Over the past weekend I tagged along on the intermediate creeking course presented by Brett Pennefather from Umgano Eco Adventures. The course is aimed at those kayakers that are looking to step up to the next challenge and take on their first waterfall.
Our camp was a serene setting on the bank of the Umzinkulu River that flows from the Drakensberg down to the coast at Port Shepstone.
Included in the modest fee is 3 nights camping and the venue has a thatch roof lapa with braai area, fridge and ablution facilities.
Brett grew up in the area and started kayaking from a young age, coming from a family of already accomplished paddlers. After studying a diploma in Nature Conservation in George, he spent a short while working on a private game reserve in the Umkomaas valley, maintaining the ability to combine his passion for nature and adventure. Opportunity arose for international travel and work as white water rafting, kayaking and canyoning guide. He has spent seasons working in Scotland, Morocco, Nepal, Switzerland, Uganda, Sri Lanka and New Zealand as well as some kayaking in Lesotho and Zambia. Brett has tried to bring all this experience back to his home rivers of the area to try and create safe, exciting and informative trips for Umgano Eco adventure clients.
The students were David-John Milne, David Caine, Jonathan Tucker and veteran kayaker Christopher Marland who is making his comeback after a back injury and myself tagging along for the ride. Kandy from Sri-Lanka and John from Australia formed part of the group as they are guides helping Brett in his business.
On Saturday we put on the river right from our campsite and paddled down to the first waterfall. It was an easy one to start with at about 3-4m high. Being a river wide drop it offered many different lines to practice boofing(the final power stroke over the edge of a drop) and lading. Brett has an easy going coaching style and all the students responded well to him as he fine-tuned their strokes and landings on the smaller drop. With a short walk around we did a bunch of laps before moving on.
The next obstacle we encountered was a section of slides. The fantastic thing about this river section is that it offers so many different lines at various flows that you can entertain yourself all day. In this section Brett had them practice body position and fine adjustments on the slides. There was also a very tricky line aptly named the pothole that Brett, Kandy, John and I had a go at. The locals making it look easy; I had to give it a second go to get it right.
As is typical in this region clouds were building and we could here thunder in the distance, a clear sign that we need to get a move on and head down to the final a waterfall a 6m drop that would test all the skills the guys practiced during the first part of the day. Unfortunately with the lightning around us we could only have a quick look and run the falls once but everybody had good lines and great landings. We quickly made our way to the takeout to celebrate with a beer and head home to camp.
During the night another thunderstorm hit the area and our lapa flooded causing me and Caine to run around looking for a dry spot to sleep. The silver lining being that we knew the river would be on a good level the next day.
Celebrating Valentines Day the 8 of us set of early the next morning for a romantic paddle with the love of our life’s, our kayaks, down the same section as a warm up with the promise of running Unicorn Falls later the day.
Unicorn falls is situated a short drive form camp on the Luhane River. It’s a drop of around 8m that has a sliding entrance so combining all the skills picked up over the previous trips. The drop offers two lines with the left having a nice easy slope and the right an auto boof that shoots the kayak into the air and requiring good control to get the nose down for a smooth landing.
This was a really fun drop and most of us ended up doing many many laps, until the exhaustion of carrying to boat back up finally sent us back to the car and camp for a nice social braai.
The stoke was high under the group as all of them felt they had learned and progressed over the span of the clinic. We had a blast and promptly decided that we should start Monday with another run down the waterfall section before taking on the long drive back to reality.
Umgano Eco Adventures was started three years ago. It was the combined idea of the Mabandla community and Brett Pennefather, In an area surrounded by good quality rivers, mountainous topography, indigenous forest and natural grasslands there is endless opportunity for a variety of different tourist activities and attractions. With plans to build rustic but comfortable accommodation in the style of cabins and tree houses. With many rivers in the area Umgano Eco Adventures are fortunate to be able to offer rafting and kayaking adventures suitable for absolute beginners but also provide intermediate classes aimed at a safe environment for kayakers to develop new skills and push their personal boundaries.
More information can be found on the facebook page ‘Umgano eco adventures’ and website www.ecoadventure.co.za