Why a paddling trip could be the safest way to enjoy the outdoors post lockdown

When life turns back to some kind of normality, the first thing I’m going to do is go on a paddling trip with my kids. Paddle on the ocean and see the dolphins or sleep under the stars next to the river, cook dinner over a fire and have free movement in nature again. Now that sounds like my kind of heaven - but is it safe?

Gravity Adventures company owner, Andrew Kellett, has been exploring rivers and oceans for over 35 years and, as an internationally recognised swiftwater instructor, is an expert in risk management. He tells us why a paddling trip should be your first choice when considering a getaway post lockdown.

As we see countries ease up their lockdown rules, we still need to be cautious in our approach to getting out into the world again, at least until we have ridden this Covid wave until it’s manageable again. The truth that many of us have come to realise is that the old ‘normal’ was not really working anyway and life shouldn’t go back to the way it was. The lockdown has given us as a society time to re-evaluate what is important in life and how we should approach life going forward. We are searching for a simpler, less stressful existence and that means fewer things! The less things we have or want, the less pressure there is to manufacture them, and this has a knock-on effect globally. How much is too much? How big is too big? These are the real question that are surfacing. Hopefully in the longer term, this will help to reshape our way of life but, in the meantime, we can plan our next experience rather than our next possession.

One thing in we all had in common during lockdown was that we were all dreaming about the outdoors - the oceans, mountains and rivers we usually take for granted. The very last thing that we did as a family before lockdown was to take a drive out to Bain’s Kloof, have a swim and collect fresh mountain water from the Witte River – the memory of that day as well as the water itself has sustained us over the last few months but we are all itching to get back there. Well, the good news is that there is no better time to plan and book a paddling trip than right now! These are my reasons why;

  1. There are great deals to be had - Tourism has been heavily affected by the lockdown and the restrictions around international travel.  Many operators are offering very competitive rates and special offers to encourage people to book trips and reignite the industry.
  1. It’s a low contact activity - from the time you leave your house to the time you get back home; you’ll only really be in contact with your guide. You drive to the venue, meet your guide, get issued with paddling equipment for the tour and after the safety briefing, it’s just you on the water! After the trip, it’s back into your vehicle and before you know it, you are home, feeling alive and destressed once again.
  1. You can choose who you paddle with - Paddling is done in small groups so you can start off with a private trip for families and friends to paddle together with no other clients joining, minimizing the chance of coming into contact with people you don’t know.
  1. Safety is always first – the industry has always been safety conscious so the new protocols around Covid19 are easy to slot into our existing risk management plans. Guides (and clients) will be screened and monitored and where possible the owners themselves will be running the trips as the lockdown eases. The craft we use are two-seater kayaks and inflatables and are super easy to keep clean. All paddling equipment is sanitised between trips and we generally keep a good distance apart when on the water.
  1. There are no people around – Paddling trips operate in very uncrowded areas. Once on the water, paddlers will not come into any contact with anything else, except for the odd sun fish, whale or dolphin! After the last few weeks of everyone exercising at the same time, in the same place, I can’t wait for some real space!
  1. Booking a trip will directly contribute to keeping small tourism businesses afloat (excuse the pun!) and will allow employers to pay their staff so they can support their families.
  1. Add a self-catering or camping stay for a complete break – all our adventures take place in amazingly beautiful places. Why not book a night or two at a self-catering spot on the beach or overlooking a river? 
  1. An adventure is the best gift ever - We as a family don’t give traditional gifts anymore. We give friends and family experiences because they are much more meaningful, and memories last a lifetime.
  1. Experiences in nature are known to be beneficial for both our physical and emotional wellbeing and, after the stress of the last few months, we all know we need some TLC – let Mother Nature take care of you and remind you of what being alive is really all about.

We look forward to a gradual easing of the restrictions around exercise and travel and you can expect to start with small, private paddling and adventure trips close to home or in your own province. Later, multi-day activities such as Orange River rafting safaris will become possible. Start planning now to reconnect with nature, friends and family and, most importantly, yourself.

Who to go with

There are a number of operators running wonderful 2 hour paddles on various routes around Cape Town - from Simons Town to Boulders to see the penguins, from Hout Bay under the majestic Chapman’s Peak, the classic Table Bay route with its dolphins and in Langebaan around Schaapen island with its resident birds and seals. Most coastal towns have their own paddling operators and you can often also rent a kayak for a self-guided trip – always ask for proof of the guide’s APA qualification and check that the boats have been surveyed by SAMSA. Gravity Adventures, Cape Town Bucket List and Kaskazi are well established and professional.

If you have some paddling experience and are keen on a total escape to wilderness, Gravity Adventures offer a 2 day sea kayak and camping trip on the West Coast. Their Doring River white water rafting trip is great for anyone looking for some excitement and adventure. Both are within 2,5 hours drive of Cape Town.

Gravity Adventures also offer Orange River trips in the Northern Cape on two beautiful sections of the river where passports are not needed, and you can choose from the standard trip or opt for an exclusive glamping experience for your own small group. This is the perfect breakaway trip for when inter provincial travel is permitted.

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