Kayaking on the Vanderkloofdam

Recently Barry Ross and his father, both from the United Kingdom, embarked on a kayak adventure on the Vanderkloof dam. Every day was blogged in detail with great photos and they shared their experiences for everyone to appreciate and perhaps catch some tips for their own kayaking experiences on Vanderkloofdam!

Whether you have kayaked before or not, their trip is certainly something else and well worth the read, not to mention the great photos they have taken along the 77.57km trip.
Click here to read the full story, or click here to visit their own blog from which all the info on the story was obtained. Special thanks again to Barry for allowing us to post it on this website as well!


RRR: Day 1 (Wednesday 22 January)

by blerrie

Distance paddled: 19km

We left for Vanderkloof on Tuesday afternoon, and after a burger and a few beers at the Ribbok Pub, we spent the night at a rented A-frame house. Waking at sunrise, we left for our put-in point at the municipal camping ground (thanks to Tercia and Bennie for a lift!). Somehow we managed to pack a tent, compact mattresses, sleeping bags, 4 days food plus emergency rations, cooking equipment, clothes, emergency kit and other equipment into the two boats, with space to spare. At the launch site we had already made acquaintance with African pied wagtails (a common sight in the area), southern masked weavers (usually a common sight, but conspicious by their absence during the remainder of the trip), cheeky southern red bishops, various swifts and swallows, and a pied kingfisher diving for breakfast.


Packing boats at Vanderkloof put-in point. Vanderkloof, 2014.


With the temperature at 8.30am already pushing 30 degrees C, we set off, heading straight for the largest area of water on the dam, aptly named ‘Big Water’. Only a short while out we were already adding to the bird list. Before we had even entered uncharted waters, we startled a small herd of gemsbok, who ran over the lip of the hill and into the sanctuary of Rolfontein, as well as several mountain rhebok. The ‘terrible trio’ of reed cormorant, white-breasted cormorant and African darter were spotted before we even reached the Berg River mouth.


Morning tea at Big Water, Day 1. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


Tea time on a beach on Big Water saw temperatures rising to 33 degrees, which prompted a swim. After this, we headed into a small bay we called ‘Kingfisher Cove’, accompanied for some distance by a beautiful leguaan (water monitor). Rounding the corner, we inadvertantly drew abreast to a massive and well-camouflaged kudu bull on the water’s edge. Barry managed the snapshot below after the kudu had already taken flight.


Kudu bull, Day 1. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


The juvenile malachite kingfisher and the yellow canary both pictured below were photographed at Kingfisher Cove, and on the way in we startled a massive African fish eagle that was perched on a rock on the water’s edge. The Cove was absolutely infested with dassies (rock hyraxes).


Juvenile malachite kingfisher at Kingfisher Cove, Day 1. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.




Yellow canary drinking at Kingfisher Cove on Day 1. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

From here we dashed across open water to Rolfontein Island while the wind was down, in search of a camping spot. Unfortunately, we discovered after circumnavigation that no camping spot was to be had on the rock-strewn island. We did meet some flyfishermen, however–the last people we would see for three days. We stopped at a shale beach for lunch (sandwiches) and isotonic drinks, where we recorded a temperature of 45 degrees C. Of course, this was recorded on a shale beach in direct sunlight, but we feel it is representative because we were ourselves on a shale beach in direct sunlight!


The thermometer struggling to register a toasty 45.1 degrees C on the shale beach where we had lunch on Day 1. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


With a thunderstorm fast developing, we headed shorewards to search for a suitable campsite after lunch, and found a relatively sheltered bay with a sizeable beach. An expedition featuring towing firewood by kayak was then launched, as there wasn’t much in the lines of fuel on the beach. With the tent pitched and the remainder of the campsite habitable, Barry took a trek to the top of the hill behind the campsite in search of the buck that had left spoor all over the beach. The hilltop trek was worth it: reedbuck (pictured), gemsbok and duikers, too nervous to come down to drink on the beach, had been keeping to the high ground.


Reedbuck (Day 1). Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


The rain never came, but the clouds did afford a beautiful sunset next to the campfire, replete with sherry. Dinner was pork chops, wors, and sweet potatoes on the coals. ‘Big Sky Country’ is a good description of the Northern Cape, and we were able to gaze at a carpet of stars above us, while at the same time a violent electric storm lit up the horizon. Partially sheltered from the stiff evening breeze, we retired for the evening having ‘baboon-proofed’ the campsite and kayaks.

By the next morning, that stiff evening breeze had developed into a daytime gale. The wind would be a constant companion and concern for most of Day 2.


Striking camp at 05.30 on Day 2. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

Visit Barry’s Blog at: http://sakayakblog.wordpress.com/


RRR: Day 2 (Thursday 23 January)

by blerrie

Distance paddled: 24km

Day 2 brought two challenges: heavy mileage and strong winds. This was the single longest day’s paddling, in terms of both distance (24km) and time spent in the boats (10 hours; we launched at 07.00, and reached camp at 17.00). The wind, in combination with larger expanses of water typical of this part of the dam, whipped up some rather unpleasant waves. Together with sudden gusts these waves nearly had us tipped out the boats on two or three occasions. However, Day 2 ultimately yielded a prize: we met the objective of spotting and photographing rhino. We have decided to be a bit coy on details, however, for reasons that must be all too obvious of late.


Scotty filtering dam water for drinking (Day 2). Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

We woke up with the sun as our alarm clock, and had coffee and roosterkoek for breakfast. We then began to strike camp, under the watchful eye of a vervet monkey in an adjacent tree (good thing we primate-proofed the boats the night before!). With a strong wind causing a significant wave in the little bay, both of us were nearly in big trouble launching the kayaks, and were lucky to get nothing more than a soaking from water breaking over the cockpits of the boats. A debacle that was confirmation, perhaps, that we are flat-water paddlers.

With heavy winds, we decided to stick to the shoreline. Photographing while being buffetted by gusts of wind, which turn the boat or drive it into the rocks lining the shore, is not a very pleasant experience. We missed a few shots of kudus and other buck feeding on the water’s edge, as well as a bird or two that we couldn’t identify. We did manage a shot of a beautiful water mongoose, however – and again, we were accompanied by a leguaan. We found ourselves in a spot of bother crossing the mouth of a bay, when gusts and waves (yes, waves!) nearly capsized both kayaks. A hard paddle.


Male kudu (Day 2). Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

Early to mid-morning we found ourselves in a position to do a quick overland game survey, before taking to the water again for a wind-disrupted game cruise. And game we did see: kudu, springbok, warthog, duiker, steenbok, gemsbok, zebra, and an entire herd of red hartebeest on the move. Birdlife was equally abundant: little egrets, goliath herons, black-winged terns, white-fronted bee-eaters, yellow-billed ducks, reed cormorants, African darters, white-breasted cormorants, wagtails, kingfishers, and many more.


Female kudus (Day 2). Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

We partook of morning tea with cheese and crackers on a beautiful sandy beach covered in leguaan tracks, which we annexed from a group of lounging red hartebeest. The sand on the beach contained some sort of reflective mineral, which sparkled in the morning sunlight. It was a beautiful beach for swimming, which was a welcome relief from an ambient temperature that had climbed from 21 degrees in the morning to a scorching 37 degrees.


Tea at Diamond Beach on Day 2: more water is being filtered. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

After tea, we began the real long slog of the trip: toward Osplaat/Bobbedjanbaai to look for a campsite. Other than the calming of the wind and the building up of some heavy weather, there wasn’t much to report before stopping for a lunch of leftover braaivleis and boiled eggs. After lunch, however, we approached sheer cliff-faces and banks lined with high rocky outcrops while being buffetted by waves. With the rocky terrain came raptors: African fish eagles and a trio of Verreaux’s eagles; when we entered Eagle Alley near Osplaat, a beautiful steppe buzzard and even a female barn owl – in broad daylight!

By now the weather was ominous. We sought shelter in a small inlet to avoid lightning and wind. The storm turned out to be an anticlimax. Soon we were on our way again. We came across a fish eagle calling, and could hear a distant response echoing in the gullies. Around the corner we came across the correspondent (pictured): a handsome juvenile African fish eagle.


African fish eagle (juvenile), Day 2. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

With more rain threatening, we pulled into Bobbedjanbaai (Baboon Bay) at 17.00, startling a kudu that had come down to drink. The rain never materialised in any significant way, but it did provide a dramatic backdrop for an evening rainbow. As we pitched the tent and began preparing supper, it soon became apparent that we were not alone. The beach was covered in baboon tracks, and shortly a very noisy baboon troop appeared on the horizon of the hill behind the beach. They obviously regarded us as a nuisance because we had intruded on their favourite drinking spot. As evening fell, it became evident that the baboon troop was a rather spirited one. They barked all night, moving from one side of the ridge to the other, and the hours before dawn were alive with the din of baboons fighting and bickering.


Bobbedjanbaai (Baboon Bay), Day 2. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

This being the second night out, fresh food was giving way to foodstuffs that could resist Northern Cape summer heat. Supper was tuna pasta with onion, garlic, chilli, spices, and leftover boiled eggs – washed down with sherry, of course. The remainder of the evening was spent talking about one of the area’s most (in)famous characters, the renegade Kaalvoet Thysie, who evaded the police for several years by taking to the very wilderness that we were now camping in. As darkness fell, we packed and secured the boats in case of a raid by the very vocal baboon troop. After the day’s exertions, it did not take long to fall asleep.


Camping on the beach at Bobbedjanbaai (Baboon Bay), Day 2. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

Visit Barry’s Blog at: http://sakayakblog.wordpress.com/


RRR: Day 3 (Friday 24 January)

by blerrie


Sunrise on Day 3. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


Distance paddled: 17km

A peaceful African dawn was due to greet us for Day 3 of the Rolfontein Rhino Recce – until the baboon troop that claimed ownership of Bobbedjanbaai thought better of it. Although Scotty miraculously slept through all the baboon-shenanigans during the night, it was the last of a series of nocturnal baboon brawls that awoke Barry just before dawn. Despite the baboons, sunrise on Day 3 was serene and calm: no alarm clocks, no radios, no cars, and no rush. It was wonderful to wake up to a brightening sky in what must be one of the most beautiful areas of the Vanderkloof Dam.

The plan for the day was to explore, as far as possible, the Hondeblaf River east of the campsite. We wanted to be back at Bobbedjanbaai for lunch, and then to begin the homeward journey toward a known campsite near Osplaat. After a breakfast of Provitas, cheese and leftover pasta, we set about striking camp and packing the kayaks. The previous evening had been remarkably peaceful with regard to wind, but this changed as soon as the sun peeped over the hills. Starting out, the wind was at our backs and we made speedy progress. The wind was still in our favour when we headed into the mouth of the Hondeblaf River, but it was becoming apparent that the gusts were getting a bit wild and the waves a bit high. This prompted the stowing of cameras and other valuables in fastened dry-bags, and therefore we lost several opportunities to photograph raptors and game.


Morning at Bobbedjanbaai campsite (Day 3). Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

We had hoped that within the first few kilometres of the Hondeblaf River we would find a sheltered campsite for future reference. There was no such beach campsite to be found, despite the fact that the Dam was around 5-6% lower than the usual maximum capacity. What we did find down the Hondeblaf River were animals and birds: fish eagles, kingfishers, and various passerines; also a group of steenbok drinking amongst the bush at the water’s edge who froze when we drifted past, and several massive kudu who crashed through the undergrowth and up the bank at the sight of two brightly-coloured kayaks. We also heard the familiar commotion of a troop of baboons. Examining the map, it is quite possible that this was the very same troop from Bobbedjanbaai, taking an overland shortcut to another drinking spot. If so, they must have been furious to see us again!

At around 10.15, we decided that we should head back toward Bobbedjanbaai for lunch, given that the wind would now be against us. This part of the journey turned out to be a hard slog, against wind and waves that required careful negotiation in loaded kayaks. We had tea on a beach at the mouth of the Hondeblaf River, before continuing on to Bobbedjanbaai for lunch. There is not much to report from this segment of the journey, other than wind and waves breaking over the bows of the kayaks.

We made it to Bobbedjanbaai beach for lunch ahead of schedule. In this part of the world, wind is not necessarily associated with lower temperatures: the mercury had climbed to a toasty 41 degrees C as we prepared a lunch of processed cheese and crackers. This was an increase of 21 degrees since sunrise. Barry took a walk up the gully behind the beach to where some of the baboon-brawling had taken place the evening before, but with shorts and ankle-length socks, the abundance of snake holes soon dented enthusiasm for that little expedition. There was also the pain of a patch of sunburn behind the left knee, picked up during the previous day’s overland game survey. Ouch!


Landing at Hornet Island, Day 3. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

We had given ourselves a two-hour window to allow the wind to calm down, and this proved more than sufficient. The wind died down and soon we were heading towards Osplaat via a small island that we would christen ‘Hornet Island’.

Hornet Island is a tiny rocky outcrop with a beautiful and inviting beach on the north-eastern side. It was a perfect place for a swim and a rest. When we landed, there was evidence of human activity: campfire sites and fishbones. Barry was dispatched to the top of the outcrop to see if any cellphone reception was to be found, tempted by the presence of a lot of birds to photograph. Minutes later, the peace was shattered by a bloodcurdling cry of pain. Poking around the ground ahead in case of puffadders and other snakes, Barry had nearly walked into a hornet nest on a low-hanging branch. A hornet had decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on Barry’s right shoulder. The retreat back to the beach was speedy.


Hornet nests on Hornet Island: a nasty surprise. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


A re-assessment of the island was in order. From the beach, no less than eight hornet nests were visible within a 35 degree arc. And the hornets were getting agitated. We therefore decided to do what any reasonable person on a pristine beach might do: go for a quick swim. This led to a photo session and a few attempted somersaults into the water. In the end, with the air becoming thick with large brown hornets, we decided that skedaddling would be a good plan of action.

From Hornet Island, we proceeded around Osplaat, admiring the feral cattle that have been stranded there for several years. By mid-afternoon we found ourselves at what may be the widest beach on the dam, and chose a campsite that Scotty had utilised on a trip 18 months before. Amazingly, the campfire and firewood stock from that previous trip remained untouched amongst the trees. We were soon sitting on small camping chairs drinking isotonic Game, watching a few shy buck coming down to drink at the water’s edge in the 34 degree heat of the afternoon.


Relaxing at camp after Day 3’s paddle. The beach in the distance is where a few nervous buck came down to drink in the late afternoon. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


As the afternoon wore on, Barry was dispatched up a hill (again) in search of cellphone reception. None was to be had, and the bush was so thick it was impossible to reach a decent highpoint. There was nothing left to do but to make the camp comfortable, start cooking supper, and finish off that bottle of sherry. Despite managing to knock over a chopping board’s worth of onions and garlic, supper was a hearty meal of soya mince and potatoes with cous-cous.

We baboon-proofed the kayaks, despite there being no evidence of primate activity in the area. In the course of preparing for bed, a massive burrowing scorpion was spotted by torchlight (at first mistaken for a crab, until we realised that a crab does not move at high speed with pincers facing forward). With fire doused and kayaks packed, we retired to bed. Again, Scotty proved that he could sleep through anything, as the wind nearly blew the tent flat with no disturbance to his sleep.


Campfire, Day 3. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

Visit Barry’s Blog at: http://sakayakblog.wordpress.com/

RRR: Day 4 (Saturday 25 January)

by blerrie



Daybreak, Day 4. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


Distance paddled: 18km

We were up before dawn on Day 4, and were treated to another beautiful sunrise. A breakfast of roosterkoek, jam and coffee was partaken of while we huddled behind the tent for shelter from the wind. We then packed up camp at a leisurely pace, and prepared for the home stretch of the trip.



Barry photographing birds near Osplaat on Day 4. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

While we had certainly compiled a lengthy list of bird sightings, the Recce had so far been a bit disappointing with regard to photographs of birds. Some attempt at remedying this was made on Day 4. Osplaat, being a large island, teemed with birds, with African red-eyed bulbuls, red-faced mousebirds, and African pied wagtails being the most common sight on the morning leg of the journey.



Tea, Day 4. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


Little stint, Day 4. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

To get back to Vanderkloof we would have to cross Big Water again, a daunting prospect should the wind blow as it had the morning before. The prevailing wind on the Vanderkloof Dam would be against us for the trip back. We therefore decided to hug the northern shoreline as far as possible. To our surprise, however, the wind turned and we had a gentle tail-wind all the way into Vanderkloof.

We stopped along the way for tea, having photographed birdlife in the bays and on the grassy banks near an area called Rooiwalle (literally, ‘Red Walls’, due to the Northern Cape redsand banks and beach). Cattle grazing on the water’s edge served to remind us that we were heading back to civilisation. We then headed out to a small island in the hope of a few more photos of birds, only to find it deserted except for some bulbuls and Cape white-eyes.



African fish eagle landing near the exit of Big Water. Another can be seen perched on the left (Day 4). Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

Approaching the exit of Big Water, we were treated to the spectacle of four African fish eagles all vying for the same large hilltop. We were not entirely sure whether these birds were rivals or acquaintances, as most of the swoops they made at each other were rather half-hearted. Nonetheless, they were companions for a good half an hour of paddling.

We took it very easy on the way back, pausing to photograph birds regularly. The peace was soon to be shattered, however. No sooner had we caught sight of the Berg River mouth, and the air was ringing with the swarming buzz of motorboat and jetski engines. We saw six motorised vessels within the space of 15 minutes. They made a terrible racket that really jarred the senses after three days in the wilderness.



African darter, Day 4. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


Unidentified, Day 4. Resembles a mascarene martin, but in the wrong part of southern Africa. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.

To curb the unpleasantness of meeting the Vanderkloof Saturday motorboat fraternity, we decided to make one last detour before the end of the journey. Little more than a kilometre from Vanderkloof is a beautiful shallow inlet where we had in the past spotted gemsbok, rhebok, steppe buzzards, weavers, and many other birds. We drifted in quietly and were rewarded with the sight of three kudu. There were also many birds present, such as a martin-type bird we struggled to identify (pictured), sunbirds, and greater striped swallows. Our hopes for a swim were dashed, however, due to the build-up of the dam’s infamous weeds near the inlet’s only landing point. (We noted the build-up of the weeds throughout the trip, a situation that is apparently causing Nature Conservation a few headaches.)

Sunbaked and fatigued, we arrived back at Vanderkloof just after lunchtime. Elspeth picked us up, and we returned to the A-frame house via the local liquor store to pick up a few cold beers. With the Rolfontein Rhino Recce at its end, we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing. In the evening, we had a braai (with fresh meat!) in the company of a breeding pair of common fiscals hunting in the garden.




Braai at the A-frame, Day 4. Vanderkloof Dam, 2014.


In total, we had paddled nearly 80km over four days, recorded more than 40 bird species, and identified around 15 animal species. Thus, the objective of increasing species lists in the area was achieved, as was the objective of photographing rhino. All in all, the Rolfontein Rhino Recce was a great success.

Rolfontein Rhino Recce: Objectives achieved!


Tea on Day 1 on a beach at Big Water. Vanderkloof Dam (Rolfontein Rhino Recce), 2014.

With 4 days paddling, 3 nights camping, and having covered 77.57km in total, the Rolfontein Rhino Recce on the Vanderkloof Dam has drawn to a close. We took 465 photographs, counted more than 40 bird species and around 20 other animal species, and achieved the objective of spotting white rhinos. Success!


Visit Barry’s Blog at: http://sakayakblog.wordpress.com/


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