WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Leave a comment

Pot Gorge / Pot River / Transkei / South Africa

Pot River – Pot to Tsitsa

Pot to Tsitsa Section : Pot River

Grading  IV-  (IV+)
Levels / gauges None.  Check rainfall in area.  Best bet is to go Mid January to February.  Check with Tsitsa falls backpackers for river level updates.

Note: The water level might be low at the put-in, but there is a confluence

Put-in 31° 1’29.31″S ; 28°25’33.80″E
Take-out Option 1 (Short): 31° 2’22.60″S ; 28°29’18.71″E

Option 2 (Long): 31° 6’21.37″S ; 28°30’53.39″E

Estimated time 3hr to 5hrs (Short)

5hrs to 7hrs (Long)

Length 10km (Confluence take-out)

15km (Long)

Gradient 18m/km (Pot)

10m/km (from Tsitsa down)

Portages None
Hazards / Notes Logs / siphons
Fun factor 4 / 5

The Pot is a little bit milder than the Tsitsa upper gorge, but deserve some respect since it is still pretty continuous in places and hazards like logs, siphons and undercuts are strewn throughout the section.  The good news is that all rapids are good to go and fairly to scout either from the side or from your boat.  Remember that when in doubt scout.  If you can’t see the bottom of the rapid then get out on scout.  The section is again in a gorge with steep side walls.

Put-in:  The put-in is easy to get to.  You can either put-in at the bridge crossing the river or a little downstream after the first rapid (the first rapid is normally full of logs).  To get there:  When leaving Tsitsa Falls backpackers, take the first left and carry-on until you cross the Pot River.  Leaving from Maclear, take the first Tsitsa Falls turn-off from the R56.

There are several rapids on this section and some of them may need some scouting.  Be aware that there are a lot of trees/logs in the river for the first half of the section (say until the confluence with the Mooi River).  After the confluence with the Mooi there is a weir across the river which you can scout from either river left or right.  The weir is runable; make check your line and the rapid after.


Rapid below weir.


Slide on Pot.

It is really difficult to describe any of the rapids on this section.  It has similar characteristics than the Tsitsa Upper Gorge.  If you liked the Tsitsa, you will like the Pot.  Again the scenery is awesome and the rapids are pretty sweet.  The Pot gets better with higher levels.

Take-out: Take-out is either at the confluence of the Tsitsa River or you can paddle past the confluence and use the take-out for the long section of the Tsitsa Upper Gorge (See Tsitsa Upper Gorge entry).  When taking out at the confluence, aim for the gully on river left for the take-out.  The hike-out is pretty intense and you need to cross two fences before you are at the top.  To drive to the take-out chat to AD at http://www.tsitsafalls.com.  As you leave the backpackers you will cross a wetland with a dam on your left.  Take the farm road just after crossing the wetland on your left and carry-on towards the sheds.  At the sheds keep right.  From here the track starts to deteriorate and you will have to check where it runs.  Drive towards the fields and keep right until you come to the edge of the gorge and you can see the Pot River below. This is private land so check with the Tsitsa Falls backpackers and close all the gates.


Leave a comment

Tsitsa Upper Gorge / Tsitsa River / Transkei / South Africa

    Tsitsa River – Tsitsa Upper Gorge

Tsitsa Upper Gorge : Tsitsa River

Grading  IV- to IV+ (V when high)
Levels / gauges None.  Check rainfall in area.  Best bet is to go Mid January to February.  Check with Tsitsa falls backpackers for river level updates.

Low – water is greyish and you can see bump&scrape lines.

Medium – Most of the rocks are covered on the lines.  Water is brownish.

High – Water is brown and pushy

Put-in 31° 1’9.39″S ; 28°28’56.35″E
Take-out Option 1 (Short): 31° 1’22.78″S ; 28°29’32.58″E

Option 2 (I like to hike):

31° 2’22.60″S ; 28°29’18.71″E

Option 3 (Long): 31° 6’21.37″S ; 28°30’53.39″E

Estimated time 1hr to 3hrs (Short)

3hrs to 6hrs (Long)

Length 2km (Short)

5km (Pot take-out)

15km (Long)

Gradient 25m/km (Short)

20m/km (Pot take-out)

10m/km (from Pot down)

Portages Waterfall at start
Hazards / Notes Logs / siphons
Fun factor 4 / 5

Looking to warm-up for some Transkei action?  Then the Tsitsa Upper Gorge is perfect.   It is continuous, tricky and can dish out a beating.  The best part is that it is on the doorstep of the best base camp for paddling in the Transkei – Tsitsa Falls backpackers (http://www.tsitsafalls.com).  Check with them for up to date water levels.

The put-in is a short walk from the backpackers.  Get-in at the bridge above the falls and paddle down to just above the falls and portage on the left, or get in at the falls (you can drive to the falls on either the left or right side of the river with the right side having a dedicated road).

The first two rapids need to be scouted for all levels.  The first one has a nice siphon in the middle of the rapid.  The line is to take a sneak on river right and then cut-back left through a slot to the main flow (Siphon will be on your left).  Best to scout on your way down while portaging the waterfall.


                       First rapid with line being right to left.  Siphon in middle of picture.

The second rapid is best to scout from river left.  The problem with the second rapid is that the main line is on river right, but there is almost always something stuck in the last slot (logs).  The line is to enter either river right and finish with a boof on river left, or to start left and end left with the boof.


Second rapid boof on river left

The action doesn’t let up from here and you need to be on your toes.  If you haven’t paddled this section before or one of the guys in the crew, best is to walk the rim of the gorge and scout the rapids from the top.  Scout on the left rim of the gorge.  Chat to AD (http://www.tsitsafalls.com) before you get onto the river.  Be aware of logs on the river. Once you get to a slide rapid (really fun at high water) be sharp for the following rapid with large boulders and then the one after this (second rapid after the slide) has a massive syphon on river left (keep right).  Check out Luke’s trip report at http://adrian.playak.com/index.php/sa-other-provinces-mainmenu-17/221-tsitsa-gorge-finally.

If you are a capable boater in class IV+ and up you will be able to boat scout the remainder of the rapids.  The river is steep and continuous and can be rewarding for the competent and confident paddler.

The upper gorge is short and a lot of fun.  You have three take-out options:  Option 1 is to continue until you get to a river wide hole with a double step.  Take-out after this on the left and carry your boat up to the top by cutting back slight upstream. (31° 1’22.78″S ; 28°29’32.58″E)

Option 2 might not be the best since the hike-out is hectic.  Paddle down to the confluence with the Pot River and take-out.  Take-out at the confluence of the Pot River on the right (river left of the Pot River).  Walk a bit upstream until you see the gully and walk to the top (pass two fences and then cut back to the left to the top – see details under the Pot River). (31° 2’22.60″S ; 28°29’18.71″E)

Option 3: Carry-on past the Pot River confluence until the gorge opens.  You will get to a village and this is the take-out.  The rapids in this section ease out and disappear when the gorge ends.  You can use this take-out if for the Pot River as well, however the drive around is long.  This is a great warm-up section.  (31° 6’21.37″S ; 28°30’53.39″E).  The turn-off for the take-out is on the Tsolo (R396) road from Maclear (31° 9’52.68″S ; 28°33’28.87″E). From Maclear look for the Mqokolweni Clinic sign on the left (about 24km from Maclear).  Follow the dirt road to the bottom of the valley and at a large T-junction keep left and onto a village called Nxgoto.  The take-out is here.

(*First pic from Brendan Bosman)

Leave a comment

Thrombi Gorge / UMzimkhulu River / KwaZulu-Natal / South Africa

    UMzimkhulu River – Thrombi

Thrombi – UMzimkhulu River

Grading  IV- to IV+ (V when high)
Levels / gauges Low: 10 – 20m3/sMedium:  20 – 35m3/s

High: 35 – 50m3/s

Pumping: +50m3/s

Easy way to know if you are in for chaos:

Check the low level bridge upstream of the bridge at the put-in:  If the bollards are covered, it is high to pumping.  If you swim, you are likely to lose your boat.  Still unsure – take a walk down to where the rapids start (get permission either from land owner on the left or right)

Put-in 29°53’4.15″S ; 29°34’46.57″E
Take-out 29°53’49.69″S ; 29°36’8.62″E
Long thrombi: Take-out 29°56’58.16″S ; 29°39’50.79″E(suspension bridge)

29°56’53.19″S ; 29°42’20.93″E

(Polela confluence)

Estimated time 1hr to 3.5hrs (normal Thrombi)5hrs to 7hrs (long Thrombi)
Length Short: 5.2kmLong 1: 15km

Long 2 (Polela): 20km

Gradient 22m/km  (Short)15m/km (after falls)
Portages None
Hazards / Notes Waterfall / hike-out / organise access
Fun factor 4 / 5

Thrombi-gorge has been a backyard run for a lot of the great SA kayakers.  It is a real classic in the sense that it has pretty much everything you want from a section.  It has a mini gorge that is fairly continues, boulder gardens and ends with a waterfall.

Put-in:  Bridge crossing river (just after UMzimkhulu River lodge).

Take-out (Short): The take-out is on private property.  Arrange with the farmer before you make use of his land.  The farm is down the first road on the left after the bridge (29°53’22.71″S ; 29°34’18.39″E).  At the farmhouse and the gate leading to the barns, turn left (house will be on your left) and pass through the gate.  Continue on and you should get to another gate.  Follow the jeep track to where the road ends (flat area at the top of the hill – 29°53’41.17″S ; 29°35’49.74″E).  Close all the gates and leave the place as you got it.    

If you put-in at the bridge you have a short flattish section to warm-up.  The action starts about 1km.  You will pass a big cabin on your left side and from here you have about 200m before you enter the mini gorge.  This section is normally the section raced during the Thrombi X-fest (held Jan/Feb).  The entry rapid to the gorge is a small horse-shoe drop (1m).  If you don’t know the section, you can get out before the entry drop and walk down the right of the river and scout the first rapid (Slot-machine). The mini-gorge is about 500m in length.  The two major rapids in this section are Slot-machine and Supertube.  Supertube is located at the end where the river makes a sharp turn to the left.  The line is on river right.

After the mini-gorge or race section, the action continues with Boof-auto-matic (line is over a ledge on centre-right), Ski-jump is a sloped ledge (line is on river left – tucked behind a boulder), Golf-course (continues boulder garden with a couple of holes) and Cheese grater (last rapid above the falls).  At a low and medium level it is easy to scout and even boat scout.  When the water gets up, scouting becomes more difficult since the river is continues.  Best to know the river before you jump on at a high level.  The falls also becomes a portage at higher levels.

Thrombi falls is about 8 – 9m high.  It has a hole just above the lip of the waterfall (allows for debate whether the best line is left, right or punching the hole).  You can either get out above the last rapid before the falls to scout (flat rocks on river left) or run cheese grater and then get-out (also left).  The waterfall has a pocket on the right and an undercut on river left.  Safety can be set-up on a ledge half-way down the side of the waterfall river left.

The waterfall is the take-out for short Thrombi.  The easiest way out is to take-out just above Cheese grater on the right.  Hike-out to the top of the hill.  Vehicles (read bakkie or 4×4) can be parked at the top of the hill (some guys manage to miss where the vehicles are parked, so walk up to the top rather than following the gulley).  If you ran the waterfall, portage back-up to the top of the falls on river left.  If you use this take-out, you have to arrange for access from the farmer.

Long Thrombi:  It is best to paddle this section on medium and high flows since the river towards the end flattens out.  There are still one or two biggish rapids after the waterfall.  Everything is run-able and pretty easy to read and run.  There are two take-out options:

1.  At the newly build suspension walk bridge across the river (29°56’58.16″S ; 29°39’50.79″E ).  The access road to the suspension bridge is to follow the take-out road of the Polela and carry-on over the take-out bridge for the Polela onto Qulashe (Check google earth)

2.  At the onlfuence of the Polela and UMzimkhulu rivers. (29°56’53.19″S ; 29°42’20.93″E)