The Palmiet River Unveiled

The Palmiet River starts its life high up in the hills just south of Franschhoek.  From what I can see on a 1:250 000 map, there are two small rivers which flow into the Nuweberg Dam from the west and I guess the Palmiet could be one of them. That would then be where the source is. North-East-North of Grabouw. Just downstream of this is the next dam, the Eikenhof Dam, then it flows into the north eastern corner of the Kogelberg Dam. From here onwards, the Palmiet begins its journey down south to the sea where it spills into the Atlantic Ocean only a few stone’s throw west of Kleinmond – a distance of about 73km from source to sea.

The Palmiet River basin in the Hottentots Holland Mountains is where a joint venture between Eskom (local power company) and DWAF (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry) was set up. There is a canal and pipeline between Rockview and the Steenbras Dam. Then there is also a system between the upper reservoir, Rockview Dam and the Kogelberg Dam. The Rockview Dam is not on the course of the Palmiet River and sits west of it. The power station is obviously at the Rockview Dam and electricity is supplied according to demand, Monday to Friday. Only some of the water is pumped back from the Kogelberg Dam on a weekly basis. On weekends though, the Rockview Dam fills up with the help of some monster pumps which pump at a phenomenal rate of 126 m^3/s over a period of about 40 hours, which is enough to fill Rockview to capacity again. Not bad! But a shame that us kayakers cannot gain any benefit from such a huge flow. Perhaps they could have created a great play wave where that water enters the upper dam. There is another dam just downstream of the Kogelberg Dam and this is called the Arieskraal Dam.


Rockview does not have much of a catchment and that is why there is a canal and pipeline running from the Steenbras Dam. So if they need to top it up, then they can get water from the Steenbras Scheme. Clever stuff this. What is even more impressive is that the Palmiet Pumped Storage Scheme is largely situated within the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. This world renowned conservation area boasts top quality fynbos and it is good to know that it is being preserved and that strict measures were taken during the construction of all these phases to keep everything as it should be. The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve was also the first reserve in South Africa to be given biosphere status by Eskom in 1998. This initiative was aimed to integrate conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Sustainable - now there's a word you hear a lot these days! To quote directly from Eskom, "The Kogelberg Nature Reserve, in the heart of the Cape Fynbos Plant Kingdom, is part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, which comprises the entire coastal area from Gordon's Bay to the Bot River vlei to Grabouw and the Groenland Mountain - approximately 92 000 ha."


We are truly privileged to be able to kayak in such a pristine place. If you haven’t paddled in the Western Cape, then make a plan. It’s definitely quite different from other areas in South Africa. Another interesting fact –  about 58 % of the Palmiet’s catchment is natural, roughly 41 % under agriculture and the roughly 1 or 2 % left is either degraded shrubland or urban – mainly residential or industrial. Still, we drink the water straight from the river! I’ve never been sick and have got a very sensitive stomach. This is not the norm as most of South Africa’s rivers are heavily silted and mostly not suitable for human consumption without some form of treatment.


The Krom River comes in as a tributary from Groenland Berge (Greenland Mountains – direct translation from Afrikaans) just to the west of a peak known as Mount Lebanon at an altitude of 1201m. From these south facing slopes are also a few small rivers which ultimately join the Palmiet. There are also a few other small streams which add to the volume but I will not mention them here.


So now you know a little more about this river and I’m sure you’ve learnt something new today! Right, straight to some paddling...


When I first saw the Palmiet, my arm was in a sling from my surgery and I was there only as a spectator with camera in hand. This was the trend for several other trips as I would come along to at least get close to kayaking and try and remember what it was all about. The photos in this article show five different trips, only two of which I was kayaking myself and one was when Rowan took me down on my sit on top. Therefore I won’t have too much to write about two of these trips but the photos themselves will tell a little story. In chronological order, let me begin.


31 May 2008, several people climbed onto the river  - three of whom had never been on a river before. The level was low but there was action from the beginning, as would be expected. The very first rapid is called Hand Stands Up and is a simple ledge drop of about a foot and a half with a few options, depending on water level too. One girl on the trip managed to somehow capsize above the drop, and needless to say, she swam the bony little drop. It didn’t look like fun. After that, I didn’t see the group again and after a very long wait at the take out, in fading light, a few of the guys came through. It had taken about 3 hours and I believe this section can easily be done in 45 minutes. There were several swims and eventually the group split with more than half of them walking off the river.


The view from the car park from where you begin your walk in.


The mountains are really beautiful in the Palmiet River valley.


Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) on the walk to the put in.


The single track which takes you to the river.


Bubbles below the first rapid - Hands Stand Up.


Carnage on Hands Stand Up!!!!  :-)  [This one is dedicated to Philip Claassens, a man who loves to watch carnage...]


King Protea (Protea cynaroides) next to the path.


The shadows began creeping across the hills.


Judgement Day rapid at a low level, late in the evening.


Stuart MacMillan running Judgement Day in fading light.


The bridge at the take out.


The last tiny rapid below the bridge before the river enters the ocean.


Mission complete, for one day.


8 June I was back. This time for a beginners kayak course that I presented – with arm in sling, from the bank. Yep, it sounds impossible but I managed just fine and had Rowan Walpole demonstrating and me giving the orders and fine tuning our class. Not the ideal way to teach but the students were happy with the arrangement so I guess it worked out just fine. The level was a little higher this time but we did our class in the eddy downstream of the bridge so it didn’t really matter. I managed more of these courses at a later stage.


Kayaking can be enjoyed by young and old. Ok, so you're not that old John... :-)


John Goodwin taking a run down Judgement Day.


Rowan Walpole playing in the hole downstream of the take out bridge.


Lazy afternoons at the coast. Awesome!


For the weekend of the 18th and 19th of July Rowan, Greg and Nancy Walpole and Braam Rademeyer, William Binedell and I were back. This time we had the cunning plan of taking my sit on top, a Fluid Synergy, down the river. The idea was for Rowan to paddle while I shouted directions from upfront and made sure I preserved my shoulder  and secondly, the boat. At that stage, I was less than 9 weeks out of surgery!!! SHHHH, don’t tell anyone. The boat was brand new and had never even seen water. Neither Rowan nor I had ever even sat on, let alone gone down a class 2/3 river with one. We nervously climbed aboard and suddenly doubt began to creep into our minds. What the hell were we doing here? Oh well, it was a sunny Friday afternoon and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.


On the way to the Palmiet River...


Adrian Tregoning (left) and Rowan Walpole (right) before our Synergy mission. Photo by Braam Rademeyer.


Rowan steamed ahead and plotted a course to the river right side of Hand Stands Up. With some last minute adjustments that included me using a foot to steer the boat, we dropped down a little offline and hit the hole at the bottom. The boat rocked violently and Rowan fell out and into the icy water. Somehow, I had managed to stay aboard. Hmmm, this was the first rapid and already the river was getting the upper hand. Luckily we had a few smaller rapids to build our skill on. Somewhat sobered, we continued. From this point onwards, I had never seen any of the other rapids between here and the take out. There are some small rapids and then a slightly larger one called Bubble and Squeak. We stopped on the left and it was agreed that I would portage while Rowan would paddle it alone. I had not seen it but it was recommended I walk as the chances of us flipping over were very high. The fynbos next to the bank was very thick and I had an unpleasant mission through it. Before I could get into position for some photos, Rowan came charging down. He hit this one rock near the end a bit side on and the kayak promptly discharged him into the frigid water once again. He disappeared from sight with the boat floating down the remainder of the rapid. I remember thinking that the portage wasn’t that bad after all.


Rowan picked me up and we continued down. There were some tighter palmiet channels which we managed to survive and on more than one occasion I used what could be called a leg brace. Yes, this new technique is excellent for those sitting on top of a kayak and without the use of their arms. I highly recommend it for tight situations where speed is of the essence.


Further down there was a ‘bigger’ rapid called Itchy and Scratchy. Well, more like two rapids; the first little one being Itchy and the one directly after it, Scratchy. We eddied on our the left above Scratchy while Braam took my camera and ran the rapid ahead of us to get some photos. Our line wasn’t too bad, even though we finished facing backwards. This run had been a clear, or reasonably victory.


Finishing Scratchy off backwards - not too bad for a SOT with only one person paddling. Photo by Braam Rademeyer.


Directly below this is the so called ‘Waterfall’ rapid - a really unimaginative name for this drop. They could have named it anything like maybe even Gummie Berry Juice, I don’t know. Oh well, it makes little difference anyway. We scouted from the right and after there seemed to be doubt as to whether we could run this or not, I boldly announced we would be running it whether successful or not. Rowan was happy to command our unwieldy craft down this little beast. Now, the Fluid Synergy is an excellent craft. It excels on flat water, slow flowing rivers (with only tiny rapids) and even can even ride (note, not surf) ocean waves but the river we were doing was way above what this sit on top was designed for. Celliers had already warned me that running the last rapid could break the boat and even before we had climbed onto the river we were quite certain we wouldn’t run it. There was no doubt that we could run Waterfall. It was unclear whether we would still be on top or not.


Braam Rademeyer with his run on Waterfall - no problem.


With that, Rowan stroked out into the current and set our course. Our line was pretty good and as I was about to celebrate another victory when a wave hit our left side and over we went. The boat went over me and then Rowan as well. He pushed me deep down and suddenly I connected smartly with a large rock sitting on the river bottom. My right leg became numb and as I surfaced several metres downstream I realised my operated shoulder was in a lot of pain. I got to the eddy on the right and questioned the wisdom of our decision. Not even the chilly water made much difference.


Rowan Walpole (left) doing the paddling and Adrian Tregoning (right) hoping and praying. Photo by William Binedell.


After this rapid are only some small rapids before the final one, Judgement Day. Without hesitation we portaged this one and headed up to the car, it was great to have at least been down the river and it almost felt as though I had paddled. Even though I obviously hadn’t! Thanks a million for that Rowan, you made a huge difference! And also thanks to William and Braam for the excellent day out.


Driving back to the put in to collect our cars.


Further along on the drive - great scenery!


The cottages in the nature reserve.


My Fluid Synergy. Our weapon of choice for the Friday.


Fireplace inside our cottage for the two nights that we stayed there for.


The days’ action was coming to an end but not for Rowan. Later that night he joined up for a first night time descent of the Palmiet River with some other kayakers and riverboarders. They had permission from Cape Nature and the moon was full. I believe they had an excellent time and I wished I could have joined in the fun. How I wished.


Rowan Walpole on Hand Stands up.


Braam Rademeyer on the same rapid.


From left: Braam Rademeyer, Rowan Walpole and Greg Walpole. I wished I could have joined them that day... My day would come!


Rowan Walpole running the first weir above Judgement Day. He was using my small Solo for the day and enjoyed it, a lot!!!! In fact his dad recently bought one so guess who is using it....  ;-)


Rowan Walpole on Judgement Day. The above photos were all taken on the Saturday - the day after our little sit on top mission. That concluded that weekend as far as photos go. Thanks for Greg and Nancy for the accomodation and food! :-)


On the 30th of August 2008, it was time for me to climb into a kayak and paddle again. It had been 5 months and 1 day of NOT paddling and I wondered how it would go. My right shoulder was still quite stiff and I was under strict instructions from physio to do loads of stretches, exercises and of course, to take it easy. In other words, I was not allowed to paddle. Well, the day seemed set to be quite exciting. As a first day back into the saddle one would expect a sunny day, no wind and medium to low water levels so that I could ease back into it. I guess the weather man had different ideas and decided he would throw everything he had at us. The swell rolling into the bay was estimated at over 10 metres on the internet and all around Cape Town surfers were hoping for the wind to die so that they could utilise the biggest swell of the year. The wind on that Saturday was blowing very hard from the North West. When we stood at the car park, it was gusting around the 40 to 50 knot barrier. Did I mention it had rained a lot and that the river was very high, possibly even a mild flood level? It was also pretty cold and the wind certainly didn’t make it any warmer.


Above Caves - the spot I always stop at. The weather wasn't looking too good that day - rainy, cold and a howling wind.


At least I had excellent company and that included the likes of Rowan Walpole, Niell Taylor, Stefano Sessa and Braam Rademeyer. The five of us would be taking this beast on. I decided to not take any chances and avoid going back into hospital and took my large Fluid Solo. Rowan and Braam both took small Solo’s, Niell took his medium Spice and Stefano borrowed my medium Nemesis as he hasn’t tried the boat out yet. I gave a brief safety talk that included bringing across a clear message that my Pelican case should be rescued first (in case of a swim, and yes, I once again had it between my legs. Don’t do this unless you are 100% aware of the risks), then my paddle, then my boat and then me. I was quite sure I could make the bank easily anyway and the river wasn’t going to stop in any event. The idea of looking for equipment several kilometres downstream didn’t appeal to me. Of course I’m only joking and when it comes to rescue, every person should know that THEY come FIRST, then the GROUP, then the VICTIM, and then EQUIPMENT. Do you know this? I hope so!!!!


The walk in is 1.3km long and I had to carry on my left shoulder. As I normally carry on my right the boat felt awkward and the wind definitely did not help. After about 2 minutes of walking a strong gust of wind blew the boat right off my shoulder and it hit the ground. Jeepers, that wind was insane. As a keen windsurfer, I had visions of rigging up a 3.5 or less and heading out! After struggling a lot and declining Rowan’s offer for him to carry my boat, I eventually was taking the strain (I had grown soft!) and Stefano offered to take my boat in exchange for the Nemesis. So for the final 200m or so I took a much lighter boat. You see, I told you I had excellent company, did I not?!


Above Hand Stands Up the wind was forcing small waves down river at a very high rate. Luckily it was blowing downstream. The water felt really cold but luckily I was properly dressed. It was time to see if I could Eskimo roll or not. Over I went and up I rolled. Still, I wasn’t keen on flipping over anywhere. The section is 3.5km long and has an average gradient of about 7.1m/km. So not very steep, but then again, no one ever said it was. The Palmiet is still a very fun river and there is a much longer section upstream which I have not done yet. There is also a nice waterfall which is calling for a second descent. It does look ultra nasty though so maybe not. I guess it depends on water levels, the group, confidence, skill and just how one feels on the day, as with most challenging drops.


Above the little ledge which forms Hand Stands Up is a small dimple in the river bottom which causes a hole. This hole gets larger with increased flow and I wondered how it would look now. As I paddled towards it I realised it was actually an excellent play hole, just a pity it was right above the ledge. I punched it and took the very simple line on the right, punching the hole at the bottom too. Everyone else had great runs too and there were no problems. The river looked very different to the day when we paddled down on the sit on top. There was no doubt that the Synergy would not have been a good idea at these water levels.


Below this the water moved swiftly through the twists and bends and we charged off into Bubble and Squeak. There were no rocks and just loads of waves and the odd hole with a relatively easy line down the middle. It was more than what I had bargained for on my first time out after such a long break but I was loving it. The rock on the left that had knocked Rowan over in the sit on top was now forming a meaty hole and I didn’t get a good look but it didn’t look very pleasant. As I finished the rapid and looked back it just looked crazy. The wind was blowing down this rapid with devastating force and the wind must have been gusting around 50 knots or even more in the valley. It turned the water a crazy haze and made it look surreal. Everyone had reasonable runs and I don’t think anyone even flipped. So far, so good with smiles all round, of course!


We got to Itchy and Scratchy and charged down. On Scratchy there were some holes to preferably avoid and again, everyone had great runs. The wind was still insane and we had to shout to each other to be heard. It also made paddling a lot harder that what it should have and the paddle blade out of the water would be manipulated by the force of the wind. Directly below was Waterfall and we all went for the left side without any scouting. My line wasn’t pretty good but somewhere I must have had a quick stroke or brace on the right and pain shot up my right arm. Damn it! I got into the eddy on the right and I didn’t feel too good. I had to shout to Rowan to be heard as the wind was cranking. Did I mention it was blowing? Not sure I did...


The final rapid was Judgement Day. The weir was looking nasty so I boofed far right, straight into the eddy. Boofing into eddies is an excellent technique and I recommend you start practising this, a lot. Make sure you choose a spot where there isn’t a severe consequence in case of failure. Riding over rocks or going right up against them and boofing into the eddy makes life so much easier. Why make a river any harder than it has to be? On harder rivers this technique becomes vital. From here I gave Braam my camera as only Rowan, Stefano and I would be paddling the rapid. I watched them get into position and then went back to my boat. We had briefly looked at the rapid from the road and I wondered how it would be when I actually ran it. I had no illusions that I could come short but still felt confident in my current physical state that I should be able to survive. I went ahead of Rowan, ferried into the current, paddled the small drop below the weir and then into Judgement Day. I wasn’t too sure on my line but really, it doesn’t make too much of a difference. There was a decent wave train and at the end of the top shelf a hole which was probably best to avoid at that level, in a creek boat. The middle section was just flowing water, with a hole just before The Gates. The Gates were totally under water so I decided to just go straight over them. Going over the large rock my bow turned a little to the left and as I went down the other side of the wave which had now formed I lost a little balance on my left. I was about to brace but decided to simply go over and managed a fast roll. Not too bad, except I then realised my shoulder was a bit sore. Oh well, it was worth it. I think most of the pain was because the shoulder was so stiff. It is getting better now and I’m training it very hard at the moment, with lots of stretching.


Adrian Tregoning running Judgement Day at about flood level. Photo by Braam Rademeyer.


Adrian Tregoning going right over the big rock that forms The Gates at the end of Judgement Day. Photo by Braam Rademeyer.


Slightly sore but happy - Adrian Tregoning on the bridge above the Palmiet River. Photo by Braam Rademeyer.


Rowan came down next and had a good run. I had already gone up to the bridge but Stefano never came down. We wondered what had become of him but what had happened was that he hadn’t made the ferry and had ended up in some trees, resulting in a technical swim, or, also known as a forced exit! It had been great to be back on the river. I definitely felt much more alive than I had been in a while and the next day my shoulder wasn’t really sore, so I was very stoked.


Rowan Walpole cruising down Judgement Rapid nicely. Photos by Braam Rademeyer.


Stefano Sessa very stoked after the big water run down. He paddled down my medium Nemesis and apart from getting a little stuck in the trees above Judgement Day, he styled it the whole way down. Nice one!


Adrian Tregoning SUPER HAPPY and back at our awesome little house next to the Waterfall rapid! Photo by Stefano Sessa.


Rowan Walpole about to throw in some kayaking porn - Source!


We didn't get the chance to photograph ourselves paddling Waterfall but this is how it looked from our chalet afterwards - pumping!


It hailed and rained and the wind blew like crazy that night!!!!!


The next morning and the view of our wonderful little spot.


We had several kilograms of meat between only 3 of us and so were forced to braai (BBQ) the next morning again! Hahaha....


Rowan Walpole decided he'd do Judgement Day again the following day before we went home. At least the wind had subsided, a little.


The browner that usual water just downstream of the bridge. This is the take out.


An angry sea at the lagoon where the Palmiet reaches the ocean.


It might not look it, but the wind was cranking... The dark areas are shadows from the clouds.


Probably in memory of some fishermen that drowned off the rocks. There are several like these in the area. Many of the guys fishing along these rocks can't swim no comment.


On the way back.


Just to the right of Caves was looking rather BIG. Scroll down to the end of this article for some more big wave photos.


On the 6th of September I had another paddle on the Palmiet. This time the sun was shining, there was hardly any wind and the water was a lot lower. The crew consisted of Rowan Walpole, Greg Walpole, William Binedell, Niell Taylor and Braam Rademeyer. This time round I decided to try out my small Solo as I had spent very little time in it. In fact, I had only paddled it once down the notorious Crocodile Gorge and was keen to see how it would handle some mild rapids. I already knew that it was fast enough to avoid hippos...


The beautiful Palmiet River just below Bubble and Squeak.


Braam Rademeyer at the end of Bubble and Squeak.


William Binedell with a good run of Waterfall on the left line.


Adrian Tregoning boofing the pourover line on Waterfall. Photos by Rowan Walpole. These last photos were all taken with a little Olympus waterproof camera. So hence they're not as good as the others and also we didn't get any cool sequences. Next time!


Braam Rademeyer boofing the far right line of the weir above Judgement Day.


We had a very chilled paddle down and it really was a great day out. Apart from some minor swims everyone had a great day and it really was a glorious morning to be out on the river. William provided some action and ‘allowed’ his boat to run Judgement Day on its own. This resulted on the tail bending up, permanently, and the seat to break! Remember to ALWAYS put float bags into your boat. It is your boats insurance and not only will it float higher, reducing its chances of being caught up somewhere, but it also makes life much easier for whoever is rescuing your boat!


William's boat after it went down Judgement Day without a pilot - oops....


Apart from the bent tail the interior also broke... (but thanks to Rowan it is all fixed up again)


Thanks to Braam for making this video!


I hope you enjoyed reading about the Palmiet River. Hopefully I’ll get to run the long section before our rains stop. Luckily I’ve managed to paddle the Molenaars River twice, the other weekend a section on the Riviersonderend known as Back of the Moon (now twice) and the Dwars once. This weekend there’ll be something happening again and I also managed a great 4 day solo paddle on the Doring. More on that later... Here are some flood level photos of the Palmiet that I got from Braam Rademeyer. Enjoy:






The bottom of Judgement Day.


The Gates at the end of Judgement Day.


Judgement Day with some cool waves.


The big weir above Judgement Day.


Waterfall from higher up.



Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. Thanks to Braam Rademeyer for the use of his photos, and the ones at the end. As well as to those people that held the camera for me! Shot!

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.

Next article: First trip down the the Molenaars River.


BONUS PHOTOS!!!!!!!!!!!


The day after the trip when it was so windy and rainy, I went on a mission to photograph some waves. The lighting was bad but I got some ok shots. This is just left of the Outer Kom. Those waves are massive.... Trust me!


Look who is sitting inside your car buddy!!!!  :-)  hehehehe


Luckily no one got hurt. Next time, leave your car door closed - idiot! These baboons can be very dangerous if provoked or cornered and you will come off second best. This was at Buffels Bay.


Coming down towards Platboom. This is an excellent windsurfing spot. These spots are all along Cape Point.


An Ostrich comes in for a closer look at me.


Diaz Beach looking massive and also, closing out. Any takers? I thought not...


Black Rocks - looking VERY good!


A surfer dropping in at Black Rocks.


Getting barrelled at Black Rocks.


Some random dude eating it at Black Rocks.


A bodyboarder charging the world class break known as Kalk Bay Reef. Too bad he didn't actually make this one... hehehe. This was taken after sunset - hence the BAD light. Next time!

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