Conquering Demons: Kayak Adventure in South Africa

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Waves crashed against the rocks with a thunderous splash, with the wind blowing back their caps in menacing tendrils. Photo by Emma Strumpman
Waves crashed against the rocks with a thunderous splash, with the wind blowing back their caps in menacing tendrils. Photo by Emma Strumpman

Kayaking Storms River Mouth

Our kayak and lilo tour with Untouched Adventures was set to start in the Storms River Mouth. This section, where the river turns green as it meshes with the ocean, is sheltered slightly by the mountains. Yet, here too, the ocean was a dangerous, lilting mess of white foam. Even the speed boat which usually takes tourists out on sea excursions had been pulled out of the water. This didn’t seem like a good sign.

Yet, as we shook hands with our tour guides, we were steadily informed that, instead of beginning in the ocean and paddling through the river mouth and under the suspension bridge that StormsRiver is famed for, we would begin our journey after the bridge. At this point, the river water would apparently be manageable, in contrast to the ocean beyond. My mother’s sigh of relief was audible – she, the designated worry wart of the family, couldn’t argue with that logic, either.

To reach the point of departure, we followed our guides on a short 20-minute hike. Through the forest we trekked, up and down steep flights of narrow wooden steps. This otherwise doable route was made tricky by the fact that each of us was brandishing a paddle, trying to navigate the narrow path and avoid a debilitating blow to one of our fellow adventurers – or other tourists, enjoying their meander to the suspension bridge.

“Okay people, bum’s first!”

The guides had to shout to be heard over the waves, still audible even after the bridge. Bum first, I plopped into the seat of the red kayak after my dad. Before I knew it, our little vessel was pushed out in the water, and we paddled in graceful circles while the rest of the 15-strong group boarded their kayaks.

To reach our point of departure, we followed our guides on a short 20-minute hike, where we had to navigate steep flights of wooden steps while brandishing white paddles. Photo by Emma Strumpman
To reach our point of departure, we followed our guides on a short 20-minute hike, where we had to navigate steep flights of wooden steps while brandishing white paddles. Photo by Emma Strumpman

I looked out towards the ocean, where the suspension bridge spanned the gap in the mountain through which the river flows, silently willing it to remain at relative peace. We turned the kayaks around, caught a baby wave and began the journey down the gorge. As the river narrowed, the water became calmer and soon all thoughts and fears of capsized little red boats were forgotten.

The guides stopped here and there to tell of bat-filled caves and rocks stained brown by tannins in the water. But, I was too busy craning my neck up and marveling at the patterns in the rocks, and the birds in their nests, the sheer impossibility of Mother Nature’s beauty in all her untouched glory. All seemed still and right. I expected to continue in this gentle, soul-soothing way. I was wrong. It got better.

We soon rounded a bend and were instructed to pull up the boats at a pebbled bank. The river was too narrow upstream for kayaks, and we’d be disembarking and continuing the journey by lilo. But, as we were about to navigate towards the bank, I felt the current shift under the boat and its strength pull the vessel in the opposite direction – towards a rapid that hadn’t been there moments before. My dad helped maneuver our boat in the right direction.

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