Wit River – An Ultra Low Flow Scouting Hike

The Wit (or Witte) River is one of rivers a lot of South Africans have heard about. Held up as one of THE rivers in our diverse country and regarded as a world class run even by world standards. I had hiked along the upper stretch once with my sister a few years back and had seen the river from the road high above but had seen very little of it and only what the word on the street was. After my solo hiking mission along a dry Dwars River, I decided that some company would be in order to avoid hitch hiking back as an out and return trip would be impossible and so Rowan Walpole was called upon. He was as eager as me to check it out and so we did exactly that.

The normal stretch is 7.5 km long and drops about 268 metres during that distance. So that gives one an average gradient of 35.73 m/km. Bearing in mind that from halfway, to around the last quarter is quite a bit steeper than anywhere else with the last quarter or probably fifth, being reasonably flat. So the figures speak for themselves and promise a good ride.


The hike Rowan and I did is known as the Rock Hopper trail and it soon became very apparent as to how the trail got its name. There are a lot of rocks in the river bed, to say the least! It goes without saying that this hike can only be done in summer when the river is extremely low, or perhaps if it hasn’t rained for a while during winter, although caution needs to be exercised for obvious reasons. It’s a great hike and I highly recommend it to anyone with reasonable fitness.


The hike was really good and the day perfect. We could not have asked for better weather. All in all, it took us just over 9 hours of solid walking and we were pretty tired by the time we got to the end, and had seen enough rocks to last a lifetime. I can’t wait for this stupid shoulder to heal so I can enjoy this one too! I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.


Looking upstream from the put in. Look, there are some rocks...


A couple hundred metres down from the put in.


The top part is easy, with small pools.


This would be technical, easy paddling - not steep and a good warm up.


Just above the put in - with water though. Photo by Elize Reinecke. (standing at the put in, and slightly lower than from where I took that very top photo)


Rowan Walpole in a potential siphon at very high water levels. There are quite a few siphons and undercuts on this stretch - take care!


The sun started to show itself a little more. It was a fresh morning but the effort of moving around kept us warm.


Eventually we reached the sunshine and what a glorious day it was set to be.


Baboons are often hanging around in the mountains here.


Peter Ridgway and Stephan du Toit. Photo by Elize Reinecke.


Andrew Kellet playing at some random spot. Photo by Peter Ridgway.


Siphon time.


This could be interesting with lots of water. The siphon/sieve shown above is at the bottom of this photo.


Montague se rotse waterfall. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (note: all captions are according to Mr Ridgway)


Big boulder waterfall. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (looks like Hugh du Preez to me...)


More company higher up on the banks.


The scene of an unfortunate Jeep Cherokee that had rolled down from the road.


The Jeep at the bottom, and another two more wrecks above it. Be careful when driving alone the road that winds above the river!!! What a damn waste.


Looking upstream from where the vehicle graveyard was. The gradient still not too steep, yet.


Rowan Walpole looking ahead at the steeper horizon line. Note the undercut on the right and there is a bit of a sieve just after the large boulder, on the right. (barely visible in this small photo and about 8 meters downstream)


Through the gates. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (Looks like Hugh du Preez to me...)


Adrian Tregoning saying something from inside another lovely siphon. Photo by Rowan Walpole.


Adrian Tregoning sitting inside the same siphon. To be honest, I'd rather end up in one of these underwater tombs that perish in some needless car accident. Photo by Rowan Walpole.


The beautiful Wit River is all its splendour and beauty. The water is cold and 100% ready to drink as is. Refreshing!


Stay away from this side when you see this tyre! And check out the next two photos.


Albie Cilliers running the tyre drop. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (the tyre as shown above is on the river right hand side. Look at the rock to the left of the paddler as seen in the photo, and then look below at the next shot....)


See the same rock as shown above? Another sneaky siphon awaits the unsuspecting paddler. Be smart, stay away from the upstream side of rocks.


There are some awesome rock formations along the way!


And some comfy ones too. I could think of a useful purpose for this rock.... But I'd trade Mr Walpole for someone else...  :-)


An easy to avoid rock. So there's a tip - avoid it.


Yep, another siphon. This river has quite a few. Not as many as the Crocodile Gorge outside of Nelspruit but enough to be a concern to anyone paddling down this stretch.


The run would be to go right just before that log in the distance. Seems there could be an ugly eddy there at high levels.


Looking upstream from where the photo above was taken. Loads of rocks, like I said!


Another fun looking section ending in a smart pool.


Adrian Tregoning cooling off in the cold waters. Photo by Rowan Walpole.


And the pool exits through a small siphon and the river drops from here on.


This is the entry to Pilkington Waterfall - on the left, around the big boulder catching the sun on the left side of it.


The view of the right line of Pilkington Waterfall, looking down. The line is down that very white rock in the centre of this photo. Looks a little different without water - see below!


Andrew Kellet looking not so cool on Pilkington Waterfall. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (like I said, he chose the captions....)


Pilkington Waterfall with zero water. Ah ha, bet you didn't know there was a rock in the landing...and what about the river left line you say?


Yep, there's a rock there too. Best to boof this one as well!  :-)


Looking at the river right option, well, this is not an option.


The rapid right after Pilkington Waterfall. Watch out for this beast. And check out the siphons.


Near the bottom of the rapid shown above. Be concerned. And it isn't the only one. I believe a lot of people portage this rapid.


Another one about 200 meters down. If you have nightmares tonight then at least you've become aware of them.


Another drop I'm pretty sure I've seen photos of with more water. Nice undercut on the right there.


30m slide rapid. Photo by Peter Ridgway.


The 30m slide rapid again. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (see below for the 'without water' shot)


The 30m slide rapid without water... Quite the difference.


Rowan standing at the top of what is known as Double Drop. The main line is right of where he is standing.


Two shots of Double Drop. Showing only the bottom drop.


Double Drop. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (looking from quite a distance)


Looking back up at Double Drop. The line at the end is down those two boulders that are catching the sun first when looking right to left. A small 'pool' forms between the two when there is water. I believe there is a bad siphon on the river right side before the crux of the drop. Watch out. Several people have been in there...


The Two Teacups Rapid. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (this is the top of the rapid, which leads into the slide below)


Two Teacups Rapid. Photo by Peter Ridgway. (looks like Hugh du Preez to me)


Carl Schultz, diagonal wave at the bottom of the Two Teacups Rapid. Photo by Peter Ridgway.


The bottom of Two Teacups, with no water. Compare it to the photo above. Looks nice and clean.


Diagonal wave at Two Teacups. Photo by Peter Ridgway.


Albie Cilliers at diagonal wave below Two Teacups. Photo by Peter Ridgway.


Rowan Walpole, smiling, like always.


Rock shelf, the last biggish rapid. Photo by Peter Ridgway.


The same rapid with a lot less water...


Another car wreck, much further down the river, near the end.


An old engine that has found it's way into the river bed.


The last while is very chilled out and mellow.




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning unless otherwise stated. A huge thanks to Peter Ridgway for supplying me with a whole bunch of comparison photos! As well as Elize Reinecke and of course, Rowan Walpole.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Surfing the ocean around Cape Town.