N3TC Drak Challenge
Race celebrates original pioneers of the Drak Challenge
Underberg - As paddlers continue to enter the 26th edition of the popular
N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon in partnership with FNB on 19 and 20
January, tribute is being paid to the two locals who pioneered the paddle
down the section of the Umzimkhulu River that now hosts the popular two day
While the accessible section of river from the Trout Hatcheries through the
Underberg Gorge quickly became popular with paddlers in the seventies, it
was Underberg vet Tod Collins and his friend Alan Payn who first paddled
from the top of the uMzimkhulu River to its current finish site just below
the second Coleford Road.
Collins was a young vet at the Colliers practice on the banks of the river
where the Sani Spoors MTB Park is now located where he found two old wood
and canvas kayaks with basic wooden paddles and he and Payn, who was
managing the farm The Banks at Taylors Weir, started experimenting on the
It was 1976 and the pair decided that they wanted to explore more of the
“We arranged with the Department of Forestry guys to take our canoes up to
the Drak Gardens hotel, and we set off from the actual hotel down the river.
The river wasn’t too full but we were total novices and we paddled and swam
our way down the river,” recalls Collins.
Their first day ended at the Restmount Children’s Home. “We left our boats
on the side of the river and walked up to the Restmount Holiday Home, where
Mr and Mrs Collier were kind enough to let us stay there overnight.
“The next morning we paddled and swam our way down to Underberg and got out
at Scotston’s Bridge. I was living in a little cottage very nearby – what is
now MountainAirs – so we could both go back to our own homes for the night.
“The third day we paddled all the way down to Early Mist Farm on the
Coleford Road,” Collins recalls.
“It was such an adventure for us! We really weren‘t very good canoeists at
all, so we walked around all the big rapids. We were young and bomb-proof
bachelors but when we heard big rumbling ahead of us we pulled over to the
side!” he remembers.
“The valley was very undeveloped and we hardly saw anyone along the way. It
was fantastic! It wasn’t a big deal, it was just something we set out to
do.” says Collins.
“It’s a bit like a trip I did eight years before, just after I had left the
army. I got my mom to drop me off at Royal Natal National Park at Mont Aux
Sources and I walked down the Berg on my own to Bushman’s Nek. Now it is
known as the Grand Traverse!” the vet points out.
The trip inspired Collins to take up canoeing a little more seriously and he
splashed out on a Lymphy K1 that allowed him to start taking the sport more
The massive influx of paddlers every January for the hugely popular N3TC
Drak Challenge sets off a variety of emotions in Collins, who is also an
avid hiker, mountaineer, runner, a self-confessed Awful Angler and an
“It’s a bit like the time I ran my tenth Comrades in 2000, when there were
24 000 runners, when there were 400 runners in my first one. It leaves you a
bit sad in a way, but then you think how wonderful it is that so many people
can enjoy the same experience.
“The big thing is that people are doing it now and enjoying this
environment, which is my big passion,” he added.
“What I really love about this river is that you can fall into it, drink and
suffer no consequences,” he said. “Except perhaps a trout getting lodged in
He enjoys staying in touch with friends he made through sport at Maritzburg
College, including paddlers Andre Hawarden, Kevin Culverwell, and one-legged
Roger Collinson as they were all in the same class together.
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
More information can be found at
Click to download the hi-res
The 2019 N3TC Drak Challenge,
in partnership with FNB Logo - JPeg
The FNB Drak Adventure Weekend Logo - JPeg
Underberg vet Tod Collins
(pictured) and Alan Payn were the first paddlers to navigate the section of
the uMzimkhulu now used for the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnership with FNB.
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