Guide to Whitewater Kayaking in the Southern Cape

I have been asked by numerous paddlers over the years to compile a list of rivers with good white water in the Garden Route area. Finally I have got around to it, sorry it took me so long! I will be adding rivers below as I get the time!

Since these rivers are only runnable in flood conditions which happen at random times throughout the year, very few paddlers have had the privilege to paddle these amazing sections. Fortunately for myself I can drop everything when it rains and have had a great time exploring numerous rivers throughout the Southern Cape over the years. Some being a lot more accessible than others. One thing I can tell you is that the kayaking in the South Cape is some of the most scenic and pristine paddling around, especially the creeks up in the mountains. I have listed the best options, there are other rivers in the area with descent rapids but often not worth the effort due to various factors like heavy strainers and access issues. 

Below is a list with brief descriptions of a few of the rivers worth trying out depending on your skill level. For detailed descriptions on the rivers anyone is welcome to contact me.

If you running these rivers for the first time add some time to the estimated time I gave for scouting!

Warning:

Depending on the water levels on the day the rivers grade can differ a lot. I have paddled these rivers at all the different levels and some rivers are very tame on a low level but at a high level can get very serious. So make sure you are aware of the different water levels.

Many of these sections have tree blocks from time to time and be very wary going into small channels that often end up with a blockage or lead out into a huge rapid that you have not scouted!

 

Kaaimans river (Grade2-5)

Kaaimans kayakingOne of the more well known rivers in the area, with two options to paddle depending on your skill level. Lots of technical maneuvers around boulders, various drops and a few siphons to watch for.

Upper section (1hour): Is a nice easy paddle at all levels. Only one spot to watch out for that often has to be portaged on the right due to strainers blocking the little pour over. Start   is at a pump station below Saasveld and take out at the 7passes bridge.

Lower section(1hr30min): Can be easy at a low level but at higher levels gets very serious. After the confluence with the Silver river, the volume doubles so keep this in mind at the put-in (Bridge on 7passes road). Just after confluence you will hit your first serious rapid, it ends up in a rock face at the bottom of rapid so make sure you glide left just before this. Then you hit the Gorge section, which is the most serious section on this river. There is no portage around it, if you can’t run it you will have a huge climb out of the canyon. At high levels this is a grade 5 section, and you only able to scout the first 2 drops of the rapid since you have cliff faces on either side. It drops 4 times before you get a small pool and the river turns right into a nice finishing rapid. After that you have a nice scenic paddle out to the river mouth. Note at high level you can’t be rescued in this gorge section, once you commit you have to get yourself through the whole rapid!!!

 

Silver river (Grade3-5)

Whitewater KayakingThis is the next river over on the 7passes route running parallel to Kaaimans until it confluences into Kaaimans. This river gives you the best of both the rivers since you get to run Kaaimans gorge section to finish with.

Upper section(2hrs): Has an hour portage through forest to put in. Then about 2 hours of very scenic easy grade 2-3 rapids all the way to 7passes bridge.

Lower section (2hrs): From bridge the river gets more exciting (grade3-5) and is very continuous with pool drops. When you get to the confluence you have a nice double waterfall drop into a pool and then 2 more drops, the last one dropping into Kaaimans itself.

Keur river (Grade3-4)

Keur riverThis rivers starts up alongside Montagu pass. It is very fast and continuous with not much flat sections, especially at high levels. Due to thick bush on both sides, scouting is very hard. Start at the bridge (bottom of the pass) to the low water bridge at the quarry it takes an hour.

Next to the quarry their is a serious drop and rapid! Then a portage due to strainers where a waterfall comes in across from the quarry. Often it easiest to get out at first low level bridge just before quarry since the last little section is often a mission and dangerous due to quarry pushing stuff into river. Otherwise get out at next low water bridge just after quarry.

Touw River (Grade 3-5)

Touwriver

This river has a few compulsory boofs and some serious rapids. Has a small gorge section which is not easy to scout. As you can see in the photo above you have to climb up and go around to scout lower section of gorge. You will end up having to abseil an un runnable waterfall close to the finish. Few spots to take out after waterfall but easiest is to paddle to train bridge in Wilderness. Put-in on 7passes road bridge (3hrs). I would give myself most of the day for this section to really enjoy it and set up safety at some of the rapids. This is not just a quick session like Kaaimans for example.

There is also an overnight section if you start this river at it’s source in the mountains, with a  descent portage down an old hiking trail. Timing has to be perfect though for water levels.

Karatara River (Grade 3-5)

Kayaking break Overboard

This can be a very long day trip depending on where you want to start. Up in the mountains to the 7passes bridge is a nice option. There is a waterfall not far after the bridge that can be run and has a trail leading up to the road where you can be picked up. The section below the waterfall has a gorge with another bigger waterfall drop at the end of it but after this it becomes choked up and not fun at all. Many dangerous channels and some hectic bundu bashing to get down to lakes. Will also take you a full day for bottom section. I would suggest getting out at end of gorge and hiking back to 7passes road if you keen to run 2nd waterfall.

Plaat river (Grade3-4)

Garden route flooding

This creek starts high up in the Outeniqua mountains and is the main tributary to the Karatara river. After a long morning out you will hit the confluence to the Karatara to be met with it’s biggest rapids. Solid grade 5 at high levels. One section really scares me, becomes really high volume creaking with a lot of must make moves! This river and Karatara I actually did first descents on. Both you need to book out the whole day to be safe.

Knysna river (Grade 2-4) 

knysna river

This is a full day trip starting up in the mountains, driving past Millwood area to get dropped off. If you not with a local it will take a bit of navigating and map work to find starting point. You can take out at various spots where river gets flat before entering knysna lagoon. Easiest to get to by car is the Old Drift, where locals go swim in the river. This is at the bottom of Phantom Pass. This is an easy and fun river with the most serious rapid being at the end. You finish of with 3 small drops. At high level this river is much more  serious and the last drop forms a nice suck back.

Meiringspoort (Grade3)

Meiringspoort rapids

This is a fun river with karoo scenery around you. Very easy and convenient with a road running alongside river so makes for a nice day out with non-paddling family. You have to duct through bridges a few times as road crosses river. When you can just fit under bridge it makes for a fun and relatively safe level. Above bridges I have not been lucky enough to catch this river as yet. It runs down quicker than any of the others in the area. Just make sure the tunnel you choose is not blocked at the other end! The full run itself is about 2hours. Start at top of poort and you can get out anywhere as poort comes to an end. There are no more rapids to speak of after you go under road for last time.

Gamka river (Grade2-4)

Leeu Gamka

This is an awesome multi day trip through the Swartberg mountains and Die Hell. You will feel the Wilderness around you and become a apart of it! We started other side Prins Albert and 3 days later got to Calitzdorp. You can exit here or carry on to Herbertsdale another 2 days paddle.  Not long after Calitzdorp the Gamka river joins the Olifants river to become the Gouritz. There are some long flat sections in between the rapids but the scenery is worth it. Wildlife all around you with the sound of the fish eagles in the background. Take some good coffee and friends, makes for an awesome time out! Another nice starting point would be the Gamkapoort dam, since it’s a long slow paddle across it and no rapids on stretch above it. If you start here you can reduce time by 1day. The really breathtaking stuff all starts after the dam wall anyway!

Olifants Gorge into Gouritz river (Grade2-3)

Whitewater kayaking Garden Route

Another multi day trip. Start at the Calitzdorp Spa bridge crossing the Olifants. You will enter the Gorge from here until it opens up again when it confluences with the Gamka river. You can get to tar road bridge close to Herbertsdale in 2 to 3 days depending on how much you want to stop. Scenery wise this is like the Gamka river I described above, breathtaking to say the least! Take water along, very limited clean springs to fill up from or just a purifier for river water.

Gouritz river (Grade3-4)

Gouritz river

For a fun one day trip I thought I would include this section on the Gouritz which is easily accessible. Start at Cloete’s pass, on dirt road other side Herbertsdale and finish at tar road bridge close to Herbertsdale. Some nice high volume rapids on this section and fun play waves. Nice to take the play boat on this trip. If you rush through this section won’t be long but it’s worth stopping at rapids and re-running them. Very easy portages on this section so you can run rapids over and over. Half-day is needed to make the most of driving out this far! Some nice camping spots at the biggest rapid in the photo above.