Thursday 16 October 2014

Leisurely adventuring

I got back on Tuesday from a few days of leisurely adventuring. Leisurely-anything is a bit of a foreign concept to me so going off on an adventure designed to be relaxing... I loved it!

This was a camp-kayak-raft adventure on the Orange River, the stretch from Hopetown and about 45km downriver, including the magnificent Thunder Alley.

The drive from Jo'burg takes a good chunk of the day, especially if you stop regularly along the way. We spent the night in Hopetown at the most fabulous B&B, Die Stalle (very recommended) and got on the river around noon on Friday.

My friends were in a raft; I had the absolute treat of paddling the Fluid Do It Now, a sit-on-top whitewater boat.

I've paddled K1s, K2s, surfski, crocs, 6-person rafts and sea kayaks but never before a whitewater boat. It is incredibly stable and very responsive. It has no rudder, so you use paddle strokes to steer.

This stretch of river is mostly flat with a few rapids. Water was low and rapids were friendly. Going into the rapids, even pretty small ones, they can look quite large - but once you're in them the kayak just bounces through. It is helluva good fun and I'm hooked. I was totally chuffed on Monday when I made it neatly through the biggest rapid of the journey with ease. No swimming for me.

On Friday we paddled only for a few kilometres to a great overnight spot. We took our time to find a good spot that we could enjoy for two nights as we planned to spend Saturday lazing on the river bank. A farmer had also told us that a storm, blowing strong winds upriver, was due on Saturday. We found a great spot that was sufficiently sheltered by trees and with grass, beach-like sand and a nice river bank.

Although the wind blew upriver on Saturday, the weather was otherwise perfect - sunny and warm. Not good paddling conditions but perfect for sitting around watching the river and listening to fish eagles calling. Our day of camping was well timed.

We were back on the water on Sunday for a longer stretch to Hell's Gate, the entrance to Thunder Alley. Hell's Gate is more a nasty rapid than a waterfall and at low water it was particularly nasty.

With only two adults it wasn't an option to rope the laden raft through so we decided to portage the gear, camp overnight (it was late afternoon when we got here) and reassess the raft situation in the morning.

By morning the water had dropped further and even roping an empty raft was too risky so we decided to portage it to a safe put-in below Hell's Gate. Fortunately it wasn't a big distance to cover and although the whole portage and reloading of the raft took time, it was relatively smooth and easy.

Getting back on to the water in the kayak I had to negotiate a fast flowing current heading into a little rapid in a narrow channel. I was advised to just go with the flow (unlike in racing kayaks where you paddle into the rapid, with whitewater kayaks you let the water take you and you just control direction), keep my nose forward and to take care of the whirlpools. And obviously, if I swim, to keep my feet up.

Well, I cruised it like a pro (that's what it felt like anyway - probably looked messy!), missed the whirlpools and came out unscathed but with my heart rate most definitely elevated. How exciting!

Monday was a really long day but it was spectacular too. Thunder Alley is like a scaled-down version of the gorge below the Augrabies Falls. Rocky walls carved by water into the most incredible sculptures. Blue sky, swiftly flowing current, wind behind us (most of the time) and a few fish eagle spottings.

Although we'd intended to make it home by Monday night, we had a longer than expected day out there because of the morning portage so we only got off the water in the early evening. We spent the night again in Hopetown.

The bonus of travelling back on Tuesday is that we got to Kimberley by 08h30 - in time to see the Big Hole and have breakfast there.

The river is a wonderful playground for children with its sandy and muddy banks. Quite how they can handle being in cold water all day I can't quite fathom. We did a float-downriver 'swim' and my heart almost stopped with the cold... Yet I remember having a high tolerance too for the cold when I was a child. Quite incredible this is.

I don't have photos to show you of the river and scenery... yet. I left my camera in the car for the whole of the river trip. I'll get photos in a few days and will add in some of the river and surrounds (I had my camera back in hand for the Big Hole).

The river... b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l! And especially as it contrasts to the harsh Northern Cape terrain (rocks, scrub vegetation, sand and heat) away from the river. And no other people around. No mobiles or internet either. So, so, so peaceful and simple. Just perfect.

This camping-paddling way of leisurely adventuring has won me over. It has a bit of this and that together with a whole lot of adventure in the paddling and camping, with time in which to appreciate and enjoy where you are.

I made it back to Jo'burg in time for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour premiere. The film selection this year is an interesting mix. There was only one short film that didn't really do it for me and one that I am convinced I've seen before. The rest had me enthralled.

Banff is not to be missed. Ever. I don't even check out the line-up, I just go. Always totally worth it.

You can get all the screening and booking dates from the Banff website ( - for most major centres it is 23-31 October.

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