[This was written by Fran Siebrits and published online by Wild Magazine http://www.wildcard.co.za/, 2011]

An African Fish Eagle greets our eyes as we search the brilliant sky tracking its decrescendo call. Ah, we have arrived. No river trip is complete without the masters of the sky. And so, with excited anticipation, begins a four-day-three-night nomadic journey down the mighty Gariep, better known as the Orange River.

Wide-brimmed hat, check. Sun-cream and lip-balm check. Water bottle, check. Swimming costume and sarong check. Personality, double check!

Four days paddling and relaxing on the Orange is loads of fun, exactly what a holiday should be. Not only is it a place to catch a fish of a tan and admire the creative rock forms of the mountain scenery, but it is a place filled with unique fauna and flora, of which many are endemic to the area. This section of the river snakes though the Richtersveld National Park (now part of the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park), a definite highlight of the trip.

The route covers approximately 80 km on the river and begins a short drive from the Namibia-South Africa border post (1340 km from Johannesburg and 700 km from Cape Town). As you make your way downstream, led by a qualified team of guides, time becomes irrelevant and you start to notice the beauty in each tranquil moment.

Many landmarks on the route have been given informal names by the river guides. Rapids take the names of Terraces, Snotklap, Dead Man, Entrance Exam and the notorious Sjambok. The area is rich in geology and names such as Hamerkop, Witches Hat and King Kong have been given to specific rock formations.

But don’t let these intimidating reference names scare you away. On a rapid grading of one to six, the biggest rapids on this commercial section of water are two, or three at a push … family-friendly.

Each night is spent on a different grassy spot alongside the river. The guides start a camp-fire and prepare a delicious meal while the end of the day is celebrated with a memorable sunset. All you have to do is find a spot to lay out your sleeping bag and enjoy the company.

With the stars as your shelter at night and the river as your journey by day, there are few activities that can match the relaxing splendour of such a trip.

Essential items

While it’s always hot enough to be in nothing but your swimming gear, the heat and sun can be draining. Nobody enjoys being sunburnt, having blistered lips and having a headache from dehydration. Be sure to pack enough sun-block to last the whole trip. A light long-sleeved shirt or sarong becomes one’s best friend in the midday sun, preventing that painful sunburn.

When to go

If you don’t like a large crowd and would prefer having the river just to your group, avoid the school holidays (especially Easter and Christmas time). It is best to go before summer really kicks in i.e. August-October.

Who to go with

There are many your operators that offer a four-day paddling package, all inclusive. Most companies can arrange a tailor-made trip as well. Some reliable companies include Amanzi Trails River Adventures, Wild Thing and Felix Unite.