Rivers of Transkei

The Transkei, formerly a homeland in the old South Africa, now forms part of the Eastern Cape. Paddling in Transkei is, however, a totally different experience from anywhere else in Southern Africa. It is an undeveloped Third World region, with few access points to the magnificent river gorges, resulting in full-on expeditions taking any number of days.

The Transkei is the premier region for the experienced paddler seeking largely unexplored and remote big water. Although the big three – the Mzimvubu, the Tina, and the Tsitsa – have all been paddled from source to sea, their inaccessibility and the preparation required for a severe multi-day expedition means that it does not happen often.

The Transkei is well known for being a principle source of marijuana. This, combined with extreme rural poverty, unfortunately means that crime is rife and caution should be exercised. These problems make a pick-up desirable, as there are few safe spots to leave vehicles. That said, outside of the towns adjacent to the main roads, you are unlikely to be met by anything but a warm welcome.

A 4×4 vehicle is required, especially in summer, for most put-in points. Topographical maps are necessary for private tours to find the poorly marked roads and tracks. The map accompanying the descriptions should only be seen as a guideline here; get detailed maps before embarking on an expedition. Don’t expect everything to be the same as on the map; roads are not easily recognized and accessibility is limited, with villages popping up all over the place.

One needs to cross private roads and property, so be friendly to all locals. Ask permission wherever necessary, and don’t leave anything unattended. A Xhosa speaking party member is advisable.

Tsitsa Falls Backpackers, owned by Adrian Badenhorst and his wife Angela, has become the hub for river missions in the Transkei. Adrian is one of South Africa’s most experienced expedition kayakers and was instrumental in a number of first descents in the Transkei in recent years.