I’ve been wanting to go rafting on the Orange River for years but somehow had never got round to it. At the end of last year I got a big group of friends together and we drove up to Namibia from Cape Town the day after Christmas and then ended up having the best holiday ever.
I think there’s a difference between travelling and going on holiday. When you travel you go to new places and have constant stimulation and want to try everything and see as much as possible. I usually get up early in the morning and spend the whole day walking in a city or driving around somewhere, exploring as much as I can. I’m constantly photographing and taking notes and thinking about the place I’m in, and planning the stories I’m going to write. By the end of it I feel like I could do with a holiday to relax.
Rafting on the Orange River is not travel like that. It’s a holiday in the proper sense of the word. All you have to do is get yourself up to Namibia – an easy drive from Cape Town and the most chilled border crossing ever – and then all you have to worry about after that is not capsizing and keeping your cooler box shut so that your beers stay cold. If you’re on a catered trip, your river guides cook all meals for you – all you need to bring is snacks and drinks.
After spending our first night at base camp, we packed up our canoes and began our 90-kilometre paddle down the river past desert sand dunes, craggy mountains (my favourite was the sharp peak known as the Witch’s Hat), the occasional troop of barking baboons. The concept of time became irrelevant – the rhythm of life was one of floating, paddling, swimming, drinking beer, eating lunch, drinking more beer and then setting up camp each night on the banks of the river, sleeping under a sky speckled with a mind-bogglingly-large amount of stars.
The best moments of the trip were when we jumped out of our canoes, strapped our life jackets on like nappies, held our boats together and floated downstream. When I start to feel stressed now that I’m back in the city, I take my mind back to those moments, when time seemed to stand still.
I never once thought about my real life back home, or work or the year ahead or anything else that was potentially stressful. I think it was as a result of a combination of not caring about time, going into a zen-like headspace while paddling for awhile without anyone speaking, being surrounded by my favourite kind of landscape (barren, deserty and without people), feeling connected to natural rhythms and sleeping under the stars.
If you’re not into camping or being hot (it was about 45 degrees each day we were there), or roughing it (you go to the toilet out in the desert with a stick and a brown paper bag) then this is probably not a good holiday option for you. But if you love being outside (and don’t mind a bit of sun) and being away from people and civilisation, then it can’t get better than Orange River rafting.
How to do an Orange River rafting trip
There are a number of operators (on both the South African and Namibian sides of the border) who offer guided trips along the river, ranging from one day to several days. I can recommend Amanzi Trails – one of the most affordable options, with friendly guides and hearty meals. Other operators include Gravity Adventures, Felix Unite and Bundi.
You can opt to self-cater but you don’t pay much more to have all your meals catered for you, and going for the catered option does mean that you don’t have to worry about a thing other than keeping your drinks cold.
All photos are by my talented friend Gabrielle Guy.Google+