Vaal River – Barkly West

This section is the Vaal River’s big surprise, to be enjoyed by competent class 4 paddlers.

  • Ideal for: Kayak
  • Grade: 3 to 4
  • Length: 18km
  • Duration: 4 to 6 hours
  • Type: Pool-drop
  • Put-in: Take R31 from Barkly West to Delportshoop. Turn left at holiday resort, 3km outside Barkly West. Put in at resort.
  • Take-out: On R31, halfway between Barkly West and Delportshoop, take turn-off to Gong-Gong. Follow dirt road down to and then along the river for about 5km. Stop at soccer field on riverbank. Don’t leave vehicle alone.
  • Dam controlled: Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: Permission from resort to put in. Ask and be friendly.

MAP 56

The first few kilometres are flat with a couple of relatively small rapids. When the first big rapid is encountered, scout all following rapids properly. The rapids are wide and fairly long, with nasty pour-overs and big holes that must be avoided. Some of the rapids have lethal weirs on the side to feed irrigation channels, so look out for them. Don’t just try to bomb through the middle of the rapids like with many other big volume rivers; this is a technical section that asks for precise manoeuvring. The lines to be taken through the rapids are pretty much class 4, but if you miss the line you can end up in class 5/6 territory.

The main section culminates in two awesome rapids. The first of them (Stairway Falls) is almost a broken waterfall across the river, 5m high in places. Two lines are visible, but if you are not committed, rather portage. The other one (Double Trouble) starts rather small, but suddenly gets steeper before disappearing into two massive pour-overs. Avoid them at all cost by skirting down on the left side.

The last stretch of the section is flat again with small rapids, except for Gong-Gong Falls near the end. It is a sloped waterfall on the left of an island, although it disappears at high levels.

When the water level is up (more than 400 cumecs) the main section is huge and the pools between the rapids almost disappear, resulting in a long and dangerous swim if you should bail. Excellent surf waves abound. The section is worthwhile at lower levels as well, when the channels become visible and the rapids more technical.

This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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