The Upper Bushmans River – A park-paddle-hike-paddle-huck-paddle-back-down Mission

The following morning the sun shone brightly against an azure blue sky and altocumulus clouds looking down on us. The air was already warm and slightly humid and the camp site was deserted bar one other tent. There were no mechanical sounds to be heard, only the peaceful hum of the nature around us. This was exactly the type of place I could perpetually sit at, and just exist. I basked in the rapidly building heat and thought back to the previous days’ mission, and of the drive into the camp. We were lucky to see several small antelope as well as a massive spiral-horned antelope known as Eland, truly majestic creatures. As these thoughts drifted away they were quickly replaced with what the present day would bring. Day 2 of the trip had already started at 06:00am – it was Thursday 20 November 2008.

Luke and I lazed around a bit, washed the dishes but couldn’t find my wooden spoon. It seems some animal had taken a liking to it as I found it a few metres away from camp later on. Luke set up the video camera on a tripod to video us packing up the tent and all our other clobber, including the famous bicycle which we later named Murphy. That should be on the video which will be included in the final article, and once I finally capture all the footage and post the DVD’s to Luke as he wants to do the video. At 08:30 we reluctantly idled out of the camp site, paid our fees for the single night and headed off towards Estcourt. This is the little town where legendary paddler Steve Fisher was brought up in. Back in the day it was probably quite quaint but these days it definitely lacking the charm that it once must have had. After a quick pit stop at Spar we headed off in the direction of Wagendrift Dam and drove around the northern side of it.


Early morning view from our camp at Injusuthi.


Our perfect camp!!!! LEKKER....


There are some huge hills nearby which offer excellent hiking and also rock climbing for those that brave the crumbling bassalt cliffs.


Camp site, again. With our two trusty Fluid Solo's. My large green one, and Luke's medium in orange.


Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris) in our camp.


A Rednecked Francolin (Francolinus afer) also cruising through our camp and making some great sounds.


The Injusuthi River looking really, really low up here!


Ready to finally leave and head to the Bushmans River.


If you decide to paddle above the dam then just check it out on Google Earth first as you’ll probably miss the split in the road and get a little lost like we did back in 2005 when I first paddled the section. Luckily I knew exactly where to go this time round so we found the road quite easily. The dam was quite low and once at the top of it the river feeding into it looked even lower! I began to wonder if our gamble to come paddling would pay off. Luke and I both knew we were taking a risk to come paddling late November into early December. While there was every chance we could have excellent water levels, there was also every chance we would not.


Luke Longridge looking lovingly down at the Wagendrift Dam where the Bushmans feeds into it.


Once opposite the waterfall we stopped the car and peered down. The Bushmans River looked low, but runnable. We decided it was too low to paddle the whole section and so would rather park at the take out and paddle back up. I turned the car around and turned off at Moor Park. There were some beautiful trees that offered some relief from the heat so we parked under them and geared up. With that done we put in and paddled upstream. First obstacle was a lovely fence across the river that we managed to get under. Who puts fences across rivers? Then after that we had to portage a rapid on the left and carry on paddling. A few hundred metres further we got out on the right and walked up on an island to get to the pool below the drop. This drop I think is called Africa Falls. Somewhere along the line I found that name but for the life of me I can’t remember where. I tried to find the name on Google the other day but could not. So for all intents and purposes I will just refer to it as Africa Falls. It seems a fitting and uncontroversial name anyway.


Africa Falls looking runnable with loads of lines from up here. At water level this proved to be untrue. Too bad it was so low! Check out the next picture....


The same drop in January 2005 with a LOT more water! :-) Photo by Sean Jackson.


The road in to what is known as Moor Park.


We parked our car in the shade, and then paddled upstream...


From the road it looked like most of the lines were runnable but on closer inspection now at water level this proved to be untrue. Most of the runs ended on shallow rock, which would ensure a painful and potentially dangerous ending to almost any run. When I ran this section in 2005 at high water I portaged this drop. I’d only been kayaking for less than a year and so was a complete beginner. I did, however, watch three or four other guys run this drop with varying degrees of success. They all ran river left where it is a stepped drop. At that level the far right looked a bit evil. But now at our level the far right offered a 4, possibly 5 metre straight drop that seemed to land in deep enough water. This was sadly our only option. We hoisted the boats up on river left and made our way across.


The final pool leading back towards Africa Falls.


Luke Longridge inspecting the falls from closer.


Ahhhh, what's an article without a locust/grasshopper shot? :-)


A view of the middle line which is runnable at high water.


But as you can see not that runnable at low levels.


It was decided that I’d run first with Luke balancing the video camera and shooting with his still camera. I got to the eddy above the drop and then Luke started fumbling with his camera. I’m not sure what the problem was but I had to wait. Eventually he gave the thumbs up and I charged for the lip. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much water and I got almost totally stopped on the lip, teetered for a brief moment and then plunged down. I didn’t want to plug it vertically and definitely not land it flat either. My run was pretty decent and there was no need to roll.


Adrian Tregoning slowing on the lip and then dropping down. Photos by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Adrian Tregoning smiling after a cool run. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera). My camera was of course in my Pelican 1300 case, between my legs, inside the boat... ;-) In this series of articles I'm still using a Nikon D80 and Luke is using a Nikon D40. So we're both kitted up to get the goods.


Luke was up next while I stood on the river right bank with my camera. He charged the lip very aggressively and suffered the same fate as me, almost getting stuck on the lip and twisting a little. He recovered very well, dropped down without needing to roll and that was that. We looked back at the drop rather disappointed with our mission and that the just wasn’t enough water. There was only one thing a man could do...


The view from where I was standing to capture Luke's run.

Not the friendliest of dudes (note the knife that the chap on the right is holding) but they smiled once they realised we weren't there to steal the crops of weed.


Luke approaching the drop. Now you can get a little scale to it. Very good fun. With a little more water, perfect for beginners.


Luke Longridge also managing nicely on the same drop I did. If anyone is wanting to run low volume drops like this, above about 3m, please watch your back. Many people have hurt themselves and you don't want to end up in a wheel chair doing something like this.


We paddled back down to the car and while getting ready to leave a lady came past on foot to collect our entry fees; a solid R7 each. Wow, pretty damn cheap! From here we drove back to Mooi River, then to Nottingham Road where according to Luke’s recommendation we visited the brewery at the Rawdons Estate. They have what they call the Nottingham Road Brewing Company there so we thought it fitting to have a look at what their finest beer could offer us. I bought a two litre Pye-Eyed Possum Pilsner as well as two t-shirts. I didn’t have enough t-shirts for the trip anyway and washing anything wasn’t something I looked forward to so the extras t-shirts would come in very handy, and they did. Luke also bought a two litre beer, I think he bought the Whistling Weasel Pale Ale, I can’t quite remember! After that we went to Gai’s, a Portuguese restaurant where we managed to fill the small gap that had appeared from our little paddling mission earlier that day. From here we had an excellent plan: We would drive up to the Lower Loteni and see if there was enough water to paddle either the Loteni itself, or the Nzinga. The clouds around us were pitch black and rain fell from time to time. It seemed a reasonably good choice. Neither of us had ever been to this area so we were pretty amped!!!


Some random flowers back at Moor Park.


More flowers.


And more flowers. Oh, something I didn't put in the story: When we drove out there were some cattle next to the road, some of whom were very close to the road. One was right next to it so I stopped next to him and he stared back at us and I had my window open. Luke and I said nothing and the bull leaned forward to look at us as he was a little confused. His nose touched my side view mirror and he got a massive fright, jumping back!!! Needless to say, we also jumped and then had a good laugh afterwards. Quite a funny moment. I guess the vibration of the car still idling went through the mirror and into his nose... hahahaha.


Some hairy leaves with little spikelets on their edges.


Another cool flower. I must admit, I really do enjoy flowers! :-)


The going was slow on a wet road and then soon we climbed onto a gravel road. It was super quiet and we didn’t see any traffic. What truly blew us away was how beautiful and remote this area was. It is surely the most awesome area in KwaZulu Natal (bar the actual Drakensberg Mountains and some of the spots near the Buffalo River etc.) Well, I guess Natal has MANY great areas so maybe I shouldn’t judge so quickly. But this place was just not your typical KwaZulu scene. There were no villages or huts to be seen. Only privately owned farms and divided into large properties. It is an area not raped by over population and cut up by large scale soil erosion. It is exactly the area where I could quietly live on a farm, absolutely pristine and a real treat for us to be driving through. Most people don’t go here as it’s just a bit out of the way but it is definitely well worth the effort. I give it 5 stars. South Africa must surely be one of the most diverse and beautiful countries in the world. While not everything is easy going here I don’t think I could ever leave. I love my country!


At the Nottingham Brewing Company.


Some beautiful flowers in their gardens!


And they had more fine specimens which just called out to me to be photographed and shared.


Now this is GOOD beer. Too bad I can't buy in here in Cape Town! :-( To visit their site, and see all of the beer that they offer, click HERE.


The road went on and on through undulating grass covered hills and eventually thirst got the better of us. How could we just let those beers get warm? We knew (or thought we knew) that we could pull into the Loteni camp in a short while so decided to crack open our two litre beers to ease the journey a bit. Please note: I do not advocate drinking and driving but technically this wasn’t really drinking and driving. We were driving mostly slower than 40 and 30 km/h because the road was super stony and sometimes slippery so we were really taking our time. Also, there were no other cars on the road as it was late in the afternoon too. So all good, we proceeded with caution and relaxed. Along the way we stopped at a river called the Amanzinyama (you will not find this on a map) and noticed a decent drop near to the road. There were warning signs that no entry was allowed so we took as a direct invitation to investigate the drop immediately. It looked good to go with more water, no doubt about it. It also seemed to drop after this water fall into a little gorge downstream. I wonder if anyone had paddled it. Further down the road we stopped at the Nzinga River and found it to be ultra low. What a massive disappointment. The Nzinga Falls were only about 300m from the road so we check them out too. I think they’d be good to go with more water too. I doubt they’d ever been run. Perhaps Luke will run them, probably not me. Although with enough water it would should be semi-ok, hopefully.


The cool little river, and the sign. It says, "Strictly no entry". Translated that says, "Welcome Adrian Tregoning, feel free to look around."


The drop which would be good to go if it rained a little more! I wonder if this has been run. Possibly not.


And then it drops into a little gorge. Hmmmm.


The entry to the waterfall has a log across the river. Can you see it? Note the perfect surroundings.


The Nzinga River. A river not many people have paddled. Not the beautiful bedrock river bottom. This is the lead in to the falls which are just to the right. The river goes into a deep valley downstream.


The horizon line to the Nzinga Falls.


The Nzinga Falls. Possibly runnable at high water. Possibly not me going first though :-) I don't think it has ever been run.


The river downstream of the falls. Too low to paddle, obviously. What a pity. But looking back, the shuttle would have been hell on earth with one of us doing the cycling....


CLUB PLAYAK.... ;-)  What a view!


Luke Longridge giving the thumbs up on our lonely road. We saw no cars. Maybe 2 or 4 hours of driving.


Dark clouds, big storms, but they would not be enough to fill the rivers and provide us with the joy we were searching for!!!! At least we got adventure, and some other great rivers.... Don't miss the other articles.


More big clouds.


Eventually it got dark and on we went on our slow drive. After 98km and about 3 hours of driving we got to the gates to the Lower Loteni Reserve. They were closed!!! I couldn’t believe it. We hooted and revved the car and cursed under our breath but it didn’t change the situation. All this time had been wasted and now we had to turn away. And, we were almost out of beer. Luckily I had bought a cooler box at the Winterton Spar (remember, the one with the wooden floors?) and we a large number inside there. But it would be unwise to carry on drinking as we now had no choice but to drive to Himeville. Oh, did I mention the Loteni River was also too low? Well, it was too low! Damn it!


Adrian Tregoning - the Pye-Eyed-Possum... I think this was taken when we realised the damn gates were closed the the Lower Loteni and we had just wasted many hours of driving. At least I was still smiling!!! Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Luke Longridge looking a little rough after a session at the Himeville Arms. We stayed here at their backpackers. GOOD TIMES!


We turned around and drove off to Himeville. What a day! We had driven a lot that day. Not in distance but definitely in hours. With a small waterfall being hucked and nothing else. Low river after low river brought the spirit down but at least the beer tasted good. The Himeville Arms is an excellent place to quench your thirst, no matter how large it may be so I told Luke about it and set a direct course. Luke and I arrived and made a bee line for the bar, which probably wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Soon we managed to book ourselves into the backpackers for R100 for the night. (Check the current South African Rand versus US Dollar or Euro rate and you’ll note that it’s probably quite cheap by your standards. This site has mostly international traffic so hence I include a few things like this every now and then). I think the kitchen was closed by the time we arrived but we had eaten a very late lunch and enough food in my car anyway. So we ordered a couple more rounds and then engaged in a game of pool. If memory serves me correctly Luke ended up winning. We finally got to bed much less than sober and fell asleep rather quickly. Long day!



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

All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: A scouting mission.... Interested in new and big stuff you haven’t ever seen in South Africa? Then don’t miss this one!