Lake !Gariep

Standing on the Bethulie Bridge, gazing up and down the river, I was a little intimidated by the size of Lake !Gariep. Looking east one can see where the Caledon River meets the Orange River. Looking west, the dam wall is nearly 100 kilometers away. It is one huge expanse of water that will have to be covered. Add to that I do not feel very comfortable on ‘dark’ water. My fear of water and claustrophobia visits me simultaneously. I would have a chance during the week ahead to pay attention to my ‘little problem’. My only comfort is the knowledge that I can swim.

Beginning November was earmarked to spend as much time as possible kayaking/camping on !Lake Gariep, testing equipment and sorting through some logistics. The weather, however, was not on our side. I arrived in Oviston in pouring rain and the lake barely visible. It was clear (excuse the pun) that Marianne and I would have to alter our plans. Bad weather was forecasted till the Monday and we decided that we will go out kayaking weather permitting, and then spend the Monday in Aliwal North meeting with sponsors. Weather only permits when and what, when and what we do not need.

Sunday late morning the sun was out and barely a breeze was coming across the lake, ideal for a bit of paddling. We headed out to the inlet tower that feeds the Fish River 82 kilometers away in the Eastern Cape (Orange-Fish River Tunnel) then around an island for a swim. The water was absolutely beautiful, warm and cool spots to tantalize the skin. Crossing the lake we went over to Fish Eagle Bay. Being out there in the middle lessened the intimidation although I still had mild butterflies in my stomach. Heading back across the lake, we spotted a fast approaching cold front and decided to beach at Hennie se Baai, instead.

Two hours later, a storm like I have never seen before, was releasing its fury. Visibility was down to a few meters. The water in the Swimming pool was swirling around so madly that it was nearly overflowing the sides. With a raging storm outside, we sat down and discussed gear, requirements etc.

Our day trip to Aliwal North was delayed because trees were uprooted and blocked the road out. We managed to find a way around the trees and spent a fruitful day in Aliwal North and Burgersdorp meeting with potential sponsors. The Riverside Lodge in Aliwal North immediately offered us accommodation for two nights prior to our departure. This will come in very handy as we intend to spend some time in Aliwal to get the final things in place before we launch.

Armed with an Admiralty Map of the dam, some indicators of some nice areas to go and a warning about the grey line on the western horizon, I went out the Tuesday alone. It was a little scary facing that expanse of water alone. It was me, the water and the wind. This was not Bass Lake. I head out to a headland that was roughly 5 kilometers away as opposed to Bass Lake, where the opposite side is 250 meters away. I felt small and vulnerable but I was on a mission. Paddling, paddling and it felt like I was not getting any nearer to the headland. But I kept going, a little kayak in the big expanse of water. I visited the dead trees that mark the spot of one of the 7 farms that was flooded when the dam was completed. I spent some time kayaking around Seekoeigat, when I noticed the ‘grey line’. It was time to head back to Oviston, fast.

Keeping an eye on the growing grey line and the Oviston side, I paddled as hard as I could into a growing wind, hoping to make it off the water before the storm came in. One does not want to get caught on the water in a storm. The winds and waves can make life difficult, the thunder and lightning can terminate it. I made it and once we had packed up the first drops fell.

Wednesday more bad weather was predicted, albeit without thunder and lightning. It was the ideal situation to go and try the waves. Just in case the thunder and lightning made a late appearance, we only ran the stretch to the inlet tower and back, hard work paddling into the wind and waves, but great fun. As fine weather was predicted for the rest of the week, we decided to do a two night kayak/camping trip. It was time to head home and get packing.