If you’ve been a regular reader of this site for a while, you may remember a trip to the Transkei with myself (Luke) and AT back in November 2008, when we paddled the lower Umzimvubu and then spent a week at The Falls backpackers near Maclear, waiting for rain which never came. Since that trip, I’ve been waiting to get back to the Transkei and paddle some of the classic rivers there. (Article by Luke Longridge)


So, this year I planned a few days at The Falls with my wife and brother just before Christmas, to chill and hopefully catch some water. There were some heavy rains in Kwazulu Natal and the Transkei the week before we arrived, so the water was up (although we missed the big water). We arrived (via a sneaky paddle on the Lotheni) in the evening to find a few other paddlers there – they’d been there a few days and had caught some of the high water. The next morning, I asked if they were paddling anything, and they said no, they’d were all paddled out and were just going to chill. Since AD (who owns the backpackers with his wife Angela) was very busy, it seemed like it was going to be a solo mission down the Tsitsa Gorge right in front of the backpackers….


On our way to paddle the Lotheni. Twice in one year, I was pretty chuffed to be on this chilled but beautiful section again! With Jolene Fisher & Neil O’Leary.


The Tsitsa Gorge is a Class V section of whitewater, and although quite a short paddle, it is riddled with siphons and is not to be taken lightly. Luckily, there is a great view of all the rapids from the edge of the gorge, and so my brother and I got on our bikes and cycled the rim of the gorge to scout things out. We took our time, taking photos and making mental notes of all the lines and where the danger spots would be. Since this was going to be a solo mission there would be no safety, so it was crucial to scout things thoroughly. There are a number of nasty spots, including at least 3 big siphons in the main current that could be seriously dangerous if you didn’t know they were there.


Scouting the gorge – a pretty pleasant activity in itself, with an easy bike trail along the rim of the gorge and great views.

One of the rapids with a really bad siphon – the line is far right, against the bank.

Zoom in on the siphon – see that spiral of water that looks like a toilet flushing? That’s real bad. And right in what appears to be the main line.

Psyched after scouting, with the falls in the background. Now for lunch and a paddle!

As we cycled back up the hill to the backpackers, I saw the other paddlers drive out with boats on the roof. They looked at me and drove away, off to do a first descent of the Luzi. Seemed like they deliberately didn’t want me on the trip for some reason, but they put on late and missed their takeout. They then spent a night in the cold rain with no shelter, and had to paddle 50km of flatwater before the next takeout. So I guess it’s better to paddle alone than to paddle with fools.
Back at the backpackers, I went over the rapids with AD to make sure I had all the lines correct and double check where the danger spots were. Then we had lunch and a nap, and in the afternoon I went to fire up the gorge. My brother cycled along the edge with two cameras to catch the action.

Me walking down to the river with the backpackers in the background.

Carrying down to the river.

Some local cattle.

Getting in at the bridge – followed by a short paddle down to the Tsitsa Falls.

Portaging the falls

In the pool below the falls. I was quite nervous here as it was dark and stormy, the falls are quite intimidating, and I was about to paddle a Class V river for the first time, solo.

Although the river was a medium-low level, the rapids were still awesome fun. After a short paddle with some small rapids above the waterfall, and a portage on the left around the falls, the fun starts with a tight line down the right, and an autoboof at the end. There is a major siphon in the middle of the river so getting the correct line is essential.


Coming down the 1st rapid – make sure to go right into the eddy above this point, as the big rock in the middle also has a big siphon.

Boofing the drop on the first rapid – after this I was really fired up for the gorge, and the tension started to ease up.

Another angle of the first rapid, taken the second time I ran the river.

The second major rapid also has a very bad siphon on the right. It starts with a small rapid, then you have to get left above a sweet little slide, and then end off with a nice autoboof waterfall. After this I really started to feel relaxed and less nervous about paddling solo.


Scouting the 2nd rapid.

Running the entry to the 2nd rapid – after this you have to go left to get onto the slide.

At the top of the slide on the 2nd rapid – make sure you’re left here.

Halfway down the slide.

Running the autoboof drop at the end of the 2nd rapid. Take note of the massive siphon above the big flat rock in the middle of the river… if you don’t get left on the slide there could be problems.

After this there are some small rapids before the big slide – this starts off with another great boof onto a long, fun slide – nothing hectic at this level but it could get fun at high water.


Boofing on one of the smaller rapids – I was very impressed with the boofability of the Bazooka!

Entering the big slide

On my way down the slide. Although not very steep, it is long, and has a number of really fun diagonals. 

Near the end of the slide.

The next rapid kind of sneaks up on you and it’s essential to stay left after the slide – the right side has a nasty boulder in the rapid. On the left, AD warned me to maintain speed to avoid being pulled right into the sieve, but at this level it didn’t seem too much of a problem. Because it comes up very suddenly, if you are going to scout this then do it quickly after the slide so you don’t get caught out and have to carry up.


Running the rapid after the slide – make sure to keep left here as the right is quite nasty looking.

Following this are more small rapids, one of which has a very scary siphon on the left – this we could see sucking the river down from the edge of the gorge. This reminded me of the siphon that Scott Reinders went through on the Mac Mac a few years back, which is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen on a river. The line down this rapid if far right, well away from the siphon.


Running far right (under instructions from AD)… can you spot the gaping siphon on the left?

Lower down the siphon rapid. Where the siphon is appears at first glance to be the main line.

Running one of the smaller rapids (which I’m sure gets meaty at higher water).

After this is a fun river-wide double hole, which is followed by another fun rapid down the left of the river, before the take-out on the left. A steep half-hour walk gets you out of the gorge – when you look downriver you can see the confluence of the Pot and Tsitsa rivers. This is the take-out for the Pot gorge, and involves a much longer walk than the hike out from the Tsitsa. Up top, I had a short wait before my brother Jake arrived with the car. This paddle was also my first time paddling the Fluid Bazooka (medium) – I was very impressed with its boofability, and how nimble it feels.


The river-wide double hole. A window is open on the right (at this level).

Above the last biggish rapid.

Running the last biggish rapid before the takeout. There are two options – you can either boof the rock in the middle or go right of it.

The first day I opted for the boof.

Although these rapids were pretty fun and not too hectic at this lowish level, I’m sure they get quite serious at high water, and they are close together so they would likely merge into one long rapid. During the run, I stopped repeatedly to scout and check lines, even though I’d spent the morning scouting in detail. However, I repeated my solo run again the next day – this time I didn’t scout and managed to cruise the entire gorge in just over 15 minutes, which gives you an idea how short it really is.


The hike out of the gorge. It looks bad but it’s only about a half hour hike.

Me hiking out

Hiking out. Worth it pretty much just for the view of the late afternoon storms

A massive rainbow in the east at the top of the gorge.

The rest of our time at The Falls was spent doing some of the other great stuff there – checking out the amazing Tsitsa Falls, which one can walk behind, checking out the Bushman paintings in a cave a short walk away, and having a lazy braai down by the falls. Unfortunately I didn’t get to paddle anything else this trip, but hopefully I will be down there again soon to run some other Transkei classics like the Pot and Inxu.


Phia and I behind Tsitsa Falls.

Family photo – Jake, Phia and myself.

View of the falls from up near the Bushman paintings

Checking out the Bushman paintings

A painted Eland. I wonder how old these really are. Some others are quite faded.

The final sunset before heading home.

Thanks very much to my brother Jake for taking all the photos of my paddling. All the photos in this article were taken by him. Thanks also to Phia for running shuttle.
As always, AD and Angela were the model of hospitality – check them out at www.tsitsafalls.com
I also made a video of the run – filmed with my CamOne. Really enjoy the lime lapse function on this, which I just started playing with on this trip. Check it here.

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