Thursday, 31 July 2014

Take a Ride on the Wild Side

Wildlife Watching White-Water Style

From giraffes to zebras, South Africa is filled with some of the world’s most beautiful wildlife. The best part is that tourists can enjoy the animals in their natural environment while on a safari. But what most tourists don’t know is that South Africa is so rich in wildlife that a safari isn’t the only way to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures.

On the East Coast of South Africa, the small coastal town of Umkomaas rests at the mouth of the Umkomaas River. In addition to being the largest river on the South Coast, the Umkomaas River is also one of South Africa’s best white water rivers. Stretching 298 kilometres long, tourists journey from all over to experience half-day and full-day white water rafting excursions on the river. Originating in Giant’s Castle of the Drankensberg mountain range, the Umkomaas River takes a winding route down to the Indian Ocean. It is a hub for water sports including rafting, canoeing, and fishing.  

Take A Ride on the Wild Side

Rafting takes place in the Umkomaas Valley located just 95 kilometres from Durban. Whether you are a first timer or a seasoned veteran, most rafters agree that the Umkomaas River offers a challenging and exhilarating experience. With some of the best rapids in South Africa, the river offers warm, high-volume white water that is intermixed with short pools to provide rafters with an opportunity to catch their breath as they glide past scenic valleys and gorges. 

The section of the river from Hella Hella to Number 8 is considered the largest traversable white water that can be found south of Zambezi.

On average, rafting on the Umkomaas River during the summer is considered Grade 3. However, the mighty African thunderstorms can easily transform the river into a high volume, fast flowing Grade 4 river. Although it is not necessary to have previous rafting experience, it is important to be reasonably fit in order to handle the physically demanding experience of rafting.

Scenic Vegetation and African Wildlife Await

The scenery along the Umkomaas River varies from scenic plateaus to bush country, and tropical-wooded hillsides. Along part of the journey, the river travels through the Duma Manzi Reserve, where rafters can experience sightings of a range of beautiful African wildlife including giraffes, buffalos, white rhinos, waterbucks, clawless otters, impalas, wildebeests, zebra, and the white-tailed mongoose. 

Occasionally, it is also possible to spot the endangered Blue Swallow that breeds in the uplands that overlook the valley. The river is also home to scenic vegetation including acacia trees and wild fig trees. The majority of vegetation is valley bush interspersed with mist belt forests where birdlife exists high in the trees. 

The half day journeys usually cover approximately 5 kilometres of the river while the full day trip travels along 12 kilometres of white water. Although the Umkomaas River is not as challenging from a technical perspective, it’s not a light ride either and if you’re a beginner, this will be an exhilarating ride.

The Grade 3 rapids travelling between the bridge at Hella Hella and St. Josephine’s Bridge are reminiscent of riding a roller coast with huge waves and very little to slow your momentum, while the scenes below St. Josephine’s Bridge are breathtaking with aloe-hung cliffs that drop straight into the river.

Know Before You Go

White water rafting in Umkomaas is not available year round as the river often silts up during the winter dry season and the water levels drop dramatically. The river levels are usually dependent on the rainfall catchment in the region. The mid-summer months tend to be wetter and rafting is usually available between November and April.  The water levels will typically dictate whether you can take a two-person inflatable raft accompanied by other guests and a guide, or whether you will travel in a six-person raft with a guide steering from the back. As white water rafting is an adventure activity with a mild risk of danger, it is always wise to ensure that you are adequately covered should any unforeseen circumstances or accidents arise. When travelling abroad, it is always important to ensure that you are prepared should you require any medical care. Temperatures in the valley can reach in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, which can also pose health risks. Make sure that you bring plenty of sun screen and bottles of water for the trip.

Whether you are planning a half-day, full-day, or multi-day white water rafting adventure, Ocean Park Guest House can be your base camp for this exhilarating South African adventure. Send us an e-mail or visit our website to find out more about our rates and availability.

Article contributed by Susie Fellowes