Dwars River – An Ultra Low Flow Scouting Mission


I had heard a lot of things about the Dwars but had never seen it myself. There are almost no photos of this river anywhere on the net except for one site which belongs to a professional photographer. As I had just moved to Cape Town I thought I would scout this river and see what all the fuss was about.

I left early that morning and stopped past the put in for another great creek, the Wit. Or Witte as it is also and probably more correctly known. I’d hiked the section above the normally run stretch with my sister in winter once but never the normal section. I would return the following week to hike the full length of the Wit but on this occasion I carried on down the twisty little road until I came across an idiot in a truck that could no longer continue down. He had not seen the warning sign with regards to height and after a very long time he managed to get his interlink trailer unhitched into the side of the mountain and we could pass.


Roadside company next to the Wit or Witte River on the drive down to the Dwars.


My hiking mission would be a solo one and as I had never been there I phoned Wihan Basson to find out how to get to the put in. I eventually drove to the Ceres golf course, spoke to the bar tender, and he said I could park my car right there on the course! So I left my car under a huge tree about twenty metres from the last green at the club house and wondered if my windows would be shattered with golf balls by the time I got back. I walked to the other side of the course, down a gravel road, and manage to find the weir. The level was super low and the water very dirty and uninviting! The Dwars is quite polluted and a real shame as it flows through a beautiful little gorge for the first kilometre or so.


The weir at the put in.


The first drop is a portage and it is pretty obvious as to why one cannot run it. It is made of a large rock that looks like a big hunk of cheese. There are several siphons and the little trickle of water dropped through the most obvious line and ended through a hole large enough to almost walk through. I climbed back up on river right and peered down at something else which looked like the entire river went under a rock fall. I stand under correction but I think this used to be a cool drop but after a landslide, the rocks formed one massive siphon making it another portage. I walked over the hill and down a steep bank until I got to river level. From here on the river looked very paddleable, steep and continuous. There were some nasty little siphons and one in particular looked horrendous. I made a mental note that swimming here would not be an option when I came back with my boat.


The first portage rapid with the cheese rock described.


Portaging around the second drop by going over the top of a little hill.


A really nasty siphon with all sorts of stuff being jammed into it. So the next time you decide to take a swim, think again...


The nature of the rock leads to some interesting formations.


I made my way down on the river right bank, hopping along the boulders and enjoying the scenery. It was a sweltering day and soon my t shirt was sodden as I had put on a blistering pace. I stopped to drink water next to a boulder and admired my private little world that I had entered. The river dropped down in front of me and it seemed like there were some larger boulders, followed by a pool further downstream. It was good to be there, alone.


The last steep section down to the first pool.


From the pool looking up.


And looking downstream.


Once at the pool I had to traverse along the right bank and made my way through the thick bush and wet, slippery terrain. I could not walk along the bank as the cliffs there were vertical. There was evidence of rock falls and I eyed out my chosen route carefully. Unless I wanted to walk back and then up and around, which would take ages, there were no other alternatives. The bushwhacking was tricky and I found what resembled a dodgy path and made my way up. The ‘path’ got very steep and I was forced to use my hands to ascend. Soon it was at around 80 degrees and I had to keep my body pressed close to the ground. I’m not a great lover of that sort of thing and when I looked down at the river below me, I started to get nervous. Fresh rocks littered the bushes below me and I knew that one false move and I would more than likely fall to my death. If the fall didn’t kill me, I would be stranded there for a very long time and the thought didn’t appeal to me. With no cell phone signal and not a person in sight I made sure that every move I made was a positive one. The climbing was very dangerous and I grabbed onto plants and dug my nails into the rough, sandy cliff as I slowly made my way up. Little rocks were falling from under my feet and I began to seriously question the wisdom of my chosen route. There was no other alternative but to carry on up as climbing down would almost certainly result in a potentially deadly fall. After a few tense minutes I made it to the top and right next to the entrance of a railway tunnel. I vowed not to return that way, no matter what happened and felt a massive sense of relief.


The top section leading into the first pool as taken from the early part of my kamikaze solo climbing mission.


The tunnel was long and dark and I briefly stood there before turning my back on it and quietly walked along the tracks to make as little noise as possible. There had been evidence of people near the river and down at the cliffs and I didn’t want to become another victim as the Cape is renowned for people getting randomly murdered. In front of me a group of three suspicious guys were sitting next to the road and I wondered if they had seen me. My pace was unrelenting and they would have had to be quick. As I came below them I left the railway line and descended down a steep gulley, back towards the river. It was easy to hop across the river and I now moved upstream on river left. I could see the ten metre waterfall which I heard about and made my way towards it. To my relief the three characters were still there and I could just make out that they had noticed me. The waterfall itself looked like it would be fun to run. Below that the gradient becomes a lot less and I didn’t scout further than about four hundred metres from the waterfall.


The waterfall as seen from the gully. What an awesome little river.


A rapid in front of the gully I climbed down to cross the river and walk back upstream on river left towards the waterfall.


The waterfall as viewed from water level. And yes, I know. That watermark needs some work on the paddle there...


Adrian Boom running the drop! Photo courtesy Adrian Boom - thanks! :-)


The same waterfall viewed from higher up.


From there I carried on upstream but had to go very high, over a hill. I climbed up another rocky and slippery gulley and looked back again at the road in the distance. The three men were now gone and I wondered where they were. I picked up the pace again and the sweat poured down my face. It felt good to be missioning around like that and I loved the solitude and freedom of hiking alone. Once at the top the gradient eased off and I walked across and back down towards the river. The sky was a brilliant blue and some of the photos I took came out really nicely. It was a truly glorious day.


High up on the hills on river left as I made my way back. A truly spectacular day!


Beyond the gulley, where it opened up again. Some steep, rugged terrain. I just love this shot.


The train tunnel can be seen in the centre, near the top of the picture. Just below that is the super steep 'path' I climbed up. Very scary stuff....as can be seen here. Wouldn't do that in a hurry again!


The road can be seen at the very top of the picture. Where the hill has been cut out is where the railway line runs along and the river is down in the gorge.


The rapid leading into the first pool, from another angle now.


The top section of the river is basically one longish rapid before it enters that first pool. Then there are a few more drops, and then the waterfall.


The road back to the Ceres Golf Course.


I crossed the river again and after trying to find a spot to climb out of the little gorge again, I was on my way back. My car didn’t have any golf balls sitting in the windscreen and I refreshed myself with some liquid (non-alcoholic I’ll let you know) at the bar and made my way home. The Dwars River looked like a very fun river to paddle and one which I’ll be checking out as soon as I’m able bodied again. The top section looks pretty steep and there are a few nice looking rapids there. It is hard to visualise how they’ll look with water but I have a pretty good idea. The section below the waterfall should still offer some action but there seems to be a fair amount of strainers to be careful of. Looking forward to this one!


The last two photos were taken by Richard Smithers. The paddler is Tim Biggs and this comes from the book - Canoeing in South Africa, written by Rory Pennefather. Check it out, I found a copy in my local library. As you can see, the Dwars CAN PUMP....     :-)




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Low flow scout of the Wit River, complete with comparison photos this time!