Witte River

The Wit (or Witte, as it also has become known) is described by many paddlers as one of the top creeks in the world. It is seriously steep and continuous, with only two or three decent pools on the whole stretch. It is just plainly awesome.

  • Ideal for: Kayak
  • Grade: 4 to 5
  • Length: 8km
  • Duration: 4 to 5 hours with people who know the river, 8+ hours when scouting
  • Type: Continuous creek
  • Put-in: At Bainskloof Lodge (not inside Lodge) at top of Bainskloof pass (also known as Eerste Tol)  33°36’57.9″S 19°06’09.3″E
  • Take-out: Picnic site of CNC on Bainskloof pass (also known as Tweede Tol)   33°33’20.7″S 19°09’06.4″E
  • Levels paddleable: Low when rock in middle of pool at put-in is sticking out. Medium when water is about paddle’s breadth above same rock. High when flat part of rock next to water pipe at put-in is covered. Unrunnable when water reaches bent of water pipe.
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: Yes (CNC)


The Bainskloof pass runs along the river, making it possible for seconds to follow the progress of the paddlers. It is however high above the river, with steep slopes making it difficult to walk out in the case of a mishap.

The river is tight with numerous siphons and undercuts. Very technical manoeuvring is required and it is only suitable for skilled paddlers who are confident in class 5 water. A short creek boat is recommended. The continuous nature of the river makes it impossible to describe all the rapids. The run can be split into four sections.

Section 1 is a good warmup with continuous class three rapids. After 2km, eddy out behind a large boulder in the centre of the river. Just downstream is a clean 2m drop on the left and a nasty channel on the right; this marks the end of section 1. If you find yourself scared at this point it is a good idea to make the difficult hike up to the road on river left because the river only gets more intense.

Section 2 is characterised by lots of boulder gardens, with the odd chute and slide, all packed closely together. Highlights include rapids named Snake Alley, Off the Wall and Go Right – make sure you do go right here because there are some nasty siphons waiting on the left. 3.7km after starting you reach your first decent pool, this marks the beginning of section three. The walk out from this pool is as easy as it is going to get, but if you enjoyed section 2, the biggest and best rapids wait for you just downstream.

Section 3 starts with Pilkington Falls, a technical rapid ending with a clean 3m waterfall, followed by Siphon Alley (no prizes for why it is called that). The character of the river bed shifts a bit from here on where some nice ‘California style’ slides come into play and the river channels the lines a bit more. Selecting the right channel is critical and the ones that look the most appealing often hide some nasty surprises.

Section 4 is not quite as steep as the sections above, but you will still need to stay on your toes. It is notorious for causing the most swims, probably because paddlers are tired from the day’s actions and they lose concentration. Look out for the last rapid fondly known as the Fat Lady, because the action ‘aint over until she sings.

It is highly recommended to attempt this river in the company of someone who knows it well, especially if the levels are up. Otherwise start very early and be prepared to scout constantly.

As with all the Cape rivers, this one should be paddled just after rain, and the weather is likely to be miserable. Don’t be put off by that, just go prepared with proper gear. The Wit is no easy ride, but those who are capable will have the time of their lives.

There is also a stretch to paddle upstream of the described section. To get to the put-in, go to the gravel road turning off to the right at the top of Bainskloof pass when coming from Wellington. It has a boom gate at the entrance; don’t attempt to drive in. Hike down for about two kilometres, over a channel with the interesting name of “Gawie se water”, and keep left at the split in the road. Put in below the weir. The take-out is at the put-in for the normally run section described above. This section is very similar to the one described above, with lots of class 4 rapids and a few solid 5’s. Scout properly and expect to be on the water the whole day. Take-out at the put-in for the lower section.

Low water run

Medium level run / considered a perfect flow

High side of medium / not for Wit Virgins

High level (make sure you only put on section 4 when the river is this high)

Special thanks to Scott Reinders for his input in this river description.

Detailed article on Adrian Tregoning’s blog: Witte River – South Africa’s finest?

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:
I appreciate any contributions to keep this content up-to-date.