!!! Much appreciated. I decided not to leave then as Johannesburg was just over an hour away and traffic would be extreme. Also, the rain would make the traffic even worse. Eventually I decided to leave when Deon closed up and left at 17:15. I took a chilled drive to Luke’s spot where I was treated to some delicious coconut curry made by his lovely girlfriend. We then watched Top Grade and Source to get us amped for the trip! I went to bed at 22:00 that night.


The hills next to the Catepillar and Catfish. (near Sterkfontein Dam)


Wednesday, 19 November. Up at 05:30 and we started to get ready. Luke couldn’t find his passport as we weren’t sure whether we would go to Swaziland or not but then he just took his British and that was that. We left at 07:00 and idled out of the horrible place they called Johannesburg. I lived there for 13 years and would never go back. I drove really slowly and mostly between 100 and 110. It felt good to relax and take it easy for a change. We went past Harrismith, my favourite windsurfing dam – Sterkfontein, then down to Bergville, Winterton and on towards the Injusuthi. You’ll note that there are MANY different spellings for the word Injusuthi. Even the signs are different, as is the internet. No one can really decide. Oh well. We got to the river and decided to hit it straight away. It was 13:00 then and thought it better that we paddled first and could get a camp site later. Down at river level it looked low. VERY low! We scouted the first drop and it was not paddleable. There was a rock in the landing. Pity. This was the drop that had pretty much ended our trip where Dave Joyce had unfortunately swum and his boat had gone down from here and we lost it. Long story. It is under the KwaZulu-Natal section of this website if you want to read about it and see the photos. The next rapid was very bony and the river took a left turn. I went first and eddied out right above a small siphon. Well, most of the river went down into it but the flow was so low and the siphon pretty small. Luke got out and then helped me out of my little spot too which wasn’t that cool. We had a look and wondered if we should actually carry on. Luke didn’t look keen. I was determined to see how the river looked downstream and really wanted to paddle it. We decided to keep going, knowing that we could hike out (tough option) if we really, really had to.


Luke ready to rock at the put in for the Injusuthi.


The river looking very, very low. Oh well, can't have it all!


The level was much better the first time we climbed onto this river...


The siphon on river right of the very first drop.


The first drop, not runnable because of rocks in the landing. The chute on river right (picture left) is coming from the siphon. So watch for that if you decide to run this rapid with more water.


The third little rapid was a portage. Just not enough water captain! See how it disappears...


The rapids were small and technical as there wasn’t much flow. It was very different to when we chased after Dave’s boat the time before. There are some very nasty things on this river and loads of potholes, undercuts and several siphons. In other words, beginners stay away. Swimming here could be ultra nasty and definitely not an option. The river bed is strewn with boulders and weird little slots and hooks and over hangs, quite interesting. We got to the rapid which we had run blind last time and immediately below this we had ended our trip on the previous occasion. We scouted from river left and decided to do it. I went first and had an ok run. The small hole at the bottom kind of grabbed my left edge. I think there is a rock in the landing or something. I still made it fine though but it was unexpected. After my run, Luke came through. He got pinned for a little while above the crux but then got free and his left edge also went down, doing the same as me. Oh well. The very next rapid I scouted for Luke (to save time) and explained using hand signals what he should do. It was a narrow chute next to an overhanging rock and then straight into a wall where you should go left. There was a small eddy on the right which wasn’t a great place to go. At medium to high levels the entire drop is one ledge and right has a bad eddy, watch out. Far left is simple then. Luke made the slot nicely and then slammed into the wall – quite funny. Still, his line was fine and my explanation obviously ok. I was up next and managed to turn my boat a touch to the left first, still hitting the wall hard but I knew exactly how it looked. We decided to carry on with the river as we didn’t know how it really looked from here. It was super low but we thought we’d still be able to enjoy it.


Adrian Tregoning on a fun little rapid. This one is good at higher levels for sure. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Boof all the drops, you don't want to get pinned into one of these bad boys!


Luke Longridge on the entry to the rapid that I was running above. Here he got pinned. Nice one Ollie!


Just out of interest sake, the same rapid Luke is running above, but the part above the final drop. See the rock with the little curtain flowing over it? Luke is river left of that rock in the sequence above and that rock is high and dry. I can see more potholes here, not the same ones I showed just now.


Luke Longridge running the final part of that rapid. Also getting a little left edge down, same as me - strange. Maybe a small notch in the lip or a strong current against a rock in the hole.


Luke Longridge between rapids. Note the weird rock formations. Some of these form ugly spots with more water...


Luke about to enter the ledge rapid which is a narrow chute at this level. Check out the next shots.


Luke Longridge running the chute and with a nice piton into the wall... hehehe. It's fun to run rapids which you scout for other people, and vice versa. Provided they can be trusted and have good judgement.


Adrian Tregoning through the little chute and into the wall. Good fun. At high levels, stay away from the river right side. Photos by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


The ledge at the bottom of this photo is the same chute just shown in the above photos. Quite a difference! Unpleasant eddy on the left hand side of the photo but you wouldn't run that line then.


From here on the river goes through a deep pool and some mini cliffs. Then into a bit of a jungle area with thick bush and very small rapids. We got stuck many times, and had to walk once or twice. The water was clear and a bit chilly.


Luke Longridge still giving the double thumbs up, even though the water level was low. Note the beautiful colour of the water. Lovelly little river.


One of the rapids where I walked through and Luke opted to keep forcing himself through. Sometimes we would change roles. But most rapids were way better than this.


After a bit we got to a big slide which we scouted from the left bank. There was a tree right at the top but this isn’t a problem. You drop in right to left and easily avoid the tree. The slide is narrow and a little stepped. At high levels it forms a huge hole at the bottom – watch out! I decided to run it first so Luke set up the video camera on the Pelican box and stood by with my still camera. You’ll see that at the end of these articles there will be a video and a lot of the stuff will be filmed by balancing the video camera somewhere as it was only two of us. My line was pretty much perfect ad the ride down pure pleasure! Halfway down, I hit a rooster tail that lifted the boat right up. In the photos it’s not really shown as the timing was just unluckily off. There was a sort of auto-boof at the end to finish things off smartly and that was that. Next up was Luke. His line was spot on too and I’m sure he enjoyed that slide as much as I did. In fact, seeing as though the levels were all so low this slide definitely made it the highlight of the day! Without it, I’m not sure we could have left as satisfied.


Adrian Tregoning running the big slide. Awesome fun and very easy at this level! Photos by Luke Longridge.

A cool sequence I put together so you can see the stepped nature of the drop. When I say easy, just remember you could have half your face ripped off if you went upside down... But that should be pretty obvious! :-)


Luke Longridge also with a lekker line! Good times... I rate this slide in my top 3. Good fun. Can't wait to hit this river with loads of water. I've see a photo of this slide at high water. The bottom hole looks pretty evil then.


Looking back at the slide.


The next rapid was ultra nasty and at our low level a definite portage. It had a narrow slot on the left running into undercuts on both sides. It was too tight and risky so we walked around it. At higher levels I’m sure there would be a fairly simple line on the right hand side. Shortly after this we came to another horizon line with a lead in rapid. Beware at higher levels, I think it would be quite easy to run this by mistake. Adrian Vroom had warned me about a nasty two metre drop that was about two metres wide with a severe suck back. That drop is always portaged but because we had almost no water is would probably be runnable. We walked up to it and it looked a little sketchy. It took me less than five seconds to decide to portage. The lip of the drop looking suspect with no clean line and it was landing on rocks. Should something go wrong, access was going to be difficult. Luke said he wanted to run it. I told him straight that I would prefer if he didn’t and wasn’t keen on him doing it. I also told him I would definitely not risk myself to haul him out should he get pinned underwater or something like that. He was happy with that and then so was I. It’s always a good idea to talk openly about stuff like that. Always ask your mate if he’s prepared to run safety for you on a rapid and tell someone where you would like them to stand.


Portage for us. Looked like a fairly simple line on the right (not shown in this photo) at proper water levels. Dry at our level. Pity.


I grabbed my boat already from the beginning and now took it further down while Luke went back to his boat. The video camera was set up and I waited with my camera. A local cattle herder stood next to me but he knew no English words. He also didn’t seem too excited that Luke was running this rapid. Perhaps he just didn’t understand us and what we were actually doing – having fun. His life would be very different ours down here in a valley with little to no infrastructure. Luke came down the entrance rapid and then dropped down the left side of the drop, hitting hard onto a rock with his left edge and banging into the wall. He didn’t seem to be too stoked and said if he knew it would have turned out like that he would not have run it. Oh well, at least he ran it and I wonder how many (if any) other people had run this drop. I’m sure most people would have paddled this river with far more water when this drop is unrunnable because of the keeper hole it forms.


Luke Longridge landing right on the rocks with an upright but painful looking line. This rapid is not runnable at normal levels they tell us.


The little mini-canyon below the 2m drop which Luke had just run. Quite a weird place. The locals tell me the water is flush with the top, and sometimes over the top, after a big thunderstorm and they tell me it looks dangerous. I believe them.


There was one tiny rapid and then another serious horizon line. We got out on the right and some girls were following us and pointing and laughing. Maybe it was our skirts, who knows? The rapid was a solid class 5 but probably not a good idea as a branch was stuck in the chute down between two boulders that are both undercut. To the right a massive log sits in a killer eddy which would be really unpleasant to go into at higher levels. I believe no one has ever run this rapid. Without the branch it would probably go for those brave enough, probably not me. We had to ferry across above it and then portage on river left. Luke opted for the high seal launch while I went for a bit of a lower one.


Adrian Tregoning taking photos of the class 5 drop. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


The class 5 drop which no one has ever run. I'm sure it looks way worse at the normal levels that people paddle this river at than at this level. Can you see part of the branch in the drop?


Another view of the same rapid. It shoots into what would be a really ugly spot with a monster tree on the right hand side of the photo, behind the rock.


Luke going for the bigger seal launch...


...and touch down! Nice one.


From here we paddled more rapids which were mostly quite easy. Every now and then there was a steeper rapid and these were very technical because of all the exposed rocks. We bombed our way down until we got to another short portage; another bad slot on the left with a tree in it. Not enough water on the right but we seal launched off a rock and into a spot which would cause a severe eddy into an undercut wall at high levels. At our low level it wasn’t so bad. After this there were more small rapids and some flowing pools.


Adrian Tregoning about to run another small rapid near the end. I wonder where the slide type drop is with the siphon in the slide itself where Bruce went down? I hope it's not this one. Didn't see anything although we're told it's really hard to spot, and people mostly portage it. Maybe we did run it and possibly it wasn't a danger at our low level. Anyway....


Adrian Tregoning on a rapid near the end. Photos by Luke Longridge.


Another slot drop which we had to portage because it went straight into a tree and was ultra narrow. You'll see it in the next photo.


Far too narrow to kayak and had a strainer...


We seal launched off the slab on the right. Note the little undercuts on that opposite wall. More water it would be interesting with a not-so-cool eddy, I think.


Finally we got to what we thought was the end and climbed out. There is a rough road leading down to the river and it was indeed the end. It was pretty late by then and I think it was close on 18:00. The gates closed at 19:00 and our car was on the other side of those gates! The plan was that Luke would run the road back or try to find a lift. There was a bakkie parked nearby but the owner of the car didn’t have enough petrol to make it there and back. Typical! Luke started running while I sat with my new found friends, a big group of kids. Not being much of a people person I wondered which task was worse, running back up some steep hills or playing the big entertainer to a bunch of curious kids?


In the end, I had the better deal. I actually quite enjoyed my time with the kids. Their command of English was far greater than what I would have guessed and they asked many, many questions. What my name was, what my sister’s name was, where I lived. They couldn’t believe I didn’t have a wife! Quite amusing! What amazed me as to how much English these kids actually knew, and their general knowledge was impressive too. They were all younger than about ten or twelve years old, and they live in a very rural area, yet they knew exactly that Bruce Lee was dead, that Jean-Claude van Dam was their hero and they mentioned a bunch of wrestlers but of course I don’t watch that but I knew one or two from the odd time I’ve seen these monster dudes smack each other around. Their knowledge of the outside world was impressive. Remember, they all live without running water or electricity. Don’t forget that. The children were also very friendly and when it started getting dark they offered me a place to stay, but I kindly declined. It was getting colder and they offered to bring me a blanket. These children were really good people. Some older folk walked past from time to time and their English was almost non-existent but they too offered me a place to stay. I guess they thought I might stay there the entire night...


As it became darker the children became really concerned about me and where I was sitting. I was about thirty metres away from a bridge that crossed a small stream. They said that at night time the skeletons come from the bridge as some people had tried to drive across the bridge during a flood and had all drowned. They said the skeletons came out and there was fire and what not. I told them straight I was not afraid and would talk to these skeletons should they come. This they couldn’t believe that I was not afraid. Their hissing sounds and radical hand gestures made no impression on me. Clearly they believed every word they were saying and they were obviously also extremely frightened of these skeletons.


Once it was pretty much totally dark a taxi stopped and the kids organised (without me asking) that this dude drive me up to the gate. Which was now, definitely closed. So we loaded the kayaks into this taxi and I wondered what would be more dangerous, climbing into a clearly unroadworthy taxi or sitting around waiting for skeletons to approach me! I was treated to a telephone conversation at the top of the drivers voice, it sounded like he may kill someone at any point in time and I began to think of the friendly skeletons waiting with open arms back at the bridge. We didn’t drive too far (maybe 300m) when suddenly Luke came down from the opposite direction, telephone down. He had just managed to get to the car and through again, just as a guard was locking the gate. Luke promised to give him R50 if he stayed there and waited so he said he would and then Luke had driven off. The run had been quite extreme and the hills a lot steeper than what they seemed, in other words, Luke had suffered on the 6 or 7 km run, maybe more. Oh the joys of not having a shuttle. Let the record reflect – we had taken along Luke’s bicycle and it was in the back of my car... We removed the boats from the roof and I took out a big Mag-Lite torch to make sure we took all our stuff out of the taxi. The driver wanted the torch as payment, fat chance! Then he wanted R50 for driving not even for one minute. I told him here’s R20 and that was fair. He wasn’t pleased but I would have challenged him to try us any further than that! In Africa, people will almost always try and rip you off.


With that he left and we tied on our boats and began the drive back to the gate, where our friend would be waiting. Once we reached the gate it was nicely locked and not a soul to be seen. I hooted, for what little it would help in the mountains. The evening was cool and I decided I might as well get out of my kayaking gear. I got dressed back into normal clothes, we each opened a beer and then we decided to drive off, very happy that we didn’t set up camp first as then we’d really be screwed. Don’t worry, it was only 1 beer and the gravel road was long and there would be no cars. We drove off and about two or three kilometres later a car flagged us down. Quite strange to see another car on this now deserted gravel road. It was some nature conservation bloke and he said that the gate dude had called him and told him to tell us to turn around! Bonus!!! We got back to the gate and sure as nuts there was Luke’s friend, the old man. He said he lived on top of the hill and it took him a while to walk down as he wasn’t that young anymore. He saw us drive off and then used his cell phone to call his boss. We gave him his R50 as agreed and he was very stoked. Obviously a chap like him doesn’t earn a lot of money so the R50 would definitely help him.


Adrian Tregoning cooking supper in the customary fashion. Very cool campsite. In the next article you'll see photos of this place in the day time - beautiful!!!! Photo by Luke Longridge.


We drove the couple of extra kilometres to the camp and set up Luke’s tent. We drank one or two more beers and then I cooked some sort of pasta dish. I think I made some tuna, pasta and pesto sauce combo, then I added a lot of chilli sauce to mine. Hmmm! It had been quite the first day; a bit of a mini epic, with almost more off the water adventure than on. I wondered what the rest of the trip would bring. 



Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated. Thanks to Luke for his photos too!

All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Upper Bushmans – Africa Falls. A park, paddle, hike, paddle, huck, paddle back downstream mission.