N3TC Drak Challenge
Underberg paddlers work for river ecology
Underberg - As canoeists return to the uMzimkhulu River that runs
through Underberg after the onset of the summer rains they will notice
several important changes resulting from the ongoing ecological drive to
manage problems facing the river ecosystem.
During the winter when the river runs very low, tree fellers have been hard
at work in the Underberg Gorge cutting down Black Wattle trees that are
alien invaders and spread quickly along the banks of the uMzimkhulu if left
“As a rule, trees are not a paddler’s friend,“ said Lloyd Riggien, the
chairman of the N3TC Drak Challenge, in partnership with FNB race committee.
Trees can block the river and create dangerous strainers, especially when
they fall across the river.
“The Black Wattles soak up a great deal of water and rob surrounding
vegetation of water they need to survive, so we are continually fighting a
war with the Wattles in the uMzimkhulu valley,” he said.
“It is a war that you win by winning each smaller battle,” he explained.
“Every year, with the support of our title sponsors N3TC and using proceeds
from the race we commission professional tree fellers to tackle a section of
“The Black Wattles are removed, which creates a side industry in fire wood,
and the stumps are treated to prevent any regrowth.
“As paddlers you are quite struck by the sudden impact of this clearing as
the river valley is dramatically opened up and the natural vegetation starts
to return to the river banks,” said.
“We have moved through the whole of the Valley of a Thousand Rapids at the
start of the race, a section that used to be called the Black Forest because
the Black Wattle infestation was so bad.” He said.
“Once that was cleared we moved into the Underberg Gorge section down to
Callaway, and this winter our team did a great job getting rid of all the
Black Wattle at the top of the Gorge.
“Over the years we have spent around R600 000 fighting the Black Wattle, and
it feels like we are on top of that problem now,” he said.
He added that his committee and local helpers had also been hard at work
during the winter months dealing with new problems that had been identified
on the river.
“A very big tree that was washed downriver in the last big rains of last
summer was stuck on Taylors Weir, right where the paddlers like to shoot the
weir. That’s has been cut up and removed.
“Then we are pleased to have finally removed the rusty, concrete-filled oil
drum that was in Tokolosh Rapid at the start of the Underberg Gorge. This
was put there by slalom paddlers many years ago to create an artificial
eddy, and has been a headache ever since.
“It took a lot of brute force and manual labour to remove, but the paddlers
will be really pleased to have that fun rapid returned to its natural flow,”
“As Underberg locals we feel a responsibility to protect and maintain this
river, and as paddlers we all have a direct vested interest in it. So
channelling money from our sponsors and the club into river clean-ups is an
easy decision to take,” he concluded.
The 2019 N3TC Drak Challenge, in partnership
with FNB, starts at Castleburn on Saturday 19 January with a
26 kilometres stage to Sinister Pool, just above the Swartberg Road bridge. The
second stage on Sunday 20 January is 36 kilometres long, finishing at Early Mist Farm close to Coleford
resort. More information can be found at
Click to download the hi-res
The 2019 N3TC Drak Challenge,
in partnership with FNB Logo - JPeg
Race committee member Andrew
Barnett removes a large tree stuck on the face of Taylors Weir, in
preparation for the annual N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon, in
partnership with FNB.
Canyon Kayak Club members Jeremy 'Toots' Venniker (left) and Murray
Turner (right) dismantle the concrete-filled steel oil drum before removing it from Tokolosh Rapid as part of the
ongoing drive to protect the ecology of the uMzimkhulu River used for the
N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon.
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