Canoeing on the Orange River

While we were in South Africa, our tour through Drifters included a two-day canoe trip on the Orange River. The Orange River is the longest river in South Africa at roughly 2,200 km.

We used a company called Felix Unite River Adventures, which included staying at their campground overnight in preparation.

orange River canoe trip

The company campsite we used before and after canoeing down the Orange River

Our tour of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe had a whopping 8 people on it. It was a great number, as we spent three weeks really getting to know everyone, and we were lucky enough to make some lasting friendships on this trip. Any tour less than 25 people, we find, is best, if you want to get to know people on a more personal level. We had to clean together, in some cases bunk up together, cook together, and the best part, we got to eat and drink together:

Making lunch in South Africa

Food: the universal language that binds us all together.

Our canoe trip included a one-night stay on the banks of the river. The big white buckets in the photo below? That’s where we stored our overnight bags, gear and personal snacks for the trip. The buckets protected everything from getting wet.

Canoes packed for Orange River canoe trip

All packed up and ready to go!

I’m not a big fan of water, but the canoe trip wasn’t exactly optional on this tour, since we were canoeing for two full days before returning to our base camp. Luckily, when we went in September, it was a bit dry, so the water table was low.

Actually, in several spots, the water was too low, to the point that our canoe dragged on the rocks on the river bed and forced us to a complete stop. Mark had to get out more than once, in ankle-deep water to give our canoe a push. This made for a very leisurely ride though, and we got to see some beautiful scenery. See the wavy lines in the hill just below the bird? That’s referred to as God’s Thumbprint.

Orange River God's Thumbprint

Beautiful views of nature were all around us.

We also experienced some local wildlife along the way:

cow standing in the Orange River

The rare and deadly River Cow. Just kidding, it’s just a regular cow. Mooo.

When we stopped on the banks where we were going to set up camp for the night, we had to unload all the buckets and get our gear. We didn’t bring tents either, just sleeping bags. It’s surprising how chilly it can get along the river once the sun goes down.

unpacking by the Orange River

Everything we needed for the night was packed into those white buckets.

Once we got a bonfire going it was a bit warmer, but it caused a new set of issues: the men decided to burn a huge tree branch without breaking it up first. Then, when they realized it maybe wasn’t a good idea, they dragged the tree out of the fire, causing sparks to shoot into the sky, and one landed on someone’s sleeping bag, making a large hole. Well, live and learn, I guess.

On the first day there were a few very minor rapids, but with the water being so low it didn’t amount to a lot of speed or excitement. The second day though, there was one particularly nasty spot with a large boulder protruding from the water, at the precise location of a sudden dip in the river.

Our tour guide warned us that the boulder acts like a magnet and will pull our canoes towards it, causing many to overturn. So we were instructed to paddle away from the boulder for all we were worth. My fear of water gave me the adrenaline rush I needed to paddle like a maniac. There was no way I was falling in if I had anything to say about it! Mark and I paddled frantically as we approached the boulder and drop, pushing with all our combined strength. There was a split second where I’m convinced we became airborne, and then hit the water again, straight on. We made it!

We rowed to the banks to await the rest of the group in case anyone needed help. About half of our 8-person travel group weren’t as lucky as we were. Many canoes overturned over the drop. Hats, sandals, and sunscreen were lost in the rapids. But no one was seriously hurt, just a few minor bruises here and there.

Orange River canoe trip group

The whole group together. We all made it back alive!

By the time we reached the banks where our driver was coming to pick us up, we were tired, a little sunburned, and quite famished. But overall, it was a very memorable and enjoyable experience and one we would love to do again in the future.

Orange River canoe trip Felix Unite

All good things must come to an end. Off we go, back to our campsite to prepare for the next adventure!


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