CHAPTER EIGHT – The River Mkomazi



Umkomaas River, the natural history

The Umkomaas or uMkomazi River is the largest river on the KZN South Coast. The river begins its journey at an altitude of over 3,000 metres just south of Giant’s Castle in the uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. It rises in some of the highest eastwards-facing slopes, near the highest peak south of Kilimanjaro, Thabana Ntlenyana, and flows 298km to its mouth on the Indian Ocean. 

*PHOTO of Drak section of Umko*

Sporting events, mainly canoeing, are held on the river annually. The river is also a popular leisure white-water rafting destination. During the winter dry season, the river mouth often silts up, but after heavy rains it carries large amounts of brown sediment into the Indian Ocean. Some of this sedimentation is due to man-made pressures on the local ecosystem. These pressures include soil erosion caused by over-grazing, intensive cultivation, sewage disposal, informal farming and settlements, timber plantations, and the removal of sand or topsoil from the river’s basin.

The Umkomaas river valley is mentioned in an early chapter of Alan Paton‘s 1948 novel Cry, The Beloved Country. Probably derived from the Zulu word uMkhamazi, the name relates to the sighting of a whale in the river estuary at some point in history. The river’s tributaries include the Madoba, Mkhomazana, Mtungwane, Nhlatimbe, Loteni, Nzinga, Mkomazane, Elands, Nhlavini and the Xobho Rivers.

*Photo of Impendle – Deepdale section – maybe Bald Ibis Falls*

The river’s basin covers about 4,315 km2, annual discharge is approximately 10 million m3 and sediment load is around 1 million tons per year. Some parts of the river basin are vulnerable to flooding due to the steep topography and weather systems, such as intense thunderstorms and cut-off lows. This is exacerbated by land degradation and impervious urban areas. Some floods have resulted in loss of life and destruction of properties where development has encroached on floodplains in densely populated areas, and damage to roads and bridges.

The river flows south-eastwards towards the Indian Ocean, which it enters through a navigable estuary at Umkomaas, about 40 km southwest of Durban.

Towns on the Umkomazi basin include Bulwer, Impendle, Ixopo, Richmond, Craigieburn and Boston. Presently the only dam in its catchment area is the Ixopo Dam, but other dams are planned.

The uMkomazi is part of the Mvoti to Umzimkulu Water Management Area.


The Mkhomazi State Forest and the Mkhomazi Wilderness Area are protected areas located in the upper course of the Umkomazi River.

The Scaly Yellowfish (Labeobarbus natalensis), barbels and eels are found in the uMkomazi River System, as keen fisherman and pioneer Umko tripper Fred Schmidt can attest!



Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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