As hordes of holidaymakers flock to the beach this summer, why not change it up and climb aboard a canoe instead? These paddling adventures along southern Africa’s most scenic rivers are a wonderful way to soak up some sun away from the masses.

Inanda Dam, near Durban

While Inanda Dam is famous for its glorious views, popular annual bass fishing tournament, and as a stop-over point on the Dusi Canoe Marathon, it’s also a place to escape Durban’s heat, relax and feel completely at ease. Hire a canoe and take to the dam’s calm waters, or bring your own. Better still, bring your tent and stay overnight. If camping is not for you, the dam boasts lovely safari tents right on the water’s edge.

RATES: R165 a day for a two-seater canoe. Four-sleeper tent R960 a night in low season, R1,200 in high season. Electrical campsite R130 a person for one night; non-electrical site R110 a person for one night.
CONTACT: Msinsi Resorts +27 (0)31 766 9946

Enjoying the calm waters of Inanda Dam. Picture by Tate Drucker

Orange River, near Noordoewer

Leave your worries behind as you take on a two- to six-day trip down the mighty Orange. Rated as one of the best entry-level rafting adventures in SA, this trip is open to anyone, with neither fitness nor experience essential. Gaze at curious rock formations and take in the beauty of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park’s magnificent scenery and birdlife. At night, settle back and stargaze from your perch on the riverbank. Guides prepare all meals and are trained to help you get through each rapid safely. If you feel the heat, simply slip off your raft into the river.

RATES: Depends on the company you book with. Gravity Adventures, Felix Unite, Umkulu Adventures, Wild Thing and Amanzi Trails River Adventures all offer guided trips. The rate for a four-day trip with Felix Unite starts at R3,950 a person. Look out for seasonal specials.

Taking in the magnificent views of the Orange River. Picture from Felix Unite River Adventures

 

Great Usutu River, Eswatini (Swaziland)

Paddle along the largest river in Eswatini on a two-person inflatable raft. The Usutu River invites white-water enthusiasts for adrenalin fun on half- or full-day rafting excursions. Transport, equipment and lunch are included. The river is challenging but you don’t need to have prior experience to attempt the rapids (grade two to four). Later, visit Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Eswatini’s pioneer conservation area, and stay in one of the traditional beehive huts. The huts are dome shaped and arranged in a circle, traditional Swazi style. When you are not paddling, try a game drive or go on a walking safari for a chance to explore the bush on foot.

RATES: Full-day rafting (8 hours) R1,300 a person. Half-day rafting (5 hours) R2,300 a person. Accommodation at Mlilwane in beehive huts, from R495 a person sharing.
CONTACT: Book paddling tours online at www.dirtyboots.co.za or phone +268 2416 2180 or book tours at www.swazi.travel/activities or phone +268 2528 3943/4 for accommodation.

The Usutu River is perfect for white-water enthusiasts. Picture from Dirty Boots Adventure

Keurbooms River, near Plettenberg Bay

The real charm of the Keurbooms Nature Reserve lies in the winding river that cuts through indigenous forest. The Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail is the best way to explore the reserve. The area boasts beautiful birdlife and the Knysna turaco, malachite kingfisher and narina trogon are among the beauties to spot. Paddling is easy going, so the trail is a good option for families. The Whiskey Creek Cabin is your destination for the night. It’s a scenic 7km paddle upstream and you can look forward to a braai on an open-air deck under the stars. The cabin sleeps up to 10 people and is booked exclusively for each group.

RATES: R1,470 a night (1 to 6 people) and R230 an additional person a night. Cost of the trail includes double canoes, safety gear, a cushion and accommodation. Take your own bedding. Day visitors can hire canoes for R150 per day – no bookings required.
CONTACT: CapeNature +27 (0)21 483 0190 or book online

Exploring the reserve on a kayak on the the Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail. Picture by Ron Swilling

Langebaan Lagoon, West Coast National Park

No trip to West Coast National Park is complete without a stopover at Langebaan Lagoon, a glittering oasis just inland from Saldanha Bay. Admire the beauty of this Marine Protected Area with a kayaking tour from Gravity Adventures. Bird enthusiasts will love the 2h trip around Schaapen Island, whereas adventurous types should go for the 4h journey deeper into the park. If you prefer to paddle at your own pace, you can also hire a kayak or SUP for the day. Be sure to head out early in summer to avoid the afternoon winds. Afterward, visit Kraalbaai or Tsaarsbank to unwind and appreciate the panoramic views.

RATES: Island kayak trip (2h): R650 per person for 2-4 people; R480 per person for 5-12 people. Includes guides, boats, paddling, and safety equipment. Explorer kayak trip (4h): R995 per person for 2-4 people; R920 per person for 5-12 people. Includes juice and a pastry on arrival, full lunch and a day’s paddling.
CONTACT: Gravity Adventures +27 (0)21 683 3698

Admiring the beauty of this Marine Protected Area. Picture by Tate Drucker