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Kayak in the Cape

Kayak in the Cape

It doesn’t take long for a kayak adventure on Langebaan’s smooth lagoon to banish Marianne Heron’s dread of the deep

Pictures: David Morgan

Thanks to an unfortunate incident with an octopus, I confess to a terror of drowning, and of creatures lurking with ill intent in the deep. Good enough reasons, I reckon, to never entertain the thought of kayaking. But David, the current husband, is ever so keen on a kayak caper, waxing lyrical about photographic possibilities, riverbanks revealed and the secrets of coastlines discovered.

Andrew Kellet of Gravity Adventure Tours and Marianne Heron paddle to the Schaapen Island Bird Sanctuary.

Andrew Kellet of Gravity Adventure Tours and Marianne Heron paddle to the Schaapen Island Bird Sanctuary.


Also, things never seem so ominous in daylight, especially in Langebaan where the aquamarine of the lagoon has a way of sending the spirits soaring. Which is why I bottle my dread and find myself on the beachfront with David, our kayaks, and Andrew Kellett of Gravity Adventure Tours.

“Kayaks are very stable and designed to float,” Andrew reassures me. Better still, they are two-man kayaks and he will be with me on our half-day tour around Schaapen Island on the lagoon. Minutes later, after practising paddling manoeuvres – forward steering, stopping and stabilising – we are skimming over the water. Andrew takes the stern seat and looks after the steering while synchronising with my strokes. My apprehension dissolves.
It’s exhilarating to glide effortlessly across the blue, blue lagoon towards the island.

“Kayaking is one of those things you can do forever,” says Andrew. It’s also allows us within a few metres of Schaapen’s rocky shoreline and its teeming birdlife. The birds are completely unafraid, explains Andrew, as they know people are not allowed on the island.

The island is a nesting site for a colony of Cape Cormorants.

The island is a nesting site for a colony of Cape Cormorants.


There are Kelp Gulls, part of the largest colony in South Africa, as well as Cape- and White-breasted Cormorants, Black African Oystercatchers, Grey Herons, African Sacred Ibises, Swift Terns and, what’s this? Am
I hallucinating? There is a large, white rabbit sitting at the water’s edge munching on – can it be seaweed?

I am beginning to wonder if I’m having an Alice in Wonderland moment as several more white rabbits appear and are mobbed by gulls. But the bunnies are actually a historical legacy from the time Schaapen Island was used for grazing sheep and rabbits, to provide food for passing sailors. Over time the rabbits adapted, growing extra-large livers to deal with the salt in seaweed, which has become part of their diet.

The great thing about paddling is the view of the shore. And the water of the lagoon is so clear I can see the seabed of silvery sand formed from white mussels, which gives the water its azure effect. Further around the island we get up close to some Cape fur seals – part of a new colony – basking on the rocks. Suddenly, as explosions boom on the mysterious Defence Force’s restricted area at Rietbaai, the seals dive into the sea in alarm, while the curious pups cavort in the water and allow us really near to them.

Cape fur seals basking on the rocks.

Cape fur seals basking on the rocks.


Around the next small promontory there’s another revelation – a big colony of Cape Cormorants all regurgitating food for their fluffy chicks. The noise is deafening and there’s a strong smell of fish (minus chips). It’s an unforgettable sight and I begin to get an inkling of how Darwin must have felt when he saw the incredible creatures of Galápagos Island.

We take a break and Andrew produces a cooldrink and a chocolate bar. Full of newfound confidence I ask if I have been a bit chicken in my choice of trip when there are adrenalin-rush adventures like white-water rafting on offer? But that’s not how Andrew views these tours. “It’s about the total experience. The activity is just one of the factors.” For him the camaraderie of sitting around a campfire, revelling in a wilderness experience, seeing the stars, are all part of it, as is matching what people want to the type of tour.

Rounding the windward side of the island, we find the water a little choppy and I check out the stabilising manoeuvre – it’s counter-intuitive; you lean towards an oncoming wave and push the flat of the blade down on the water. Then, with the tide and the wind in our favour, we are speeding for the Langebaan shore and the promise of brunch at Pearly’s on the Beach. I am reminded to waggle my feet over the side of the kayak to restore circulation and avoid falling flat on my face when I stand up.

I can’t wait to get out there again.

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