Information for foreign paddlers visiting Southern Africa

First of all, it must be understood that the countries in Southern Africa are all First and Third world mixtures. On top of that, it is supposed to be a semi-arid region. Nonetheless, this region offers some world-class paddling experiences.

Most of the paddling is done in rural and under-developed areas that can be described as Third World territory. Do not be scared off by this. Accept it as a challenge to experience a different side of the world. Be cautious before you trust just anyone, keep your wallet and passport in a safe place, and never ever leave anything unattended. With a few exceptions, the rivers flow through the most beautiful countryside, unseen by ordinary tourists, and sometimes through very remote places.

When visiting Southern Africa for paddling purposes, do not rely too much on public transport. Rather hire a vehicle. The main roads are normally in a good condition, but it might be necessary to go off-road and even on a 4×4 track for some rivers. Wherever that is the case, it will be mentioned in the river description. Remember that Southern Africa follows the British example of driving in the left-hand lane.

Credit cards and traveller cheques are widely accepted, although not at fuel stations. Fuel prices are skyrocketing like everywhere else in the world, but it still remains a good deal for foreign paddlers. The monetary units in use are the South African Rand, the Namibian Dollar (R1:N$1), the Zimbabwean Dollar (the rates fluctuate all the time, with the Rand being much stronger), the Emalangeni in Swaziland (R1:E1) and the Maloti in Lesotho (R1:M1).

Camping-grounds are readily available at reasonable prices (actually very cheap for foreigners). It is uncommon to pay extra for water or toilet facilities, as would be the case in many European countries. Bed and breakfast places abound in the tourist areas, and backpacker lodges are becoming commonplace as well. Camping on farmland is also possible (although it is not necessarily safe), but always request permission.

The available cuisine is a mixture of many influences, with restaurants offering local as well as exotic food. You will undoubtedly be introduced to pap and braaivleis (barbeque) at some stage of your visit, as it is the favourite meal of many South Africans. Do not forget to try out our biltong (dried meat), which has become a delicacy at this southern end of Africa. The local wines are very good and internationally acclaimed, as is the case with the stronger beverages.

English is spoken widely and this will get you around most of the time. You might find language difficulties in some rural areas, as you can imagine in a country such as South Africa that has 11 official languages. Even South Africans struggle with the language gaps sometimes, so take it in your stride and use those arms and legs for communication.

It is possible to hire boats and other equipment from all major paddling outlets. Guides for private paddling trips can also be arranged with APA. Local paddlers are always keen to meet paddlers from overseas, so it might be a good idea to link up with them. The trips offered by the various commercial operators are mostly of a high standard, and travellers are encouraged to make use of them.