The Tugela River (Zulu: Thukela; Afrikaans: Tugelarivier) is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. With a total length of 560 km (350 mi), and a drop of 1370 metres in the lower 480 km,[1] it is one of the most important rivers of the country.[2]

The Tugela River with the Amphitheatre in the background
The course of the Tugela river, from the west to the east border of KwaZulu-Natal.
Native nameThukela
CountrySouth Africa
TownsBergville, Colenso
Physical characteristics
 • locationDrakensberg
 • coordinates28°45′00″S 28°53′45″E / 28.75000°S 28.89583°E / -28.75000; 28.89583
MouthIndian Ocean
 • coordinates
29°13′26″S 31°30′0″E / 29.22389°S 31.50000°E / -29.22389; 31.50000
Length560 km (350 mi)
Basin size29,100 km2 (11,200 sq mi)
Basin features
 • left
 • right

The river originates in Mont-aux-Sources of the Drakensberg Mountains at an elevation of 3282 metres[3] and plunges in five distinct free-leaping falls 947 metres down the Tugela Falls. The Mont-aux-Sources is also the origin of tributaries of two other major South African rivers, the Orange and the Caledon River. From the Drakensberg range, the Tugela follows a 560 km (350 mi) route through the KwaZulu-Natal midlands before flowing into the Indian Ocean.[4] The total catchment area is approximately 29,100 km2 (11,200 sq mi).[4] Land uses in the catchment are mainly rural subsistence farming and commercial forestry.


British troops crossing the river during the Second Boer War

The Tugela has a number of tributaries coming off the Drakensberg, the largest being the Mzinyathi ("Buffalo") River (rising near Majuba Hill), but also the Little Tugela River, Klip River (rising near Van Reenen Pass), Mooi River, Blood River, Sundays River (rising in the Biggarsberg) Ingagani River and Bushman River.[4][5] The Buffalo River joins the Tugela some 19 km (12 mi) east of Tugela Ferry at 28°43′04″S 30°38′41″E / 28.71778°S 30.64472°E / -28.71778; 30.64472.

The Blood River was named by the Boers, led by Andries Pretorius, after they defeated the Zulu king Dingane on 16 December 1838, when the river is said to have run red with the blood of Zulu warriors. Below the Blood River is Rorke's Drift, a crossing point and a battle site, in the Anglo-Zulu War.[3]



The scaly yellowfish (Labeobarbus natalensis) is found in the Tugela River System. It is a common endemic fish in KwaZulu-Natal Province and it is found in different habitats between the Drakensberg foothills and the coastal lowlands, including rivers such as the Umkomazi.[6]



The spelling Tugela was used for most of the twentieth century; it is an Anglicised version of the Zulu name Thukela. Nineteenth-century writers adopted a variety of spellings including:

  • Isaacs (1836) used a number of different spellings in his book, Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa,[7] including Ootergale and Ootoogale.
  • C.R. Maclean (John Ross), writing in the Nautical Magazine in 1853, used the spelling Zootagoola[8]
  • George French Angas, a nineteenth-century artist, used the name Tugala on the captions to his sketches.[9]

Some of the variations can be accounted for by the early European writers being unaware that Zulu grammar uses prefixes, often a "i-" or a "u-", to denote the noun class of a noun.

Tugela river mouth

See also

Dams on the Tugela


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Key rivers of South Africa". MyFundi. Archived from the original on 2012-07-10.
  3. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tugela" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 364. This has a very detailed description of the river's course.
  4. ^ a b c "Proposal to establishment a Catchment Management Agency for the Thukela Water Management Area - Appendix A" (PDF). Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. July 2004. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  5. ^ Thukela WMA 7
  6. ^ "Technical Report on the State of Yellowfishes in South Africa 2007" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  7. ^ Nathaniel Isaacs (1836). Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa - Vol I. Edward Churton. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
  8. ^ C.R. Maclean (February 1853). "Loss of the Brig Mary at Natal with Early Recollections of that Settlement - Two". The Nautical Magazine. pp. 74–80. Reproduced in Stephen Gray, ed. (1992). The Natal Papers of John Ross. ISBN 978-0-869-80851-1.
  9. ^ "Making outchoualla or native beer, at Gudu's kraal, Tugala River, Zulu country", a sketch by G F Angas; National Library of Australia.

  Media related to Tugela River at Wikimedia Commons