Vaal River – Parys downstream

The Vaal River below Parys is the busiest stretch of river in all of South Africa. A number of commercial operators offer rafting trips from town, and Gauteng kayakers call this their home run. As a matter of fact, a number of kayakers have moved to Parys over the past 15 years to take advantage of the lifestyle that the town offers, much of which centres around the river.

This section of the Vaal runs through the Vredefort Dome, a gigantic crater caused by a massive meteorite striking the earth, about 2000 million years ago. That was way back in time, and the Vaal had enough opportunity since to carve a path through the granite koppies. Today it is a paradise for nature and bird lovers. The surroundings and the many islands have dense vegetation, creating the perfect habitat for numerous birds species and other animals.

  • Grade: 2 to 3
  • Length: 12-15 km
  • Ideal for: Kayak, croc, K1, raft at high water
  • Duration: 2 hours to full day
  • What to expect: fun rapids, a long flat section, many channels and islands, lots of bird life
  • Dam controlled: Barrage  Click here for water level
  • Access: Put-in on public land, take-out on private property.

The 15km section of rapids, starting in town, is runnable at normal levels with K1 racing kayaks as well, and an annual K1 race is held.

The water level in the Parys section is determined by the Barrage weir, about 45km upstream of town. Heavy local rain can positively influence the water level too, but that is normally short-lived.

Because this section is such a popular run for paddlers of all abilities, the description below is more detailed than it is for other sections of the river.


0 km : Put in

The normal put-in is from a public picnic area in town, south side of the river, between Grewer Avenue and the River.

26°54’16.14″S  27°26’19.03″E


0 – 2 km : Flat water and easy rapids – class 1-2

The section starts with a couple of small rapids. Always stay in the main channel, some of the small channels have a dead end. The hanging bridge across the water, about 2km from the start, announces the first real action.


Andre Holtzhausen entering a small rapid before Big Daddy - pic by Tanja Holtzhausen
Andre Holtzhausen entering a small rapid before Big Daddy – pic by Tanja Holtzhausen


2 km : Big Daddy – class 2/3

About 100m below the hanging bridge the river drops through Big Daddy. It is a fairly steep and quite long rapid, making it intimidating for first timers. It can easily be scouted from the left bank, but most paddlers prefer to run it blind and enjoy the ride. The line is straight down, right of centre most of the time for most craft, although K1-paddlers should stay far right at low levels.

26°55’6.00″S  27°25’44.44″E

Andries Meyer halfway through Big Daddy
Andries Meyer halfway through Big Daddy.
Bottom of Big Daddy with kids on my raft - pic by Johann Swart
Bottom of Big Daddy with kids on my raft – pic by Johann Swart

2 – 6 km : Flat water

After Big Daddy, the river is flat for 4km. For the first 3km, take any channel you want, the river is pretty open here. After 3km, the river starts splitting up again. Make sure to get into the far left channel, as most of the other channels are either dead ends or tend to be choked up with strainers.

26°55’31.27″S 27°24’6.97″E  for the first rapid after the flat water, to make sure you end up in the correct channel: 


6 – 7.5 km : Small rapids – class 2

The first rapid after the long flat water is charmingly called “Gaping Jaws of Death”. This is a misnomer of course, but it’s a good name for raft guides to use to get the attention of commercial rafters after their snooze on the flat water.

Gaping Jaws is followed by two rapids of the same size in short succession. The first rapid after Gaping Jaws forms a beautiful little wave at higher levels that can be surfed on the fly. The rapid directly after this is very bony at low water levels and care should be taken not to get pinned.  It’s not really a dangerous rapid, but can cause some anxious moments.

After these three rapids, stay in the main channel, don’t go left. A short pool leads to Paradise, a small but fun rapid. Paradise wave can be surved with kayaks and crocs at normal water levels, although it is too shallow for vertical moves. There is a big eddy below the rapid that feeds to the wave, with some nice flat rocks on the river bank. It is a popular spot for kayakers and commercial operators to take a break, sunbathing on the flat rocks and taking turns surfing the little wave.

Paradise:   26°55’12.75″S  27°23’59.25″E

After Paradise, stay in the main channel on the right until you reach Rocky Ridge on the right bank.

A typical channel on this section of the river - pic by Tanja Holtzhausen
A typical channel on this section of the river – pic by Tanja Holtzhausen


7.5 km : Rocky Ridge (access point)

Rocky Ridge is a commercial camp site on the northern side of the river. It is often used by out-of-town paddlers for camping, and it is also a good access point to the river. Paddlers wishing to do a shorter paddle to Gatsien often start their trip from here.

Rocky Ridge:  26°54’51.94″S  27°23’52.06″E


7.5 – 10 km : Bigger rapids – class 2-3

If the water is over 80 cumecs, it is possible to stay on river right all the way through the next series of rapids, at the end of which there will be some nice surfing waves next to the bank. At lower levels, take the channel that turns to the left in front of Rocky Ridge, and go through a few shallow rapids. The last rapid is called Little Niagara (or V-trap). It is a really small imitation of its namesake.

Most of the channels meet up after Little Niagara, causing a wide, mostly shallow section. When the river splits up again, stay far right, especially when the water is low. The right channel starts with Stepping Stones, then moves on to Guillotine, before dropping the boats through Bistro (also called Look Sharp). Look sharp at this one, as it is very rocky at low levels and very sticky at high levels. When the water is high enough it is possible to take the channel second from right, which runs in a straight line through the islands with two long, but straightforward, rapids.

When the channels meet up again, prepare yourself for Theatre. This is the longest rapid of the whole section, and hence causes the longest swims. At low levels, follow the main current if you can find it. When the water picks up, it is safer to stay left all the way down to miss most of the pour-overs that form over the rock shelves.


10 km : Gatsien (also access point/take-out)

Directly after Theatre comes the renowned Gatsien (See Your Arse), a short but sometimes powerful rapid. It is often the scene of much activity. At a low level it merely consists of a small chute, likewise called Gatsien’s Chute. It is lots of fun to run with a K1 or a croc, and a popular playspot for kayakers. This chute is also to blame for many Gauteng kayakers’ ability to throw cartwheels only to the left. At higher level, though, Gatsien lives up to its name, creating nasty pour-overs in the middle and right of the river, and an excellent surf wave on the left with a sticky pour-over some 20m below that.

Sunwa is based right next the rapid, on north (river right) side of the river. Sunwa is one of the oldest commercial rafting companies in South Africa, and they normally end their rafting trips with a run through Gatsien. Sunwa allow kayakers to take out on their property, just make sure to arrange it beforehand and pay your parking fee.

Gatsien also happens to be the only real park-and-play spot in South Africa, with access from Sunwa.

Gatsien:  26°54’3.15″S  27°23’6.28″E 


Andrew Kellett cartwheeling in Gatsien chute.
Andrew Kellett cartwheeling in Gatsien chute.

10 – 12 km : Bigger rapids – class 3 

If the water is above 100 cumecs, stay left after Gatsien and enjoy Choice Assorted, which consists of three nice rapids in close succession. When the water is low, take the channel second from left. Where this channel opens up, there is a choice between Big Knuckle Crusher to the left or Baby Knuckle Crusher to the right. Make your choice, but be careful of pinning. K1 paddlers should rather give this one a miss.


12 km : Dimalachite (access point/take-out)

Dimalachite is a commercial camp site on the south side of the river. It is sometimes used by out-of-town paddlers for camping, and it is also a good take-out when tripping from town.

Dimalachite:  26°54’13.70″S  27°22’9.13″E


12 – 15 km : flat water and two fun rapids

For a full day of paddling from town, head on all the way to Hadeda Creek. It is mostly flatwater, but there are two nice rapids along the way, and the rivers banks are less developed than the section closer to town.


15 km : Hadeda Creek (take-out)

Hadeda Creek is a commercial rafting company that runs commercial trips from town, as well as shorter trips from just above Gaping Jaws. They also allow private paddlers to get out at their property for a fee.

Hadeda Creek:  26°53’2.30″S  27°21’17.36″E


Other commercial operators not mentioned above:

  • Otter’s Haunt, owned by Karin and Graeme Addison (SA’s own Old Man River), offers accommodation as well as commercial rafting trips.

Otter’s Haunt is on the northern bank of the river (river right), about 1km downstream from the normal put-in. This can be used as an alternative put-in for the section. A bit of work will be required to make your way slightly upstream and over to the other side of the river to get to Big Daddy. Alternatively, some small channels and easy rapids can be negotiated on the river right, which will take you past the big golf island. The channel on the river right side of the golf island joins the main river channel just as the 4km flat water after Big Daddy ends, so make sure to get all the way to the river left side of the river when you join the main channel.

Otter’s Haunt:  26°54’36.82″S  27°25’42.94″E

  • Whitewater Training is a kayaking and river guiding school that operates from Parys. Hugh du Preez, owner and chief instructor, is well-known in kayaking circles.

Whitewater Training’s office and kayak retail shop can be found at 34 Boom Street.


This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
If you have any pictures or recent information on this section of river to share, please contact me:
I appreciate any contributions to keep this content up-to-date.