Tugela River – Canyon

This is a classic trip featuring a couple of both runnable and unrunnable waterfalls.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, raft, croc at low level
  • Grade: 3 to 5
  • Length: 55km
  • Duration: 2 to 3 days
  • Type: Pool-drop, with waterfalls and sometimes big volume
  • Put-in: Railway bridge where the Onderbroek River joins Tugela, 6km from Colenso
  • Take-out: Bridge where road from Weenen to Tugela Estate crosses river
  • Dam controlled: Spioenkop Dam, but some tributaries feed the Tugela below the dam
  • Permits: None
  • Commercial operator: Zingela, on lower part

MAP 38

The first major obstacle after the put-in is Harts Hill Falls, which is 11 m high and runnable. Take out on rocky island closest to left bank. If you don’t run the waterfall, an option is to lower your boat with a rope into the pool below and jump after it. At very high levels it is necessary to get out on the bank some distance before the waterfall to scout.

After Harts Hill Falls follows a rapid with a nice drop at the end. After this rapid, get out on the left bank as soon as the river starts dropping. This is the entry to the spectacular Little Augrabies, which should definitely be portaged. Don’t try to eddy-hop till just before the falls, you might run out of eddies. Play safe and take the long walk.

The next obstacle is a 3m horse-shoe waterfall. There are lines through it, but if you are not sure, rather portage. The next obstacle is a weir at the pump house, which can also act as a put-in / take-out point, although that destroys the object of the exercise. Portage on the left. Get out on island in the middle of the river just after the weir. There are spectacular waterfalls on the left and right of the island, dropping about 30m in total. Climb down the middle, lowering boats with ropes where necessary. Enjoy a surf at the playhole 50m below the fall.

After this there are no more waterfalls, but lots of class 3 and 4 rapids with nice drops every now and then. Lots of playholes and waves can also be found at medium to high levels.

Much further down you will encounter Washing Machine, which can be recognized by big boulders in the river and on the right bank, after which the river turns sharply to the right. The rapid starts with a nasty boulder garden and then moves into ledges forming pour-overs and holes. Scout this class 4+ rapid from the right and don’t be shy to portage it.

A couple of nice rapids follow, including Liquidizer, after which you will see the Zingela camp on the right bank. From the camp there is about 15km of flat water and excellent class 3 to 4 rapids, especially Finger Rock and Sharkfin rapids.

The scenery on this whole section is awesome. A large part of it is bordered by the Tugela Biosphere on the right, which is absolutely unspoilt and is host to most of the big Five and many other animals.

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