WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

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Lower Mac-Mac / Mac-Mac River / Mpumalanga

Mac-Mac River – Lower MacMac

Mac-Mac River – Lower MacMac

Grading III to IV (V)
Levels / gauges Visual: Confluence of Sabie & Mac-Mac (if it runs brown and the Sabie is up, it should be good to go)

Alternative is gauge (DWA hydrology site) Mac-Mac @ Geelhoutboom: 5m3 and up.

Put-in 25° 0’11.40″S ; 30°55’25.26″E
Take-out 25° 1’49.30″S ; 31° 1’33.10″E
Estimated time 3.5 to 5hrs
Length 17km
Gradient 15m/km
Portages Venus Falls portage (possibly two other depending on water levels)
Hazards / Notes Low level bridges / trees
Fun factor 3 / 5 (Nice one if the water is right)

The Mac-Mac is hard to get at the right water levels.  The catchment is right next to the Sabie’s catchment, but doesn’t hold water as well as the Sabie.  The lower Mac-Mac is in some ways easier than the Sabie U2 section with longer pools between sets of rapids.  The river is easy to paddle with all major obstacles being marked by bridges (be it low level or ones you can paddle under).

The put-in is at the Sappi Forest Service Station.  Drive on the R 535 from Hazyview to Graskop.  About 25km from Hazyview you will see a turn-off onto a dirt road with a sign saying Sabie to the left.  Take this road and drive down (might need 4×4 if rainy) until you cross the Sunlight stream bridges.  You can either put-in here or drive further to the Mac-Mac.  The Sunlight stream provides a bit of warm-up in the way of low volume creeking.

The take-out is at Induna Adventures (ask permission to take-out on their property).

On the river:

The Sunlight stream has a short steep section before it joins the Mac-Mac.  Once you are on the Mac-Mac the volume should pick-up a bit.  The rapids that follow are easy to boat scout and all are runable.  The river banks are mostly flanked with indigenous forest with pine plantations on the valley sides.


(Typical Rapid Mac-Mac)

The first major obstacle and still a portage at the moment (needs some time to work on a line) is Venus Falls. The falls are 2.5km from the put-in and marked by a low level bridge. If you see a steep increase in gradient and a horizon line, eddy out on the right.  Take a look at the slide / falls.  The best place to portage is on the right side, so follow the road down to the picnic site.


(Venus Falls)

After Venus Falls the river carries on with the same characteristics as above the falls.  All rapids are good to go and there are only two sets of rapids that require some scouting.  The first is marked by a bridge you can paddle underneath.  There is a nice undercut on the right side and this rapid leads into a slide.  This bridge marks a set of cascades and slides.  There are lines down most of the slides/drops, but can get a bit tricky if the water is up.  Scout on the right side.  Depending on water level, the portage might be easier on the left hand side (high water).


(Cascade Section)

The last set of rapids contains a huge syphon at the end.  The set is marked by a bridge (you can paddle underneath it).  Best is to get out early and scout the rapid.  The last drop contains a syphon (read big syphon).  The river cuts to the right over a drop with the syphon being in the lead-in to the drop.  It is easy to portage on the right.

Once the syphon rapid is done, cruise down to the take-out.

Just a word of caution:  There might be crocs on this section, so keep a look-out.  There is definitely crocs closer to the take-out so just ask the guys at Induna Adventures if it is something to be concerned about

The Lower Mac-Mac section is a good option if the Sabie is too high and if the group needs a bit of confidence.


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Dante’s Falls / Elands River / Mpumalanga / South Africa

    Elands Rivers – Dante’s Falls

Dante’s Falls – Elands River

Grading It’s a waterfall (IV+ to V)
Levels / gauges Elands @ Lindenau (Inkomati)

Low: 5 – 12m3/s

Medium: 12 – 20m3/s

High: 20m3/s and up

Take the levels with a pinch of salt and go check it out.  If the water at the top drop is overflowing on river left it is considered a lower level.  If the water is overflowing over the whole drop (this means no rocks are visible on the first drop – second ledge) then it is on the high side.

Turn-off from highway 25°28’49.32″S ; 30°42’5.84″E
Put-in  / Take-out 25°28’40.14″S ; 30°42’23.18″E
Estimated time Park & Huck
Length 0.25km
Gradient 70 – 80m/km (Waterfalls)
Portages None
Hazards / Notes Syphon / Cave
Fun factor 5 / 5

Dante’s Falls (Dante’s Inferno) is located alongside the busy N4 route between Waterfallonder and Nelspruit.  It is a perfect park and huck on your way to or from another river.  It is important to note that you will likely spend anything from 2 to 5hrs scouting, setting up safety and getting into position for photos.  Don’t underestimate you time you will spend here if it is your first time.  Leave enough daylight for if something may go wrong.  The grading of a waterfall is pretty hard.  The first drop is not that difficult, but the second one does carry some consequences.

The section consists of two channels of which the river left channel is the one to paddle.  It two drops.  The first one is a double drop totalling 7m in height.  The second drop is between 10m and 12m high.  Access to the waterfalls is hidden away next to the N4.  Best to describe it is if you are coming from Nelspruit:

Passing Montrose (the Schoemans Kloof road to the right), carry-on until the road-way forms a double lane and you need to keep in the left lane.  Just before the two lanes join, there will be a gap in the fence.  If it is high summer, then it is likely to be overgrown.  It is basically where a gate use to be and there is a road (see jeep track) that goes down to the river.  Following this jeep track and stop where it starts turning to the right and you are pretty much under the power cables.  Walk straight ahead towards the noise of the falls and start scouting.

There is an old irrigation ditch that you cross (on foot) and then you get to the gorge.  From the N4 it is about 500m to the gorge.  The first drop is easy to scout and the line is pretty straight forward.  Get in on river left and paddle the first drop.  Set-up safety in the pool below, but make sure to notice the syphon in the middle of the river where the entry to the next fall starts.  When the water is low, it is open.  When it is pumping, it will be concealed.  It is easy to avoid though, but don’t make the error when rescuing someone to pull them towards it.

The second drop can be scouted from the first drop’s finishing pool.  That will give you an idea of the entry.  If the water is low/medium you can go right and against the cliff wall.  If the water is on the high side, you can sneak past on the left.  Scouting the second falls from the bottom will require you to walk a bit further downstream.  Check where you can set-up safety.  The trick with the second waterfall is the cave / overhang at the back of the falls.  If you get washed to the right and into the pocket to the right and back of the falls, you will have a hard time getting out and even a worse time if you are out of your boat.  Rescue options to get someone out are from the right-hand bank.

Luckily most of the water tends to flow out and away from the second fall and from the pocket/cave.  The best line is debatable, but it seems that keeping a right to left direction at the top of the falls does the trick.  This waterfall is rewarding and the scenery is pretty awesome so close to the highway.

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Sabie-update / Section U2 & U3 – 04/12/2012

We paddled the U3 and U2 section of the Sabie river the past weekend.  Water levels were on the low side (8cumecs), but the whole section was do-able.

There are some logs to take note of.  On the U3 there are logs after the weir to the portage and some sections after the runnable waterfall.

There are still logs in the portage on the U2, but the rapid below the portage (steep little one) is clear.  At Hugh-twice there is still logs at the top of the rapid.  We didn’t have time to clear them.  The line left around the rock to go over the boof on the left is open, however messing up the line will take you straight into the logs.

There are still logs above double-drop, but they are easy to avoid and not really in the way.

We cleared the log at Tima-moon bridge that was blocking the right line at the slide.  The log pushed you into the rock at the bottom, but now the line is open.

There were never really any big surprises with regards to logs, but keep your eyes open at higher levels.

Bazooka test paddle

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So I got my hands on a medium Bazooka, the new creek boat from Fluid kayaks. Decided to take it along to the lowveld and paddle the U3/U2 of the Sabie and huck the Elands drops (Dante’s). Will put together a short review of the boat in the next two weeks.

For Dante’s drop. The video shows the lines on a low side of medium level. Note that the set-up of safety below the second drop is super difficult. The water pushes you to the left, but there is an off chances that you can end up on the right. There is a huge cave behind the falls and paddling past the boils can be tricky. You will probably need a safety from the top on the right and then a boat in the water.

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Steelpoort / Mpumalanga / South Africa

Steelpoort River

Grading III+  (IV when the water is high)
Levels / gauges Steelpoort @ Buffelskloof (Olifants)

Low – 10 to 20

Medium – 20 to 35

High – 35 to 50

Pumping – 50 up

Put-in 25°16’39.66″S ; 29°48’56.37″E
Take-out 25° 9’29.96″S ; 29°50’35.38″E
Estimated time 5 – 7hrs
Length 34km
Gradient 10m/km (There are slightly steeper in the middle)
Portages None
Hazards / Notes Continuous III / long day on the river / wildlife
Fun factor 3.5 / 5

The Steelpoort is located close to Gauteng which makes it easy for paddlers in this area to head through for the day.  It takes about 2 – 3hrs to get to the put-in from Johannesburg.  From Middelburg take the R555.  From the R555 take the R579, 8km from the R579 turn-off onto a gravel road on your right (district gravel road).Follow the gravel road until you cross the Steelpoort and the pu-in.  To get to the take-out, carry-on over the Steelpoort and turn left at the t-junction.  Follow the dirt road until you cross the low level bridge (river will be on your left) and then look-out for Bon Amanzi lodge.  This is the normal take-out.  Pay for access for take-out here.

The Steelpoort is not a technical river since all the rapids are easy to boat scout, but the section is long and fairly continuous (it really picks-up when the water is up).  The rapids are generally in the class III range, but the long day on the river and the continuous nature pushes it into the low IV’s.  Creek boats are commonly used due to the length of the section and for comfort sake, but there are some mild play waves on this section.

At the start there are a couple of trees you need to look-out for (specifically after a flood), but it should be easy to spot strainers and eddy out in time.  Something that is constantly changing on the Steelpoort is fences across the river.  The fences are put-up in the dry season to keep live-stock in-side the properties.  DO NOT CUT ANY FENCES.  Keep an eye open for fences crossing the river and portage/duck-under where required.  Check for updates on fence positions and statuses.

The largest rapid on this section is Tonsillitis.   The main line is on the right which is a pour-over with a bit of a suck-back.  The line is open if you have a solid boof to clear the suck-back (safety best on river right).  An easier line is on the left (portage on the left-hand bank).

The Steelpoort is whole lot of fun and worth heading through if the water is up.  It has become a great river for intermediates looking to get exposed to some continuous, but easy to read rapids.

One last thing about the Steelpoort; the local farmers have mentioned that there are hippos on the section of river.  Now I don’t know if the locals are taking the piss out of the kayakers (I haven’t seen any hippos on the section, nor have I heard of other guys running into them), but keep it in mind and just look-out for any activity.

Besides the scenery and the continuous rapids, the other highlight about the Steelpoort is the view and cold beers at the end.