Canoeing, rafting, kayaking South Africa

South Africa is blessed with fantastic rivers, beautiful scenery, and a climate made for the outdoors enthusiast, so if you’re looking for action of the paddling variety, you’re in for a treat.

An aerial view of the massive Zambezi River - which gives Zambia its name - and the Victoria Falls. The waterfall, named Mosi-oa-Tunya or "the smoke that thunders" in Tokaleya Tonga, is said to be the biggest in the world. Its combined width of 1,708 metres and height of 108 metres result in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Here Zambia's border with Zimbabwe runs along the middle of the river, with Zimbabwe on the left and Zambia on the right. The steel Victoria Falls bridge at lower left is a border post between the countries. Click image for a larger view. (Photo: Dsopfe)
South Africa offers a wide range of Canoeing, rafting, kayaking spots for the avid watersports enthusiast to choose from. (Photo: Dsopfe)

South Africa is blessed with fantastic rivers, beautiful scenery, and a climate made for the outdoors enthusiast, so if you’re looking for action of the paddling variety, you’re in for a treat.

The most popular river for canoeing, rafting and kayaking – for good reason – is the Orange, which forms the country’s northern border with Namibia. It’s a long, green-fringed oasis running through the mountainous desert area known as the Richtersveld. Incredibly scenic, it also has a few fun rapids.

The section below Augrabies Falls is similar, and there is a one-day rafting trip above Augrabies which features some exciting but not radical rapids. The Gorge section of the Orange is a lot more technical and has some high-volume rapids.

The Vaal, a tributary of the Orange, has some fun little rapids and is very close to Johannesburg, so it’s a popular destination for corporate trips. Also near Johannesburg, the Crocodile River offers a pleasant day out with some small and mildly challenging rapids.

The Doring River in the Western Cape has a short season towards the end of winter, and offers fantastic, quite technical white water, but it’s pretty cold.

The Palmiet River is absolutely wonderful. It runs through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and offers fantastic technical rapids and wonderful scenery. The trip offered takes one day and includes all meals and sometimes a visit to a winery.

The Molenaars is a very technical, white water river that only works for a few days immediately after heavy rain in its catchment area, so it’s not easy to plan a trip. The Sonderend River is a smallish river where you can do a fun day trip or overnighter.

There are two trips on the Breede River: a one day wine tasting trip near Worcester, which is really just an excuse to have a lovely picnic and sample some local wines, with a little bit of paddling thrown in. Lower down, near Swellendam, two-day trips are run on some small rapids and quite rocky sections. This section is used mainly for corporate trips.

There is some fun canoeing in the lakes area of the Garden Route, especially Wilderness and Knysna Lagoon. Other enjoyable flatwater trips include the two self-guided excursions near Port Alfred, one of which is up and down the conveniently tidal Kowie River. The other is a short paddle up the Kleinemond River to a wonderful overnight spot, called Kayak Camp.

Far more luxurious would be an escorted trip through the spectacularly beautiful and biologically unique Kosi Bay lake system. And, also in the Maputaland area of northern KwaZulu-Natal, there are fantastic escorted one-day trips on Lake St Lucia, where you may see crocodiles and hippos, and on Lake Bhangazi, also part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.

The Umkomaas River on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast offers fantastic paddling with some fun, challenging but not too technical rapids. Just north of Durban, the Umgeni has some delightful little rapids. The section paddled is part of the gruelling three-day Dusi Marathon.

The Buffalo River used to be the border between the kingdom of Zululand and the British colony of Natal and is near some fantastic historical sites. It’s a lovely river with some quite challenging rapids. Standard trips are two days. The Buffalo is a tributary of the nearby Tugela River, which also has some pretty impressive white water with some very scary rapids indeed.

The Blyde River in Mpumalanga is probably one of the most beautiful rivers in South Africa – a somewhat hectic, technical alpine-style river with a steep gradient. A second trip on a tamer section of the same river is far easier, and the nearby Sabie River also offers an easy day out. The Olifants River, also close by, has some wonderful, big but not too technical rapids, and also traverses some beautiful scenery.

Tourists travel by boat up the Storms River mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park.


African Overland can be found in Cape Town. They offer tours in 10 African countries, with group sizes from 15 to 25 people, which helps to keep prices down. River rafting takes place on the Breede and Orange Rivers, and last up to six days.

The African Rafting Company offers rafting expeditions all over South Africa, incorporating many rivers, including the Orange, the Breede, the Ash, the Doring, the Blyde River Canyon, the Kunene, the Olifants, the Tugela, the Umzimkulu, and the Vaal. In addition, sea rafting is available at Bikini Beach in Gordon’s Bay.

African Water Wanderers offers river rafting trips on the Breede and Orange Rivers, lasting anywhere from one day to six days.

Aquatrails offers canoeing and rafting tours down the Orange, Doring, and Breede Rivers, as well as in the Velddrif Nature Reserve on the Cape West Coast, which is a bird lover’s delight with over 240 species.

The Beach Camp, Paternoster provides guided sea-kayak trails for all skill levels. The trails allow people to get up close with seals, dolphins, whales, and birds.

Bonamanzi Adventures is a 90-minute drive from Cape Town and situated on the banks of the Breede River. They offer river rafting, school camps, team building, and weddings. River rafting packages include day, overnight, and weekend trips.

Breede Adventures is located on Rivierplaas, a working farm located 25 kilometres outside of Worcester, on the banks of the Breede River. It offers trips for a minimum of six people with experienced river guides in two-man Indian/Mohawk fibreglass canoes.

Bundi River Adventures is located in Durbanville, near Cape Town. They offer river adventures on the Orange, Breede, and Doring Rivers. The Orange River routes vary from three to five days and include the Richtersveld National Park. The Breede River, they say, is ideal for first-time rafters, while the Doring River is utilised during the rainy season in the Cape, which receives winter rainfall.

The Cape Sport Centre presents some really interesting and different options, including kitesurfing, windsurfing, surfing, Hobie sailing, and sea kayaking. The kayaking, on the Langebaan Lagoon, is about exploring the coast and experiencing the marine life. Another option is to pack a picnic basket and head out on a day trip. The Cape Sports Centre is located on the shores of the Langebaan Lagoon.

Dolphin Adventures Sea Kayaking operates out of Plettenberg Bay. Excursions, under the watchful eye of a guide, are undertaken in the bay, including in extra- stable boats for those that have not paddled before. Depending on the wind direction, one can either paddle out to the seal colony at the base of the cliffs on Robberg Peninsula, or head towards the Keurbooms River and Lagoon. trips last about two hours and a maximum of 16 people at a time can be accommodated.

Downhill Adventures hosts kayaking and sea kayaking in Cape Town. They also offer sandboarding, mountain biking, and kitesurfing. The sea kayaking is guided and takes place along the coast of the Cape Peninsula. The most popular trips are from Simonstown and Mouille Point. Downwhill Adventures also holds an exclusive permit to paddle in the Walker Bay Whale Sanctuary from June to December.

Eden Adventures offers single, double and triple canoes for hire. Their most popular trip is to the Touw River Waterfall, which is a great place to stop fo a picnic. Island Lake, along the Serpentine River is another option, while the sea is a 40-minute paddle from Eden Adventures.

Extreme Scene offers river rafting and canoe safaris on the Orange River. The 75-kilometre-long trail is suitable for novices and specially-designed two- person Indian-type canoes, which a very stable, ensure the safety of participants. Camping is also undertaken in the evenings and top class meals are provided.

Felix Unite offers river rafting on the Orange and Breede Rivers, as well as the Cunene River, which forms the border between Namibia and Angola. Special packages are also provided for schools and university students.

The Gravity Adventure Group offers training and is accredited by the African Paddling Association Association and International Rafting Federation. Trips are offered on the Orange, Palmiet, and Breede Rivers, while sea kayaking in the West Coast National Park is also an option.

Hardy Ventures offers rafting on three rivers: the Blyde, Olifants, and Sabie. All three rivers are very scenic and lengths range from three days on the Olifant River to a half-day on the Sabie River.

Induna Adventures offers many exciting adventure options. Included among these is rafting and kayaking. Rafting takes place on the Sabie, Olifants, and Blyde Rivers, while kayaking training and guided trips are also on offer.

Johan Loots’ Paddleyak Sea Kayak Store is located in Cape Town. It offers equipment; books, videos and DVDs; and tours, trips, safaris, and team building. Real Cape Adventures looks after the touring. It happens around Cape Town, at Langebaan and on the West Coast, on the Garden Route and at Plettenberg Bay, as well as in Namibia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Lake Malawi, and further afield in Europe. In addition, special interest groups, such as women-only trips, are on offer.

Kalahari Outventures is based in the Northern Cape in the Augrabies Village on the banks of the Orange River, only 14 kilometres from the Augrabies Waterfall National Park. They specialise in one- to four-day river safaris in the national park, as well as kayaking, flyfishing, adventure training, and drives to various wildlife reserves.

Karoo River Rafting is located on the De Keur Farm in the Karoo, between Cradock and Middelburg. One to four-day rafting trips, from grades one to four, are available on the Fish River, home of the famous canoe marathon. All trips are made to meet individual needs. In addition to rafting, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, bird-watching, swimming, and a health spa are available.

Kaskazi Kayak is based in the heart of Cape Town and is a dedicated sea kayak centre. They offer training, a shop, and specialise in scenic guided ocean tours along the Atlantic coast.

Kayak Fishing South Africa is located on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. They offer kayaks for sale, as well as for hire. The fish they target are the Couta (King Mackerel), Natal Snoek (Queen Mackerel), Yellowfin Tuna, Dorado, Sailfish, Kingfish, Barracuda, Sea Pike, Garrick, Wahoo, Marlin, and Bonito.

Ocean Blue Adventures can be found in Plettenberg Bay. They offer ocean encounters with, among others, the Bottlenose, rare Indo-Pacific Humpback, and common Dolphins, as well as the Southern Right and Humpback Whales. Sea Kayaking, under the watchful eye of an experienced guide, takes place from Central Beach to Robberg Nature Reserve where one is able to kayak among seals at the seal colony, while whales can be viewed when they are in season.

Orange River Rafting, part of Umkulu River and Canoe Trails, offers not only rafting on the Orange River, but also on the Breede, Palmiet, Blyde, and Vaal Rivers. In Namibia, one can paddle on the Kunene River, and in Zimbabwe and Zambia excursions are undertaken on the Zambezi River.

The Oribi Gorge Hotel, Conference and Adventure Resort, on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, has plenty to offer the adventurous, including abseiling, hiking, horse riding, bird watching, team building, a wild slide and swing. Rafting is done on the Umzimkulu River over half a day, a full day, or two days. Rapids from grades two to four are encountered.

Otters Den, a river lodge on the Blyde River in Limpopo, offers hot air ballooning, games drives, hiking, and white water rafting on the Blyde River.

Outrageous Adventures offers kayaking, including on the Mkomazi, Vaal, Bivane, Umzimkulu, Umkomaas and Ash Rivers. They provide stable craft and all equipment, as well as qualified river guides.

Paddle Power Adventures is just a 35-minute drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria and offers canoeing on the Crocodile River in inflatable two-man canoes.

The Paddling Centre, in Fish Hoek, Cape Town is a one-stop shop for kayak, canoe and surf ski equipment, courses and instruction, and trips, including by sea kayak, estuary canoeing trips and surf ski trips. The Paddling Centre is owned by world class surf skiers Dawid and Nikki Mocke.

Paddlers Kayak Shop is located in Simon’s Town, Cape Town. They stock new and used kayaks and have a paddle group for paddlers of varied experience. Paddlers also hosts a winter race series from July to October.

The River Rafters is a specialised tour operator with more than two decades of experience in running river rafting trips. The Orange, Breede, and Doring Rivers host the expeditions, with the pace ranging from tranquil and lazy on the Orange and Breede Rivers to adrenaline-pumping raging rapids on the Doring River. Professional guides look after the safety of the adventurous.

Robbie Herreveld’s Canoe and Kayak World, in Rivonia, Johannesburg, is named after one South Africa’s greatest paddlers, a man who won numerous major South African events, and who in 1994 also won a bronze medal at the World Championships. Canoe and Kayak World sells, boats, accessories, and transport items. It also has a Kayak School, and offers tours all over South Africa, as well as whitewater trips for canoes and kayaks.

Simonstown Sea Kayak Tours offers professionally guided sea kayak trips. The kayaks are very stable and require no paddling experience. The offerings include the Penguin Sea Kayak Trip; the Cape Point Sea Kayak Trip; the Kayak Surfing Trip for the adrenaline junkies; the Harbour Sea Kayak Trip; and the 10-day Cape Town Kayak Trip, which consists of four days of kayaking and six days of general touring of Cape Town.

St Lucia Kayak Safaris operates kayak safaris in and around the iSimangaliso (formerly the Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park – a Unesco World Heritage Site. Apart from trips around the Wetlands, tours to Mozambique are also on offer.

Sunwa River Lodge is located just outside Parys, about 120 kilometres from Johannesburg. As part of their team building activities, they offer rafting on specially designed inflatables, with trained guides in attendance. All safety equipment is supplied.

White Water Training is South Africa’s oldest operating whitewater kayak school and guide training centre. It is based at the Vrederfort Dome World Heritage Site, an hour’s drive south of Johannesburg. They offer whitewater kayaking, leisure kayaking, a shop, first aid training, swiftwater training, guide training, river trips, filming, and training for adventure racers.

Wildthing Adventures operates out of Cape Town and offers, among other activities, a four day-four night adventure on the Orange River. There is a shorter whitewater option of two days and two nights on the Doring River, or a single day getaway through the winelands on the Breede River.

Zingela Safari and River Company is located a stone’s throw from the Tugela River in Kwazulu- Natal, near Weenen. Zingela has twice hosted the South African White Water Rafting Championships and it features an excellent 20 kilometre stretch of rapids and pools along the Tugela Canyon, including some very intimidating rapids. Experienced guides, trained by and registered with the African Paddling Association, are provided.

SAinfo reporter

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