WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Bivaan / KwaZulu-Natal / South Africa

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Bivaan Gorge (Below Paris Dam)

Bivaan Gorge
Grading +III
Levels / gauges Dam level @ Bivaan at Paris Dam (Usutu and uMhlathuze)Low – 10 to 20

Medium – 20 to 40

High – 40 to 50

Pumping – 50

Put-in 27°31’15.18″S ; 31° 3’17.74″E
Take-out @ Ithala Game Reserve on Pongola 27°27’57.04″S ; 31°16’37.99″E
Take-out @ confluence 27°26’50.50″S ; 31°12’14.62″E
Estimated time Easy overnighter or 6 – 8hrs one day.
Length 43 km (Can be 10km shorter if you take-out at the confluence)
Gradient 10m/km
Portages None
Hazards / Notes Wildlife / isolated gorge
Fun factor 3.0 / 5

This  section of the Bivaan River forms part of the annual Ithala Challenge.  You can get pretty good info on the river section  on the race website.  The race is usually held in late November and is open for K1’s and K2’s with some guys opting for kayaks.

The put-in is below Paris dam.  It is within a reserve and you need to pay for access.  (The turn-off is on the R69 between Vryheid and Louwsburg).  The take-out is within the Ithala Game Reserve.  Again you need to pay for access. The Ithala Game Reserve is located outside of Louwsburg.  The conventional take-out is the same as for the race, which is actually on the Pongola River.  An alternative take-out is at the confluence of the Bivaan and Pongola Rivers.  Take note that you need a 4×4 to get down to the river via the jeep track (check with park officials for details and condition of jeep track).

The majority of the section is on the Bivaan River.  All rapids are good to go in a kayak.  The nature of the river is within the easy class III type rapids with pools in between.  This  section is good for an easy overnighter  and raft friendly (2-man).  There are mainly three rapids that might need you to up your attention levels and they are located at 12km, 20km and 24km mark.  The rapids are easy to scout from the banks or from your boat (if you know how).

The river level is dam dependant and you need to check the dam level and possibly the outfall level.  You can try and get hold of the dam operators and see if they can give you any feedback.

The section is pretty isolated so make sure that you prepare and pack accordingly.  Hand paddling 40 odd kilometres can suck.  Note that there are some flat-dogs in the Pongola River.  Don’t hang around in pools and get the last 10km on the Pongola behind you.

What the Bivaan lack in difficulty, it makes up for in scenery and is well worth a paddle.


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