Paddling in the wild

2007-11-21 00:00

“It was so beautiful that I just had to shoot it.” It was a hysterical ending to a tale-filled trip up the N2, and to the crackle of a bonfire at a tranquil Mkuzi ranch some 350 kilometres north of Durban. After planning for many moons and having bantered back and forth for weeks, we had finally started on our anticipated Jozini Dam exploration. Snuggled against the Lebombo mountains and stretching from Swaziland into the acacia-filled Zululand bushveld, Jozini offered an exciting adventure too hard to resist for we who had passed this vast expanse many times en route to Mozambique and north.

Daylight dawned and after a delayed start, last-minute planning and route checking, the paddling crew of 10 set off into the calm waters. Craft choices included surf skis, single and double canoes.

Day one saw us take an easterly breeze on the main dam section before turning south and dipping our boats' noses into the swells that run consistently along Jozini's length. The day included figuring out how to take a pee far from dry land: try straddling like a gymnast across two boats while doing your utmost to keep dangling legs still and out of harm's way.

Some 22 kilometres and three hours of paddling later, we saw, amid dry stumps, the distinct outline of erected tents. After some unsuccessful tiger fishing, the roaring blast of the camp diesel geyser and quiet chatter of fellow campers was all that broke the spell of an eerily beautiful night sky as slowly we settled down of braaied ribs and hot chocolate.

Day two blessed us with a southerly gale driving heavy waves over the already chilling beers in the shallows. A heavy headwind initially made going hard as we tacked north to the dam wall canyon and then found ourselves suddenly in the lee in idyllic crystalline conditions.

Sinking into peaceful silence we glided along effortlessly, soon forgetting where we were. It was only the sudden bellow and “hu hu” of a nearby hippo that snapped us back to reality.

In close diamond formation we paddled as near as we were allowed to the wall and looked out upon the great expanse behind us as a tourist boat chugged by with far more comfortable passengers looking on with curious disbelief. We all managed a refreshing plunge into the menace-filled waters before heading back.

“The norther is coming, I guarantee it.”… Ahh the words we all longed to hear as the whisper of distant clouds and smoke twirls stretched out overhead in a homeward direction. But that was all we saw of that phenomenon as we struggled through the oncoming wave train.

Those in surf skis flitted effortlessly ahead as the heavier K2s pounded and nose-dived behind. We had to stop every hour to pump our boats dry with a loaned bilge pump and stuff ourselves with carbos. Much to our horror the southern breeze was now a full-blown headwind making interesting GPS readings on our journey back to camp.

Finally some four-and-half hours later we were welcomed with cold beers and warm handshakes at our original starting point, having covered 66 kilometres in three days.

Our host Erras then took us on a boat cruise up an unexplored arm of the dam passing some suntanning crocs, dusty red elephants, waterbuck and nyala.

Another expedition had come to an end and it was time to return to our suburban lives of bonds, nine-to- five jobs and pension funds.

With most of us having spent some time in dreary, claustrophobic

London the unanimous vote was for freedom and fresh air, and a chance to enjoy and explore the beautiful planet on our doorstep.

Plot an idea, select some like- minded people and make it happen. Life is too short not to live your dreams, explore your horizons and make new friends.

• The team got special permission to paddle on Jozini Dam from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and private land owners around the dam because of their previous kayaking experience.

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