Umzimkulu River – Drakensberg Gardens to Second Coleford bridge, aka Drakensberg Challenge

This section of the Umzimkulu River is mostly used by K1 racers, and an annual two-day race, called the Drakensberg Challenge, is held over the course described here. The start is not far from the source and the river is very small here, but small tributaries feed it constantly, so it gets bigger as one progresses downstream. The water is very clear on this upper part and the escarpment can be seen from the river, making for a pleasant experience.

  • Ideal for: K1
  • Grade: 1 to 3
  • Length: 60km
  • Duration: 2 day race
  • Type: Small river with long flats and technical rapids
  • Put-in for first day: 7 Kay bridge, on the way to Drakensberg Gardens
  • Take-out for second day: Second Coleford bridge
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: None

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Polela River

The Polela is one of the Umzimkulu’s significant tributaries. It is a technical creek which is only recommended for competent kayakers with proper scouting skills. There are a couple of waterfalls on this section, but they are easy to be portaged. They can be shot by experienced kayakers, but scout properly and don’t attempt if you are not a hundred percent sure.

The rapids are all runnable but some are very steep and tight. At medium to high levels a few nice playspots can even be found, although most paddlers on this section won’t be too worried about playing. Some of the rapids have nasty pour-overs that should be missed or precisely boofed. If you are not faced by this description, enjoy the ride.

  • Ideal for: Kayak
  • Grade: 3 to 5
  • Length: 23km
  • Duration: 4 to 6 hours
  • Type: Pool-drop creek
  • Put-in: Bridge where R617 crosses river
  • Take-out: Confluence with Umzimkulu, road comes close to river
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: None

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Umtamvuna River

The Umtamvuna River forms the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Transkei, and the last 40 km of the river to the sea goes through what is arguably the most stunning gorge in South Africa. Some big walls can be seen, with thick tropical vegetation. This must be the closest you can get to a tropical jungle in Southern Africa. It is unspoilt for the most part and extremely remote. Once in the gorge, it is virtually impossible to walk out.

  • Ideal for: Kayak
  • Grade: Mostly 3 to 4, some bordering on 5
  • Length: 44km
  • Duration: 8 to 10 hours, depending on water level. Preferably a 2 day trip.
  • Type: Technical pool-drop, some sections continuous
  • Put-in: Road from Port Edward to Izingolweni. Turn off to Umtamvuna Water Purification Plant. Don’t enter plant, take road down to river (+-3.5km). Where powerlines cross road, take track to left. Walk down from here or use 4×4 (+-1km).
  • Take-out: Old Pont Caravan Park just outside Port Edward, on road to Izingolweni
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: Pay at take-out

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