Rafting In The Desert & Swimming To Namibia

Orange River South Africa
Rafting the Orange River
Vioolsdrif, South Africa

Local legend says the Orange River is home to a mysterious monster that’s been eating people and livestock for 2000 years. Would rafting it be safe?

Tales of the dreaded Orange River Monster weren’t going to stop me from rafting down this unique oasis of life in the heart of a desolate desert environment. Richtersveld National Park is located in the Northern Cape, South Africa’s largest and least populated province.

While parts of the river can get rough, our route would pass through relatively tame water along the journey. However for some in the group, this was a scary prospect, as it was their very first river rafting experience.

But our guides Jan & Sass from Umkulu Adventures had everything under control.

Orange River Landscapes
Incredible Desert Landscapes
River Rafting South Africa
Paddling Down the River

Orange River Rafting South Africa

I teamed up with Kash from Budget Traveller who was slightly nervous about the rafting (because he can’t swim). Lucky for him I used to be a lifeguard!

We loaded up our little inflatable 2 person boat and pushed off into the river with kayak paddles, hoping to avoid a watery death at the hands of the notorious Monster.

Home to the indigenous Nama people, this rocky dry landscape surrounding the river is a mix of red, brown, and orange hues — except for the banks, where patches of green vegetation are able to thrive.

Floating past massive sandstone cliffs and small river islands, we occasionally stopped to rest or take photos. The environment here is really special. I’d never seen a river in the middle of a desert before, let alone raft down it!

Orange River South Africa
Kash Powering Through the Rapids
Orange River South Africa
Orange Dragonflies on the Orange River!

Hunting For Diamonds & Rubies

The Orange River has a long history of producing gemstones like rubies, tiger’s eye, and even diamonds, so we sifted through the riverbed hoping to discover some treasure.

In fact South Africa’s first diamond, the 21 carat Eureka Diamond, was discovered by a young boy on the river’s bank in 1867, eventually helping to bring about South Africa’s famous diamond rush at Kimberly.

Unfortunately no diamonds or rubies were found on our trip, but Kash did manage to dig up some Tiger’s Eye, a semi-precious stone.

Rafting With Friends South Africa
South African Bloggers Meruschka & Heather
Orange River Rafting Trip
Kash Conquers His Fears

Illegal Border Crossing

Because the Orange River marks the border between 2 countries, South Africa was on our left and Namibia on our right as we paddled along. I started getting ideas…

How many people can say they’ve swam from one country to another?

Melvin, Heather, Meruschka, Caspar and I hatched a plan to swim from South Africa to Namibia. A slightly questionable border crossing without passport stamps! As long as the Orange River Monster didn’t get us, everything should be fine. Right?

Orange River Desert
Life Persists in the Desert « BUY PRINT »
Namibian Border with South Africa
Swimming Across the Border to Namibia

Exploring The Northern Cape

Our swim was a success! However the journey to Namibia was short lived, and we quickly swam back to our tents on the South African side at The Growcery Camp where they were cooking up a delicious traditional South African Braai BBQ on an open fire.

My Orange River rafting experience was a memorable one, and we only scratched the surface of South Africa’s Northern Cape territory. It’s a huge area with a lot to see and do — and one of the least visited parts of the country.

Just beware the Orange River Monster, it’s always hungry and enjoys the taste of tourists. Or so I hear. ★

Travel Planning Resources For Namibia
Location: Vioolsdrif, South Africa
Accommodation: The Growcery
Company: Umkulu Adventures
Cost: R395 ($36 USD) half-day rafting

Packing Guide

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Book Your Flight

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Rent A Car

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Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent apartments from locals on Airbnb. Read more about how I book cheap hotels online.

Protect Your Trip

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Rafting In The Desert & Swimming To Namibia! More at ExpertVagabond.com
Rafting In The Desert & Swimming To Namibia! More at ExpertVagabond.com


I hope you enjoyed my guide to rafting in the desert & swimming to Namibia! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Ever heard of rafting through a desert? Any questions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclaimer: My trip was made possible in partnership with iAmbassador and South Africa Tourism.


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, beautiful photos, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (8)

    • The scenery here is what really made the area stand out for me. A rocky, mountainous desert in all shades of red, brown, and grey. But the history of gems is cool too.

      My guess is most of them have been mined away these days, but you never know!

  1. Wow this looked like a really cool journey. I never knew that you could find diamonds and rubies on the rivers bank. I would probably spend a couple of weeks there just looking until I found something.

    I have yet to go to Africa and regret not going when I had the chance back in high school. This just makes me want to go even more.