I always wondered about the river conditions in Swaziland. Rumours of really big water have haunted me, with the local South African kayak community speaking with a lot of respect for everyone who dared to run its waters!
Sanity check. I had no dreams of throwing myself blindly down class 4+ rapids for at least another year, but I remained curious. After all, the Swaziland border is less that 100 kilometers from my home. So I decided the safest way is to check them out in winter (yes, June is Winter in the Southern Hemisphere!).
Friday 29 June I had my bags packed. I cut my workday short ad charged for the Oshoek border post. Seems I was not the only one with this idea. With South African Schools closed for holidays, and the monthly event of payday for salaried workers the promised ‘quick’ 30 minute border passage became an almost two-hour affair!
The result is that I arrived well after dark in Swaziland, and missed meeting the owner of Swazi Trails. Murphy was wreaking havoc with our schedules and try as I might, I could not get hold of him so I continued my adventure without valuable inside information. Part of the plan was to find out a bit more about the greater value proposition that this small kingdom holds for cultural and adventure tourism, but that will now have to wait for the next opportunity.
My host for the weekend was Njabulo, the custodian and gatekeeper of Legends Backpackers. He carries a wealth of information about local attractions and activities in Swaziland and is keen to share.
Legends is true to the backpacking spirit, and Leni, their resident ghost has humorously posted advice on good conduct for residents all over the establishment, making sure that everyone understood how to avoid the anger of the ancestral spirits! I made sure to stay well-behaved, and gracefully had no hauntings from her in my sleep. Legends is busy expanding, and soon they will have a new entertainment area with a bar. I can’t wait for the new facilities, which will make Legends Backpackers one of the most rad venues for weary travelers in the Southern Hemisphere.
Legends backpackers is located just outside Mbabane, and next to the Swazi Trails Info Centre. All amenities that a tourist could hope for are within walking distance from the venue and Swaziland has a reputation to be a safe and relatively crime free tourist destination.
Saturday morning my good friend Hendrik arrived with his kayak. For a small fee Swazi Trails agreed to show us the put-in an take-out of their commercial rafting section. We followed their minibus to the put-in and joined their rafting clients down the river for a fun-filled day.
The river is mostly pool drop style rapids on this part, but looking at the water marks on the rocks this river has potential to become a mean bugger with high water levels, promising extended rapids, occasional boulder gardens and intense power. I am not sure how run-able the weir will be when the river picks up, but this weekend it was a pleasant slide with a mini wave train below.
The last rapid of the day was the biggest, and tipped one of the two-man rafts. The clients had a fun swim down the rapid, but everyone was OK. With everyone back on their rafts we paddled the final bit of calm water to the take out, just above what the guides called a ‘bad’ rapid about a hundred meters upstream for the ‘takeaway’ waterfall.
The commercial section takes you through scenic unspoilt nature, and you have opportunities to see various indigenous birds a water life on the trip.
I strongly recommend this rafting trip with Swazi Trails for adventure tourists. The company uses experienced professional guides and you are in safe hands. The river looks more intimidating than it is on low levels, which makes it suitable for anyone. On high levels you will have to trust the judgement of the guides to tell you whether it is safe for someone with your skill levels to come along.
I have mixed feelings about this river for more experienced white water kayakers. Make no mistake, during high levels this is the river to run (if you have the skill and nerves of steel) but I get the feeling that this river is shared on a ‘invitation only’ basis. My suggestion is to make sure you go with someone who has the right Swaziland connections, or be prepared to pay your way. For a small fee you can be escorted on the commercial section (which includes a lift from your car to the put-in, and guides to save you if you land in trouble). I could not find out how to access any other river sections, or at what price it can be done.
On my next visit I hope to tell some more about the wealth of opportunities that Swaziland has to offer to adventure tourists.
by Franz Fuls