WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Tugela Canyon / KwaZulu-Natal / South Africa

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Tugela River – Canyon section (Colenso to Weenen)

Tugela River – Canyon section
Grading -IV (V)
Levels / gauges Tugela @ Colenso (uThukela)Low – Below 70

Medium – 70 to 160

High – 160 to 300

Pumping – 300 and up.

Put-in 28°42’3.21″S ; 29°49’38.44″E
Put-in Alternative 28°40’37.32″S ; 29°52’19.42″E
Take-out 28°45’25.23″S ; 30° 9’1.14″E
Estimated time Overnighter (12 hrs – 14hrs)
Length 53 km
Gradient 15m/km (sections where gradient increases significantly, but flats take it up on average)
Portages Yes (2)
Hazards / Notes Holes / Semi-isolated gorge
Fun factor 4.0 / 5 (Classic 5 if the water is up)

The Tugela Canyon section is a classic run and best to it as an overnighter.  Put-in is at the Onderbroek-spruit on the road towards Ezakheni (turn right from the R103).  You will see an railroad bridge over a little stream and the Tugela River in the background.  This is the put-in for the complete section which includes Hartshillfalls and Little Augrabies.  An alternative put-in to skip the portage and the waterfall is to get-in at the pumpstation (see alternative put-in coordinates).   For the alternative put-in you need to drive toward Ezakheni.  When you cross the railroad, immediately after that you will get to an intersection.  Take the road to the right (double back along the road you came in, but on the other side of the tracks) and carry on until you get to the waterworks and then the pumpstation.  You can use this also as a take-out if you want to run the top section and the section below the pumpstation.

For the take-out: What we have done in the past differs.  You can either organise with Zingela (Lodge on the banks of the river) for a shuttle (cost involved).  Alternatively you can leave a car at their house in Weenen (arrange with them first) or at the police station in Weenen.  Carry-on to the take-out at the bridge and then either catch a lift into town with a taxi (road is semi-busy) and get the car for the pick-up.  Don’t bank on the police to help out with logistics.  You are lucky if you bum a lift.  It is always a good idea to get hold of the guys down at Zingela and just let them know that you are paddling down.  (Note – great place for seconds to stay).

Once you are on the river from Onderbroek-spruit:  The first obstacle is Hartshillfalls (10-12m) and is about 1.5km from the put-in.  At low flows you can scout the falls from the edge, alternatively you need to bundu-bash on the left bank.  The line is towards the left of the river.  On the right it forms a messier cascade type falls.  There are however numerous lines and the pool at the bottom is generally deep everywhere.

For 1.5km it is more than drop, but then you will enter some small continuous rapids building up.  Get out on the left bank before you go down too far.  This is the portage, Little Augrabies.  Do not eddy hop until then end, because you run out of eddies very quickly and you do not want to go down this thing.  A swimmer at this point is a problem.  Portage on the left and get in below the falls and run the last couple of meaty holes.

The next landmark is a pumphouse on your left with a weir stretching across the river.  This is Colenso Falls.  It totals in the region of 30m.  The lines on the right is out for now, but on the left there are several smaller drops and slides with multiple lines.  There’s a drop on the bottom right (about 7m) that starts to work at higher flows.  If you are not keen on this, portage on the left (old way was to portage down the centre island, but this can be a mission).  About 500m below the cascades, there is a playhole good to go.

Below Colenso Falls you start to enter the gorge.  Everything from here-on is good to go with the odd scout required.  It is a good idea to push past the Klip River (biggest river coming in from the left) if you are doing an overnighter.  The Klip joins the Tugela 11km downstream of Colenso Falls.

The commercial section starts about 10km upstream from Zingela Camp.  The land mark is pretty difficult to spot, but there is an old farmhouse on the right bank (About 500m from the river bank) and you can also see powerlines on the hill on the right.  The section includes Frog’s playground (big holes and waves at high levels – 200up), Washing Machine (Need to scout this rapid on the right hand bank) and Liquidizer.  After this you will spot Zingela camp on river right.  The section to bridge and take-out is milder and you the gradient drops.

Note – Camp on right bank of river. The gorge is pretty isolated and a hike-out will be a crappy option.  Take the right equipment and group for a trip like this.  This section is also ideal for rafts.


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