• Petra Vandecasteele

PART 5 – Hippo Alert While Canoeing Through the Raphia Forest

Photo @ Paul Maritz

06:30. We struggle to get up after a sleepless night packed with cracking thunder and flashing lightning. "Are you mad?" says Enya, my daughter, and decides to sleep in. "I'm not doing this, I can barely open my eyes." My son James and I, however, are determined to pull ourselves together to go on an early canoeing trip down the river through the raphia forest.

The forest is buzzing with insects, a good thing I armed myself with mosquito repellent. The inquisitive vervet monkeys come out of their shelter one by one once it stops raining. As we step into the canoe, it sinks deep into the water leaving only a rim of about 10 cm above the surface. I barely dare to move as we slide over the still water topped with blue water lilies. I hear hippos in the distance. What if, what if...? "Hippos prefer the shallows during the day and we are now in a deep channel that leads to the lake," our guide explains as if reading our thoughts. James and I hadn't said a word about the hippos, but we were both keeping all eyes tightly on the surface. We can now relax and enjoy the scenery above and around the water.

We are surrounded by enormous Raphia palm trees. Palms have the largest leaves of all trees, and Raphia has the largest leaves of all palms. The majestic Kosi palm is indigenous to South Africa and only grows naturally in this small area stretching from just south of Kosi Bay to the north of Maputo. "The middle of the raffia tree is used for weaving baskets because the fibre is soft and can easily be bent," our guide continues. He's a Thonga, born and bred in this area. He explains that the Zulu – who are master cow herders – are the original inhabitants whereas the Thonga – who are the expert fishermen – arrived here much later. He sees everything, even the 3 little chicks hidden in a nest when we were still in the middle of the river.

We arrive at the end of the channel and slide into the open waters. The hippos are now calling loudly and splashing wildly in the water. Then, suddenly, we see ripples on the water moving in our direction. "It will start to rain soon, let's head back," our guide suggests with a sense of urgency that didn't go unnoticed. "Yes, let's go back, the camera mustn't get wet," I say with a poker face, but we all know what's going on and we all want to get out of there, now!


  • Hippos can bite a canoe in half with one snap of their jaws;

  • The hippo is among the most dangerous animals in the world as it is highly aggressive and unpredictable;

  • Hippos are threatened by habitat loss and poaching for their meat and ivory canine teeth.

Read Part 4 – The Calm Between the Storms

Travel Tips:

  • Remember to bring your binoculars together with your camera, there's lots happening in the sky and in the bushes;

  • Always ask the locals if there are any dangerous animals in the water and if so, only canoe with a knowledgeable guide;

  • Never, ever let your hands dangle in the water;

  • Never swim in rivers or lakes or chill at the edge of the water without knowing what's in there.


+27 (0)83 230 1881

Cape Town, South Africa

©2019 by Kids of Nature.