Tugela River – Gorge

This is one of the most well-known stretch of serious whitewater rafting in South Africa, although not many people have paddled it, probably because of its reputation, but also because of the difficult access. It takes a while to drive the long dirt road to the put-in and take-out points, and the road is very slippery a fter rain. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile paddle, with some nice scenery, especially in the gorge section.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, raft, croc
  • Grade: 3 to 4 (5 at high level)
  • Length: 23 km
  • Duration: 6 hours, or easy 2 day trip
  • Type: Pool-drop, with a gorge section
  • Put-in: Rafting camp at Mfongosi
  • Take-out: Jameson’s Drift
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: None

MAP 39

All the rapids have fearsome names, but only a few are really serious. The middle part of the section where the gorge is situated has some bigger rapids, so watch out when the valley closes a bit. The section from Unicorn to Four Man Hole is pretty continuous, and at high levels some serious pour-overs should be avoided. At a low level all rapids can be scouted from the water by a competent paddler, but at a high level the bigger rapids should be scouted from the bank. Four Man Hole forms a big nasty pour-over spanning most of the river when the water is up, with a chicken run on the left.

The section is fully runnable with crocs at low levels, but at medium to high levels you will be in for some long swims if you attempt the rapids with a croc. At a high level this section becomes South Africa’s Zambezi, with huge waves and holes, and rafters have the time of their lives. Although the section is below Spioenkop Dam, some major rivers of the area join the Tugela below the dam. The water level is therefore not influenced too much by the dam. In fact, the water level is very prone to come up fast in the gorge after rain in any of the joining rivers’ catchment areas.

This is an excellent stretch to do, but the trip should be part of a two or more day excursion to the valley to really appreciate it, otherwise the whole trip will be a rush against time.

This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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