The Orange and the Crocodile

In the Crocodile you might find Oranges, but in the Orange River there are no more Crocodiles. So what does the two have in common, apart from being two main rivers, the one being the longest river in South Africa, the other the main feed of the Limpopo?

Sunday past (10/01/10) I visited the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. As we criss-crossed the little stream, which is the upper-reaches of the Crocodile River, I would take some time to indentify Eddy’s, Haystacks and Pillows. No, I had no dream of frolicking in the barn. These are some of the effects one encounters on a river.

An Eddy can be found wherever there is an obstruction in the river and while the river flows around it down stream, below the obstruction the water flows upstream. Eddy’s can be used to ‘sit’ on the water, without drifting down stream, to take a break. Pillows are an indication of a submerged rock that causes a slight upwelling of the water, best avoided by either going left or right. If the rock is shallow, one can get stuck on it. If it is deep, and the river is fast flowing, it is followed by turbulent water downstream that can result in a dunk. Haystacks are formed where there is a drop in the river bottom. The first waves that are formed the drop are referred to as Haystacks. The steeper the drop, the Haystack will be higher to huge. Apart from indicating no obstructions, they can provide a nice splash and maybe a dunking.

Once I could identify these phenomena, I just had to magnify them 1 000 000 times to ‘see’ what I would be facing on the river at times. Rather scary. I realised the most of the time it will not just be the physical excursion required to paddle the kayak, but there will also be a lot of mental work involved: looking, assessing, deciding and acting and all of this happening in a short space of time. Even if we do first scout the rapid or obstructions from high on the river bank, things look very different at water level. Knowing how the water flows and acts is critical as it can mean the difference between staying in one’s kayak or going for a ‘swim’. It can also save one’s life.

Later we felt very energetic and followed the Geological trail to the top of the waterfall. This is where my blood just turned cold. I have often followed the trail to the top of the waterfall only to enjoy the view. This time it was to test a critical sensory. When wilderness kayaking, hearing/listening is very important. One has to listen to the river. A rapid, weir, whirlpool or waterfall can be heard long before it is seen.

Standing at the top of the waterfall I was looking at the little stream flowing o so gently. Listening to the ripple, then I tried to hear the waterfall. All I could make out was a faint background rush. The ripple was louder than the rush. If I did not know this area, I would have had no idea that just meters away, this little brook plunges over a 76meter waterfall as I could not hear the crash of the waterfall!

Even though we will not encounter a waterfall of this proportion (the Augrabies is completely by passed) the importance of listening, looking and scouting is vital to identify the other 5 smaller waterfalls on the river.

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