WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Beat-down Sunday

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Jeff’s rapid on the U1 of the Sabie river can dish out on the day.


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Howick Gorge / Umgeni / KwaZulu-Natal / South Africa

    Umgeni River – Howick Gorge

Howick Gorge : Umgeni River

Grading  IV- to IV+ (V when high)
Levels / gauges Low: 8 – 14m3/s

Medium:  15 – 20m3/s

High: 21 – 30m3/s

Pumping: +30m3/s

Check if Midmar dam is full (either through Umgeni Water or Department of Water Affairs).  It needs to overflow for the section to work.  *Final check is at the waterfall – if a full curtain is going over the falls, then it is a good medium level.

Put-in 29°29’8.15″S ; 30°14’21.03″E
Take-out 29°27’54.98″S ; 30°17’20.90″E

(Get hold of Ezemvelo KZN for the time being – weekdays 0338451996/7)

Alternative take-out 29°26’32.13″S ; 30°19’47.03″E
Estimated time 2hr to 5hrs
Length 10km
Gradient 22m/km
Portages None (*optional portages)
Hazards / Notes Walk-in / Access at take-out / Logs
Fun factor 4 / 5

The Howick section is fun and continues and can challenge both intermediate and expert kayakers.  The best of all is that everything is pretty much runable, with maybe two scouts required if you are on top of your game.

Put-in: The put-in to this fun section is really easy to find.  Drive into the town of Howick and follow the signs to the look-out over Howick Falls.  The look-out for the falls is on the southern side and there is a small tea garden on opposite side of the look-out (stand with your back to the falls).  You have to hike down with your kayak to the pool below the falls.  (Pay about R25 at the tea garden to get access).  Follow the marked route down to the base of the falls.

Take-out: The take-out is at Hilton College.  If you are driving towards Durban from Howick (easternly direction), take the second Hilton turn-off and turn left towards Hilton College.  You have to organise to gain access to the take-out beforehand.   Follow the road until you get to the guarded access gates.  Be super friendly with everyone you come into contact with since it is a privilege for kayakers to be able to gain access to the take-out.  They will give you directions towards the game reserve.  If it rained a lot, you will need a 4×4 to get down to the river, or else a 5km uphill walk waits at the take-out.  I will update the number once I get hold of it again (Try Ezemvelo KZN 0338451996/7 for now).  Alternative take-out is on the road towards Karkloof Spa (Otto’s Bluff road). 

The first rapid from the put-in is a good indicator of what is to come.  This follows into the first big rapid of the section.  The second rapid consists of a tiered dropped on the left and a drop onto rocks on the right.  The most common line is on the left, so take-out on the left just above the drop to scout.  It is basically a drop onto a sloped rock that drops off into a pool.  When the water lands on the sloping rock, the flow turns 90degrees to the left and drops into the pool.  A good entry boof is advisable.  Take note of the syphon downstream of the plunge pool.  It is located downstream on the left and you need to pass upstream of it into the main flow of the river.

From here the river is fairly continues with easy read-and-run rapids.  If you can’t see your next move, then get out and scout.  About 2.5km into the section you should get to a U-shaped drop, the drop is runable, but make sure you stay away from the left side ledge since this is an undercut.  A alternative line to this, if the water is up, is to sneak past on the left and run the 2m drop on the left channel.

1km down from the U-drop is a double drop.  This is not a technical drop, but it sneaks up onto you and can dish out a solid beating at higher levels.  After the double drop the actions continues with grade III rapids with the odd IV thrown in.  The river also starts to channel a bit more towards the end, so try and follow the main flow where possible.  The take-out is at the Hilton College / Ezemvelo KZN reserve and your well trained seconds should be waiting there with some cold beers.

If you carry on to the bridge close to Karkloof, watch out for low level bridges.  The channels get more and the gradient flattens out.  It is about 3km to the alternative take-out.

Awesome section and if you have a solid and small crew, you can do this section in less than 2hrs.  Always keep an eye open for logs on this section.

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Dante’s Falls / Elands River / Mpumalanga / South Africa

    Elands Rivers – Dante’s Falls

Dante’s Falls – Elands River

Grading It’s a waterfall (IV+ to V)
Levels / gauges Elands @ Lindenau (Inkomati)

Low: 5 – 12m3/s

Medium: 12 – 20m3/s

High: 20m3/s and up

Take the levels with a pinch of salt and go check it out.  If the water at the top drop is overflowing on river left it is considered a lower level.  If the water is overflowing over the whole drop (this means no rocks are visible on the first drop – second ledge) then it is on the high side.

Turn-off from highway 25°28’49.32″S ; 30°42’5.84″E
Put-in  / Take-out 25°28’40.14″S ; 30°42’23.18″E
Estimated time Park & Huck
Length 0.25km
Gradient 70 – 80m/km (Waterfalls)
Portages None
Hazards / Notes Syphon / Cave
Fun factor 5 / 5

Dante’s Falls (Dante’s Inferno) is located alongside the busy N4 route between Waterfallonder and Nelspruit.  It is a perfect park and huck on your way to or from another river.  It is important to note that you will likely spend anything from 2 to 5hrs scouting, setting up safety and getting into position for photos.  Don’t underestimate you time you will spend here if it is your first time.  Leave enough daylight for if something may go wrong.  The grading of a waterfall is pretty hard.  The first drop is not that difficult, but the second one does carry some consequences.

The section consists of two channels of which the river left channel is the one to paddle.  It two drops.  The first one is a double drop totalling 7m in height.  The second drop is between 10m and 12m high.  Access to the waterfalls is hidden away next to the N4.  Best to describe it is if you are coming from Nelspruit:

Passing Montrose (the Schoemans Kloof road to the right), carry-on until the road-way forms a double lane and you need to keep in the left lane.  Just before the two lanes join, there will be a gap in the fence.  If it is high summer, then it is likely to be overgrown.  It is basically where a gate use to be and there is a road (see jeep track) that goes down to the river.  Following this jeep track and stop where it starts turning to the right and you are pretty much under the power cables.  Walk straight ahead towards the noise of the falls and start scouting.

There is an old irrigation ditch that you cross (on foot) and then you get to the gorge.  From the N4 it is about 500m to the gorge.  The first drop is easy to scout and the line is pretty straight forward.  Get in on river left and paddle the first drop.  Set-up safety in the pool below, but make sure to notice the syphon in the middle of the river where the entry to the next fall starts.  When the water is low, it is open.  When it is pumping, it will be concealed.  It is easy to avoid though, but don’t make the error when rescuing someone to pull them towards it.

The second drop can be scouted from the first drop’s finishing pool.  That will give you an idea of the entry.  If the water is low/medium you can go right and against the cliff wall.  If the water is on the high side, you can sneak past on the left.  Scouting the second falls from the bottom will require you to walk a bit further downstream.  Check where you can set-up safety.  The trick with the second waterfall is the cave / overhang at the back of the falls.  If you get washed to the right and into the pocket to the right and back of the falls, you will have a hard time getting out and even a worse time if you are out of your boat.  Rescue options to get someone out are from the right-hand bank.

Luckily most of the water tends to flow out and away from the second fall and from the pocket/cave.  The best line is debatable, but it seems that keeping a right to left direction at the top of the falls does the trick.  This waterfall is rewarding and the scenery is pretty awesome so close to the highway.