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TThe Berg River Canoe Marathon is not a race to be undertaken lightly. It takes 4 days and happens in the dead of winter. It’s the longest canoe marathon in South Africa and sweeps you along 240km, from the Cape winelands to the West Coast town of Velddrift.
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 4-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 and, at times, dangerous river. Someone 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 240km stretch from the Cape winelands to the sea – making The Berg the longest canoe river race in South Africa.
The 'King of the Berg' is an athlete called Andrè Collins, who has completed this race over 40 times, although other competitors have now beaten this record. 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 that other events do. It's the dead of winter, so only mad dogs and river paddlers come out to play.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Berg River Canoe Marathon
How to get here
The Berg River Canoe Marathon begins in Paarl, a short drive from Cape Town on the N2 highway.
Best time to visit
This race takes place annually in July.
Things to do
After the race you'll definitely want to unwind in the gorgeous Cape winelands or along the wild West Coast.
In your canoe of course.
What to pack
Whatever you need to survive the long and arduous race.
Where to stay
Most people camp. The latest offering is a luxury tent that is moved down river for you every day. Luxury for paddlers that is.
What to eat
Lots of complex carbohydrates.