The Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon, which took place in the Northern Cape last weekend, is set to become an annual drawcard in the province.
The inaugural three-day event attracted nearly 100 participants and hundreds of visitors, who made the journey to a fascinating region that boasts both semi-desert areas and lush vineyards in the valleys of the Orange River.
The route took paddlers along the Gariep – better known as the Orange – River from the town of Upington to Kakamas, Khamkirri and Augrabies.
Winners Lance King and Heinrich Schloms received R26 000 (US$3 400) in prize money. Michael Mbanjwa and Sibonelo Zondi finished second, with Pierre-André Rabie and Gavin White claiming the third spot.
Development teams from seven-times Dusi winner Martin Dreyer’s Change A Life Academy also showcased their talent, with Nzuza Zonele and teammate Kwanda Hlope finishing fourth overall and fellow academy members Ngidi Skhumbuso and Nhlanhla Cele coming in fifth.
The women’s race was won by Abby Adie and Hilary Pitchford, who finished in eighth place overall.
The total purse was around R207 000 ($27 000).
A dream realised
“I love paddling and I am in love with this beautiful river, so I always thought it was wrong not to have a proper race here,” he says.
As this was the first race of its sort in the Northern Cape, organisers believe the economic benefits were not as large as they might have been. However, they agree that the province will benefit from the immense exposure it received in the tourism sector, and of course the next time will be better.
“As the race grows there will certainly be bigger economic advantages,” says Nieuwoudt, adding that he hopes the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon would become a legendary race, like the world-famous Dusi.
The 99km scenic route was planned by Nieuwoudt and other well-known paddlers, who wanted visitors to enjoy the challenge, and also hoped to promote the Northern Cape region as an adventure destination.
The event afforded both paddlers and visitors a glimpse of the vastness of the Green Kalahari and its diversity, which is largely unknown to many South Africans and international tourists.
The Green Kalahari region is found along the banks of the Orange River. It borders Botswana and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the north, reaches past Upington in the south, and extends from the Namibian border in the west to the famed diamond fields in the east of the province.
The Northern Cape offers a kaleidoscope of scenic beauty ranging from the Green Kalahari itself, to the impressive natural wonder of the Augrabies Falls - named from the ancient Khoi word aukoerebis, meaning “Place of Great Noise” - Namaqualand’s floral splendour and the diamond-mining tradition of Kimberley.
Nieuwoudt says he had had three goals in mind before the race. They were: “to host an excellent canoe marathon for the paddlers; to promote the Green Kalahari as an adventure destination; and to create a lasting development programme to teach previously disadvantage communities the sport of paddling.”
The first two objectives had been met, he believes, and the newly launched canoe club will address the third objective.
Spectacular natural beauty, and great wines
Among the attractions participants and spectators experienced were the spectacular Augrabies Falls, sundowners at the Oranjekom viewsite in the Augrabies Falls National Park, wine tastings at the Orange River Wine Cellars, and visits to the Khamkirri Game Reserve.
The wine route is a must for any oenophile’s tour itinerary, as 10% of South Africa's vineyards are to be found in the Orange River valley and the southern Kalahari.
The hot, dry but, fortunately, irrigated areas along the Orange River in the least populated part of the country are home to thousands of hectares of leafy vineyards, producing robust everyday wines.
This is the home of the main office of the Orange River Wine Cellars, the largest wine cooperative in the southern hemisphere and, judged on the number of tons harvested, the second-largest in the world.