Diving in rivers is definitely not for everyone. Far walks, rough entries, serious currents and even snakes! Also, not every river can be dived. If the flow is too strong do not attempt a dive, and if you are one of those divers that’s after good visibility, then this is not for you.
Once in the Panorama area we did some scouting and talked to locals in Graskop, asking questions about where we might a river that’s clean. Our first dive was in a pool about 400m off the road between Graskop and Burkes Luck. This is a pool in the river where locals swim and braai over weekends. Here we checked out the conditions and got kitted up. Getting down to the water was fairly easy – we had to negotiate a steep slope at the bottom but nothing our team couldn’t handle. Once in the water, we realised that it was actually fairly warm. My dive computer read 18’C. I headed down and started exploring. The visibility in the pool was 7m give or take but the silt can easily be kicked up making it less than 2m.
Once on the bottom, I headed for what looked like acave in the one corner of the pool. There I found dragonflies…The insects live underwater for some time before they grow wings. As I turned around one of my team members signalled me to ascend – he had a look of panic in his eyes. Apparently, I was swimming over a snake! I went back down and got the snake on video! Black Mambas are not known to swim but we found the snake on the bottom at 6m. A Black Mamba is one of the world’s most dangerous snakes. Later the same diver that spotted the snake underneath me found another snake in the shallows on the edge of the pool. This time it came a bit too close for comfort – an arm’s length away so we decided that that was it for this dive and we all got out.
The next morning we made our way to the Lone Creek Falls. Diving a waterfall is an experience out of this world! We kitted up in the parking area and made our way to the waterfall along the footpath. This was a long walk, even without scuba gear! Most waterfalls have fairly big pools and this one had a maximum depth of 6m. The water temperature is a cool 10’C. No snakes this time! Waterfalls are loud but once you stick your head underwater you don’t really hear the noise of the falls. The lone Creek Falls doesn’t have great viz but it does have some fish. Have you ever seen a Trout while diving? Unfortunately, we couldn’t capture a trout in a photograph or video as they are not used to the presence of divers and scatter when you get too close. In the centre of the pool, right where the water falls is a deep crater. It sucks you in with quite a force so once you’re in it it’s quite hard to get out even though you can still surface. On the surface, the water pushes you away from the falls. It’s a strange place to be – right in the middle of a giant waterfall. Pushing, pulling, thrusting, extremely loud noise. Truly an experience like nothing else.
So what’s inside the pool at the bottom of a waterfall?
Tree trunks, coins people throw in the water for luck and…a couple of Trout. We found a couple of US Quarters down there and two R5 coins which covered half of the team’s entrance to the falls. No Kruger Millions though…next time maybe.
Our next dive was 5km upstream from the Burkes Luck Potholes in the Treur River. Access to this river is forbidden but we managed to come to an arrangement with the guard at the gate. Whatever we find underwater we will give him his cut. This was our final dive of the expedition. We kitted up and negotiated our way down a steep rock face having to remove our gear twice to climb down boulders. We had a short briefing at the water’s edge as I have dived this river before and knew about the possible hazards we might face underwater. This site has a current and quite a strong one at that so we stayed in a group as much as the visibility allowed. This site comprises a long pool in the river, a small waterfall in one corner, a lot of tree trunks and underwater potholes like the ones you see downriver at Burkes Luck. By the sheer size of the tree trunks we found underwater you can tell that this river comes down with force during the rainy season. In the area where the waterfall is located, there is a long cliff face, when the river is in flow this entire area becomes a waterfall. It is here where we discovered a pothole the size of a small car. 3m in diameter and 6m deep. Inside the pothole, a school of fish that were probably hiding from the strange sound of divers. These fish were not Trout and again we couldn’t get a photo of them so identifying them was not going to be possible.
Later on, in the dive, we reached a maximum depth of 11m in the far corner of the pool. It is here that I spotted something in the silt. It was an old army helmet. The helmet is now a fixture in our fish tank at the dive centre if you want to come have a look. There’s no marking on the helmet except for a date: 1972. We also found what appeared to be a trolley of some sort used by either miners or military personnel to move equipment across the river. After surfacing we had a look around and could see hooks bolted into the cliffs on both sides of the river. The speculation was that miners used the trolley to cross the river with heavy equipment and at some stage, the wire snapped and the trolley ended at the bottom of the pool.
Diving rivers is exciting but can be dangerous if not planned properly and should not be attempted by inexperienced divers. If this type of diving sounds like your thing, you need to remember safety first and plan for the worst. This expedition could have gone differently if conditions weren’t perfect and detailed dive planning wasn’t done, and even if you have planned properly and everyone follows the dive plan things can still go wrong like coming face to face with a Black Mamba. There’s a reason why rivers aren’t popular dive sites in South Africa. Current. A strong current in the sea is one thing but current in a river with bad visibility, tree trunks and branches protruding from the mud is no joke and not a place you want to find yourself.
- Article by Jacques Bezuidenhout
- Dive team: Stefan Marais, Nelius Potgieter, Jacques Breed
- Originally published: 03/2012, DiveStyle Magazine SA