Paddling down ferocious rapids in some far-flung corner of the globe or idly meandering along a tranquil stretch of water with nothing but the sun on your back and the horizon ahead…Whatever your preferences for dream paddling destinations, there’s something out there in the wide blue yonder that will fit your style.
We recently asked 500 watersport enthusiasts to tell us their dream kayaking location. The results make for interesting reading.
Mixed in with the ‘usual suspects’ were some diverse suggestions, which proves that the kayaking fraternity is a varied beast.
Based on the results we decided to split the categories down into rivers, regions and UK. We will be posting all the results over the next few weeks but to kick things off, here’s the top 10 rivers.
Top 10 rivers
The Zambezi River (also spelled Zambese or Zambesi) is the longest stretch of water flowing through Africa and spilling into the Indian Ocean. Its source is located in Zambia with its length passing through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The iconic and awe inspiring Victoria Falls is one of the Zambezi’s most famous features but there are others such as Chavuma Falls and Ngonye Falls. The Kariba Dam and Cahora Bassa Dam both provide hydroelectric power to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with another power station in the Victoria Falls area.
With nicknames such as Terminator’s, Oblivion, Washing Machine and Double Trouble, kayaking on the Zambezi can be a serious business and not for the inadequately skilled. Using a guide is the best course of action for missions to the Zambezi as these guys take a lot of the risk out of tackling a potentially life threatening venue. http://thezambezi.com/ are one such company that will get you to some exhilarating kayaking spots perfect for your level.
The Zambezi is a spot for intermediate to advanced kayakers that’s perfect for all forms of paddling craft. Offering enormous rapids, huge play holes, behemoth wave trains, glassy surf spots, powerful eddy lines and massive sucking boils – there’s something for everyone.
And don’t forget the world class tubing wave known as Rapid #11!
From April through to June the water level on the Zambezi is usually in full flood and offers ‘outrageous BIG water volume boating’ according to http://thezambezi.com/zambezi-river-rapid-guide.html
The best period for paddling is June – July when there’s a lot of water filling up the river. This can be the best kayaking period. February and March can be good as well.
Medium to low water levels are frequently experienced from August through to September, with the lowest water levels usually recorded in October and lasting until December.
The Amazon is the second longest river in the world and is in South America. Due to its vast expanse the Amazon is described as the ‘river sea’ and in places spans a gap of 48 kilometres (during wet season).
At its mouth the discharge of water into the Atlantic is greater than the next seven largest world rivers combined. It features the biggest drainage basin in the world, which covers 30% of South America. With up to 300,000 cubic metres per second (in the rainy season) gushing into the sea, the Amazon is responsible for 20% of the world’s fresh water entering the ocean.
The BBC’s Helen Skelton paddled the entire length of the Amazon (2000 miles) in aid of Comic Relief, which took her 6 days, paddling 60 miles a day, highlighting just how vast this water way is.
Lesser exertive kayaking trips are easily available for those not into marathon paddling and, with its plethora of wildlife and the chance to experience diverse cultures, taking the time to explore this part of the world is definitely worth considering.
White water paddling options are available, as are flatter and more tranquil spots. What you’re after will dictate the part of the river you head for: with such a massive area available, the choice is yours.
During wet season (January – June) the amount of water in the Amazon will swell significantly. With 200 rainy days on average, the chance of hitting a shower increases if you head to the Amazon at this time of year.
With that amount of water sluicing down the river, the flow picks up and in parts can offer some challenging paddling.
For those who fancy a crack at this beast then booking a guided kayaking trip is the best way to enjoy a safe and fulfilling experience. http://www.naturetours.com offer trips through the Brazilian, Central Amazonia area of the river.
The River Nile is generally acknowledged as being the longest river in the world and flows north into the Mediterranean. Serviced by the large tributaries of the White and Blue Nile it’s famous for giving lifeblood to the Egyptians (amongst others).
A truly international water source that services the needs of 10 different countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. The Blue and White Nile meet in Sudan and form the Nile proper.
Flowing almost entirely through desert, the northern section of the Nile brings water to the Egyptian people and has done so since ancient times. Most cities in Egypt lie along the banks of the Nile with many historical sites still visible today.
For those looking at white water and more adrenaline focused paddling, the White Nile in Uganda is the place to head for. Rapids and high volume water options are in this part of the tributary – all best taken on under the watchful eyes of local guiding companies who know the area. Plenty of wildlife nasties populate the Ugandan Nile and sole paddling missions will leave you vulnerable to consequences.
The Blue Nile area that pumps through the Ethiopian Highlands is considered to be the Holy Grail of white water paddling. This section of the Nile has suffered more deaths per attempt than Everest, which tells you of the conditions on offer here. If you feel like having a stab then you’ll also need armed escorts due to internal political conflicts.
For those interested in paddling on the Nile in Egypt, you could also run into difficulties if you’re not in a group. Reports suggest that Egyptian authorities prefer everything to be ‘just so’ and organised. Kayaking is only allowed between Aswan and Luxor so those looking at completing the mammoth journey to the Mediterranean may well end up being disappointed if permission isn’t granted.
The only two people to have successfully paddled the length of the Nile (during 2005) are Les Jickling and Mark Tanner. Their story can be found on Mark’s blog http://marktanner.com/niletrip
If you hit the Nile during peak flood season (June – September) the Blue and White Nile areas have serious volumes of water pumping down their length. At other times of year this is less the case but, with omnipresent wildlife dangers and political strife, attempting such exploits may be fool hardy without prior planning, skill and knowledge.
Since 1970 the annual Egyptian flood cycle has become a thing of the past as the High Dam at Aswan prevents this weather linked phenomenon from happening. Paddling on the main part of the Nile is usually a placid experience, although there’s still water movement that you have to be aware of and boat traffic.
The mighty Mississippi appears on maps like the main vein of North America. The ‘big chief’ of the largest drainage system in the US, the Mississippi ranks as the 4th longest and 10th largest river in the world and cuts through (or borders) Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Emptying into the Gulf of Mexico the Mississippi is a meandering length of water that stretches 2530 miles.
Where on the Mississippi you plan on paddling will dictate the kind of conditions you’ll encounter.
The Deep South region around the Gulf Coast features temperate kayaking weather all year round.
If you plan on starting further north where the river begins (Lake Itasca – the true source) then you may encounter a frozen wilderness if you’re early enough in the season (spring).
For those seeking adrenaline, white water paddling is available at certain points on the Mississippi but for the most part it’s generally a flat water paddling experience. You do have to watch out for boat traffic in parts and strong currents.
The time of year you drop in along the Mississippi will dictate what type of weather you encounter.
Close to the Gulf Coast is usually mild and warm, meaning all year round kayaking is possible. Further north and conditions become more changeable. Summer is usually a good time for paddling missions but you may have to wear appropriate paddle clothing – even during warmer periods. Winter months in the northern extremities of the Mississippi may just prove too cold for many.
For in insights into paddling on the Mississippi, check out Dave Cornthwaite’s site and his mammoth journey on sister paddle craft, a SUP (standup paddle board) http://www.davecornthwaite.com/#/sup-mississippi-river/4572430095
Orinoco (South America)
The longest river in South America, the Orinoco (also referred to as Orinoquia), runs a total of 2140km and is one of the major transport routes in the region – in particular the eastern and internal areas around Venezuela and the Llanos of Colombia.
Split into four different stretches – Upper Orinoco, Middle Orinoco, Lower Orinoco and Delta Amacuro – it is a giant amongst world waterways.
The Orinoco forms a vast delta at its mouth that branches off into hundreds of different waterways that flow through 16,000sq mi of swampy forest.
Worth mentioning when discussing the Orinoco is the Casiquiare canal which starts out as part of the Orinoco but winds its way to the Amazon, thereby forming a natural link between these two huge rivers.
The local Guarauno Indian tribe have a rich paddling heritage and it was their language from which the name Orinoco comes. Orinoco translates to ‘a place to paddle’ and the Guarauno Indian’s name means ‘boat people’. They inhabit the stretch of the river around Amacuro. This is a great omen for paddlers looking to take on the Orinoco!
With plenty to explore around the Orinoco Delta you’ll discover all of the waterways, jungles and sabanas while getting a unique insight to how resident tribes still live, as they always have.
Little information is available in terms of other kayaking experiences but it stands to reason that at certain points along its length there will be spots that are challenging and hardcore with other places being more relaxed.
If you do ever get the opportunity to paddle on the Orinoco then you could be among the few kayakers to have done so. You may also get to see one of the rarest reptiles in the world, the Orinoco Crocodile which is highly endangered.
With its temperate climate, paddling around the Orinoco Delta is well worth a punt at most times of the year. During wetter spells the river can swell in size dramatically but generally kayaking in this part of the world is a great experience.
A local guide may come in handy for the lesser experienced and to make the most of what’s on offer.
Other river spots making up the top 10 are…
Sun Kosi (Tibet)
Futaleufu (South America)
Part 2 will feature the top 10 regions and will follow next week. If you want to be first to hear when it goes live why not like our facebook page at www.facebook.com/sitonkayaks