River Rafting! One for the Bucket list.
Each person has his own idea of a bucket list – perhaps it is no surprise that most have some “outback” camping/hiking/rafting expedition on such a list. I for one must admit it’s a worthy point to put on your bucket list. Having experienced the Lower Orange River in a rafting expedition for the first time last year I admit that this wasn’t even on the list till I did it….. lol
It is, therefore, no surprise that our guides decided to run a section of the lower Orange River again this year with the intent of running small exclusive trips in the future.
In this Blog, I am basically only capturing the highlights of this experience. A description of the whole experience would be thicker than a book and not a blog post. Lol
White Water on the Orange River
Day one consisted of a meet and greet at Onseepkans. Later that afternoon we started with our 5-day journey down a section of the Orange River “I would like to think this section has the best to offer – best scenery – best camping spots – unspoiled – remote – plenty of fishing spots – lots of wildlife activity (no other human contact once on the river) which is very important – a nice mix of flat and fast water to cater for every person’s individual needs or experience.
As the sun sets over the Orange River we find the most idyllic spot to camp for the first evening. The fish activity around us in the water was evident with the constant breaching and the last sunlight catching the silhouettes of the fish as they pierce through the water.
The Chefs / Guides grab the last bit of sunlight to prep for dinner and over a nice cup of coffee we discuss the day’s experience and later our conversations wander off to any and everything…. Needless to say after a good helping of dinner (a menu fit for a king) and plenty of conversation everyone sets off to their tents for the night. Our first easy 5 km paddle for the day was now a thing of the past and with much enthusiasm, I was looking forward to the next section.
The tone was set for what was to become for the guests as it had been for me on my first trip down this section of river – “Life-Changing” and most importantly a tick off the bucket list.
Orange River Gorge
On day 3 we reached the Orange River Gorge – Probably the most spectacular spot and camp sight on the Orange River. The site overlooks the Gorge and with a drop of +- 60 Meters the water cuts the rock below the camping sight. One cannot help but wonder around with your jaw open as the water rushes through the rocks from the top to the bottom of the Orange River Gorge. This has been water vs rock battle long before the first humans walked the earth. The most amazing thing is that in the Gorge you feel like the only humans on earth. The Gorge is only accessible from the South African side by foot or raft and the site remains unspoiled. As the sun sets one can’t help but think that no photograph can justify the full contest of this unique life experience.
Later that night after dinner we carefully descended into the Gorge in search of the Monster fish lurking below. That evening we caught a number of Barbel (Catfish) late into the night or early morning but the Monster Fish we searched far evaded us. That is till our next encounter of course. What we caught we released and I hope they don’t warn the Monster of our methods as next time he might not be so lucky.
On day four we descended into the Orange River Gorge as our journey heads further down the Orange River. Just for one last brief moment, we paddle up to the section where the water drops through the rocks into the Orange River Gorge. The deafening sound of the water makes this experience even more surreal as we take a last glimpse of the Gorge before we head to the largest of the rapids on this section of the river. Big Bunny – and believe me – don’t let the name fool you – It ain’t no bunny!! – if you know what I mean. Here we take out just before the rapid and let the guides run the rapid and put up downstream and land-based safety while the guests look on. Guests have an option to rather not attempt the rapid and have a gentle walk downstream to join the rafts.
Big Bunny Rapid on the Lower Orange River. you could walk it if you don’t want to raft down this rapidly.
This rapid could have different problems at different levels and the guide’s instructions and decisions to run the rapid will be judged on an individual basis on each trip.
The one 5 man raft with our clients on – on this occasion did run the rapid “Big Bunny” and had an absolute blast and an experience they will probably never forget.
Safely through one of the smaller rapids
With all safely through Big Bunny we headed to our next somewhat less intimidating rapid on the Lower Orange River – Dolly Parton – the water runs through two very large boulders in this section and was very easily conquered.
After a day of much adrenaline and excitement, we pulled out to camp for our last night on the Orange River. This spot was ideal for some much-needed fishing time and also ample time to explore the surrounding hills as the group split up to follow his/her passion – Explore or Fish? Life has such tough choices when you’re on the river.
As the sun started to disappear behind the towering hills the smell of a real homemade Spaghetti Bolognaise invaded the night sky. Soon everyone was around the fireplace without even needing to call a single person to dinner. Dinner was held in silence (due to the good food) with only the sound of the rushing Orange River making its presence felt. Dessert was also on offer and after such a filling dinner the evening conversations, stories, myths and discussions started. The Night Sky was Incredible every evening, and in particular at this spot as our last evening camp. Some of us collected our sleeping bags from our tents and fell asleep outside as the stars put up an unforgettable display.
The last day – Such a long-awaited period happened from booking to starting the Orange River Rafting Trip that it was almost surreal that it will be concluded in less than 5 km of paddling. The five-day rafting trip went by in a heartbeat. The last days of paddling created an image I will have forever printed in my mind. As we paddled over the length of the 5 days we spotted a number of animals, antelope, baboons, and monkeys – the last day however we paddled near a large troop of baboons. The most amusing site occurred when we approached them downstream. They started to jump from a small island in the middle of the river into the water and swam to the other side. Some did this transition in style almost like a Michael Phelps whilst others jumped high in the air and landed in all strange positions in the water. Once they came up for air it was a race to the other side in order to evade us. We were in stitches and could barely paddle as most of our muscles were concentrating on our laughter.
And to top this spectacle only a kilometer away fish eagles where circling above us. One person in the group still made a comment on how amazing it will be to see it catch a fish. The next minute without any warning a fish eagle flew only ten meters away with a large fish in its grasp – the fish still gasping for air and trying to break free from the Fish Eagles claws. What a way to end the Orange River Rafting trip.
As I said in the beginning you haven’t rafted the Orange River if you haven’t done this section of the Lower Orange River with all of its diversities in beauty, animals, rapids, campsites – the list is probably too long to continue – but I think you get the idea. Below are some more pictures we took on the Orange River Rafting trip.
The Orange River Rafting trip is any professional or want-to-be photographer’s dream.