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Canoeing, river rafting and kayaking in South Africa

River Sports In South Africa

By J.F. Kloppers

South Africa is blessed with fantastic rivers, beautiful scenery, and a climate made for the outdoors enthusiast, so if you're looking for action of the paddling variety, you're in for a treat.

The most popular river for canoeing, rafting and kayaking – for good reason – is the Orange, which forms the country's northern border with Namibia. It's a long, green-fringed oasis running through the mountainous desert area known as the Richtersveld. Incredibly scenic, it also has a few fun rapids.

The section below Augrabies Falls is similar, and there is a one-day rafting trip above Augrabies which features some exciting but not radical rapids. The Gorge section of the Orange is a lot more technical and has some high-volume rapids.

The Vaal, a tributary of the Orange, has some fun little rapids and is very close to Johannesburg, so it's a popular destination for corporate trips. Also near Johannesburg, the Crocodile River offers a pleasant day out with some small and mildly challenging rapids.

The Doring River in the Western Cape has a short season towards the end of winter, and offers fantastic, quite technical white water, but it's pretty cold.

The Palmiet River is absolutely wonderful. It runs through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and offers fantastic technical rapids and wonderful scenery. The trip offered takes one day and includes all meals and sometimes a visit to a winery.

The Molenaars is a very technical, white water river that only works for a few days immediately after heavy rain in its catchment area, so it's not easy to plan a trip. The Sonderend River is a smallish river where you can do a fun day trip or overnighter.

There are two trips on the Breede River: a one day wine tasting trip near Worcester, which is really just an excuse to have a lovely picnic and sample some local wines, with a little bit of paddling thrown in. Lower down, near Swellendam, two-day trips are run on some small rapids and quite rocky sections. This section is used mainly for corporate trips.

There is some fun canoeing in the lakes area of the Garden Route, especially Wilderness and Knysna Lagoon. Other enjoyable flatwater trips include the two self-guided excursions near Port Alfred, one of which is up and down the conveniently tidal Kowie River. The other is a short paddle up the Kleinemond River to a wonderful overnight spot, called Kayak Camp.

Far more luxurious would be an escorted trip through the spectacularly beautiful and biologically unique Kosi Bay lake system. And, also in the Maputaland area of northern KwaZulu-Natal, there are fantastic escorted one-day trips on Lake St Lucia, where you may see crocodiles and hippos, and on Lake Bhangazi, also part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.

The Umkomaas River on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast offers fantastic paddling with some fun, challenging but not too technical rapids. Just north of Durban, the Umgeni has some delightful little rapids. The section paddled is part of the gruelling three-day Dusi Marathon.

The Buffalo River used to be the border between the kingdom of Zululand and the British colony of Natal and is near some fantastic historical sites. It's a lovely river with some quite challenging rapids. Standard trips are two days. The Buffalo is a tributary of the nearby Tugela River, which also has some pretty impressive white water with some very scary rapids indeed.

The Blyde River in Mpumalanga is probably one of the most beautiful rivers in South Africa – a somewhat hectic, technical alpine-style river with a steep gradient. A second trip on a tamer section of the same river is far easier, and the nearby Sabie River also offers an easy day out. The Olifants River, also close by, has some wonderful, big but not too technical rapids, and also traverses some beautiful scenery.

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