Usutu River – Commercial section

The commercial section is obviously the most well known stretch to paddle in Swaziland. It is a wide and open section with stunning scenery. The section is below the three major tributaries and a paddleable water level 365 days a year is almost guaranteed. All major rapids can be portaged, making this trip an ideal introduction to real whitewater.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, croc, also raft at high water
  • Grade: 2 to 4
  • Length: 20km for full section
  • Duration: 4 to 6 hours
  • Type: Open river, long pools, few steep rapids
  • Put-in: Dirt road goes over dry riverbed. Stop and walk 500m in riverbed to Usutu.
  • Take-out: Bridge at Siphofaneni
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: None
  • Commercial operator: Swazi Trails

MAP 64

A stroll along a normally dry riverbed from the road takes you to the starting point of the trip. Once on the water, a short rapid with a nice drop awakens paddlers. Then follows a long section of flat-water with small but exciting rapids, where the superb scenery can be appreciated. At all but very low levels some nice playholes and waves can be found on this section, promising fun for playboaters.

Be sharp when the river starts to drop again, as the next major rapid has a couple of pour-overs that might surprise the drowsy paddler. It can be scouted from the right bank if you are unsure, but the rapid is quite long, so try scouting it by eddy-hopping instead.

Directly after this follows another short, steep rapid, which is normally scouted from the left bank. At a low water level it starts with a nice big hole that might surf you for a while, before letting you go to the wide pour-over at the bottom that looks worse than it is. When the water level picks up, the first hole washes out and forms a nice wave, while the pour-over becomes a big hole that sucks you down before spitting you out. The rapid is quite intimidating, but fun to run and easier than it seems.

Be sure to get out on the right bank after this, as the next rapid leads into Bulunga Falls. Portage this one on the right, unless you are an expert paddler. If you think about running it, scout it properly from both sides, and then think again. It has been run from the top by Darren Raw, but mere mortals should rather hop in at the eddy right above the falls on the left and run only the drop. Be sure to clear the rock at the bottom.

When the water level is very low, the commercial operator ends the river trip here and then does abseiling on the cliffs next to the waterfall. Otherwise, this makes a very nice lunch spot. To reach the waterfall by road, drive 8km after the turn-off from the Sithobela – Siphofaneni road. Stop next to the road and walk down to the waterfall.

Further down, there is one major rapid that keeps the adrenaline going. They call it Zambezi rapid and it can be scouted from the right bank. It starts with a boulder garden, after which it turns to the left and enters a series of sticky holes. The rapid turns right again and goes over a couple of pour-overs. A good recipe for fun.

The commercial trips end on the left bank not far beyond after Zambezi rapid, although it is possible to go further on. Incentive to do this is provided by an impressive waterfall, which has been run before. The 6m high falls consist of different chutes falling in a horseshoe shape. Apart from the falls, no real action can be expected on this last part of the trip. The last few kilometres to the bridge are really flat.

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