This stunning piece of the Orange River in the northern Bushmanland passes through a largely unspoilt landscape. Indigenous trees line a 50m green strip of oasis along each river-bank before giving way to the multi-coloured desert. Apart from some minor rapids and some interesting channels between islands, a peaceful trip on flat-water is guaranteed.
- Grade: 1 to 2
- Length: 60km
- Ideal for: Canoe, touring kayak, raft
- Duration: 2 to 5 day, depending on craft
- What to expect: Long flat sections, small rapids, many channels and islands, great scenery.
- Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
- Access: Public land at put-in. Take-out on private property.
- Download Google Earth doc
Despite the area receiving very little rain, water levels can fluctuate daily as it is controlled by dams. Make sure to camp some height and distance away from the river, to make sure you’re not in the water’s path if it should rise at night.
As always, choose your camp spots wisely. Don’t interfere with local people or wildlife, don’t make a nuisance of yourself on farmland, and most importantly, don’t leave anything behind.
The breakdown of the river as described below is not based on distances or potential camp spots. The breakdown is done according to visible landmarks, to help you orientate yourself on the river.
0 km : Blouputs bridge
The bridge at Blouputs is connecting the highly productive farming community at Blouputs with the Riemvasmaak settlement north of the Orange River. There are a few options to access the river in the vicinity of the bridge, just make sure to get into the water below the weir that is just opstream of the bridge.
Google Earth for Blouputs bridge: 28°30’48.78″S 20°11’12.37″E
0 – 31 km : Flat water
This section of the river is uneventful in terms of rapids. There is some faster moving water in a few places, but no real rapids. The river breaks up in channels a few times, but the main channels are easy to spot.
There are farms on the south side of the river for the first 20km, with grape vines lining the river bank almost continuously. When you’re on the river, you hardly notice the farm activity though, as the river banks are high and steep, and trees along the bank obscures most of the visible signs of farming. You might hear tractors now and then, but considering how much activity is actually taking place here, it feels surprisingly isolated once you’re on the river.
When you reach the last farm at around 20km downstream of the Blouputs bridge, you also reach the spot from where the border between South Africa and Namibia runs along the Orange River. From here all the way to the mouth of the river, South Africa is on the south side of the river and Namibia on the north side.
Once you’ve passed the last farm on this stretch, the character of the environment changes somewhat. The little mountains visible from the rivers are higher and also closer to the river. The real ruggedness of this area becomes visible.
31 km : Sand dune
The sand dune on the river left side, 31km downstream of Blouputs, is a very visible landmark. You will see it from a few kilometers away in the distance, and it is one of those landmarks that teases you by seeming out of reach for a long time, no matter how hard you paddle.
When you finally reach it, there is a nice dry riverbed on the left that makes for a great resting stop. Rather not be tempted to camp in this riverbed though, as it has come down once before in flood during the night, taking a complete camp with it. Luckily everyone survived, but it was a sombre reminder that flash floods is a reality, rare as they may be.
Google Earth for sand dune: 28°26’44.98″S 19°53’32.74″E
31 – 48 km : Flat water, some channels
After the sand dune, the valley opens up a bit and there is some farming activity on both sides of the river for about a 10km stretch.
Once you pass the last farm, the isolation increases again when you enter one of the most beautiful parts of the Orange River. The river splits up into channels a few times, but it is fairly obvious to see which channels to take. There are no real rapids on this section, just flat water and a few places where the water moves a bit faster.
48 km : Amphitheatre
Amphitheatre is the name given to a spectacular area along the river. It is one of those places that is hard to describe on words, but when you see it, you know what the fuss is about.
Google Earth for Amphitheatre: 28°30’8.69″S 19°47’7.15″E
48 – 53 km : Small rapids, some channels
After Amphitheatre, the river splits up a couple of times into channels. There are also a couple of small rapids to negotiate.
About 5km dowstream of Amphitheatre, a farm house is visible on the right bank. The first weir of the section follows soon after the farm house.
53 km : First weir
Stay on river right after the farm house and get out on the right bank to scout the weir. If there is enough water, run the small rapid on the right side of the weir, close to the bank. Otherwise, portage around the weir and rapid on the right bank.
Google Earth for first weir: 28°29’12.87″S 19°44’17.79″E
53 – 63 km : Flat water, small weir
After the first weir, the river is flat with a few wide channels to choose from. About 1km after the first weir, a second small weir spans the river. The weir is normally runnable in the middle, but approach with caution.
Google Earth for small weir 28°29’48.60″S 19°43’8.28″E
After the small weir, the river flattens out completely and it is a bit of a hard push to get to the big weir that is damming up this section of the river.
63 km : Big weir
When you see the weir, head to the left bank right away. This is a dangerous weir, and at higher water levels one can easily misjudge the speed of the water just upstream of the weir. Be safe and stick to the left bank.
At very low levels, it is possible to run the weir on the far left side with a raft. But only attempt that if you are 100% sure of what you’re doing. At most water levels and with most type of craft, the weir should be portaged on the left bank.
Google Earth for big weir: 28°31’57.28″S 19°39’56.28″E
63 – 69 km : Many channels, some small rapids
Directly after the big weir, a fun section of rapids wait. Stay in the main channel on the left and don’t be tempted to take on the little channels to the right, until it is clear that the main channel itself is heading to the right. The little channels before that have dead ends. When the main channel turns right, stick to the middle and enjoy the ride. This is the longest and largest rapid of this section of river.
Some more rapids and channels follow, but the lines are open and easy to negotiated.
69 km : Black mountain
One of the most recognisable landmarks on this section is the black mountain on river left, about 6km downstream of the big weir. It looks like a coal mountain, but it is indeed covered with black rocks. I’ve heard different stories on what causes the rocks to be black on this specific mountain, so until I have it confirmed, I won’t offer an explanation.
The most important aspect of the black mountain, apart from being unique in this environment, is that it signifies the start of a very interesting part of the river…
Google Earth for black mountain: 28°31’5.28″S 19°36’52.37″E
69 – 89 km : A maze of channels, some rapids
Once you pass the black mountain, the river splits up in a myriad of channels for 2okm, creating numerous islands with reed banks. One is likely to spot fish eagles, goliath herons and many other birds. It is a magnificent area, but be careful in your selection of channels. There are many dead ends, and at higher water levels you can easily get flushed into strainers if you’re not cautious. There are also a couple of tricky rapids to negotiate along the way.
The channels are too numerous to try explain the best route through these islands. Even after numerous trips down this section, I’m still not always sure which channel to take. Best is to study the Google Earth map, and try to stick to the largest channel as much as you can.
About 1km before the take-out at Raap-en-Skraap, most of the channels converge on the right side of the river before plunging through a fun rapid. Once through this rapid, make sure to make your way towards the left bank as soon as you can, otherwise you might miss the take-out point.
89 km : Raap-en-Skraap
Raap-en-Skraap is a large grape farm on the southern side of the river. Luckily for paddlers, they also have a commercial camp site on the banks of the river, where you can take out and also camp before and/or after your trip.
Google Earth for Raap-en-Skraap: 28°37’38.70″S 19°30’17.05″E