Halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth lies George, the capital of the most famous South African coastal stretch: the Garden Route. While the neighbouring Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are highly advertised for, George deserves way more attention as an outdoor paradise. This laidback town in the Western Cape is about to become the hotspot for adventure seekers with its dramatic mountains overlooking the ocean, its precious and rare fynbos ecosystem, its stunning gorges covered in pristine forests where leopards still roam freely. What a better way to discover this secret nature by kloofing (South African for “canyoning”) than with the man who has explored almost every single canyon of South Africa?
“It is really not about the adrenalin for me: adventure sports are just a way to explore nature”, Marthinus explains with his soft voice. This is not what I expected from an extreme sports athlete, expert whitewater kayaker, former professional mountain bike racer regularly invited on Red Bull events, climber and mountaineering enthusiast. As we walk through the fynbos, a distinctive type of vegetation found only on the southern tip of Africa, he points out to different types of flowers and explains passionately about the precious and complex ecosystem. Marthinus has travelled the world to compete in mountain biking races, and the South African has settled in George for a good reason. The area is the perfect playground for the humble and highly trained athlete, and its breath-taking natural wonders are the perfect setting for the naturalist inside him with degrees in forestry and conservation.
The vegetation changes and the path gets steeper. Soon, the sound of the river is louder and we find ourselves gearing up on a large boulder by the canyon. “Thanks to the heavy rainfalls we have had these past few days, the water level is at its best!” Marthinus explains. In fact, he has been monitoring the level closely, going for a final check this morning to make sure the Kaaiman River would be both challenging and safe at the same time.
The water feels rather warm and the stream looks dark. As he sees our surprise, Marthinus explains: “No worries, the water quality is excellent! The colour is due to the tannins from decomposing plants, and you will see some foam as well. It also comes from plants: leafs contain fatty agents to make them waterproof and when they decompose in the river, they form foam. There is no pollution here!”
And indeed, a bit of rock-hopping and boulder-jumping later, we are having fun swimming through some foamy stretches. Starting to be a little bit tired and after climbing onto a large rock about 45 minutes into the canyon, Marthinus puts his waterproof backpack down and smiles: “This is where the real fun starts!” The sound of the rushing waterfall downstream backs his statement up. Carefully he sets up a thick orange rope that he secures to a carabiner bolted into the rock. Shortly after I am hanging in a waterfall, abseiling down. The power of water is so strong that I can hardly hear anything as it is ponding onto the rocks and onto my helmet. As I felt like a potato bag machine-washed by the cascade, Marthinus skilfully rappels down the same waterfall in a couple of gracious jumps.
Brought up in the South African bush, Marthinus’s extensive experience of the outdoors has endowed him with precious reflexes. This is how he could escape a leopard while mountain biking in a nearby valley. Or get out of a life threatening swirl while kayaking. The techniques he has learned as a professional guide top off his skills. This is how he can venture down a canyon for the first time, having no idea what to expect and being ready for everything. His calm attitude gives us full confidence and we listen to his specific instructions as to where to jump, how to rappel down or what to do after sliding down a zip line into the strong current.
Soon, the canyon opens up. Marthinus keeps a close eye on us while looking around with great focus. He answers my puzzled look: “Snakes fall into the gorge from time to time. They want nothing to do with you, but as they don’t like the water and often drown of exhaustion as the walls are too steep for them the get out, they tend to climb onto anything that may pass by…”
Exiting the canyon in style with an optional 10-metre jump, we are both thrilled by this exhilarating kloofing adventure! When many outfitters take rather large groups down a waterfall with a couple of jumps and loads of selfies and video footage to turn a 30-minute canyon into a half-day adventure, Marthinus provides just the opposite.
As we are looking at our footage reflecting on the day, we realize that Marthinus has taken us through the canyon at our specific pace spicing it up to our level and always making us feel very comfortable. The time we spent with him was pure adventure. The uncountable hours spent in the outdoors have provided him with all the skills needed to go through South Africa’s most challenging, hardly explored gorgeous gorges and mountains.
Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen (text & photos)
- To live this adventure or to explore the George area or any other area of South Africa canyoning, mountain biking or mountaineering, get in touch with Marthinus at Paradise Adventures (this specific canyon is the Adrenaline Canyon trip).
- Marthinus customizes all of his trips to your level of technicity and fitness, and provides top of the line gear for the specific adventure. Canyoning for instance can range from a 3-hour adventure to multiple-day expeditions that include cooking and sleeping in the wild.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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Part of this article was published in the Beyond Boundaries e-magazine by Xtreme Adventure:
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