SA Road Trip 2008 – The Final Days

Thursday 27 November 2008, up at 07:00 and it was hot already. All our gear was packed back into my trusty little car and then we took a drive into Port St. Johns to take photo and video footage of this absolute hole of a town. From there we took a slow drive to the capital city of the Eastern Cape, Umtata. We were stopped at a road block and my license was taken away and the friendly officer took a walk around the car once to make sure we were transporting cannabis. It was returned and we went merrily on our way, no problems. Umtata was extreme, to say the least. I rate it way worse than the capital of Zambia, Lusaka. It really is horrible and it’s best to avoid it like the plague! As we left we saw a huge head on car accident where a bakkie (pick up truck) had crashed into a Toyota Condor, complete with trailer. The people in the Condor were obviously on holiday and I’m sure their vacation time ended right there and then. Amazingly, everyone seemed to be alive. With that we hurried out of the little cesspool know was Umtata and headed for the hills.

Through Tsolo and then into Maclear. We feasted on some KFC and then hit the shops. This time I waited in the car and let Luke experience Eastern Cape shopping at its best. Unfortunately his experience wasn’t as thrilling as mine and he also concluded the mission with a trip to the Royal Bottle Store. Which, I can assure you, didn’t look any part of ‘royal’. It was time to leave and head to The Falls Backpackers. Initially we drove right past it but then Angela called us to let us know that we had driven past! We turned around and pulled in to the chilled out home of Adriaan and Angela Badenhorst. It was a welcome relief to get away from the horrible towns we had driven through and now we could chill out. Luke and I took a quick walk to the Upper Tsitsa Falls and the river was sadly very low. We drank some beers and let the afternoon idle by. It was good to chill and after the two days of paddling on the Umkomaas  followed by three long days on the Mzimvubu we needed some rest. Luke and I were now at probably the best area for solid creeking and river running and all we needed was rain. How we needed that rain! As I’m writing this I’m sitting at home being very grumpy because there is none of it. Strange how we get our hopes up on what the weather man says and then get depressed when things don’t work out!


Upper Tsitsa Falls, very smart indeed. Too bad the flow was so pathetic...


Adrian Tregoning at the falls. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Prickly beasts!!!


Beautiful aloe.


The cosy kitchen at the backpackers. There is no electricity. I love this place!!!! :-)


The next morning (Friday 28 November) we got up and went for a longer hike to see the Pot River and the confluence it has with the Tsitsa. Along our hike we managed to crawl down a crack in the earth and found the cool little cave that Angela had told us about. There were ancient Bushman paintings inside and is a definite must see if you are lucky enough to visit this place. After our hike we chilled out and relaxed at the backpackers and noted that a big storm was coming. The wind blew like crazy and the sky looked threatening and even some rain fell.


Cool Bushman paintings nearby. These are incredible, don't you think?


Adrian heading out of the crack in the earth - the secret spot where the paintings are hidden... An impossible place to find, amazing! Photo by Luke Longridge.


Some flowers nearby.


More cool flowers.


And more, although I think these may be weeds. In any case, I really love flowers anyway if you have seen an article on this site...


The Tsitsa River looking really beautiful, just a little dry!!!! :-(


One of the dogs that joined us for the walk. This dog also led us to the Bushman paintings, without her we probably would not have found them! Incredible.


A sad looking Tsitsa River.


Yes, these rivers have loads of siphons, watch out.


These rapids are top quality with water. At the end of this article I've included some cool photos.... scroll down if you're in a hurry.


Billy the Dwarf Mountain Goat chilling on the roof of my car... Cheeky bugger!!!!


Luke discovering how strong a goat actually is! Yes, they are incredibly powerful animals. Crazy stuff.


The next morning (Saturday 29) the river looked the same. It was very disappointing, no water. Oh yes, did I mention that a cock (male chicken) had now woken me up BEFORE the crack of dawn on both mornings. I was ready to kill and once again I eventually climbed out of bed for the second morning in a row and threw stones at it. Within minutes of climbing back into bed he was at it again. I dreamt of eating his drum sticks with lots of spice… Hmmm! Things were not looking good for paddling, not at all. Adi went down to look at the Pot River and I drove with him. Luke had somehow managed to ignore the chicken and was still sleeping. The Pot was too low to paddle the Adi tried his hand at the trout that live in these waters an whipped out his fly rod. Luck was not going to come our way in any form it seemed.


Luke in the kitchen the next morning.


Yes, it is what you think it is. We found this innocently growing nearby.


More delightful flowers.


Adrian chilly with Billy. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Adi fly fishing on the Pot River.


The only option, apart from sitting and waiting, was to take a drive. With rough directions and a bit of a struggle we took a drive to the Inxu River which has the highest runnable waterfall in South Africa. We geared up and hoped we would be able to complete a park and huck. My car was left next to a hut in the middle of nowhere and we walked off, loads of village kids in tow. After 30 minutes of walking we arrived above the smaller waterfall. We found out later that the big waterfall is a lot further upstream. It was soon clear that the level was very low and the landing looked very skeptical. The curtain was landing on rocks that were visible in places. I was definitely not going to run this 13/14m waterfall at such a low level. Luke opted out too, which was a wise decision. So we walked back, Luke was seriously pissed off with our lack of water over the last few days and I didn’t blame him. It was frustrating. As I live in Cape Town now, getting to the Transkei would be a huge mission for me so I had to make the best of the opportunity. More thunderstorms were building and teasing us on the way back. Once back at the backpackers the wind blew and rain came down. We decided to drown our sorrows in vast quantities of beer. There we found some peace within and life was good again, at least for a while.


The smaller waterfall on the Inxu River. Don't try to pronounce it, you need to click your tongue... Too bad the level was too low and rocks were visible in the landing at some spots. Underneath this waterfall is a huge cave where they perform various rituals. Quite interesting.


Luke Longridge is always smiling. He was seriously pissed off in this photo. Man it was frustrating. We were in the heart of creeking country in South Africa and yet no water!!! :-\


The rains kept teasing us, but the rivers stayed the same.


Defeated, we drove back to the backpackers.


The road back after a thunderstorm. I've printed this photo A4 and it is truly beautiful if I do say so myself :) One of my favourites that I've taken so far. I wish I could live there.


The sign to look out for, this is where the backpackers is! First time we just drove past. Oops.


The next morning (Sunday 30 November) that chicken played with death once again. Twice I got up to throw stones at him and twice he came back within a minute or two. I had visions of easily cutting him up for breakfast… This was our fourth day there without any paddling. I was keen to keep waiting but Luke had had enough. We agreed to drive up to the Umzimkulu and hopefully paddle Thrombosis Gorge, so away we went. The owner of the land at the take out was not there and the river looked very low. Morale was at an all time low and we decided to finish off the trip in style and book into the Mountain Park Holiday Resort Hotel in Bulwer. We got a cool chalet and decided we’d also eat supper there and go the full way. I had a relaxing bath and reflected on the trip. It had been a little disappointing as far as water levels were concerned but I still had an absolute blast. The Mzimvubu River alone made the trip worthwhile! It wasn’t only about the paddling either, but also the driving, the good times, the swearing, the laughing and the driving around in the beautiful country that I live in and the freedom to go wherever we wanted.


We hit the bar and I bought the first round. I promised Luke I’d introduce me to my favourite drink, Stroh Rum and Red Grapetiser. Actually, any dark rum with Grapetiser is a winner but considering this was a special occasion we decided to go extra, extra large. By the time we were called for dinner we were quite toasted already after a few doubles had disappeared from the bar counter. We stalked up the stairs and were treated to a fantastic meal!!! It was glorious and even stone sober I would have said the same. We were the only people eating there and it was an awesome setting. Beautiful, dark wooden beams against a white ceiling and some tasteful decorating, I liked it. At some stage during the meal I was getting hot so took off one of my jerseys and ended up standing in the restaurant totally topless when our cute little waiter hopped in again. The look on her face, I’ll never forget it. Hahaha. What a laugh! It must have looked quite funny. Two kayakers in this smart setting and feeling (and looking more than likely) far from sober. Best fish I’ve ever had, hands down.


The awesome Mountain Park bar... Good times!


Back down at the bar we carried on and drank more double Stroh Rums. We played pool against some chaps and eventually got brave enough with the local ladies. Just being the friendly chaps that we are. More pool games ensued and also some darts. To cut a long story short this place is supposedly haunted and what not. We requested a ghost tour and went to the hot spots to witness hell. I took my trusty camera with the into the serious rooms where fear was supposed to hail from. I took a shot with the flash and without and even exposed the lens for several seconds. No wraiths appeared on the images and nothing could be tempted to show itself no matter what we did. I tried my best and also with our fine host but no luck. It was a good night!


Some grass the next morning.


The big goat.


Another goat.


The big goat again. What a fine specimen.


The fence where the goats were. I thought I might as well get a few photos before we climbed in the car and went on a looooong drive.


The next morning (Monday 1 December) we left Bulwer to hit Johannesburg! The 600km drive went off very smoothly and if I remember correctly I took my time, driving slowly. We left Bulwer at 08:45 or 09:00. I’m not sure what time we reached Luke’s flat but once there we unpacked the car and then repacked the car again for me. We went upstairs and I had a shower. Once done we watched a kayaking DVD and took it easy. About two and a half hours after reaching Luke’s house I left again, this time to Cape Town. I had just driven 600km and was now ready for another 1500km, no problem. I left at about 18:00 or 18:30 that night. The drive went well and I enjoyed taking some lightning photos at 23:15 somewhere next to the road. It was good to be driving, I love long distance. Just after Bloemfontein I started to get really tired. I’m not sure what the time was but probably around 23:00. I soldiered on. Eventually I stopped somewhere and slept in the car, I think the town was near Colesburg, I can’t remember. No, it must have been further because the time was about 03:30 or so. I slept in the front of that crammed little car for about an hour and a half, maybe two hours. When I awoke it was still dark but on the verge of getting light. The chaps in the car next to me were also stirring and I decided to press on. It was then around 05:00. I put 3 green tea bags into a 1.5 litre Nalgene water bottle with cold water and let it sit while I drove. I sipped on this unorthodox concoction in the hopes that it would fuel e, it seemed to work. The sun came up and I was like a machine.


I saw some awesome lightning on the way back, just after Bloemfontein at about 23:15.


More lightning. Even though I wanted/needed to get home I always take time to enjoy the entire journey :-)


Early morning in the Karoo.


Another windmill further down the road.


The sun was coming up. This meant I had been on the road for around 20 hours already.


I helped this big dude get off the road. Beautiful.


I love this shot!!!! Makes me just want to get a motorbike again and cane it down a straight like this!! Open country side in the Karoo.


Typical South Africa scene. One truck overtaking another on a blind rise. The guy on the left had to move over, and the guy on the right too. I whipped out the camera just in time to capture the fun...


Quite near to home, maybe another 250km. The last photo of my car on a big kayaking road trip.


I carried on and on and on and just kept on driving. There was nothing else to do. I took some photos along the way, stopping to also get two tortoises out of harm’s way as they tried to cross the road. Shame, poor little dudes. At 11:36am I have a photo of the Huguenot Tunnel and this was the last photo of the trip.  I arrived home at 12:30 on Tuesday 2 December after driving for 27 hours, covering most of South Africa and about 2100km, with about a two and a half hour rest stop in Johannesburg. My mom said my eyes looked very glazed and weird when I got home. I was finished. I think I took a shower and climbed into bed. Sleep didn’t right away and when I closed my eyes I thought of the never ending road in front of me. It hunted through my mind for a long time. I thought back to the trip I had just completed and even though it wasn’t a major success we knew from the beginning that we were taking a huge gamble with water so early in the season but at least we got some fun paddling in. It was superb trip and I would do it all over again without a moment’s hesitation. Life is meant to be lived, not to just dream about things. We need to go out and do them. We’re ALL on borrowed time and one never knows when our time is up. Get off your ass and do something, right now… The photos below are courtesy of Andrew Kellet from Gravity Adventures... For all your commercial rafting needs, courses etc, contact them:



THESE ARE THE WATER LEVELS WE SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN.... I guess life doesn't always work out the way you want it to. Shot for the pics Andrew!


Andrew Kellet on the first rapid below the falls on the Tsitsa River. Good stuff this!


Chilling out, warm weather boating here....


Phil Solomon at the base of the falls.




Scouting some good stuff.


The wonderful Transkei region has some awesome rivers.




Beautiful area. Make a plan to paddle this as soon as you can.


Heading into some good old brown South African water.


Andrew Kellett boofing, somewhere.


Kate Walton emerging from a drop.


Lekker stuff down in the valleys.


Andrew Kellet in the thick of it. Note, no dry top. Ah, this is paddling paradise... Why couldn't Luke and I get these levels!?!?!?!?!


Kate Walton in some ugly looking stuff.


Kate Walton (background) on another rapid.


To visit The Falls Backpackers and experience this AWESOME paddling area click HERE!!!!!!!


Check out the video that Luke Longridge composed of the trip. It was quite long (just under 17 minutes) but I think you might enjoy it. Thanks Luke, sterling job!


Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated. Thanks to Luke for his photos during this series of articles and also for the cool video!

All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.



Next article: That’s it for this series of articles. I hope you enjoyed this series of articles! The website will carry on with more surf kayaking and local river paddling and creeking the Western Cape as per usual. I have LOADS of articles waiting, I just need TIME!!!! Stand by for new developments from the site, as well as from Fluid Kayaks...


Just a final note. This is the last article that you’ll see my little VW Caddy. In respect for this awesome (and sometimes hated) vehicle I have decided to throw up a few photos for old time sake. May he (Adolf) serve his new owner well and take him on many new adventures. I often think about the car, shame, it sometimes had a hard life... Cheers, you were good little car!!!  Hehehe. The old car has replaced with something better and faster, but less practical in a way. Most of the rivers here in the Cape don’t require off road driving so I decided to get something a bit different. I drive far to work so the pain of that is helped with a fun car to drive. Not exactly very fuel efficient but it gets from A to B very quickly and will put a smile on your face every single time, no doubt. 184 kW over the 60 kW the Caddy had is quite a difference. So far, so good!


Near the Umkomaas River after a Deepdale Gorge trip with Mike Pennefather.


My mom dropping me off so that I could go and paddle for 4 relaxed days down the Doring on my own. Thanks mom! :-)


Hiking trip into Didima Gorge with an old friend of mine, Sean Robertson.


I was lost, fully. Mist in Sappi forests is no joke....


The Mountain Park Resort in Bulwer before they built chalets here. Pity. It was cool to camp here...


On another hiking trip, this time below the Ampitheatre. What a place! Home to the second highest waterfall on earth - Tugela Falls at 948m.


The tunnel near Waterval Boven.


Sappi Forests in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa.


Top of Long Tom Pass.


Above Caves on a 9m swell that day... This is near to Cape Town. This car went from new to about 165 000km. It gave me much joy, it took me to MANY great places... Every car reaches the end though. Cheers... :-\


My new baby :-) Already she's taken me to some cool places and I've had much joy driving her. May there be MANY more awesome kayaking trips to be had, all over!!!! :-)  BTW, a lot of non-kayaking friends read my site so I share a couple of other things on here too. Have FUN!!!!  :-)