Text and Photography: Leilani Basson
It was time for something new. While waiting for our advanced 4×4 driving course to be arranged ahead of our next serious over-landing expedition, we decided on an adventure weekend – something within an hour’s drive from Joburg. Vaal Streams Eco Resorts on the banks of the Vaal River was the chosen place where we were to practise to (eventually) become completely self sufficient.
Four members of the Bush Administration were chosen for Mission Vaal River Foxtrot: Queen Bush, Sporty Bush, Ginger Bush and myself, Honey Bush.
The morning was chilly and overcast – enough to give any girl second thoughts about getting wet on an inflated croc (an inflatable two-man kayak) with only short shorts and a scanty top serving as a barrier between flesh and the foggy Vaal rapids.
Before we were halfway there, my rather tan-less legs took on their customary cold weather hue of guinea-fowl-neck-blue. The other Bushes are naturally a tad more olive skin-toned.
Laissez-faire would describe our cheerful arrival at Vaal Streams. Isaac Strydom, the owner of the resort and our host/guide for the weekend, warmly greeted us with coffee and homemade rusks. He accompanied us to the two adjacent (and fully equipped) ox wagon replicas – our accommodation for the night. (No camping – yay!). The only similarity between us and the Voortrekker tannies that trekked over the Drakensberg was our love of biltong, the bush and ginger beer.
We were hardly there when we started eating. Sporty Bush, who earned her stripes as the Provisions Commander, shops only at Woolies. As we all know, anything with a Woolies label on it is hard to resist.
After a very thorough lecture on safety and what to expect when river rafting, we were ready to get geared up and eager to tackle the task with unadulterated enthusiasm. We chose the matching red life jackets and safety helmets.
Making our way down to the river, we looked – and walked — like Lego people. Getting into the croc wasn’t too difficult – deciding who was the heaviest and whose arms were the strongest (a deciding factor in picking the person to be seated at the back), proved more challenging.
Rowing in unison is not as effortless as it seems. My strokes were a lot shorter and softer than Ginger’s, causing us to go round in circles. We went down stream backwards more than once, and nearly hit a rapid sideways.
After wrestling with the water for a few kilometres, we established our rhythm: Left, right, right; left, right, right. At times I had to skip a stroke so we could carry on facing forward.
Queen B and Sporty B were proving themselves to be quite good rowers. Unswerving, consistent… and serious. I’m not sure whether it was the deafening gushing of the water or the safety helmet covering my ears, but
I never heard them voicing any rhythm or rhyme. They either took to this like fish to water or our ship-shape Queen Bush established the procedure long before getting on the croc.
Now and again we looked around to make sure we could still see Isaac. Approaching the first rapid, we were not quite sure what to expect. Although we were told that it was almost impossible to capsize in the first rapid, we were still very tense.
Like a leaf in a storm water drain, we bobbed around weightlessly, working hard to keep our vessel facing forward. Just when we thought we had conquered the foaming rapid, the croc made one last leap and plonked into the calmer water. In an instant we were soaked. It was awesome. Wet, but awesome.
We anchored ourselves (as we were shown in the earlier briefing) to see Sporty and Queen B braving the rapid. No yelps or screams of delight – just the unwavering, dedicated navigation of four dumbbell-developed biceps, steering the rubber floater where it was intended to go.
While doing the — by now almost motorised — left, right, right; left, right, right, Ginger and I were leisurely rafting downstream enjoying the scenery. Birdlife abounds.
After the following two rapids, we felt like pros and got the hang of it. Way too soon we reached the spot where we were to get out and drive back to Vaal Streams. The state of my hands was reaching blister-point, but with gloves, this could well be a new hobby or sport. Just marvellous!
We washed down a convenience Woolies lunch with Woolies ginger beer – enjoyed under the communal pergola that joined our two ox wagons.
It was time for tubing or, in simple terms, floating down the river in a tractor tyre. Isaac had to do a little demonstration first. It was hilarious. If you sag too far down the opening in the tube, you can lose a chunk of bum-cheek on the rocks. You have to tilt your pelvis and keep your bum up.
The tubing is endless fun and far less effort than the river rafting (and you get to work those ab muscles, too). With a cocktail in hand, one could easily do this all day long.
The fly fishing was a colourful affair. Although we didn’t manage to catch anything, we all agreed that it was something we wanted to do again. Queen B was surprisingly interested in this sport, despite unexplainably standing on her toes most of the time to try and unhook the fly from a rock.
Early that evening, Ginger built a big bonfire. We thought we would spare ourselves from braaiing, so Sporty made a killer pasta on the gas cooker (yes, it is indeed possible). We sat around the cracking fire, wine in hand, chatting away and admiring the night skies. Bliss truly is within reach without the boys!