This Umko Website

This website is a ‘parking spot’ for Umko stuff. It consists of most of the stuff that made up the Umko 50yrs book.

Its purpose is:

  1. To store Umko memories;
  2. To give you space to have your own Umko page;
  3. To publish a better book for Umko 60yrs in the year 2026;

Add your bit in here by writing in the comments of any post, including this one; 

or by emailing – pictures also welcome;

Already have a page? You can fix what’s wrong; add to it each year; add pictures;

Your story will be saved and the best – or most embarrassing – stories could make the next book.

Just do it.

Umko valley cliff

Umko race meeting on riverbank

Ernie Alder R.I.P

Ernie Alder, Kingfisher Canoe Club and Umko stalwart and longtime all-round dependable, reliable and ever-present backbone of the club and the race, died after a short illness on Sunday this week.

Travis Wilkinson of KCC wrote:

It is with a heavy heart that I write of the passing of Ernie Alder!
There are very few truly selfless individuals, those that give of their time beyond what could ever be expected without seeking reward or adulation!
Ernie you will, for me, always be synonymous with KCC and there will never be a time, driving in to the car park, that I do not look for your vehicle, your welcoming smile or your loudhailer!
Rest in peace my friend, you did so much to assist me in my time as chairman and for the numerous chairs before and those that came after.
Your legacy will forever be intertwined with the history of KCC and you will be sorely missed at the club and along the many riverbanks and boat pounds across the country!

A gentleman, a gentle man! We will miss you – ‘Elvis Kingfisher’



Nephew Alistair McWade wrote:

– always kind, funny and compassionate;

– a life well lived;

– completed 17 Comrades marathons!

– numerous Dusi and Umko canoe marathons;

– very active in Kingfisher Canoe Club for decades;


More on Ernie.

You know you’re special when your mates name the pub after you in your time!

Ernie's Pub




You can add your own Umko story to this website and include your favourite pics.

This story is about all the people that made the Umko what it is. Add your bit. We won’t censor you, so you can say you won and all the Hansa girls mobbed you as you roared across the line.

SAMPLE PIC (one big pic or a few smaller ones)


I conquer House Rock hole!


There I was, my heart in my mouth . . but I made it, and the crowd went crazy . . etc.

Write your tale in COMMENTS below, or send it to Provide your email address and we’ll contact you for pics and details.

The Umko Book

The book has been published.

All 300 copies were given to paddlers in the 50th race in March 2016 and to the sponsors (notably STIHL) who paid to make the book happen.

The book is online at so all can access it. Find it here . You could even have joomag print you a hard copy if you like.

Meantime, this site has most of the rough copy sent in by all you good people. Search for your contribution under your name or surname and feel free to post additions, changes, suggestions and denials in the comments – or by email to

Although the paper book is now ‘cast in stone’ like Moses’ tablets, the ebook can always be fixed, improved, updated, fudged.

Add your own story – new or old. Tell us about “Your Umko” in the COMMENTS below.


“50 Years of the Umko 1966 – 2016” This is a fun record of some wonderful adventures enthusiastically told. Its not that paddlers exaggerate – they just remember big.


2017 pre-Umko Croc Trip

Sheila their Second and 4X4 driver said the boys verdict was “This was our best day on the Umko in crocs”.

Bobbing about in their Umko wheelchairs:

Pre-Umko 2017

Centuries of Umko experience seen pottering about readying their Umko wheelchairs to float downriver. Rob Davey & Ernie Alder in the background; Mike Frizelle & Dave Gillmer pomping:

Old Umko Okes




About the pioneers who sought a new type of race on a new river

“We paddled quietly, afraid to speak for fear of breaking the wild peace”
Ian Player 1952
“I thought of how privileged I was to witness this event.”
Rob Gouldie 1961
“Nothing could take our minds off the beauty of the valley with its magnificent cliffs and continuous rapids”
Charles Mason 1965


In the nineteen fifties and the early sixties canoeing in South Africa was “The Dusi”, that iconic three-day race from Pietermaritzburg to the sea, started in 1951 and ideally suited to people who thought running with a canoe on your head was as good a way of getting downstream as paddling. And perhaps for Vaalies it was “The Vaal” started (we think) in 1955, and for Capies it was “The Berg”, started in 1962 and held over 240km of flat water in the Cape winter for polar bears who liked their river water flat and freezing. The Dusi, of course, parallel’d the much older Comrades Marathon, the famous footslog with the same beginning and endpoint.

But in Natal there was another breed of paddlers. People for whom sitting in your boat and shooting rapids was the ultimate thrill. These “paddling purists” hated the fact that they could beat someone on the water only to have them run past them on a new portaging “sneak” pathway recently discovered – or even specially cut through the valley bush. They started thinking: There’s got to be a better way than the embarrassment of scurrying about the Valley of a Thousand Hills with a canoe on your head causing mirth among normal non-paddling citizens.¹

A few of these paddlers of Kingfisher Canoe Club in Durban decided that instead of looking for new shortcuts they would look for new rivers. Rivers where they could launch their boats at the start of a race and pick them up again for the first time after the finish line. The search was on, and they headed south to where they had heard from famous former winners of the Dusi about a wild and wonderful river: The Umkomaas.


“We paddled quietly, afraid to speak for fear of breaking the wild peace that is only Africa’s. From the top of one of the green hills a man’s voice broke the silence with a plaintive tune, a woman took up the refrain and together they harmonised. The music was beautiful and I stopped to listen. This was the music of old Africa.”

On the 5th April 1952 Ian Player and Fred Schmidt paddled their home-made singles from Josephine’s Bridge to the sea at the village of Umkomaas on the South Coast. Theirs was a pure adventure trip, Player, having won the very first Dusi just four months earlier, using it to see if Schmidt would make a good Dusi partner. They had no intention of racing the river.

Find out what Fred’s favourite song was – and who he sang to . .

Fred Schmidt & Ian Player_cr_cr

A longer account of Player and Schmidt’s trip (from his book Men, Rivers and Canoes), will be here

“Rapid after rapid with unbelievable scenery as we paddled past kraantz after kraantz. We were totally stoked. Again we chose a suitable spot on the riverbank with plenty of driftwood for our campfire. We soon had a roaring blaze going. For supper we ate like Kings.”

Rob Gouldie, Peter Marriott, Dereck Antrobus, Don Cobbledick, Norman Dyer, Graham Hall, Peter Gladwin and Denny Sterling also paddled from Josephines bridge to the sea.

Rob Gouldie writes (in his wonderful book “Duzi Fever”):

“Peter Marriott’s Father Geoff had a trailer with a multiple rack . . . .

. . . many miles down river, stopping occasionally for a smoke break and to stretch the legs and ease our bums.

Trip Rob Gouldie Umko boats

They spent the night at Fishy Fish trading store (now known as Riverside Store) where they got uproariously drunk on their “half jacks of Cane, Vodka, Brandy and whatever the individual preference. The mixers were packets of Cool Aid topped up in a billycan of river water” and, as canoeists over the years have been known to do occasionally, they drank the whole trip’s supply in one night – plus some meths from their camping stoves! Then they caught a bus home.

Trip Fishy Fish Rob Gouldie Umko

The next year, Easter 1961:

“We chose an ideal spot opposite a gently flowing rapid and a flat sandy bank to pull our canoes on to. Behind this was a nice grassed area to camp on. The river must have overflowed its bank in the past as in receding it had left behind a plentiful supply of driftwood, bleached pearly white by the sun. Perfect for our camp fire.”

Trip Rob Gouldie Umko campfire

“For supper we ate like Kings, feasting on vacuum-packed braai chops, baked beans and potatoes wrapped in tin foil and cooked over hot coals. We washed the meal down with Castles cooled down in a cairn of river stones we had built in the riverbed.”

Trip Rob Gouldie Umko camp
Day three:
“We asked them if they would help carry our canoes around the waterfall . . . . we were inundated with more willing bearers than Dr. Livingstone and Stanley must have had. Watching them portage was sheer pleasure as we strolled along like gentlemen behind, admiring the countryside.“

Trip Rob Gouldie Umko Falls

They spent the next night at a church mission:
“Then horror of horrors, the missionary asked whether we would like to sing one of our hymns. There was a hush of silence as the congregation eagerly awaited our rendition. We looked from one to the other. Sad to say not one of us knew the first words of any hymn and felt that “Barnacle Bill’ or “Mother McGinty” might not be suitable.”

The Lido Hotel . .  manager asked them to carry their canoes up the stairs to the pool terrace. . . . . I peered out from under my canoe and there I stood like a prize prick . .”

The manager then asked them to say a few words to the crowd. “My knees were trembling and I felt as though I had swallowed my Adams Apple. As I got going my nervousness left me and was replaced by verbal diarrhoea. I embellished my tale with what I hoped was poetic license (another name for bullshit).“

Gouldie’s account of the ’60 and ’61 trips (from his wonderful book ‘Duzi Fever’) will be in this chapter. – (Find out how Captain Honks rapid got its name!) –

THE DECISIVE UMKO TRIPS – From 1965 leading up to the first race in 1966

“Some umfaans on the bank told us the name of the next big rapid, saying it was named for the sound of the boulders rolling underwater when the river was full: “Mpompomani”.

In 1965 Charles Mason, Barry Willan, Tom Howcroft, Peter Hammond, Colin Wilson, Ken ‘Tank’ Rogers and Hamish Gerrard were authorised by Kingfisher Canoe Club to seriously consider the Umkomaas as a new race venue.

The Umkomaas had been tripped in the time after Gouldie and before 1965. Many shorter (mainly two-day) trips had been undertaken, eg. from Deepdale to Hella Hella and from there to to Josephines’ Bridge.

The 1965 trip started with them all meeting at the Richmond Hotel from where they were going to proceed to Josephines to sleep under the bridge before setting off early the next morning.

Charles Mason takes up the story:

“We met a local farmer in the pub and over a few beers he kindly invited us all back to his farm for dinner and to sleep the night. This offer was gratefully accepted and at 9pm we all followed him in convoy to his farm. However he had obviously not sought nor obtained government permission as when we got there his irate wife told us in no uncertain terms that she did not think his offer was appropriate and suggested we leave forthwith. We all suddenly agreed among ourselves that Josephines Bridge actually seemed a far better idea, despite the light drizzle!”

“Old hands by now, we set to our camping chores with gusto: A fertilizer bag would be filled with river water and propped up between rocks to allow the silt to settle (an early form of water purification, maybe?). This would serve as the basis for the tipple of choice: Brandy and lime juice. Mixed at a sufficient concentration it served to:
– Disguise the look (it was a similar colour to river water);
– Disguise the taste (you fortified it until it did);
– Contribute meaningfully to conversations related to the deeper meaning of life.

UMKO Trip 1965 Cobbeledick, Mason, _, _

Colin Wilson, Charles Mason, Dave Cobbledick & Hamish Gerrard on the south bank at Old Buck Rapid (Sept 1965).

“Peter Hammond misjudged the strength of the flow and got sucked into the wave. Thrown out of his boat he managed to escape the stopper wave only by diving deep (fortunately in this instance he had no lifejacket!) and being pulled downstream by the underwater current. His boat, however, was held fast.” Find out what happened to the boat . . .

“Our third campsite was next to another unnamed rapid (to be named No Name Rapid in time to come!) in a well-protected glade of trees. This camp became the scene of a tragedy: The river rose half a metre and washed away some beers we had placed in a rock pool to cool down. Despite a careful search, we never did find them.”

UMKO Trip 1965 Below Waterfall

Dave Cobbledick, Peter Marriott, Colin Wilson & Hamish Gerrard on the south bank in the Whirlpool area (Sept 1965).

“I had heard of Rob Gouldie’s trip and his activities at the Lido Hotel in Umkomaas. So when I phoned the manager and he agreed to provide us with lunch on our arrival I was not surprised when he made one strict proviso: No boats in his pool!

Charles goes on to tell about their overland trips scouting for campsites – and how Old Buck rapid got its name!

“Back at KCC the announcement of our findings was met with . . . .

  • Find out in Umko – 50 years –

Charlie Mason’s account of the decisive trips that led to “The Umko” as we now know it – AND MUCH MORE – will be included in this opening chapter of “UMKO – 50 years”.

  • Read how Umko paddlers are actually rather fond of the Dusi, and how the Dusi King is “one of us”  *