Mzimvubu – Day 2 – 11 Hours of Pleasure!

Tuesday 25 November 2008 and we were up earlier than usual. We knew it was going to be a very intense day and we knew we would have to paddle from virtually sunrise to sunset. I looked up at the blue sky that was forming overhead and stretched out my muscles that were feeling a little stiff from the consecutives days’ of paddling. It felt good to be next to the river once again, away from the hustle and bustle of ‘normal’ life.

Although this isn’t a truly remote area, it is far removed from the modern world and here people still live a very basic, subsistence life. In fact, what I didn’t mention in the first article is the massive amounts of dagga (cannabis / weed / splif / marijuana etc.) that is found here. It is grown on a large scale right next to the river in small camps in the shape of rectangles. Three sides are protected with thorn ‘fences’ and the fourth side open to the river, forming a natural barrier against the livestock that would otherwise eat the crops. From here it would probably find its way across South Africa and more than likely, across the world. We were offered some weed from a lady on the first day but obviously didn’t buy any. I guess some of the only cash that is injected into these communities is sadly from the sale of these drugs. Otherwise the locals mainly do subsistence farming with a few crops (mainly maize) and livestock which are predominantly cattle and goats. Strangely, they are not big into sheep or pigs. I saw plenty of pigs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but little else. I guess their heavy rainfall dictates what type of animals they can farm with.


The former Transkei region of South Africa. Note the markings that Luke put on the map. Day 2 was 47km when measured accurately on Google Earth. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Packing up our home after night 1.


Can you see the puffadder in the photo? Look exactly in the middle.


There's the little beast! Luke almost stepped on him. Not a pleasant snake. This is paddling in Africa though... :-)


Adrian Tregoning smiling a happy smile that morning! :-) Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


We ate some breakfast, loaded several snacks for the long day ahead, packed up the tent and got ready to head off. A few young boys who were herding their cattle appeared and took great delight in staring and laughing at us. They were very peaceful and just inquisitive, but kept their distance. We had specially chosen this camp site to avoid being plagued by hoards of onlookers as the valley is fairly populated. So the early morning visit wasn’t a huge surprise as they must have spotted our camp fire when it got dark. Of course, moving along downstream the previous day would have alerted them anyway. With that we pushed off into the water and waved off to our new found friends. On the other side of the river were more children spying us out. Curiously, no adults came to look. Perhaps they were not interested or far more suspicious. We left at 07:15.


A field full of dagga! Note the thorn barricades. Luke went in there, see next photos.


Luke Longridge surrounded by dagga/weed/cannabis. Note his dreamy smile :-) hahaha. I love this shot.


More of the green stuff.... I took these photos all from my boat. Once Luke walked into the field we heard shouting from above. The hills may look empty, but they have eyes....


Looking back from where I took the above photos.


Luke about to drop in.


Luke Longridge heading down a fun rapid early in the morning.


And at the entrance of the above rapid, another field of dagga. This stuff goes for kilometres on end... Next was my turn on the same drop.


Adrian Tregoning down the same rapid. Of course we could avoid these little holes but what would be the point then? This last one would be great for surfing! Photos by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


At 09:35 we came across some sort of construction on the river. As we got closer it appeared to be some sort of weir. I couldn’t believe it! There were construction workers on the river left side and they looked at us like we were from mars. We paddled right up to the left side where the water was not flowing at all. It seemed a little sketchy and Luke decided to just run it blind. I wasn’t convinced but the decision had been made too hastily. Stupidly, I followed him and was committed to the run before he had even gone through. As he dropped down the little one foot drop he emerged on the other side and made a hurried gesture that I paddle very hard, indicating a keeper hole. I kicked myself for being so stupid and suddenly I realised what could potentially happen should I not make it. The centre of the weir was in the middle of the river and rescue would have been difficult, if not impossible to administer. Luckily I punched the hole relatively easily but the looks on both of our faces would have shown that we knew we had just done something extremely foolhardy. There were still pieces of reinforcing bar littered all over the place, and worse still, on the right hand side of the weir, was a thick I-beam that was just covered by the water. If the gap underneath was just the right size, it would form a deadly siphon. I shudder to think. With that we vowed never, ever, to do that again.


About four hundred metres downstream was another man made structure - a weir comprised of boulders, with a chute in the middle. This time, we scouted. It looked like a biggish foam pile at the bottom but not very retentive. I ran first, with Luke taking photos. It turned out to be very easy. I then got out and Luke ran down too, without any problems. From here we continued with our journey and paddled around the seemingly never ending bends in the river. When viewed on our rough AA map, there were only a few big bends. But what the map didn’t show (given its large scale) was the bends within the bends that confused the issue. Luckily Luke kept track of where we were and we compared results to my GPS. On the GPS we could measure the distance back to the camp site, in a straight line. This went down very slowly as we zigged and zagged through the deep valleys.


Looking upstream. Very faint in the background is the weir. In the foreground is the second man made weir just comprised of boulders.


Looking downstream. Note the river bank. This river can handle a LOT more water.... And it does!!!


Adrian Tregoning on the second drop. Super easy with a little wave at the bottom. Photo by Luke Longridge (Luke's camera)


Luke Longridge on the same drop.


Adrian Tregoning on some random rapid. Photos by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


A stop for food at 10:40. Lovely grass! :-)


Luke at our lunch stop.


Adrian Tregoning down a wave train. The clouds had come up, there so went our lighting for a little while. Photos by Luke Longridge.


The day had started off a little slow, with long pools and small rapids. But the pools weren’t so long as to cause unnecessary pain. Every now and then we would paddle a fun rapid with maybe the odd hole to avoid. At 10:40 we stopped for a bite to eat and sat quietly on a patch of grass which looked like it had been mowed. This is one river which is seething with excellent, world class camp sites. Everywhere are sandy beaches and green grass. It’s definitely a must paddle for anybody coming to South Africa. We feasted on more sardines and crackers and enjoyed the quiet break. As I write this now, I think back to places like that. They still exist, just as they always have. Time has perhaps forgotten these places and hopefully they will remain relatively the same for many years to come. The time passed by with sometimes Luke and I paddling, but without saying anything. The pools seemed to get longer and it was getting a bit much. The only thing which consoled me was the fact that if we were paddling flat water here, we would have to get more gradient further on to balance out the mathematics!


Eventually we passed a spot where there was a road coming in from river right and we guessed this may have been Dikela. We knew then that we still had about 70km to paddle and no idea what obstacles may lie ahead. Celliers had told me that there were a few solid rapids as well as one which was a definite portage. With that in mind we were careful not to drop into anything without being sure of an available eddy, just in case.


Adrian Tregoning and the super boof!!! hahaha. Good times! Awesome photos by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Luke Longridge running the same Super Boof rapid but missing the boof unfortunately. Still, a cool run!


From here the rapids got much bigger immediately. It was suddenly a different river! The first few rapids were long and gentle, with some cool waves and holes. At a higher level I would imagine this section to be really awesome! The change came just in time as the monotony of the flat water and mostly unexciting rapids, combined with loads of sunshine was beginning to take its toll. The time then was 12:50. As we paddled along, the rapids stepped up a few notches and although we didn’t scout much, there were still some good rapids that demanded concentration and maneuvering to avoid obstacles, mainly holes, rocks and the odd pourover. I won’t get into the details of all the rapids but there were many, and many were really awesome. I think with a lot more water these rapids would be really good and if you had raft support a play boat, or river running play boat would be super fun on this section. There would be some great waves and holes to play on. Come to think of it now, I remember surfing several waves even with our heavily loaded Solos. So there were definitely some good play spots, even at our medium to low level.


Adrian Tregoning getting ready to tackle a reasonably large hole which we could not cover for rescue and didn't really know what was further downstream but it dropped a bit.... Failure was not an option. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Adrian Tregoning with a perfect run, taking the hole at it's weakest, although it looks small from this angle... Photos by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera) Next up > Luke


Once down I took my camera to get some shots of Luke.


Luke Longridge emerging from the hole upright and stroking. Another cool run.


The Little Zambezi Rapid. Good times. Right near the end, did you see the little draw stroke on the right hand side I did? A couple of people asked me what they're used for. During some courses I ran as well as from my Essential Skills video series I've made. Have a look, figure it out ;-) Photos by Luke Longridge. Luke didn't get any photos here, he wanted the video panned on him. Stand by for that. I'll throw it into the final article. It should be very good knowing Luke...


Adrian Tregoning just missing a nasty pourover behind him and straight into what lay below. See next photos. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Adrian Tregoning punching through the relatively solid hole with maximum speed and into the fun wave train below! What a lekker fun! :-) Too bad about the lack of sunlight. Photos by Luke Longridge.


Luke Longridge going next and also hitting it hard. (I used Luke's camera here)


We knew about a definite portage and obviously we didn’t want to paddle over any horizon lines into something like this. After paddling through a fairly sizeable wave/hole (photos above) which would have made a good play feature we paddled one more rapid and then decided we would get out again as it seemed like the river dropped sharply here. We soon realised that this was the portage rapid and had a look at it. It was 15:10 then. (I know the times because I checked the information on my original photos) I’m not sure if anyone would paddle this rapid - basically the entire river dropping over a reasonably uniform ledge. This formed what is probably the worst hole I had ever seen, backed up by a rock with a super bad eddy too. After a few photos and discussions and what could happen to someone running this, we walked back to our boats and dragged them around. Luckily the portage wasn’t too bad and the smooth rocks made dragging the boat a relatively simple task.


Adrian going to scout the portage rapid. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


The entrance to the nasty portage rapid. The entrance alone looks pretty ugly to me.


The portage rapid. This photo does it no justice. The hole is very terminal. Probably more terminal looking than The Gut on the Sjoa River in Norway, and that thing has killed several unfortunate people. For a photo of that look look at my Scandinavian set of articles under the Sjoa River.


Playak at the portage rapid! :-) Now you can see the action a little better from here too. Yes this is a different Pelican case to my other one. The other one needed a new latch so they just sent me a whole new one for free!!!! Unbelievable customer service! :-)


Adrian Tregoning smiling as I know there's no ways we'll paddle this one, ever. Photo by Luke Longridge.


The river kept on and on and we were beginning to get tired. We stopped on river left above a wide rapid with a variety of lines. Out came the customary sardines and crackers and I think ate some mussels too, I can’t quite remember. We ate a lot as the energy we had expended needed to be replaced. The weather had been overcast for some time already and it felt a little chilly to have stopped paddling. Luckily the water was lukewarm so that wasn’t a problem. From above the rapid we decided to just shoot left off this little ledge and as we had conquered several solid rapids easily enough were feeling cocky again. Obviously the weir was now a distant memory in our minds. With full bellies we paddled off and almost came short in a sticky little hole at the bottom of the ledge. It woke us up again and now we were fired up for more action. We scouted almost nothing then and because there was sometimes a light drizzle, photos were out of the question. The rapids were of a good quality and Luke and I were having an absolute blast! The day had been long but we knew we had to push it. There was talk of a few kilometers of flat water near the end and we still weren’t one hundred percent sure on where exactly we were. So we kept on paddling as long as there was still light.


Adrian Tregoning about to drop in. We were tired and needed to push still, so Luke scouted where he climbed out the boat next to me and said it was good to go.... Hmmmm, this is Adrian trusting Luke. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


This is Adrian dropping in and looking down at a rather very large hole. Luke, you couldn't even see it!!! Hahahaha, good times! Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


This is Adrian saying there is a FFFFllllippppen big hole down there, Luke! :-) Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera) So then I got out to take photos of Luke and see what would happen to him....


Luke Longridge heading down into the hole... Fun rapid!


Adrian Tregoning after a nice 47 km paddle. What an awesome day of paddling! LONG day. And yes, this crazy shirt is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hahaha, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Luke Longridge and the Dimple whisky we drank.... Hectic. I can't stand whisky! I remembered why I stick to brandy and rum...


Luke looking busy for the camera. I think I was actually cooking that night. But after that whisky started taking effect nothing else really mattered.


Towards evening the rapids got smaller and further apart and it was weird that we had not seen any people or villages for a few hours. After some long flats and very small rapids the light was beginning to fade so we had to get off the river. We found a perfect camping spot (there are thousands of these anyway) on river right once again and pulled up onto some plush grass that would have made the sternest of green keepers proud. It was 18:20 then. The tent came up and the rain came down. Not very hard, but just a fine drizzle. We lay down in the tent and were shattered from the 11 hours of paddling. We didn’t know it at the time, but we had just paddled a long day of 47km. I cooked super again and then we also started drinking the whisky that I had brought along. We ended up sharing a half a litre between the two of us. After an 11 hour paddle the whisky hit us extremely hard, I couldn’t believe it. In fact, we began rather drunk rather quickly. I don’t even remember going to bed. It had been a great day. Paddling a far distance with some really excellent rapids and in great company! I will never forget that day and rank it in my top 5 best days on the river. With tired bodies and the evil whisky we left like logs on our own little patch of earth opposite some more dagga fields next to South Africa’s third largest river. What a place!



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

All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Day 3 of the Mzimvubu trip - final day.