By Franz Fuls

Adam guiding some ecstatic rafter down the umzimkulu

Adam guiding some ecstatic rafters down the Umzimkulu


A panoramic view of the Umzimkulu Gorge, home to some of South Africa's best white water.

A panoramic view of the Umzimkulu Gorge, home to some of South Africa’s best white water.

This past weekend I put in some time at the Oribi Gorge, with Adam Gray of Oribi Outdoors. Yes, there’s some method in the madnesss, and I am deliberately putting in as much water time as possible. If all goes well I will announce my plans soon. In the meantime, Im having fun and gaining valuable experience in navigating through white water.

So, back to the weekend. It was a long one, with back to back public holidays and a bonus day’s leave courtesy of my gracious employer. Thursday morning I hit the road, travelling down to St. Micheals where Adam based his operation. The long grueling 650 kilometer drive finally came to an end, and my inner psyche started brightening with the anticipation of a weekend filled with whitewater.

Adam, and his girlfriend Jenny are new operators at the Oribi Gorge, having just survived their first commercial season under the banner of Oribi Outdoors. They focus on whitewater adventures, mainly rafting and kayaking. Adam does the guidework, and Jenny the logistics.

Adam and Jennifer preparing the raft for the morning trip.

Adam and Jennifer preparing the raft for the morning trip.

Although the company is brand spanking new this team are no greenhorns to adventure and group activities. Adam has a wealth of white water guiding experience on rafts stretching over more than a decade on the rivers of the world, and is also a highly experienced kayaker. Jenny has a background in theatrical studies and is experienced in empowering children through group activities in a circus environment. It is seldom that you find a couple with such great passion for people and the outdoors working together towards a common goal.

There were no bookings for Friday morning, and being a longboard surfer I could to let the chance of a surf session at St. Mikes go to waste. Only one problem… no longboard! It did not take much convincing to get Adam into the water though, and we paddled our kayaks into the ocean. Grave was my mistake! Adam finally made it to the backline and surfed one wave while I was being destroyed in the impact zone and after many rolls finally took a long swim back to the beach. Obviously our crafts were made for big rivers but not for the surf! I have not had a beating like this in the surf in a very long time.

Although I have spent some time in a kayak, I am still a complete beginner. With no rafting experience I was very curious to see how the game works. Friday afternoon I took my first rafting trip, and let me tell you, Adam does not screw around with safety! His safety briefing is very comprehensive and entertaining just to make sure you don’t forget the important bits!

Who said safety briefings can't be fun?

Who said safety briefings can’t be fun?

Throughout the weekend I helped out on the rafts, and when we had a gap on Sunday afternoon we left the rafts on the shore and took the kayaks for a run. The idea was that I would follow Adam, catching as much eddies as we can while slowly working our way down the river. Well, that was the plan…

Exciting action in the Omen, the first rapid of the commercial section of the Umzimkulu.

Exciting action in the Omen, the first rapid of the commercial section of the Umzimkulu.

Relieved rafters catching a breather after the omen

Relieved rafters catching a breather after the omen

Following Adam into the first eddy was plain sailing, but then Adam took a line to river right. I completely dorked it, went river left and got stuck in a nasty retentive hole. The first couple of seconds were great, while I did my draws, braces and counter balancing. Then it got bumpy, and I started feeling like a t-shirt in a Defy Automaid. Round and Round I went, occasionally getting a roll in and catching my breath before going for the next cycle. After what seemed like hours I finally gave up fighting the hole and pulled my skirt. Adam recovered my kayak while I took a tiring swim to the closest eddy.

In this clip above I took my run down the Omen – the first rapid of the section. Compared to Adam’s graceful moves I still have a long way to go. Still, it was great fun and I will be running the Omen again at the next opportunity!

After emptying my kayak and taking a good rest we were on our way again. Tired, and still somewhat unfamiliar in the kayak we gunned rapid after rapid. By the time we reached the Maze, the last rapid of the section I was wasted. Honestly, I was not too keen on the syphon hidden under the water either, and portaged.

This was by far the biggest water I got myself into, and mostly due to Adam a superb experience! I’m quite proud of having only one swim too! Now to to work it to the point where I seldom swim, and get those draws done the way I should.

Anyone keen on some Southern African rafting should drop Adam an email and find out what’s on offer. Its not every day that you find such passion, skill and experience readily at your disposal while navigating one of our country’s prime white water destinations. You can find him at www.oribioutdoors.com and on facebook.

This is an unsolicited story. It was not requested, and I received no payment for it, and my only primary benefit was an opportunity to take one run down the lower Umzimkulu river. Get your act together, book that plane ticket to South Africa, and go do a rating trip with Oribi Outdoors. You won’t regret it!


One thought on “Running the Umzimkulu River

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