Not only are they a source of beauty, but rivers drain nearly 75% of the earth’s land surface. They are the lifeblood of any country, their steady flow of clean, fresh water a vital part of survival for millions of people. They are a means of transport, recreation, drinking water and power.
People are intrinsically drawn to rivers. They provide spectacular settings, a sense of heritage, a place of adventure, a space in which to watch birds and wildlife, and inspire art. Which is why so much of our outdoor lifestyle is experienced on the banks of rivers – white river rafting, canoeing, stand-up paddling or simply watching the water drift by.
South Africa has many rivers.
Here is a list of activities on 8 of South Africas most significant rivers
1. BREEDE RIVER
The Western Cape’s most navigable wide river (Breede is Afrikaans for ‘wide’) has its source in the Skurweberg Mountains around Ceres before flowing over Mitchells pass, and on through the Breede River Valley, meeting the Indian Ocean at Witsand, one of the best whale watching coastal towns of the Overberg.
Because of its position – the bulk of the Breede River flows through wine and fruit farm country – it forms a major playground for Capetonians and visitors who swell its banks over weekends and holidays.
• Take the pontoon ferry at Malgas across the Breede River
• Visit Bontebok National Park, through which the Breede River flows
• Do a wine cruise along the Breede River
• Drive the Breedekloof Wine Route
• Stay in the Breede River Valley
2. CROCODILE RIVER
There are two Crocodile Rivers in South Africa, which can get confusing. One lies in Limpopo and is a tributary of the Limpopo River. The other drains through Mpumalanga, and is a tributary of the Komati River.
Mpumalanga’s Crocodile River (or the Crocodile River East) has its source in the Steenkampsberg Mountains north of Dullstroom, whereafter it wends its way through Schoemanskloof before flowing east through the Lowveld National Botanical Garden in Nelspruit. It joins the Komati River at Komatipoort.
3. LEVUBU RIVER
The Levubu or Levuvhu (depending on whether you are speaking Tsonga or Venda) lies in the far north of Limpopo. It flows for 200 km before joining the Limpopo River in the midst of the fever Tree Forest of the Pafuri section of the Kruger National Park. Along its course are many dams, seven in all, that include the Albasini and Vondo dams.
4. ORANGE RIVER
South Africa’s longest river the Gariep, or Orange, River rises in the Drakensberg in Lesotho (where it is called the Senqu) to form the border between South Africa and Namibia before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay.
In its entirety it flows 2 200 km, passing through no major cities yet playing a huge role in the irrigation of farms and in hydroelectric power (along its length are two huge water schemes – the Orange River Project and Lesotho Highlands Water Project). Good rains during March and April make the river’s lower reaches extremely popular for rafting and canoeing.
5. TUGELA RIVER
KwaZulu-Natal’s largest river, the Tugela rises at Mont-aux-Sources in the Drakensberg Mountains before plummeting down the highest waterfall in Africa, and travelling some 500 km through the Natal Midlands to reach the Indian Ocean just north of Nkwazi.
The mouth of the Tugela is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the country. The river’s name comes from the Zulu name Thukela.
6. UMFOLOZI RIVER
The many variants of the Umfolozi include the uMfolozi, Imfolozi and Mfolozi – all the same name to describe the river that arises where the Black and White Umfolozi rivers unite, just south of the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. From this junction the Umfolozi flows east until it reaches the Indian Ocean at Maphelana, south of St Lucia River mouth.
7. UMGENI RIVER
The Mngeni, or Umgeni, River has its source in the Dargle in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. Its flowing course of 232 km includes the popular Howick Falls, before reaching the Indian Ocean at Durban, just north of the city’s natural harbour. Along its catchment are no fewer than four dams – Albert Falls, Inanda, Midmar and Nagle.
It is the primary source of water for over 3.5 million people.
8. VAAL RIVER
This large tributary of the Orange River has its source in Mpumalanga before it meets the Orange River in the Northern Cape just southwest of Kimberley. 1 120 km long it forms the border between Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West Province. It is also the main supply of water to Johannesburg and Pretoria Accommodation.
The Vaal Dam, near Vereeniging, is a favourite water playground, while a stay on the banks of the upper Vaal River on riverfront property is a status symbol associated with river cruises, fly-fishing and canoeing. Vaal River city, dubbed South Africa’s ‘first post-apartheid city’ is set to mushroom on the Vaal’s banks just south of Gauteng.