Snaking through reeds on a hidden river

PEACEFUL PADDLE: Setting out on the Serpentine River from Ebb & Flow Rest Camp in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park for the two-hour paddle to Island Lake
PEACEFUL PADDLE: Setting out on the Serpentine River from Ebb & Flow Rest Camp in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park for the two-hour paddle to Island Lake
Image: GUY ROGERS

To dive like a dabchick is surely one of the mantras of the waterfowl world.

It’s what every young waterfowl grows up aspiring to do, so one imagines.

But few can match the way this russet-cheeked little chap deftly dips beneath the waterweed before popping up like a cork some distance away.

The Serpentine is the kingdom of the dabchick and a wealth of other waterbirds and if you paddle from Ebb & Flow Rest Camp to Island Lake it’s just you and them, the reeds, the water and the sky.

Situated at the confluence of the Touw and Serpentine rivers, Ebb & Flow is the headquarters of the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park.

The Serpentine peels eastward off the Touw and snakes through the expansive marsh that stretches between the N2 and Waterside Road all the way to Island Lake.

After that a series of shallow channels connects to Langvlei and then Rondevlei and the whole system forms an internationally proclaimed Ramsar wetland site recognised to be of global importance.

COLOURFUL CUSTOMER: This malachite kingfisher on the Serpentine River waited patiently to allow me to steady my camera and for my boys to stop ramming my canoe before flying off
COLOURFUL CUSTOMER: This malachite kingfisher on the Serpentine River waited patiently to allow me to steady my camera and for my boys to stop ramming my canoe before flying off
Image: GUY ROGERS

Deep in the maw of the serpent, paddling in two double canoes, the waterway twisted and turned before us and the reeds pressed in. We were forging through a hidden world.

At times the way was wide and clear and we raced abreast, the boys doing their best to drive each other into the sharp-edged rushes.

At times the waterweed looked thick enough to walk on but we cut through it chanting a Viking paddling song.

Cormorants hung their wings out to dry looking like the warrior totems of those long ago Norsemen, darters swam with their bodies submerged and their long necks extending like snakes, red knobbed coots bobbed amiably and a gleaming malachite kingfisher perched long enough for me to snap a photograph.

Dragonflies hovered and dipped and fish swished and plopped.

Yellow-billed ducks were joined by a pair of Oriental-looking great crested grebes, and at one point an unidentified heavy brown raptor flew overhead.

WATER WONDER: A juvenile dabchick or little grebe on the Serpentine on the way down to Island Lake. The dabchicks are champion divers but I managed to snap this one before it disappeared beneath the surface
WATER WONDER: A juvenile dabchick or little grebe on the Serpentine on the way down to Island Lake. The dabchicks are champion divers but I managed to snap this one before it disappeared beneath the surface
Image: GUY ROGERS

After two hours we exited the river into Island Lake and paddled across to the hummock of land, perfectly encircled by a dense fringe of reeds, after which it was named.

There seemed no way to access it so we paddled around it and then back to the west side of the lake, and hauled out there for lunch.

That evening after we paddled back I sat on the veranda of our magnificent log cabin and looked back over the panorama of reeds through which we had come while thousands of frogs plinked, the bats swooped and the guinea fowl clattered a last good night.

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