What? No bedding in the cabin?” we ask incredulously. At the check-in counter Michael Mpayipeli shakes his head. “Did you not read the information sheets we sent you,” he asks. Of course we didn’t. “Never mind, says Bridget. We’ll buy plenty of firewood and sit by the fire all night.”
Michael gives us the keys to the overnight cabin and walks down with us to the jetty to our two canoes. This is on the Keurbooms River mouth near Plettenberg Bay.
We pile all our stuff into the middle of the “Mad River” canoes. I’m not sure which is the mad part, the river or the canoe. I think the canoe. Ethene and I are in one. And all we seem to be doing is to row in circles. And when we do go straight it’s into sandbanks. And reeds.
My sister Carmen and Bridget aren’t doing any better. They too are stuck in the reeds way behind us. We have 7km to go to the cabin. After 500m we have bulging left arms from paddling on one side only.
There’s a lot of traffic on the water. The Keurbooms River Ferries speed by, tourists waving. We struggle to the nearest sandy beach just beyond the caravan park. We’re exhausted and soaked to the bone.
“We’ve never been so disorganised,” reckons Ethene. “No drinking water, no plates, no cutlery. Now we’re heading for a cabin without bedding. This is how not to do the Keurbooms.”
“Let’s repack the canoes. Let’s put the weight in the back, rather than the middle,” says Carmen. Magic. And a tailwind has come up, which is a great help. Suddenly we look like pros.
The river broadens into deep crystal clear pools. And with a tailwind, man, we’re flying. The dark brooding forest engulfs us. We’re now deep in the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve. The unspoilt riverine gorge is spectacular. Impossibly tall yellowwoods, cloaked in lichen, line the riverbank. A Knysna loerie calls as we glide by.
By now the afternoon sun is beating down. The water is still brackish, hence undrinkable. Without drinking water we find solace in warm beer. We head for a sandy beach and a lovely long swim in the clear deep water. We disturb a giant kingfisher, which flaps away in alarm.
Way upriver we cross a rope- and-drum barrier. No powerboats are allowed beyond this point. We hear a loud tweeeet tit-tit from deep in the forest. I blow on an ocarina, a small clay musical instrument, which I use to imitate birdcalls. Soon the trees are alive with tweets from all directions.
But now the going is tough. The river is low, too shallow for rowing. We keep getting stuck on pebbles and have to get out and push. The canoes are heavy and unwieldy and we have to push them upstream. This is hard work. The canoes have minds of their own. They insist on going broadside and squashing us up against the rocks in the middle of the rapids. And the rocks are slippery. How much further is this promised cabin?
We almost miss the big welcome sign on the left bank: “Whiskey Creek. Canoe Cabin. 300 metres. Park the canoes here and follow the path.” We wave and cheer. Never has a sign been so welcome.
The fully equipped wooden cabin consists of one large room with 10 bunk beds with mattresses, pillows and pillowslips. The outside kitchen has a double gas burner. A bank of solar panels provides hot water. A small electric freezer box and lanterns are also solar powered. There’s a shower and a flushing loo.
Our cabin is in a clearing in the middle of a dense forest. A boardwalk leads to a steep bank and a shortcut down to the river.
Birdlife is prolific – there are 250 bird types in the area.
After a slap-up supper of veg curry and rooties we sit outside on the deck around an enormous fire.
The night sky is unbelievable… there are millions of stars you never see in the city. The Milky Way is a creamy white and we compete to see who can spot passing satellites.
The early morning on the river is still and serene. The sun is just coming up and we take a walk upriver. What a privilege to enjoy these surrounds in total solitude. It would have been wonderful to spend a few days here.
Setting off downriver, we think this is going to be a breeze.
We shoot down the rapids like eels, and arrive at the deep water beyond the drum barrier in no time.
Then the wind and the incoming tide hit us. We can’t believe it. You stop rowing and get sent back to where you came from. And motorboats leave huge wakes, which send us back upriver. How did we manage to get the tides and wind wrong on both days?
It’s mid-afternoon by the time we finally make it to the Cape Nature office to return the keys and equipment.
I’m now in the position to write an authoritative manual on “how not to do the Keurbooms”.
l To book see capenature.co.za
For booking queries, please call 0861 227 362 or 021 483 0190.