The Hendri Coetzee Memoir

Valhalla Bound: Coetzee

The posthumous memoir African river explorer Hendri Coetzee is now available for pre-order. Living the Best Day Ever is compiled from Coetzee’s extensive journals and blogs, written in the explorer’s distinctive, no-holds-barred style. It seems certain to shed new light on Coetzee’s extraordinary life and philosophy.

Coetzee died as he lived, dramatically. On December 7, 2010, as he was exploring the Lukuga River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a crocodile pulled Coetzee and his creekboat under the surface. His body was never found.

Coetzee famously spent his life in search of what he called the best day ever. This wasn’t some unattainable superlative; for Coetzee it was a moving benchmark, a goal that he frequently achieved and sought always to better. The quest focused on the disciplines of paddling, exploration and partying, often rolled into one.

The search led him from the guide quarters on the Zambezi River, north to Uganda and, in 2004, on the first source-to-sea descent of the White Nile. The 4,160-mile trip took four and a half months and crossed two war zones. His best friend and companion on that trip, Pete Meredith, wrote the forward to the book. Another friend, Kara Blackmore, edited the memoir.

Coetzee was the first to run the Nile’s Murchison Falls—a feat he repeated eight times. He remains the only person ever to run it solo. He ran large sections of the upper and lower Congo River and explored rivers throughout Africa. Coetzee’s accomplishments add up to one of the most impressive resumes in the business, but when river-runners invoke his memory they seldom speak of deeds. They talk about the way he ran those rivers and the purity of his purpose. Living the Best Day Ever promises more of that philosophy from the man himself, together with plenty of adventure yarns and deep insights into the chaos and inequity of the African continent that Coetzee loved so well.

Living the Best Day Ever is available now for pre-order at

Read more about Coetzee’s extraordinary life and adventures in these stories from the magazine.

Testing Boundaries

Our goal for the week was a first descent of the Ruzizi River, which forms the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Due to some recent rebel activity, we focused on the prize: 15 kilometers of what could be some of the steepest big-volume creeking in Africa.

He Didn’t Like Baggage by Peter Meredith

Hendri had never been rafting or kayaking before I hired him. The Zambezi is pretty full-on, especially in the early season when the water is high. We threw him right in. Within a month he was taking some poor unsuspecting customers down the river, and long before that he kept telling me, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’

Hendri Coetzee
The Best Day Ever by Seth Warren

The fall of 2004 at the Nile Rivers Explorers bar had a Never Never Land feel, and Hendri had that Peter Pan demeanor. I don’t recall the moment we met, but I’ll never forget the first time we paddled together;straight off the ski jump from the bar, and through the center of the ‘Hump,’ a giant Class V rapid right in front of Speke Camp.

Hendri Coetzee
Meeting Hendri by Joe Henry

I can’t even roll a kayak, but that’s how we met. In 2006, I was on a truck tour through Africa and Hendri was working as a raft guide on the Nile in Jinja. I signed up for a kayak tour.

Hendri Coetzee
Hendri’s Way by Gustav Nel

The river, according to the locals, was flooded. It was higher than it had ever been, and we reached the first rapids in about three hours. You could only scout from the top, so Hendri got on Joe Henry’s shoulders to try and pick a line.

Hendri Coetzee
He Brought Perseverance by Ben Stookesberry

Hendri was hard. It was tough to keep up with him. He would push for 12 hours of daylight, wake up first thing in the morning and keep going. He brought so much intelligence, maturity and strength. He brought perseverance.

Hendri Coetzee
No Half Measures by Celliers Kruger

Hendri walked into my office a couple of years ago, asking for sponsorship. By that time we knew about each other for a while already, but hadn’t met yet. My answer was an obvious yes—his reputation for running the hardest stuff was already growing. Since then a close relationship grew between two paddlers who discussed everything except paddling.

Hendri Coetzee
Laughing In The Rain by Chris Korbulic

People kept telling me that Hendri is the hardest, toughest, bravest guy anybody’s ever met; and here I am going on an expedition that Hendri is saying is going to be the hardest expedition he’s ever done. I wondered how I would measure up.

Hendri Coetzee
Timeline – Remembering Hendri

The lifeline and experiences of Johannes Hendrik Coetzee—Kadoma—1975-2010

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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