For the last two years, South Africa has suffered from below-average rainfall, but the heavens opened up at the start of this season and the rivers have started rising. This means that drought sapped rivers of the Highveld, like the Steelpoort River, are now offering some good paddling and fresh SUP territory.
The Steelpoort River is an easy option because it is within a reasonable drive from Johannesburg and runs through amazing bushveld scenery. The trip section is roughly 37km long with continuous class III rapids…and apparently home to a hippo!
A couple of my mates and I decided to do an over-nighter. This was a novelty as the section is normally rushed in a day. I opted to paddle my Hala Atcha down, which was my first over-nighter with a SUP. I loaded gear on the front of the board with no problem. The volume and rocker of the Atcha made the gear load board easy to paddle.
After our first day of paddling, we camped under a mighty River Bush-willow for the night. We woke up pretty early the next day to tackle the last stretch. About 30 minutes in we came to a set of slides where we had a quick scout. As we stood chatting I looked at one small patch of sand on the rocky outcrop and saw a footprint. It took me a good few seconds to realize that the print was that of a hippo. The Steelpoort is not a wide river and there’s definitely not enough space for a bunch of paddlers and a hippo! Our choice was simple: carry on towards the end as hiking out would be worse than paddling into a hippo. Luckily as we made our way further down we only found hippo tracks and no hippo (likely to be out grazing or keeping a low profile in a deep pool).
The continuous nature of the river made the paddling challenging with long slides and sections with loads of holes to keep you on your toes (or knee at times). The Steelpoort definitely has the potential to become a classic SUP river even with the resident hippo!
- Slap your paddle on the water before heading into a deep pool to try and get the hippo to show itself.
- Try and be faster than your fellow paddler so you have someone to outrun if chased by a hippo. Hippos can run up to 30km/hr on land.
Philip Claassens is an international ambassador for Hala Gear.