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 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!
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.
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?
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. ★
Location: Vioolsdrif, South Africa [Map]
Accommodation: The Growcery
Company: Umkulu Adventures
Cost: R395 ($36 USD) half-day rafting
Useful Notes: The best way to get to this area of South Africa is to fly into the town of Upington, then drive through the desert. However it’s also possible to drive up from Cape Town, an 8-10 hour trip.
Ever heard of rafting through a desert?