The Berg River is well known for the annual Berg River marathon, a gruelling race attracting the cream of the corps of long distance paddlers. The marathon, which is considered to be one of the toughest races in the world, is held over 4 days, covering between 40 and 60 kilometres every day. The river is mostly flat for the whole route, but narrow channels between palmiet bushes, overhanging trees and weirs make it technical enough. At first the river runs through vineyards, then into wheat land, before reaching the drier area of the West Coast. Mountains in the distance, sometimes snow-clad, add to the beautiful scenery.
- Ideal for: K1
- Grade: 1 to 2
- Length: 207 km (course of annual Berg River marathon)
- Duration: 4 days in annual Berg River marathon
- Type: Flat, with small rapids on first two days
- Dam controlled: The last two days, by Misverstand Dam
- Permits: None
The mass start on the first day (59km) is in Paarl at Market Street bridge. Just after the start is a weir that is compulsory to portage. Another weir, with a small rapid below it, awaits a few kilometres down. The Wellington and Lady Loch bridges further on are favourite spectator points. The major rapid of the race, Klei rapid, is found just before halfway. From here on to the end at Zonquasdrift there are only small rapids, some tree-blocks and long flat-water stretches.
The river is narrow and fast at Zonquasdrift, and paddlers are set off in batches on the second day (43km). The stretch is characterised by deep, fast-flowing channels through palmiet bushes, calling for tight turning. A mishap here can result in a long swim, as it is not easy to get out on the palmiet overgrown banks. The major rapid of the day is Black Rock, which can be negotiated on the channels to the right. The end of the stretch is at Bridgetown on the flat-waters of the Misverstand Dam.
The third day (55km) starts 10km further down, just above the Misverstand Dam wall. A short paddle leads to the wall, which is a compulsory portage on the left. The difficult part of the race is over, and the river is flat for the most part from here on. The bridge on the N7 is a good vantage point for spectators. The main action of the stretch happens at Moravia, 15km after the start, where a weir under a low-level bridge can be shot, depending on the water level. Moravia can be reached by vehicle as well. There is a low-level bridge further on that has to be negotiated before tackling the long flat-water to the finish at Zoutkloof farm.
The last day of the race (50km) normally starts at Kersefontein bridge. The day’s paddling consists of a long slog on flat-water. Low water, cold weather, rain, a head wind and incoming tide is capable of making it even harder. The end is at the Port Owen Marina.
The race is hard, but it is one of those unique events that challenges a paddler to his or her limits, but at the same time rewards with camaraderie seldom experienced in race circumstances. The race is famous for its overnight stops on farms where the friendly local people cater for hungry competitors and their seconds.
This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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