- "Tugela" redirects here. For the racehorse, see Tugela (horse). For the snout moth genus, see Lamoria.
The Tugela River with the Amphitheatre in the background
|Landmarks||Tugela Falls, Fort Tenedos|
|Length||502 km (312 mi)|
|Basin||29,100 km2 (11,236 sq mi)|
The river originates in the Drakensberg Mountains, Mont-aux-Sources, (itself the source of tributaries of two other major South African rivers, the Orange River and the Vaal River) and plunges 947 metres down the Tugela Falls. From the Drakensberg range the river follows a 502 kilometres (312 mi) route through the KwaZulu-Natal midlands before flowing into the Indian Ocean. The total catchment area is approximately 29,100 square kilometres (11,200 sq mi). Land uses in the catchment are mainly rural subsistence farming and commercial forestry.
The Tugela passes Bergville and Colenso, the latter the site of an important battle in the Second Boer War and for many years the site of the first major power station in Natal. The power station was built by the South African Railways to electrify the railway line north from Pietermaritzburg. It was coal-fired and the cooling water came from the Tugela.
Below the Buffalo confluence the Tugela flows southeast in a deep channel between cliffs and valleys until it reaches the narrow coast belt. Its mouth is nearly closed by a sand bar, formed by the action of the ocean. The Tugela is thus not navigable. It is generally fordable in the winter months, but after the heavy rains of summer, it however becomes a deep and rapid river.
Tugela mouth 
The area near the mouth is known for a number of historical sites and events. The first European visitor to the vicinity was Vasco da Gama on December 28, 1497. He named a certain cape near this area Ponta da Pescaria, due to the number of fish they caught here. Portuguese survivors of the São Bento (Saint Benedict) shipwreck reached the river on June 1, 1554, and one of their company, the aged Fernão Alvares Cabral, drowned while crossing.
Near the John Ross bridge, 8 km from the mouth, is the site of the historic Zulu village Ndondakusuka. In 1838 Robert Biggar and John Cane fell here in the Battle of the Tugela when opposed by superior Zulu forces of Dingane. In 1856 a major battle, the Battle of Ndondakusuka was fought nearby, and 23,000 died, when Mpande's sons Mbuyazwe and Cetshwayo vied for supremacy.
About 10 km above the mouth are two historic forts, Fort Pearson and Fort Tenedos, built by the British in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War, to guard the passage of the river. Near Fort Pearson is also a fig tree, the so-called Ultimatum Tree, now protected in the Harold Johnson Nature Reserve. Here the British delivered an ultimatum to Cetshwayo's chiefs as an excuse for the war.
The John Ross bridge is situated on the old N2 route, since replaced by the North Coast Toll Road which passes 3 km from the mouth. The bridge is named after "John Ross" (real name, Charles Rawden Maclean), who at the age of 15 walked from Port Natal to Lourenço Marques(now Maputo) and back to procure medicine. The John Ross bridge collapsed in the September 1987 floods and was rebuilt subsequently.
Transfer schemes 
There are a number of large inter-basin transfer schemes responsible for transferring water from the Tugela basin across the escarpment into the Vaal River system. The main scheme is the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme operated by Eskom. There is also the original pumping station at Jagersrus.
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. The Buffalo River joins the Tugela some 19 kilometres (12 mi) east of Tugela Ferry at .
The Blood River is so named due to the defeat of the Zulu king Dingane, on 16 December 1838, by the Boers under Andries Pretorius, when the river is said to have run red with the blood of the Zulus. Below the Blood River is Rorke's Drift, a crossing point and another battle site, this time from the Anglo-Zulu War.
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.
The spelling "Tugela" was used for most of the twentieth century and 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. including "Ootergale" and "Ootoogale".
- C.R. Maclean (John Ross), writing in the Nautical Magazine in 1853 used the spelling Zootagoola
- Angas, a nineteenth century artist, used the name "Tugala" on the captions to his sketches.
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 case of a noun.
See also 
- Dams on the Tugela
- Key rivers of South Africa
- "Proposal to establishment a Catchment Management Agency for the Thukela Water Management Area - Appendix A". Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. 2004-07. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
- De Kock, Willem Johannes (1957). Portugese ontdekkers om die Kaap (in Afrikaans). A.A. Balkema, Kaapstad. pp. 144, 166, 228.
- Bell, Frederic Gladstone (2004). Engineering Geology and Construction. Taylor & Francis. p. 398. ISBN 0-415-25939-8.
- Thukela WMA 7
- Technical Report on the State of Yellowfishes in South Africa 2007
- Nathaniel Isaacs (1836). Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa - Vol I. Edward Churton. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- C R Maclean (February 1853). "Loss of the Brig Mary at Natal with Early Recollections of that Settlement - Two". The Nautical Magazine: 74–80Reproduced in The Natal Papers of John Ross, edited by Stephen Gray; ISBN: 9 780869 808511
- Making outchoualla or native beer, at Gudu's kraal, Tugala River, Zulu country - a sketch by G F Angus; National Library of Australia.