One of the most scenic and awe-inspiring whitewater rafting trails in Southern Africa takes us through a region bypassed by most travellers and still today regarded as a wild and abandoned frontier. The Oranje Gorge is a protected area of near-pristine wilderness.
The trail lies about 150km west of Augrabies Falls, in breathtakingly scenic mountainous country. Below Onseepkans is a moonscape of baked rocks with a roaring river rushing through the gorge below.
The Orange is the river of the desert as it flows through the Kalahari, Bushmanland and finally the Namib. Cactuses and other desert plants survive with a few spiny grasses. In the riverbed, semi-precious stones include jaspers, tigers eye, agates and garnets. Dawn rolls over the desert in displays of brilliant yellow and red skies that soon turn as blue as you can imagine. The night stars are unbelievable: virtually lighting you way as you head from the campfire to a well deserved rest in your tent (or just out on the sand).
The gorge is thought to have formed along a massive fault or shear line similar to the San Andreas Fault in California. Half the river runs in safer channels along the top escarpment, while the other half boils in a deep gorge filled with rapids. Never fear – we know the route well and we avoid the bad stuff while running the exciting but moderate rapids along the top of the gorge. Eventually we portage down into the long pools at the lower end of the gorge and make camp, set against the cliffs.
From camp the next day we hike to see the magnificent !Gariep or Ritchie Falls. Time is spent swimming, relaxing, reading books and chatting about the landscape, wildlife and history of the area.
On the final day we run the exciting rapids known as Big Bunny and Dolly Parton (you’ll find out the reasons for these odd names on the trip!). Finally we wend our way out of the gorge on a long lazy paddle to Coboop where the cars have been safely parked.