Consistently steady rainfall in the Southern Drakensberg has reassured canoeists that the end is in sight for the La Niña drought and boosted entries for the popular N3TC Drak Challenge on 21 and 22 January.
Regular heavy rains have left the uMzimkhulu River between Castleburn and Early Mists Farm that is used for the annual Drak Challenge race running at a very full level, and once social media started spreading the good news, paddlers from around the country have flocked to the well-loved section of river to enjoy the conditions and prepare for the big race in two weekends time.
The race has been held in low water conditions for the last two years as the La Niña drought kept Southern Africa in its grip, but the current summer rainfalls patterns appear to signal an end to the drought cycle, certainly over the Southern Drakensberg region.
“We had been led to believe that this summer would be characterised by heavier than normal rainfall, and that is certainly what we are seeing so far,” said race committee head Andrew Barnett.
“With the river running at a very full level at the moment, and a fair amount of rain forecast for the coming fortnight, it certainly looks promising for a very enjoyable race on a clean medium to full river next weekend,” he added.
“We deliberately stage this race in January to take advantage of the best of the summer rains as this race in entirely dependent on rainfall,” said Barnett.
“Finally the weather patterns are starting to look more ‘normal’. It has been a very tough year for the local farmers and the paddlers alike,” he said.
Timeous rains ensured that the recent KZN Mixed Doubles Champs and the one-day FastDrak races were both held on excellent medium river levels.
Since then there have been several heavy downpours in the catchment area, sending the levels of the uMzimkhulu River soaring to very full levels, and the paddling community has been quick to take note.
“Underberg was buzzing with paddlers after New Year once social media got the word out that the river was full,” explained Barnett.
The heavy rainfall has ensured the water table is saturated and that all the regular afternoon thunderstorms lead to a stabilising ‘topping-up’ effect on the uMzimkhulu River.
After two tough season during which paddlers have had to deal with significantly less water than usual on most races, and even the cancellation of some races, the steady rainfall since the start of the New Year appears to have allowed paddlers to rediscover their joy of paddling.
“We are looking forward to a great race. We can be pretty certain the river level will be good, and there is a great vibe around the local farming community, enjoying the signs that this tough two year drought looks to be over.
“A big part of this race is the hospitality of the people of Himeville and Underberg, and the paddlers and their families should find us all in a pretty good mood when they get here next weekend,” he said,.
Normal entries for the N3TC Drak Challenge close at midnight on Wednesday 11 January, after which late entries will be taken online for a week.