There is something about African rivers that I find fascinating. I grew up near the Ifafa River in Kwa Zulu Natal and as a child spent many hours of my free time exploring the estuary and the inner reaches of the river. It is always amazing how rivers in Africa can be mere trickles and then, after rain, raging torrents showing the visceral rawness of nature to the fullest extent.
I read the novel “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad in which the character Marlow narrates his trip up the Congo River, obsessed with meeting the ivory trader Kurtz. I think I need to read it again. Interestingly enough,it was the inspiration for the film “Apocalypse Now” in terms of the river journey of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) to meet with Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The book served to build my fascination with African rivers.
I have swum, canoed and rafted down many a river and camped on the banks of others. I have watched rivers in flood and have been forced back from a crossing of the Black Umfolozi – a mere 100 metres from my destination as flooding had washed the causeway away. And still, my love continues. Many years ago we went from Victoria Falls through the Kazungula border post to stay at a hotel on the banks of the Chobe River. The park and the river are amazing. At the confluence of the Chobe and the Zambezi, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana intersect with one another.
As far back as the 1930’s the area was designated as a national park. This was put on hold during the war years and the park was eventually established in 1960, becoming the first national park in the then Bechuanaland which became Botswana in 1966. The area has prolific game viewing and birding opportunities and is home to an extremely large elephant population.
Another river that featured in a book is the Limpopo. Rudyard Kipling referred to it as the “Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo River” in “The Elephant’s Child”, one of his Just So stories. I have visited the Mapungubwe National Park a few times and viewed the river from the decks and walkways overlooking the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers, as well as having walked the banks bordering Mozambique with SANparks rangers above the Crooks’ Corner Campsite. Kipling’s description is apt. Yet with rain the Limpopo flows and widens, often with devastating effect. The height of the river in flood over the years is marked on the walls of the pump station bordering Mozambique.
When I think of the Vaal River, I think of memorable rafting trips in 2 and 8 person rubber rafts, watching for the rapids and staying clear of the trees on the banks. At normal speed the river is fairly tame but with rain and the weir being opened, it’s a highly rated experience.
Then I have a love for the Orange River having travelled along its banks near Pella in the Northern Cape and camping alongside the river in the Richtersveld. It offers paddling and rafting but the lower reaches are flat and one travels along the river to observe the scenery. The area around the Richtersveld, looking across into Namibia, can be spectacular. The Augrabies Falls outside Kakamas are wonderful and the National Park is worth a visit. The last river that I have a particular fondness for is the Umzimkulu. I stayed near Underberg and spent days tubing the beautiful crystal-clear stretches and walking the banks. There is a tranquility in rivers that clears the head and allows one to reflect on life. It’s something about the sounds of babbling water and the movement.
To quote Jeffrey Anderson, “The river is one of my favourite metaphors, the symbol of the great flow of Life Itself. The river begins at Source, and returns to Source, unerringly. This happens every single time, without exception. We are no different”.