Drakensberg Diaries: Chute and Shoot to Thrill; Canoeing in the Drakensberg Foothills

 


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Planning a holiday in the Drakensberg Mountains in the South African winter? This little gem is a “something completely different” day-trip. So your Drakensberg holiday doesn’t have to be all walking.

There are other ways of getting around. Like bobbing through the Weenen Game Reserve in an inflatable canoe. I hear you say “Hold it. Game reserve?”. Relax, no lions. But that’s about all it’s short of.

The Bushman’s River sources in the high Drakensberg of Giant’s Castle. At altitude, its crystal-clear rock pools refresh overheated hikers. Lower down it feeds the Weenan Canal - built 100 years ago to provide irrigation for the farmlands. While the river rushes and tumbles over rocks, the canal is much less imposing. Only a metre deep and no more than a few metres wide. But it’s 12 kilometres long, traversing rough and hilly terrain. Don’t be too quick to jump in though – its cold, winter-green colour tells you it hasn’t been in liquid form for long.

Your river guides will have everything ready for you. Lie back in your boat. And bob. It’s warm in the sunshine but cool in the shade. You’ve got paddles but you don’t need them. En route there are three not-so-large steel pipes through which the water has been channeled. You either stop, pick up your boat and portage. Or you lie back with the steel tunnel only inches from your face. It’s dark and you can feel the heat radiating from the surface. Grit your teeth. Go with the flow. Breath relief when you suddenly pop out into the sunshine again.

There’s a driverless boat behind you. This is the drinks trolley. And very welcome it is too. At around lunchtime you’ll come upon a feast spread out on a group of rocks next to the canal. Scotch eggs, asparagus wrapped in ham, chicken wings, quiche, salad, fruit, and cheese. The lunch fairy’s been and gone.

After lunch you move into the Weenen Game Reserve. The sharp, mountainous Drakensberg terrain has given way to undulating thornveld valleys. The canal rejoins a now fairly sluggish and narrow Bushman’s River. You need to paddle a little, and duck under the odd tree as you drift through a spectacular gorge. There’s a huge diversity of bird life and antelope. Buffalo and black and white rhino. Being on the water means you’re less noticeable, and less of a threat to the bird-life and the animals. So you can get close without startling them. And you don’t need a $10000 lens.

Once through the Game Reserve, you disembark just before the main road into Weenen with the tall thatching grass glowing orange in the fading light. Your river guides have arranged transport back to your starting point.

This is different.

Brian & Janette Kemp own an award-winning Drakensberg accommodation establishment on the Giant's Castle road in the Central ‘Berg. Halls Country House is a 4-star country retreat in the foothills of the Drakensberg in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

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