We had such an amazing time at the Brew and Still in Bloemfontein on our way to see the blooming of the Namaqualand daisies that we decided to expand our trip with some inspiration. After all, life is a journey not a destination!
Phillip from the brewery recommended a great place that he knew about, only a few hundred kilometres up the road: Navigating raging rapids along the Orange River in Vanderkloof for a full day in a kayak!
We had both shown the keen spirit of adventure, but we were admittedly nervous and excited at the same time to try this. What did we need to bring with us? A sense of adventure, camping gear and food we needed to snack on and we were ready for our trip.
The early morning atmosphere proved this was going to be an exciting one. It was surprisingly hot in the Free State sun as we pulled out of Bloemfontein after our short stop.
Driving alongside the majestic Orange river, you realise that rivers really are the lifeline of our planet. South Africa is blessed with fantastic rivers, beautiful scenery, and a climate made for the outdoor enthusiast, we knew we were in for a treat. Driving through the dusty towns of the Karoo can make you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine.
The most popular river for canoeing, rafting and kayaking – for good reason – is the Orange. It’s a long, green-fringed oasis running through the mountainous desert area known as the Richtersveld.
We approached the sunny town of Vanderkloof, where we were privileged to run into some friendly and welcoming folk as we stopped to grab a small bite to eat and our daily dose of McNab’s SuperCharge energy at the small Engen One-Stop.
We didn’t have to worry about getting lost, as the signs for Adventure Kayaking were all over town.
When we arrived, the river looked picturesque with its calm flowing water and then as it splashed powerfully over the rocks. It was like seeing them for the first time, the television had not done it justice. There was a smell of adventure in the air and it was so refreshing. We joined a group of Capetonians who we’re up for a short adventure. This was something that they had always wanted to try, but never got around to until now.
When introduced to our guide, Gavin Myburgh, he took us through a short safety demonstration and explained that kayaking is so easy-to-learn. It’s a great way to get out on the water, be it a river, dam or ocean wave.
Before heading into the wild water, we needed to learn basic paddle strokes and how to coordinate with a partner. “Canoeing uses upper-body strength, but technique is more important,” notes Myburgh. The person in the stern (back) steers the canoe, while the front paddler provides power.
Though the skills for handling a canoe don’t take long to learn, navigating and “reading” the water’s do. That’s when experienced guides like Gavin come in handy. He could recognize safe spots and can safely scout sections of river. In addition, there were outfitters that supplied gear and equipment, and they drove us to our launch spot.
With helmets and life-jackets donned and oars and kayaks distributed, we finally paddled off. We set off from Vanderkloof down to the small town of Douglas, in the company of our experienced guide and fellow kayakers.
My intention was to challenge myself. I planned to step into that uncomfortable place of ‘not knowing what I’m capable of’ and see how it felt.
Although my ‘mind’ accepted the challenge, this didn’t stop my body from going into stress mode. Pounding pressure in my chest echoed a dangerously high pulse in my ears. “Breathe slowly”, is my mantra.
But as newbies on the river we would stop prior to each rapid and get step-by-step instructions on how to read the water and navigate the rapids ahead.
I realised when we hit our first rapid and one of the younger members of our group nearly fell out from not holding on properly, the adventure had taken on a whole new reality. I gained the clarity of what would happen if I didn’t pay close attention, or didn’t paddle hard enough. Mistakes could result in serious consequences.
Our trial by fire learning experience was underway. I paddled hard and somehow continued upright and on the line as instructed. I felt exhilarated, and that’s a feeling you can only explain if you experience it yourself!
As we finally cleared the worst of the rapids, and began to gently meander in the doldrums of the Orange River, I had the opportunity to ask Gavin a few questions. The one thing I wanted to ask him the most was what inspired him to leave the city and take up such a cool profession. “I do this so that Folks that have always wanted to go down a river with magic rapids can now do it and unleash the adventure in themselves”, said Myburgh.
“It is an Honour for me to take the folks down this beautiful river, to give back from what I’ve learnt and experienced over the years of paddling and racing on our rivers in SA”.
Most paddlers agree it’s easy to canoe — once you get the hang of it! “The hardest part is learning to control the boat, first on flat water and then in moving water or in waves the wind kicks up,” said Myburgh.
In the afternoon sunset, our kayaks came to rest on the sun-kissed banks of the Orange river, the excitement was over and we were exhausted. I could still feel the rush of adrenaline slowly fading as we all congratulated each other.
The satisfaction of making it to this finishing line was immense! Afterwards, we collapsed on the bank and toasted to our accomplishment with a well-deserved McNab’s SuperChill energy drink!
Next time we will be sure to get our hands on a GoPro to capture this awesome experience, but for now, we hope you enjoy this video of Corne Scheepers who set sail from Hopetown to Douglas!
We’re getting closer to our goal of seeing the blooming of the Namaqualand daisies, join us next week to see what exiting adventure we get up to next.
RATING: Adventure Kayaking and Still 5 out of 5
Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Gavin Myburgh at +27 83 625 3094
Facebook: Adventure Kayaking