The Dusi Canoe Marathon, like most river races, had its origins in one man's love for watercourses and his curiosity about how it ran. Ian Player helped create a legend, but every year, there are more. They say no one who has done the Dusi will ever be the same again.

Did you know?

Ian Player, Dusi Canoe Marathon pioneer, used equipment and supplies weighing over 400 kg.


When Americans want to describe something that is extraordinarily good or bad, they often say 'it's a real doozy'.

In South Africa, however, the 'real doozy' is actually the country's premier water event: the Dusi Canoe Marathon. And it, too, is quite extraordinary.

Take its origins, for instance. Golf legend Gary Player has a world-famous environmentalist brother called Ian, who matches him for fame and achievement. Back in 1951, Ian Player and seven other men took on the Umsundusi River, between the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands city of Pietermaritzburg and the port city of Durban.

Despite a nasty altercation with a night-adder (he was treated with snake-bite serum in time), Player finished the gruelling course in six days – the other men fell by the wayside.

These days, more than 2 000 paddlers take to the churning waters where the Umgeni River meets the Umsundusi deep in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Initially a non-stop event, with night paddling and 'canoe-side sleeping', the Dusi Canoe Marathon is now held over three days in January when paddlers challenging themselves against the river, natural elements and other competitors. The Dusi is a true spectator event with more than 4 000 bystanders and volunteers lining the river banks, cheering on their heroes.

Day one involves three weir crossings, traversing five rapids, including Tegwaan and Mission rapids and three portages, Campbell's Farm, Guinea Fowl and Cabbage Tree. The second day goes straight into The Saddles portage before paddlers hit Washing Machine and The Cascades rapids. Willem's Chute, Ngumeni Hill, Hippo Rocks rapid and Island rapid add to the challenges on day two. The third and final day comprises a series of five rapids followed by the infamous Burma Road portage and six more sets of rapids before calmer waters that lead down to the finish at Blue Lagoon and the Indian Ocean.

The official dusi site includes comprehensive Google earth views and maps of each stage, along with information on registration, entry fees, sponsorship, statistics and everything else you need to know.

The man they call King of the Dusi is Graeme Pope-Ellis, who has won the event an incredible 15 times and paddled the race nearly 50 times. The Dusi canoe race is said to be the toughest of its kind in the world, and in South Africa, when you say 'the Dusi', it can mean only three things: blood, sweat and tears.

Ian Player has always insisted that 'no man who has done the 110 gruelling miles can ever be the same again'. The men – and women – who have 'done the Dusi' would fully agree.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Tel: +27 (0)33 394 9994 or +27 (0)33 342 1528
Fax: +27 (0)33 342 1525
Entries Fax: 086 666 0244

How to get here

There is a large airport in Durban, and a smaller airport in Pietermaritzburg, where the Dusi Canoe Marathon starts.

Best time to visit

The Dusi is raced annually in January.

Around the area

You may want to return to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands after the race – this is a beautiful part of the country.

Tours to do

Midlands Meander.

What will it cost

Refer to for costs of the different entry categories.

Length of stay

The Dusi Canoe Marathon is held over three days. Stay longer though, there's plenty to see and do in the Midlands region.

What to pack

Bring all your own paddling gear. But if you leave anything behind, you can likely buy it in South Africa if needs be.

Where to stay

The marathon website suggests plenty of options, from hotels to guesthouses. Many competitors prefer to camp though.

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