Orange River – Vioolsdrif down

Multi-day trips on the Orange River were established on this section, and it is still a favourite piece of river for many people wanting to get away from urban life. The Orange winds between the rugged Richtersveld Mountains, a barren desert that would have been inhospitable without the presence of the sometimes mighty river.

  • Ideal for: Canoe, K1, croc
  • Grade: 1 to 2
  • Length: 75 or 120 or 160 km
  • Duration: 4 to 8 days
  • Type: Long flat sections, small rapids
  • Put-in: Vioolsdrif
  • Take-out: Aussenkehr, Fish confluence, Sendelingsdrif
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: None
  • Commercial operator: Gravity River Tours

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Orange River – Goodhouse to Vioolsdrif

This section is uneventful and not as scenic as most of the other stretches. It is not really isolated nor is it unspoilt, owing to farm development along the banks. The only thing to look out for on this section is a high weir about halfway down. It should definitely be portaged, as it is many metres high. Touring kayak and K1 paddlers might find it worthwhile as they can easily cover long distances on flat-water.

  • Ideal for: K1, touring kayak
  • Grade: 1
  • Length: 70km
  • Duration: 2 to 4 days
  • Type: Flat
  • Put-in: Goodhouse
  • Take-out: Vioolsdrif
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: None

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Orange River – Pella to Goodhouse

It has been said that this section boasts the best scenery of the whole Orange River. That is a debatable point, but it says something about the scenery to be found here.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, croc, raft at higher levels
  • Grade: 2 to 3
  • Length: 90km
  • Duration: 5 to 7 days
  • Type: Small rapids, channels, scenic
  • Put-in: Pelladrif pump station
  • Take-out: Goodhouse
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: None
  • Commercial operators: Gravity River Tours, Kalahari Adventure Centre

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Orange River – Onseepkans Gorge

This is the best part of the Orange as far as whitewater is concerned (except for the inaccessible Augrabies Gorge, of course). The scenery is brilliant with the added excitement of good rapids, a serious gorge and a waterfall.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, croc, raft at higher levels
  • Grade: 2 to 4 (5)
  • Length: 40km
  • Duration: 3 to 4 days
  • Type: Open, scenic, some big rapids
  • Put-in: Onseepkans border post, take dirt road to left just before bridge, 300m to put-in
  • Take-out: Pelladrif pump station
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: None
  • Commercial operator: Gravity River Tours (more…)

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Orange River – Augrabies Gorge

Although this section is not open for the general paddling public, it is one of the most amazing gorges in the country with big rapids; it just can’t be omitted in a guide like this. It has been paddled on special occasions like the 1999 Camel Whitewater Challenge, and the few privileged ones who did it, rave about the experience. The whole gorge, starting below the Augrabies Falls, is part of the Augrabies Falls National Park and the authorities are not easily persuaded to consent to a run. (more…)

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Orange River – Augrabies Rush

Two exciting and pristine 8km stretches can be paddled just above the Augrabies Falls, with ample opportunity during the trips to view the bird and wildlife. These are excellent stretches to do when travelling in the Northern Cape or on the way to a multi-day trip further downstream on the Orange.

  • Ideal for: Kayak, croc, raft at high level
  • Grade: 2 to 3
  • Length: 2 sections of 8km
  • Duration: 4 to 5 hours
  • Type: Pool-drop
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: Arrange with commercial operator for access
  • Commercial operator: Kalahari Outventures 

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Orange River – Neus Falls

This is one of the surprises of the Orange River. The water is perfectly flat above and below this section, with no indication of what’s happening at Neus (the name of a mountain close to the river, meaning ‘nose’).

  • Ideal for: Kayak
  • Grade: 3 to 5
  • Length: 800m
  • Duration: 10 min to 1 day
  • Type: Lots of steep channels
  • Access: Dirt road between Kakamas and Keimoes. Walk down from road (few hundred metres) from where the weir is visible, approximately 15km from Kakamas.
  • Dam controlled: Bloemhof Dam
  • Permits: None

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Orange River – Hopetown

An annual two-day race is held on this section, with distances of 38km and 45km respectively on the two days, but various shorter trips can be done. The area around Thunder Alley is particularly popular for rafting.

  • Ideal for: K1, croc, kayak
  • Grade: 2 to 3
  • Length: 83km on race section, over 100km on full section
  • Duration: 2-day race, short tripping sections
  • Type: Open for most part, narrow gorge section on last stage
  • Put-in: Bridge on dirt road off the R369, close to Orania
  • Take-out: Bridge, R357
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam
  • Permits: Permission from farmers when doing shorter trips

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Orange River – Mayaputi Bridge to Aliwal North

This is one section that certainly won’t give adrenaline junkies a rush. Basically, the whole course is flat. It is, however, a very scenic stretch, with views of cliffs and towering koppies. On the last section the river cruises through the magnificent Lichtenstein Gorge, where one is likely to have mirror-smooth water and no rapids.

  • Ideal for: K1, croc
  • Grade: 1 to 2
  • Length: 120km
  • Duration: 3 to 7 days, depending on craft and water level
  • Type: Flat, scenic
  • Put-in: Mayaputi Bridge
  • Take-out: Aliwal North
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: None (more…)

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Orange River – Introduction

Tranquility.

The Orange is South Africa’s largest river, 2250km long, draining a huge catchment area in the order of 1 000 000km² in the eastern part of the country through the barren Northern Cape. Its source is in northeastern Lesotho, where the river is called the Senqu. Further down its course the Vaal and other rivers add to the water level. It forms the border between the Free State and Northern Cape in its upper reaches, and also the border between the Northern Cape and Namibia further downstream.

Contrary to popular belief, the Orange River was not named after the reddish orange colour of its silt-laden water. It was in fact named in honour of the Dutch House of Orange, back in 1779.

It is mostly a wide, open river with mind-boggling stretches of continuous flat-water and many parts of it are suitable only for K1’s or touring boats. It does however boast a couple of nice whitewater sections.

Good weather, stunning scenery and guaranteed water make the lower stretches a popular destination for overnight trips, where various operators offer commercial rafting and canoeing. The people of the Northern Cape are also well known for their friendliness and hospitality.

When planning a trip on the lower stretches of the Orange, downstream of Augrabies, keep in mind that the river forms the international border between South Africa and Namibia. It is not really a problem; just remember your passport if a put-in or take-out point on the Namibian side will be used.

The Orange River has a strong history of source to sea attempts. The most notable of these attempts should be: Willem van Riet’s trip from Aliwal North down to the sea; David Needam’s trip in 1953 from the source to the sea in a plywood boat, when a donkey carried his boat in Lesotho and he had to hike the last section from Vioolsdrift to the sea; Gavin Patterson’s trip from the Zastron bridge to the sea on a surfboard in 1983; Brian Lion-Cachet, David Manley, Allen Wedderburn and Sonja Bonzack’s record breaking trip in 1994, when they completed the source to sea trip in 40 days using K1’s, including a hike over the first 270km in 5 days with their boats; Ray Chaplin and Roche Schoeman’s separate solo riverboard descents.

An interesting note about the Orange River is that it is probably the river with the most “Entrance Exam” rapids, as every commercial operator on it seems to call the first rapid on his particular stretch “Entrance Exam”.

There are now three main storage reservoirs on the Orange River, namely Gariep Dam and Vanderkloof Dam inside South Africa and the Katse dam in Lesotho on the Senqu River. The Gariep Dam forms the largest reservoir in South Africa, while Vanderkloof Dam forms the second largest reservoir.

The Vanderkloof Dam is the last major dam on the Orange River and effectively controls the flow of water along the 1 400 km stretch of river between the dam and Alexander Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.

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