The Berg River Canoe Marathon is not a race to be undertaken lightly. It takes four days, and happens in the dead of winter. It’s the longest canoe marathon in South Africa and sweeps you along 230 kilometres, from the Cape winelands to the West Coast town of Velddrift.

Did you know?

Velddrift, the town where the marathon ends, is famous for its dried fish known as bokkoms.

A lot of river races are billed as 'one of the world's toughest', but the Berg River Canoe Marathon is right up there in the hardship stakes.

So daunting is this four-day winter water race from Paarl to Velddrift, so hard-flowing is the Berg River, that the event attracts a breed of paddler who doesn't mind competing in foul weather on an unpredictable, at times dangerous, river. Who doesn't mind sleeping out at a time when most South Africans are tucked away inside, out of the deep winter chill.

The idea of a canoe marathon in the Berg River came to fruition in 1962, when just 20 paddlers took to the chilly waters and did the 230 kilometre stretch from the Cape winelands to the sea - making The Berg the longest canoe river race in South Africa.

'King of the Berg' is an athlete called Andrè Collins, who has completed this race 38 times. Murray Williams, a sportswriter, once said of Collins: 'If Andrè Collins had his way, Berg paddlers would have to make their own canoes, sleep every night of the race in sheep sheds and sustain themselves on only red meat and good wine.'

In other words, Collins is old school.

Old school Andrè Collins might be, but he is part of the Berg River Canoe Marathon guiding committee that is now including team challenges and a relay race, for older veterans and women competitors keen to have a taste of what canoe legend Hank McGregor simply calls 'the toughest race in the world'.

And for that very reason, this Berg River canoe race doesn't attract the enormous field of entrants the other events do. It's the dead of winter and so only mad dogs and river paddlers come out to play.

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