WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Polela / KwaZulu-Natal / South Africa

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Polela River

Polela River
Grading +IV (V)
Levels / gauges Level gauge is out.

Check level as you cross the Polela on your way from Bulwer to Underberg.

Level is hard to pin-point but work on teh following:

Do-able: River is bank to bank and just starting to burst the banks at the bridge.

Pumping: Water is brown and over the banks.

Put-in 29°50’2.64″S ; 29°38’53.87″E
Take-out 29°53’24.48″S ; 29°39’31.28″E
Estimated time 2-4hrs
Length 10.6km
Gradient 22m/km for first 6km. 15m/km.
Portages One
Hazards / Notes Waterfalls
Fun factor 4.0 / 5 (Full it is a 5)

The Polela is likely to work when Thrombi is pumping at about 40cumecs.  Best way to know if it is working, is to drive out and check it.  There use to be an old stormwater pipe that was used to gauge.  If the water is well over the pipe, then it was good to go.  Low water on the Polela means walking and scraping (especially the last couple of km’s to the take-out) so rather hit Thrombi or something else.

The put-in is at the bridge.  For the take-out, drive towards Bulwer and take the D-3 dirt road on your right.  Carry-on with this road for about 9km until you cross-over the Polela.

The Polela is best known for two things: Waterfalls and T-bone/V-bone.  The action starts off with Horseshoe drop.  The normal line is on the right and launching from right to left.  Other lines exist on the left, but be cautious of running the slot.  Hazards such as logs can be hidden from view.  The waterfall is about 2km downstream of the put-in bridge.  A 3-4m drop is the next waterfall.  The line is easy and you can scout from the right bank.  After the second waterfall (about 200m) you will get to the portage.  Portage on the right.

For about 1.5km you will have rapids leading to the next waterfall set.  The landmark is a house on the left bank.  Scout from the left bank (easy to portage as well).  After this you will get to T-bone/V-bone.  The rapid has a steep lead-in which ends in a micro pool above a slot.  Scout your line from the right bank.  There is a big pool below the drop.  This rapid has dished out in the past to kayakers messing up their line and things are unlikely to change.  With higher levels, things don’t get any easier.

From T-bone/V-bone onwards the river looses gradient and you paddle through easy class II/III rapids lined on the side by black wattles.

The Polela is great at a high level for competent paddlers.  It is also possible to do Thrombi in the morning and Polela in the afternoon run.


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