The U1 section of the Sabie River is the original Upper Sabie section, and has been renamed after more sections were opened up further upstream. It has become the testing ground for many kayakers to measure their technical river running skills. Some of the rapids are somewhat nasty. That said, it must also be mentioned that all the major rapids are easy to scout and portage.
- Ideal for: Kayak
- Grade: 3 to 4+
- Length: 7km
- Duration: 3 to 5 hours
- Type: Pool-drop, steep rapids.
- Put-in: Turn off 4 or 5 km after crossing the Sabaan River, follow dirt road down to river (4×4 needed)
- Take-out: Short dirt road next to the Sabaan River, down to the confluence with the Sabie
- Dam controlled: No
- Permits: It might be necessary to ask permission at the put-in, as a new lodge has been built next to the road going down to the river. Permission from Induna Adventures at take-out. Their office is just on the other side of the tarred road at the take-out.
If the rapid right at the put-in intimidates you, don’t get on the water; this is just the first of many. Should you decide to run it, the line is as far right as possible, especially when the water level is up. This rapid is actually not that difficult to run, but keep in mind that some of the rapids further on will really test your skill. A couple of technical class 3 rapids follow before the gradient picks up again.
The next steep rapid consists of a narrow gully with four drops in it. This rapid is noted for throwing you off line in the second drop and then grabbing you in the third or fourth drop, depending on the water level. Be careful here.
Siphon Waterfall comes after this, which has an island in the middle. Get onto it to scout from and maybe portage across. The drop to run is on the left of the island. It is short and sometimes sweet, starting with a pour-over about a metre high. Directly after this is the 3m drop, which is not as easy to boof as it seems. Enough good kayakers have got stuck at the bottom for you to be wary of this one.
The next big rapid leads into an unrunnable waterfall, so first make sure you can make the eddy on top of the falls before attempting it. Portage the falls on the right, but don’t go down too far. The drop below the falls is fast, fun and easy to shoot. Enjoy the ride and get some footage with the waterfall in the background. It looks impressive.
Some tricky rapids and flat pools follow before the second waterfall. At low to medium levels all the water goes to the right. It cascades down in four drops, of which the bottom three have been run before. Scout properly before attempting these drops, especially the second one. Get out on the left, or if the water is high and the left fall (a big slide) starts to work, get out in the middle on the resulting island.
After the second waterfall, the river flattens out, with only two rapids to watch out for. Paddle down to the confluence of the Sabaan and Mac-Mac Rivers, then get out on the beach on the right just after that. Remember to ask permission beforehand: it is private property.
This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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