The Howick Gorge of the Umgeni River is one of the more taxing stretches in the country with unspoilt mountain scenery, and very reminiscent of Alpine creeks.
Ideal for: Kayak
Grade: 3 to 5
Duration: 3 to 5 hours
Type: Almost continuous, steep and technical
Put-in: Below Howick Falls. Take the gorge walk down to the bottom of the falls.
Take-out: Turn off to Hilton College from N3. At entrance of College, ask permission and get directions to the Umgeni River picnic site.
Levels paddleable: When dam is overflowing
Dam controlled: Midmar Dam
Permits: Pay for gorge walk (small fee) at put-in. Permission from Hilton College at take out.
Don’t take the stretch lightly, especially at high water. If you don’t want to run the very first rapid at the put-in, rather don’t do the trip. The second rapid is a broken waterfall (5m in total) with a runnable line on the left. If you are not a hundred percent competent and sure of the line, portage on the left. To be more exact, don’t be shy to portage any of the rapids if you don’t feel up to it. Keep in mind that the river is skirted by thick bush, so portaging is no easy job, hence the remark on the first rapid.
For the competent paddler, this section will be most rewarding. Many of the rapids are quite long and the pools short, so scouting from eddies is essential. If you are not sure, scout from the bank, as some of the rapids may hide a few surprises. About halfway down, a second waterfall (3m) is encountered. At high level the suck-back is very bad, so portage. At low level the suck-back is still substantial and the line to run very tight. After this, some of the rapids play host to pour-overs that will test your boofing skills. This is a very testing, technical section to run, but as already stated, most rewarding.
On a first trip down this section, have a second waiting on the bank, otherwise you mught miss the take-out. Remember to ask for a key at the College entrance for the gate halfway down to the river. They lock it sometimes, and the only way to open it when it is locked is for two persons to lift the whole gate up. It is a strenuous exercise that can be avoided by a simple key.
The take out for this section used to be at a bridge 5 km further on, but all that happens from this take-out to the bridge is lots of small channels, half of which have dead ends. Nightmare stuff, especially if the water is high.
This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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