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Canoeing Kayaking and Rafting Southern Africa

Description

South Africa is a relatively dry country but we do have some fantastic rivers, lakes and wetlands on which to paddle - and, of course, we have a 3,000km coastline so there is plenty of ocean. In fact, paddling is big in SA.

White water rafting is mainly in the rainy seasons, which is winter for the Western Cape and summer for everywhere else, but scenic canoeing excursions on beautiful rivers and sea kayaking trips are mostly year-round affairs. As well as the trips listed below, many hotels, guest houses and lodges situated near or on lovely bodies of water offer canoes or kayaks for their guests to play with.

If you're looking for white water rafting, the best summer rivers are the Tugela, Buffalo and Umkomaas in KwaZulu-Natal, and the Olifants and the Mutale in Limpopo. The Blyde in Mpumalanga, which is runnable throughout the year, is also highest in summer. As well as a very challenging white water section, the Blyde has a nice gentle stretch suitable for families.

In the Western Cape, the Doring is a great snow-melt river that (when it feels like it) offers great spring paddling. It's been very erratic over the last few years, but it may just start co-operating soon. The Palmiet is runnable all year, but is far more rewarding in winter, and there are occasional trips on the Molenaars, but only directly after heavy rain in its catchment area.

The Ash River, near the small town of Clarens, in the Free State, is the most dependable white water river - courtesy of the Lesotho Highlands Water Projects, which releases water on a regular basis. There is also a family-friendly bird watching trip on a different part of the same river.

There are some serious white water sections on the Orange River, but it also has more scenic trips, that are suitable for families.

The Great Usutu River in Swaziland offers really good white water for most of the year, but it's best in summer, and the Kunene River, on the border of Namibia and Angola is an absolutely fabulous river, with awesome scenery, stupendous rapids and a real wilderness feel. But, of course, the Grand-daddy of them all is the Zambezi, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The white water rafting in the Batoka Gorge is reputed to be the best one day rafting trip in the world. This is big stuff.

For more gentle river tripping or canoeing, the Orange, on the border of South Africa and Namibia, is the best. Long, flat scenic stretches, fun rapids that can be walked round if you're nervous, and sleeping under the stars make this the ultimate family trip. The Crocodile River and the Vaal River, both near Johannesburg, offer either very gentle or not-so-gentle rafting, depending on the water level. The Breede River, near Cape Town is runnable all year, and offers mild rapids, as does the Sabie River in Mpumalanga. The magnificent Zambezi has some great, scenic paddling above Victoria Falls, with just the mildest ripples.

For absolutely flat water, the Lower Zambezi, which runs through the Lower Zambezi National Park of Zambia and the Mana Pools National Park of Zimbabwe, offers awesome canoeing safaris. Here you'll see loads of game, dodge hippos and crocs and sleep in anything from a simple rough camp to a luxury tented camp. You can rent kayaks in the Wilderness National Park in the town of Wilderness on the Garden Route. Also on the Garden Route, the Keurbooms River, near Plettenberg Bay, is a lovely scenic paddle, with an overnight hut. The Eastern Cape town of Port Alfred is at the mouth of the Kowie River, which is tidal and so offers easy paddling both ways if you plan it right. Like the Keurbooms, you can rent canoes and paddle up to an overnight hut. In KwaZulu-Natal, there is paddling in the St Lucia estuary, the Kosi Bay Lake system and the Pongolapoort Dam. There is a great, gentle bird-watching kayaking trip on the lagoon at Swakopmund in Namibia. Probably the best way to see Lake Malawi, which is virtually an inland sea, is by kayak. There is a great trip that consists of not-too-strenuous paddles between Paradise Island camps.

For more gentle river tripping or canoeing, the Orange, on the border of South Africa and Namibia, is the best. Long, flat scenic stretches, fun rapids that can be walked round if you're nervous, and sleeping under the stars make this the ultimate family trip. The Crocodile River and the Vaal River, both near Johannesburg, offer either very gentle or not-so-gentle rafting, depending on the water level. The Breede River, near Cape Town is runnable all year, and offers mild rapids, as does the Sabie River in Mpumalanga. The magnificent Zambezi has some great, scenic paddling above Victoria Falls, with just the mildest ripples.

For absolutely flat water, the Lower Zambezi, which runs through the Lower Zambezi National Park of Zambia and the Mana Pools National Park of Zimbabwe, offers awesome canoeing safaris. Here you'll see loads of game, dodge hippos and crocs and sleep in anything from a simple rough camp to a luxury tented camp. You can rent kayaks in the Wilderness National Park in the town of Wilderness on the Garden Route. Also on the Garden Route, the Keurbooms River, near Plettenberg Bay, is a lovely scenic paddle, with an overnight hut. The Eastern Cape town of Port Alfred is at the mouth of the Kowie River, which is tidal and so offers easy paddling both ways if you plan it right. Like the Keurbooms, you can rent canoes and paddle up to an overnight hut. In KwaZulu-Natal, there is paddling in the St Lucia estuary, the Kosi Bay Lake system and the Pongolapoort Dam. There is a great, gentle bird-watching kayaking trip on the lagoon at Swakopmund in Namibia. Probably the best way to see Lake Malawi, which is virtually an inland sea, is by kayak. There is a great trip that consists of not-too-strenuous paddles between Paradise Island camps.

With our fantastically long and varied coastline, it's not surprising there are lots of great sea kayaking trips. Cape Town is a great place for sea kayaking, with regular trips on which you stand a good chance of seeing seals, dolphins, penguins and - perhaps a whale in the distance. There are two great sea kayaking venues, with operators, on the West Coast. These are Langebaan and the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve near the small fishing village of Paternoster. The sea kayaking operators in Plettenberg Bay, on the Garden Route have to work hard to stay the prescribed 300m from the southern right whales in season, as they are so curious. There's loads more to see, including dolphins and seals.

There is a really great sea kayaking operation in Swakopmund in Namibia. Inhaca Island, in bay of Maputo in Mozambique, has a beautiful coastline with coral reefs and deep mangrove forests, so it's a great place to paddle. And - further afield - kayaking trips visiting the tiny islands off Madagascar offer great tropical scenery, snorkelling and a real adventure experience. Clarens Extreme Adventures offer fun river rafting trips on the Ash River.

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