Umzimkulu River – Stoke’s farm to Islington Store, aka Waterfall Section

This has become a favorite section for kayakers, especially the short first stretch, which has become known as the Waterfall Section. There are some spectacular waterfalls and interesting rapids, with enough flat water between all the action to recover.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, croc, raft
  • Grade: 3 to 4
  • Length: 1) 5km 2) 30km
  • Duration: 1) 2 to 3 hours 2) 6 to 7 hours
  • Type: Pool-drop, few waterfalls
  • Put-in: Stoke’s farm
  • Take-out: 1) At Cooper’s Falls, still on Stoke’s farm. 2) Islington Store
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: Farmer at Stoke’s farm is very friendly. At least greet him when you put in.
  • Detailed trip report on Adrian Tregoning’s blog: Umzimkulu River – Waterfall Section, High Level Blast

Umzimkulu Polela map

The start is right above the first drop, 2-3m high, depending on the water level. The drop is wide and broken on the far right. It is runnable at all levels on the left side, not too far from the bank. It is a perfect introduction to waterfall running, as it is very safe and easy to run, with a deep pool below and no mean suckback.

A couple of relatively easy rapids follow, before a sloping waterfall, about 3m high, is encountered. The river is wide here with a few drops to choose from, but the safest run is in the middle. The stopper at the end easily submerges a kayak, but let go without hassles. It gets quite sticky at high levels, though, when it should be portaged.

A 5m waterfall follows, with a straight drop on the left side and a broken slope on the right. There are cliffs on the left, so get out on the right and walk down to scout. The one to run is the vertical drop on the left, and is pretty straightforward at a low to medium level. Don’t go too far to the left, where the suckback is stronger. It is easy to walk back for a second run, and it has become common for kayakers to run this waterfall a few times in a row. Beware when the level is high, the suckback becomes mean and the fall becomes a definite portage.

Don’t think about running the rapid after the following flat pool, it leads into the massive Cooper Falls which is spectacular and almost frightening to watch. It has an island in the middle with a gorge transforming into cataracts on the left and shear drops on the right, probably about 30m wide.

The first take-out for the section is on the left bank before the waterfall. Follow the pathway up to where the road begins. A 4×4 will make the steep walk a bit shorter, as the last kilometer of the road is not passable in normal vehicles. Portage the waterfall on the right if the long section is paddled.

Below the waterfall the character of the river changes from ledged drops to long steep rapids, most of them boulder gardens. They are not too difficult, all in the class 3 range, and reminiscent of the rapids below Hella-Hella on the Umkomaas. It is a long way down to Islington Store and the long section is only really worthwhile when the level is quite high.

This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
If you have any pictures or recent information on this section of river to share, please contact me:
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