Mzimvubu – Day 3 – Class 6 Flat Water

Wednesday 26 November 2008. The morning arrived slowly as a low cloud hung over us and light rain was came down. My body was stiff and both Luke and I knew we were in for some flat water paddling, so motivation wasn’t running incredibly high. Still, we had a long way to go and weren’t one hundred percent sure if we could crack out the rest of the distance in time. The first photo I took was at 08:20 from the warmth of the tent with Luke collecting water from the river. I guess we must have left camp at about 09:00 or so.

From the camp, we paddled some swift moving water. Then it ended. Long pools followed and these were punctuated by tiny rapids every now and then. The river was broad and moving quite slowly, this was a little worrying. What was more worrying though was how shallow it sometimes was! I would paddle and then my paddle would touch a thick, sandy bottom. The river is very heavily laden with silt and obviously as the rapids come to an end and the water slows down, the particles held in suspension slowly fall to the bottom. So be warned, if you go at very low levels, you might find your trip suddenly turning into a real life nightmare. On the odd occasion, my boat touched the bottom. This was most disconcerting. I certainly did not want to push my boat for kilometers on end. At 10:50 I took some photos of Luke was we paddled along on the flat water and admired the peaceful surroundings. It was quite beautiful actually. Although it was totally overcast, the rain had long stopped and there wasn’t a breath of wind and no sounds to be heard. Only the quiet hum of nature. I was able to paddle in just a rash vest and enjoyed the warm water splashing onto my hands. At that moment, I was enjoying the trip almost as much as the previous day.


Luke Longridge next to the river. Can't you see? It's obvious!


Our beautiful little camp site in the middle of nowhere. Look at that grass? It has never even seen a lawnmower!!!!


Last shot before we left camp.


And then we paddled some flat water....


It's just as well we camped at the spot that we did. No more camp sites further down... Only jungle!


At 11:10 we stopped on a tiny little piece of land in the river. This spot was hard to find as the river sides were covered in thick jungle type bush and was not conducive to any form of enjoyment should we have wished to stop for any reason. The island was covered in pebbles placed on soft mud and I chose to sit on my boat and stretch my legs. The water moved slowly past us… It was then that we knew we were in for a long, long day.


Adrian Tregoning on some class 6 flat water. And trust me, this water was shallow. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Adrian Tregoning on the only piece of land we could find to stop on. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


The day went on and on and the water started to slow down. There were invisible channels in the water and we had to guess which way to go, to avoid getting stuck on the bottom. The river bottom was also thick, soft mud and slightly sandy - walking on it would have been truly horrible. What I did notice is that there were almost no more campsites to choose from so it was just as well that we stopped the previous day where we did. That would have been really horrible to find thick jungle for kilometres on end.


We paddled for an incredibly long time, it wasn’t easy. Eventually we came to the final bend where the road runs next to the river. Just to add insult to injury, we were faced with a strong head wind. Luke and I gave it horns and soldiered on. Any US Navy Seal would have been proud of our pace and determination over the final hour or so. It was impressive. Around us fish jumped out of the water and one large beast jumped right over Luke’s boat. It was a bit weird. Oh, did I mention we were also paddling against an incoming tide? This, combined with the wind made life very fun, but still, nothing could stop us. The Mzimvubu River on its final push to the Indian Ocean is influenced by the tides and is reasonably saline, hence the increase in fish numbers. It is also a well known breeding site for the much feared Zambezi, or Bull shark; a truly horrible beast that is a known man eater. Just a few weeks after we left a young life guard lost his life at a swimming beach right near the mouth of the river to a large shark. Sharks don’t really bother we too much most of the time, but I think the brown water and the fact that if they couldn’t us we couldn’t see them sort of vibe made me think twice about paddling too slowly. Murky water and sharks isn’t a good idea. I would imagine that they tend to investigate by gently nibbling, and that wouldn’t be pleasant.


Luke Longridge on some flat water!!!! WOW! But hey, who actually cares? We were in a remote spot with only the sound of the birds to keep us company. I couldn't think of a better way to spend a day than on a river with a good mate!


At 13:55 we finally made it back to the camp! The skin under my arms was raw and my back was sore too. We were both quite exhausted. So that was it, we had just done a really cool little expedition, with very little planning or knowledge and had had the time of our lives over the last 3 days! That last day, we had paddled 30 km of FLAT water in 5 hours. Now I give this final day a serious grade - class 6 flat water. I bet you haven’t done that too often in a whitewater boat? All in all, we had paddled 95 km of South Africa’s third largest river, actually putting in on the Tsitsa river for a few hundred metres. Thanks to you, Luke, for making the trip such a memorable one. I will never forget the moments. Luke is still busy with the video and I will embed that into the final article, which will be coming up soon!


Adrian Tregoning very tired after a long day! I paddled barefoot because we didn't need to scout flat water :-) Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


After action satisfaction. It felt good to be back. Photo by Luke "Ollie" Longridge. (Luke's camera)


The view from the waters edge. We were spying out some cabins... Hmmm... Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


Luke Longridge as stoked as me to have completed the run without incident and to be back to a soft bed and cold beer.


Our cool chalet, my car and one of the dogs which once again adopted us. I've sold this car in the meantime... Poor old Adolf. I wonder where he is now? :-)


Adrian Tregoning and one of the beasts. As Luke said, "See the resemblance?" hahahaha. Photo by Luke Longridge. (Luke's camera)


But our day wasn’t over. We still had time left and thus hatched a cunning, but challenging, plan. We would go shopping in Port St. Johns - a true class 5+ mission!!! First and foremost, we organised some comfortable accommodation to enjoy a soft bed after a weeks’ worth of camping. We managed to get a very cool chalet for only R150 per person per night. There was also a payment of R30 for my car that slept there for 2 nights; very cheap. With that we hit town and because it was quite serious Luke looked after the car while I braved the interior of what would hopefully be just like every other Spar – wrong! Inside it was unlike all the other Spar supermarkets I had been to. They had almost an entire aisle dedicated to cooking oil, seriously. I should have gone back to the car to get the camera. I was suitably impressed. It was clear the oil was a big winner in this shoddy little village, I can’t even call it a town. The butchery was sure to be an eye opener, and, holding my breath, I was not disappointed. It was solidly below what the laziest of meat inspectors would classify as a pass and I pointed a nervous finger to the metres of wors (a fatty, beef mixture of sausage that is a South African favourite) lying like the corpse of a long forgotten mamba. There was no other choice, no meat in little polystyrene trays, nothing. I made to mental note to cook the living daylights out of it before consuming it and shaking the dice at the same time. When I tried to find bread rolls I could not. I could only find one small packet of round rolls, unbelievable. But if I wanted a Chelsea bun I could have broken the rear axle of my car with what they had on offer. Clearly this Spar caters for the local masses of this wonderful settlement that is marked rather as smartly Port St. Johns on most maps. Hmmm….


Our room.... A bomb went off, really, I swear it. For your viewing pleasure, a larger version of this classic photo, click HERE<<<


Day 1


Day 2, very long day. But awesome rapids!


Day 3, a long day of flat water.


Back in the car I explained my shopping experience to Luke who had sadly not enjoyed it as much as I. We had a look at the sea and some big, brown waves breaking across the river mouth. It didn’t look like a good idea to go and swim and there was no doubt that it would be seething with rather unpleasant sharks. With that we rounded off our mission with four Amstel quarts (750ml beer) and headed back to the chalet. A fire was created, our filthy bodies were somewhat cleansed in the shower and then the remainder (250ml) of the Dimple Whisky appeared. We both had visions of the previous nights’ episode of drinking a half a litre straight up and decided to make our own mix. Now hang on a minute. If you’re a devout whisky drinker then miss this little section. My half I mixed with Coke Light (I’m very allergic to sugar) and Luke topped my mix by adding his 15 year whisky into a two litre bottle of Stoney (a local ginger beer). So yes, we were not playing by the rules but it tasted way better and did the trick. Some beers went down the hatch and the wors didn’t kill us. There wasn’t much party left in us from the seven consecutive days of paddling so we hit the sack and fell into a deep sleep shortly afterwards. It had been an interesting day and an awesome trip. I wondered what would lie ahead for the final few days.



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

All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Surf kayaking – Karmers on a big day. Then after that I’ll post the final article to this SA Road Trip 2008 series of articles. Stay tuned.