WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Thrombi Gorge – High water run

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Video of Thrombi at higher levels (about 50cumecs).

Video is there to give a feel of what to expect at higher levels. The section becomes more continues and pretty sweet.


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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)