The Senqu Orange Gariep Expedition Summary
4 December 2009 - 27 January 2010
A seven-week fact-finding expedition to travel the length of the Senqu-Orange-Gariep River. A road and river journey to document by photo, video and pen the accessibility, accommodation facilities, infrastructure, river features, transport routes, distances and logistics to determine viability, useful information, and the rights of future river users, by identifying sections of the river suitable to their skill level and preference.
... and away we go !
The 30th November 2009, we arrived at the Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicle branch in Centurion to take delivery of a Vito 115CDI for the SENQU.ORANGE.GARIEP expedition.
Driving out the yard with my right foot shaking on the gas pedal, i managed to get past the security gate with a grin like i had just won the lottery. I managed another 100 metres and pulled off, my nerves were freaking me out. Here we were, sitting in an out-the-box-spanking-brand-new Merc. The combination of months of planning setting in, the responsibility and the pure joy that our expedition was on its way was reality times 1000. I turned towards Ine before steering back out into the Johannesburg traffic and mumbled something like, “ under no circumstances can we f#%&ing crash this ride, agreed ... “. With that out of the way, the road was ours for the next 7000km.
... Sea to Source ?
An unusual choice of direction for an expedition on a river. River levels, dam levels and the approaching summer storms were the determining factor for this choice. With a tight schedule this was asking for a lot.
We wanted to catch the higher volume lower sections, Augrabies Gorge and Onseepkans Gorge between 100 & 200 cumecs. We planned to arrive during the peak of the rain season on the lower volume upper sections, upriver of Aliwal North and in Lesotho,
It all worked, almost perfectly, except for the peak of the summer storms we wanted at the source arriving a week late for us. Other than being a tough and slow end to have river-hiked our boats the first 40km of the SENQU.ORANGE.GARIEP river system, it was an incredible way to document and take it all in. At the confluence of the Thlanyaku, the rains came and we paddled the sixty kilometres to Mokhotlong on a growing silt-laden current.
... still going !
Returning the vehicle on the 27th January 2010 after heading directly from our mission up to the source and setting up camp 49 in the Mercedes-Benz showroom, we were suddenly daunted by the presentation breakfast we had agreed to do the following morning. Our biggest concern was what to wear. The last 7 weeks we had been living a nomadic life where a shower, clean clothes and chatting to city executives were a distant realm.
What struck us most at the presentation - aside from the ironed shirts, was the enthusiasm we instilled in the guests present for their day ahead. Smiles, chuckles and `oohs and wows and aahs ´at our exploits of bombing down waterfalls, shots of pristine scenery and tales of our adventures. We can only believe they headed back to their offices, cars and traffic and did no work for an hour or so as they reflected, or attacked their next project, e-mail or meeting with gusto.
To an end, come all good things.
Jacques Strydom, Brenden Duthie, Bob Jones, Celliers Kruger, Terry & Carol Sharman, Kersti Skjørten, Stefan Botha, Christo Rothmann, Gavin & Elizabeth Wilson, Jean & Simon Turner, Scott Martin and Richard Warren-Smith
All images, copyright of Rob Wilson, Ine Skjørten Wilson & Scott Martin / PLANET RIVER
The Senqu Orange Gariep River Journal
THE MOUTH 6-10 December 2009
A 2 km walk up the beach at Alexander Bay brought us to the beginning of our trip. The MOUTH of the Orange River !
Was an absolute pearler of a day to be there. If you know this area, you will be used to the coastal fog of the west coast, where visibility is poor. The first man i met on the beach was fishing, he told me that we had luck on our side today. Good weather and good fishing, as he unhooked another fish and dropped it into his dinner cooler. The day went better than planned.
A lunch in the shade of a gum tree, next to the graffitied bus stop, had us planning
to drive up the South African side of the river to Sendelindsdrif via Brand Karos and Sanddrif and cross the river on the pontoon into Namibia. However, shortly after leaving Alexander Bay we saw a sign saying the pontoon was closed due to higher water. We crossed at The Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Bridge and into diamond mining territory. A transit visa was all that was needed from NAMBED mines along the “ crash road “ . The lady at the security gate told us and insisted we drive slowly.The road is marked consistently with crosses from previous accidents. It is good wide dirt road, but the loose gravel is what catches the speedsters out. Passing the small hill-sized mine dumps in the ancient riverbeds with security warnings and signs in this relatively unknown area. This road leads you away from the duned coastline and into the Richtersveld mountains.
On Moday the 8th, Ine spent 4 hours on the river between the Fish River confluence and Xonas mine in the Ais-Ais Transfrontier National Park to get a feel for her new boat and get a warm up session in. With the flow at approx. 300 cumecs the flats and pools were moving noticably and the 4 rapids washed out with easy navigation through the rollercoaster waves.
I got on the river yesterday and had an hour and half blast from Aussenkehr to Gamkab confluence, was good to be back on the water after the last session 3 months ago.
Arrived at Norotshama Resort, and are spending 2 nights to catch up with writing and slow things down a bit, after the last 2 weeks. Swims in the river, outfitting the kayaks and watching 2 tourists in a canoe getting swept down the river from the resort.
By the time you read this we will be on our way to Goodhouse and then Onseepkans. The river is dropping, which is ideal for exploring the next section downriver of Onseepkans.
ON THE ROAD! 6-10 December 2009
After 2 hectic weeks in Kaapstad we are, Yeah on the road! City life included work for Frixion Adventures, family dining and a good few and repeated visits to different offices to organize operative cellphones, internet connections, drivers license, shopping for a long packing list and a 17 hour drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town in new Mercedes-Benz Vito, picking up boats at Fluid Factory on the way in Parys .
The van is clean, it has run 110 km... boats on top, bed cut and fitted, even have ‘laken’ and a cooler. Have never camped so pro before :). My brain is busy; getting used to living in a car, reading maps, trying to memorize Afrikaans words and keeping focused on the task.
Sunday 6th december - DAY 1.
Woke at Af-En-Toe Gaste huis in Alexander Bay; city of full control by diamond digging businesses. A ‘borderpost’ to sign in at, visitors pass to enter and two guest houses to choose between. We were escorted to one of them. Spent the night in a queens look-a-like house. Had coffee in the morning and drove to the beach. The diamond vacuuming boats at sea were busy doing their thing. We decided to walk, not to paddle to the mouth of the Orange river. Where diamonds are searched for is restricted area, didn’t want to get into trouble, although the sea and the waves were inviting us to come play.
The most beautiful walk on the beach to the river mouth. Some fishermen said the weather was unusual. The ocean was calm, a few clouds passing over us, hot-hot sand, cold sea, lots of birds and warm river water. A powerful place. Where river meets sea.
Later in the day we drove towards Namibia with a plan A and a plan B. Plan A was to cross the Orange river from South Africa to Namibia on the pontoon ferry at Sendelingsdrif. Soon after leaving town we hit a roadblock and a sign saying “pontoon closed due to high river levels”. Faen....But this turned out to be a golden opportunity. The road block slowed us enough to enable us to see the bridge crossing just upstream of Oranjemund. On the map it is stated in red “Bordercrossing only with permit”, so we had ruled this out as a possibility. Now we stopped, turned around, went to the South African border post, then Namibian border post and last but not least the diamond area controlled gate. The whole procedure took one hour, and we were let through because the pontoon was closed. Happy entering the diamond digging area the officers clocked us through. No stops allowed and drive carefully they said.
Absolutely stunning scenery in Namibia. The next hours included driving through endless yellow-brown-golden desert mountains, wide well kept gravel roads, ostriches, kudus, gemsboks, baboons and goats. Whenever approaching the Orange River, everything turned green, and we saw grapevines, date trees, lemon trees and mango trees. The river gives life.
We each did our section of paddling the next two days, and i got to experience the feeling of being lost. Desert mountains for sure look the same on the map. Happy as can be when seeing the maroon car with orange kayak on top and blue T-shirt man by the river. Grateful as can be for this opportunity to experience, explore and share.
Goodhouse to Onseepkans 11 December 2009
Several hours on dirt road from 11h00am-17h30pm got us here in Onseepkans. Rutted and corrugated roads slowed us down to 20/30 km/h. We passed only 3 vehicles between Goodhouse and Pofadder. Very Little shade on this route except for a short section as you approach Pella from Goodhouse side. There are several drifs with cement slabs to cross, nearby these are camelthorn trees for a respite from the heat. Ocean deserts of succulents, quiver tree forests, tufted grasses with a distant mountain always in view.
Met up with Olga from Goodhouse earlier in the morning, she has lost her shop. They smashed it down. Unsure of the real reason. Now there is no shop in Goodhouse for residents to get supplies. Springbok is the nearest at a roundtrip of R600.
To add to the woes of the village, the farmer who was running a huge Paprika project and employing the majority of the residents has left town under dubious circumstances. His debt has forced the government and banks to seize land and assets and until the court case has been resolved.
Ine and i met Olga earlier this year and her shop was a welcome resupply to our depleted provisions. A community woman with guts and heart, she now looks after the elderly and sick and continues to hassle government to contribute to setting up infrastructure such as a cellphone tower, and to release the seized land to the community that they may farm and support themselves.
When we got there, there was no water and electricity in the village, many people sitting another day in the shade hoping for better times.
Was almost embarrassing to leave in our luxury vehicle.
by Rob Wilson
Richie Falls Gorge, Onseepkans 13 December 2009
Misjudged the time and distance from Onseepkans Bridge to the left channel of Richie falls known as the Orange River Gorge, and for a brief moment thought that Ine and I had paddled past it. After a few moments of rechecking the maps and venting with expletives from the dictionary of filth we gathered that we were right at the entrance channel.
I had wanted to paddle this Gorge on my expedtion earlier this year, but with water levels at about 350 cumecs it was not really an option in an expedition touring kayak.
With the flow at about 150 cumecs it was a real treat for sure. We had spent 4 hours the previous day in temperatures in the 40`s scrambling over rocks on the Pofadder Hiking trail determining whether it was good to go.
A short Gorge of 5 rapids kept our pulse up for the morning. Paddling with just the 2 of us it was hard at times whether to shoot photos or cover safety for each other.
This section of river reminded us of the Åmot Fallene section of the Sjoa River in Norway.
What makes this section tough is that swimming or getting offline is not a good idea at all. The Gorge is what i call, Sieve and Syphon City from top to bottom. For non-paddlers this describes the potentially lethal concoction of piling of boulders randomly on top of each other to form gaps of various shapes and sizes that water passes through easily, but kayaks and people in kayaks do not.
Both of us paddled all the rapids through this amazing Gorge with no mishaps and the exit of this Gorge is topped with a beautiful waterfall descending from your right on exit as the main flow of the Orange River tumbles in to rejoin.
by Rob Wilson
The Descent 15 December 2009
We spent all of last night packing for this 3 day river expedition. Packing light was key. We knew we were going to walk, scramble, carry and lower the boats 150 meters from the top of the gorge and down to the riverbed. And we knew we were going to work in the sun and the temperature would be in the early forties. At 0630 we left camp. At 0720 we were on the water.
Some small rapids before we entered the channel we had decided to take. The water level was 350 cumics lower than when Rob was here 6 months ago, so it was interesting to see how far this channel would take us. After two hours of paddling we came to a quick scout. Boulders from river left to right gave one shute open to run on river left. The next rapid disappeared under the rocks, and we did our first portage.
Luckily the channel took us all the way where we needed to go. The time was now 10h00 am, and we could feel the heat. Spent ten minutes in the shade of a tree and drank water. The next move was going to be interesting. Rob & Scott went across to look for a possible descent line down to the gorge. They came back with good news, a line was spotted ten minutes walk away.
The chosen line was down a dry riverbed. The only way to get the boats down was to lower them. To save the rope as much as possible from being cut on rock edges, we found a way down for us to scramble / climb down over and under boulders, down and round tress and on all fours. Rob stayed up top and set up anchors and Scott and i went down.
The old riverbed consisted of sand in the bottom with sections with huge boulders covering. Some trees with tree trunks and roots almost merged with the rocks around. Devil thorn bushes everywhere, small thorns and long like tooth pick thorns. Even a thorn tree with a hook thorn and a spear thorn next to each other. There was a particular smell as well. Probably the smell of pee from dassies. After the first lowering of boats and gear of 40/50m, our body temperatures were on the way up. Had a small break in the shade to cool down. But we knew we had to move on to make it down to find and set up camp before dark at 8.30 pm.
We realized early that the sun would be in the gulley all day. We had to ration the water, keep steadily moving, but not to fast. You have to watch every step you take, make sure you don`t hurt yourself, don`t loose any equipmnet. There was one way out and that was in the direction we were going.
The next 40 meters of descent was negotiated with kayaks on ziplines, rapelling, walking the kayaks on rope and carrying them alone or together. Always had to look for the next route to get further.
At about 1600pm It was obvious that we were getting tired. Scott was stumbling now and then, something i had not seen him do earlier. Rob was silent and looked pale. I was starting to feel nauseous and felt weak. We were on the last section to lower the boats with ropes. I was only going to climb down two meters, but did not trust my feet. The move looked like an overhang to me. I knew i had to wait a little to get more energy, i knew i was tired and could not perform as normally. I was close to a corner with some shade, and stood there for a few minutes. When i felt better the move did not look overhanging at all. Now the time was close to 6 pm. Rob looked at us and suggested we go to the river and cool off. We left the gear and descended.
The sight of the river had kept me motivated the last part of the day that we had seen it. Ten minutes later we were sitting in the water. We pumped water and drank water. The body temperature was slowly coming down. Fish eagles and black eagles were over us. Lots of small birds. The stars were slowly visible. Steep high walls on both sides of the river. It had been a long and hard working day. It was amazing to get there. We were stoked and camped right there and next to rapid number 6.
By Ine Skjørten
Augrabies Gorge 16 December 2009
Enjoying the canyon wall shade in the morning, we dozed and awakened to our wonderland. Coffee first was the plan, but for some unknown reason the stove refused to work. I spent the next hour cleaning and pulling apart the stove and pump to no avail. During this time Scott and Ine retrieved our kayaks and ropes that were still 20 m up the gulley where we had abandoned them in our exhaustion the afternoon before.
On their return we got on water and eddie-hopped and portaged upriver to the base of Rapid #5. What an incredible sight. We looked up a steep and unforgiving class 5+(6) rapid. Big volume technical with a possible portage on river right. A house-sized boulder precariously balanced on a few smaller car-sized boulders amazed the eye at the exit of the rapid. The rapid was so steep we could not even see upriver to Rapid #4.
Departing we paddled through Rapid #6 ( the easiest of the Gorge), a class 3 with easy moves.
Next up was Rapid #7 which i believe Scott and I could and should have run, but the hole at the bottom looked like it could give you a wide-awake early morning spanking. We ummed and aahed whether to run with a final decision to all portage.
Rapid #8 saw only me running, a drop on top left and then zig-zagging to finish off on bottom left. I chose a good line, but chose shitty spots for Ine and Scott to film and do safety.
The long technical Rapid #9 below Ararat was calling our names. I was getting edgy to run and did not scout all the options and paid the price. A slow entrance with Scott following me, the river picked up pace with the gradient, moving into the crux i made an indecision 2 thirds down and dropped into and got stopped by a backed up hole. I was surfed, flipped, attempted to roll and got pushed onto my back deck. A smack in the face by a rock whilst in the hole and i decided to bail. Scott managed to eddy out briefly then chased after me. He also found himself surfing another hole but managed to hold it together and claw himself out. I swam down the left and he boated successfully down the right. A few photies of my face and i decided to get `back on my horse´. I paddled Ine´s boat down successfully on the far left run.
Rapid #10 was next, a short and steep one where i got splatted with my heavy stern and for a split second thought i was going to eat rock again. Scott plowed his way successfully down the centre.
Our last rapid for day, #11, a long rapid with a few spots to avoid. A chunky run down river left of the right channel for Scott and myself. Ine boated the left channel weaving her way between a 1000 obstacles of rock.
Was an epic long day in the Augrabies Gorge, camp had us hiding in the shade till sundown and then P´n Pay noodles and sauce for dinner after our first coffee of the day. Sleep came fast.
By Rob Wilson
4 Otters 17 December 2009
I am sat by the river on a prominent rock. Its dusk and the shadows are long. I am about to leave when i see something moving in the water. At first glance it looks like a snake. Then i see fours heads moving close after one another. They are four otters. I sit still. The otters are moving into an eddy under a rock. They stop, and i am sure they are looking at me. Big eyes, expressive faces. Stretching their heads, sniffing and making squeeky otter sounds. They seem gentle and friendly. I find them beautiful. Time seems prolonged whilst they are there. When they go downriver, they leave me in awe.
By Ine Skjørten
Surprise Pool, Droeval Channel 18 December 2009
Our final day in the Gorge started with a hike up Droeval Channel. This ancient, northern arm of the falls is little known.
An hour and a half and we emerged into Paradise. A football field sized pool nestled in an amphitheatre of rock. Baboons barked at us, Klipspringers skidded and hopped over impossibel terrain. Fish Eagles and Black Eagles drifted and circled lazily above us on the morning thermals.
We laughed joyously at our find. I had started walking up this channel earlier this year, but turned back for some forgotten reason. To have left this gem for this trip was an absolute highlight for us.
The pool sits at the bottom of a 20-30m rock slide tucked away in its own privacy. I believe very few people have been here before.
A quick walk back to the boats got us on water to paddle the last 2 rapids. Relatively easy fun ones with monster barbel(catfish) entertaining us as they squirmed and wiggled over each other at the base of the rapids.
A 2 and half hour paddle with a stop for lunch whilst the goats mowed the grass as they travelled past.
Craig met us at the Blouputs bridge with Quarts of ice cold beer, which we washed down with stories and adventures of our mission. A quick load, and then back to Craigs and Charmaines house where we lit up the braai and forced about 6 lamb chops and a section of boerewors down Scotts throat before i took him to Kakamas to catch his bus back to Cape Town.
I returned and joined the crew and ate some more meat, drank a few icy beverages.
High on life, Ine and I passed out into the wonderful world of sleep.
By Rob Wilson
The Snake Lady 19 December 2009
We have pulled into a garage to have the vehicle´s shocks checked in Kakamas. Rob is dealing with the mechanic, and i am hanging out with his helper. She tells me she has lived here for a year, and she asks what we are doing. I tell her that we are following the Orange river from sea to source and express the importance of the river to us. I ask her what comes to her mind about the importance of the Orange river to her and to people here. Immediately she says she thinks of the snake lady.
The local Khoi-San people believe that the snake lady lives in the river. She is half snake and half woman, and between her eyes sits a diamond. The story goes that if the diamond shines on you, she takes your soul down into the river. There are various ways to retrieve the soul depending on the very local beliefs. One way is for the tribe to steal a pot and give it to the snake lady in exchange for the soul.
By Ine Skjørten
Good Service 19 December 2009
The rear shocks are fucked for sure, confirmed by mechanic @ fitment centre in Kakamas. A quick call from Craig after having Charmaines´ out-the-oven green banana bread with a SweeT chilli tomato jam and cheese, to a guy he knows and they opened up the work-shop on a Saturday, Andre the mechanic revealed the cause to the bouncy rear. With all due respect to the shocks, we did give them a punishing work-out the last 6 weeks.
Bouncing down the road after spending the morning cleaning gear and re-packing the van we arrived at Kalahari Waters camp-site downriver of Keimoes. The screaming cicadas competed with the doof-doof beat of day campers. A few beers, a snooze, catching up on writing and slices of watermelon for the afternoon.
Strange emotions with processing the events of the last few days in the Gorge. Was a great combination of team-work, extra-ordinary visuals and boating at its primo that a day with-out soon after was of re-living and not living, a difficult comparison.
An experience that more boaters should have access to....
Ine-mission, Rob-coffee 22 December 2009
With a delay in the vehicle of a day, things happen slowly out here in the Northern Cape heat. Temperatures of 40+ degrees celsius are a part of your day here at this time of the year.
So, Ine dropped me off at Die Werf resort so i could catch up with coffee and comms, and then she toured the channels at Die Punt, and a quick stop at the waterwheel. A quick plan on her return at midday and was off to Neusberg falls and weir for a park and huck. In an hour and a half we were photgraphed and wet.
Met some rafters on a 2 day trip from Die Punt to Die Mas, with an overnight in the canyon below Neus Falls.
Then it was via Kakamas to Keimoes to get on top of the highest point around (Tierkop) to get images of the valley width at this section of the 3-4 kilometre wide riverbed.
Back on the road and we got to Upington at 6pm to camp there. Campsite was full, back down the road for 30 clicks to Oranje Rus campsite in Louisvale. Sleeeeeep.
By Rob Wilson
Boegoeberg Dam 23 December 2009
Finally moved on from Oranje Rus campsite to Upington; drew cash, filled up with diesel and got a few shots on drive through.
Cruizy day in the car checking out small towns along the N10 motorway, Groblershoop, Karos, Boegoeberg Farms and the bridge at Grootdrink.
The old-fashioned Grootdrink `Mall´ - algemende handelaar - with glass fronted wooden draws displaying anything from stripey underwear to rope, lamp-oil and sugar coated sweeeties. Was busy with the off-load of a fresh stock of beer from the breweries who were on time. The fresh bread delivery was not on time and resulted in a steady collection of folk waiting patiently.
The drive along the canal into Boegoeberg Dam was tranquil and helped keep the world relative with the soaring temperatures. We stopped at the new measuring wall below the old wall completed in 1932. An old bridge just below the new wall backs up the flow and creates an uber-nasty recirculating white mess, it is topped off with a syphon under the old bridge.
Arriving at the Boegoeberg campsite we were heartily welcomed and told it was extemely busy and they could maybe find us a spot close to the river. We drove slowly down through the campsite as not to dust out the campsite residents. Not a soul in sight. Nada, nothing.
We picked ourselves a grand spot in the shade, the joke for the next few days was, “ phew, it is busy”.
We dozed and wandered aimlessly when moving in the 43 degree heat for the afternoon. expectantly glancing around occasionally for the masses of tourists to arrive. A lone vehicle arrived early evening with 4 campers who set up camp about 4oo meters away in their own world.
Busy place for sure...... would not like to see it quiet.....
By Rob Wilson
Four friends travelling the Orange 25 December 2009
How did this come about? i ask Kevin. He had called Rob the night before saying they thought they had seen us passing on the bridge where they were camped for xmas evening. How are the odds... Rob and Kevin agreed that we’d come around this morning when leaving our camp at the Vaal / Orange confluence.
In a canoe, on a lake in Lesotho, Kevin and Christopher sometime last summer said to each other: How about traveling down the length of the Orange river from the border between Lesotho and South Africa to Alexander Bay? Two became four; Ryan and Russel digged the idea and came with. They had little if any previous experience kayaking, and now they have been on the river for 20 days with 40 more to go.
The group had followed Robs previous trip earlier this year down the whole of the Orange river. They had been in touch with him by mail and cell to update on how they were going and with questions to Rob about different sections, equipment and water levels.
Experiences were exchanged, more questions asked, we laughed, shared a bottle of champagne and had a heart good catch up there by the river.
It was great to meet up with them! Inspiring, motivating, fun and touching. They seemed to have their sense of humor intact. They seemed to be at their best.
There is rain coming which will be good for their next section down towards Upington. If you’d like to see how they are going visit their website www.orangemsa.com
Happy days! Have a great travel!
By Ine Skjørten
` Vat my bakkie ´ 27 December 2009
Easy swift waters got us down the 12 km in 2 hours to Hopetown via the Klokhuis, the historic contol post for the railway across the Orange. We had covered a larger 35km the day before through mostly flat bird infested pools and 3 fun rapids in a mini basalt gorge.
A half-hearted stash of gear in the reeds and we headed up to the Caltex station a few hundred metres away. The owner of the land and the fuel station said we should go and get our gear with his bakkie. He kept repeating ´vat my bakkie`. Even after we returned with our boats to the station. I misunderstood him and Ine and i jumped in his bakkie ( pick-up truck ), - he thought we were just going to unload our boats and hitch - and blasted off down the road to Orania in his bakkie to complete our shuttle. When we got back an hour later his wife explained the mis-understanding and we were charged for the mileage. Which was well worth it considering we did not have to hitch on a Sunday in the Karoo.
He had mentioned to his wife after our disappearance with his bakkie that we looked like decent people and would probably bring it back. Lucky for him.
By Rob Wilson
Rolfontein Reserve 29 December 2009
On the 29th of december we camped at the Vanderkloof Dam Campsite, so far the most expensive site we’d been too and also a slightly run down place. But we had great view to the dam water where some people cruized around in motor boats and some were paddling flat water kayaks. Todays drive for us was to the !Gariep Dam. On the way there is the Rolfontein Nature Reserve where you can drive a 2 hour circuit at max 40 km/h.
At the gate we were given a map of the area. It took a while before realizing that the map was a mirror printed image..haha.. had a good laugh at that one.
Soon after entering the reserve we saw 3 white rhinos 100 meters away. Big, prehistoric looking animals! As we drove further black wildebeast, zebras, springbok and kudu were standing, eating or slowly moving in the open fields. Not many people around, saw two cars only. The one car we met had a kayak and sit-on-tops on the roof. And what are the chances, it was an old friend of Rob’s with his family.
While driving slowly through the last part of the route something amazing happened. A group of approximately 20 blue colored swallows followed the car. They flew low and close around us, under the car, in circles and in front of us for a long time.
By Ine Skjørten
Dankbaar 30 December 2009
We departed the Dankbaar farm after a lazy start of writing and coffee on the stoep, visited the few sickly lambs. Lucky looked he was gonna make it. A chatty breakfast with the family, discussing the Orange River. It was raised to my attention again by Jomari whether the river starts in Lesotho or South Africa. It is a fine line . My older maps say Lesotho.
We were now going to drive a lap of the Gariep Dam.
We then met Lappies at Oviston, in our passing by we quickly discovered that Lappies walked the Orange River from Aliwal North to the sea over 30 years ago, took him about 7 months he says. Here i was in a modern vehicle telling him what a journey we are currently undertaking. I felt rather humbled and dwarfed by his exploits. He also walked from Durban to the old Rhodesia.
Stops at the Bethulie bridge where i spotted a tree i had camped out under earlier this year and realised it was an actually an island, and not a a flat plain over to Bethulie town.
A cold coke in the gum tree shade in Bethulie and we continued and completed the Lake Gariep Tourist route.
Then off to Waschbank Game Lodge at Norvalspont, for a night in beds, hot showers and a restaurant meal, contributed by Stefan Botha of Dankbaar.
By Rob Wilson
Tussen-die-Riviere Game Farm 1 January 2010
Rushed breakfast, after awakening at 6am on this fine day of the 1st of the year. The fellow who made and served us breakfast looked like the breakfast.
Back onto the GPS as we departed at the 4 crossings below and on the Gariep Dam Wall. We bactracked the road to Bethulie and on to Tussen-die-Riviere Game Farm, bordered by the CAledon and Orange River at their confluence. Again the Wildcards useless.
Only R45.00 ( 8 dollars ) for a vehicle up to 5 people, many different animals on a spectactular 2/3hr route make it a bargain. Grass plains of Gemsbok and Eland and riverine forest house black and white rhino, buffalo.
On to Aliwal North in the afternoon, accomodation was fully booked and the townsfolk were still revelling into the New year. We decided to get out of town and found ourselves at Badfontein Guest Farm.
“A lekker braai and a papsak rooiwyn langs die rivier for the evening for Ine and I at a very lekker camp plekkie”
Entering Lesotho 2 January 2010
As we are approaching Herschel from Aliwal North, the landscape changes. First you see the mountains at a distance. There is a change of several things when moving from the flat, long, straight roads in South Africa to the steeper, more narrow and windy roads of Lesotho. There are less cars on the road, on the other hand more and very fast driving and hooting taxis. You see horses and donkeys and the first people in their traditional blankets and gumboots. There is always someone or a group of people walking along the road. They seem to come from nowhere and it’s hard to say where to. Maybe to a house with a white flag (anything white on a pole), which means local brew is sold there. The first rondavels can be seen. The air seems cooler, and clouds are building up.
We cross the border at Telle bridge, where they insisted Norwegians need a visa to get into the country. The officer looks and looks in his papers, and in my passport. When seeing there´s a stamp from earlier, he lets me through. I can breathe again. We continue driving on roads with potholes that are not fixed, signs to warn are set up instead.
Little Blue Car 6 January 2010
Ma-Tommy told us yesterday, he would meet us at 7 this morning with his taxi(van), and it would take 2 and a half hours to get to Patlong. He was apologetic on arrival, but when he pulled the mattress out the boot, i knew he was on it.
“Well this is our ride, may aswell load her up”
Was 9h30 by the time we rolled down the road in his little blue car.
It was a groovy ride through the mountain terrain. Filming out the window and checking out the hundreds of people scattered along route, waiting for lifts mostly. Few people own vehicles, and if you do own 1, then u own a taxi because you are always giving lifts.
We got onto the water amidst a gang of swimming kids. We entered the canyon after 5 smallish rapids and decided to call it a day. A beautiful campsite up high on a sandy beach in a small overhang. Scenery from this viewpoint is awesome. Great sunset photos of the Golden Cliffs.
Give me sweeeeets.... 10 January 2010
Give me sweeeeets ...... getting used to hearing this from just about every kid along the road. Don´t know when this originated in Lesotho. Teachers, missionaries, colonialists or ignorant tourists. It definitely puts a little dent in the beauty of this country.
anyways, coffee at the creek..washed the dishes.
saw the first fair-skinned folk in a while. A group of 4 tourists having a beer or a cup of tea next to the river, we exchanged greetings as we floated by, there was even an offer of a cold 1. The section of river was fun.
0.55 on the gauge on the weir, Ine allowed a few of the kids a spin in her kayak. Our boats were carried in ceremony by kids all trying to help carry.
A run down the weir was a highlight for the locals. the low water allowed the kids to scramble across the wall for an advantageous view of our descent. Down the chute we went to a cheer, hoots and hollers.
We waited at take-out for about an hour before a teacher from Maseru picked up Ine and dropped her at the weir where the van was being guarded by the ferry-man.
After all the excitement of the river session, we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended at Ramselitso Gate on the border at 2339m.
Started getting stormy with pink lightning streaks and we decided to move us and the van a little down from the top of the mountain.
Molumong Lodge 13 January 2010
Organised a ride for tomorrow, sponsored a lighter by Noel and Pam, met a hip taxi chic, Ine made an awesome boerie/cheese/toast/sauce with fried eggs for dinner.
Had a chat with Noel at dinner over the plans to put dams along the Senqu, original plans have changed where the walls are going. What has´nt changed is that the walls are going up. Word on the street is that deals have been signed and 2013 is a big year for dam building.
Water in Southern Africa is gold. Rising population demands, a source of reliable income to Lesotho, and the shortage of kayakers in Lesotho make the need for building these dams look like a good thing.
Whilst gathering supplies for our mini mission to the Source in the town of Mokhotlong the heavens opened up, we hid like all in town and made our way back to the Mokhotlong Hotel where all our electronics were re-charging. A couple of Maluti Mountain Lagers to wait out the storm.
The View 16 January 2010
The view from the Ledges Cave is tremendous, the cave is kind of how i expected it to be. More of a ledgy-square-roofed shelter. Great place to be when the weather is good. I am not too sure if i want to be this exposed in a classic Drakensberg Thunder Storm.
En-route here we scouted the source, the first gorge of the entire river system, were blown away by the variety of flowers, birdlife, the swampy marshy landscape with mist rolling in occasionally from South Africa.
Little streams, rivulets, seepage of the soaked mountainside slowly collects to form the start of this 2000km+ river.
Ine had a nap in the cave, i just sat there looking out at the ever-changing cloud formations. Occasionally the mist rolled in bringing the visibiluty to 2 or 3 metres. A few little flows of water coming out the rock wall keeps us supplied with virgin water. It is actually coming through the ground from the soaked source above the Ledges Cave.
River is low... 19 January 2010
Day 3 of the tug and pull continued, starting to get used to the deal. Sometimes you get water and you go boating, we had little and the only way to get back ´home´ for us is to drag our gear down the river. At an average speed of a 1km/h you get to know your surroundings quite well. Is actually handy for documenting, as you get to see everything versus whizzing past through on white water.
An older fellow came down to the river, to chat to me. We were about a metre from each other and he is shouting at me in Sotho with waving arms and body movement. I shout back at him in English that i dont understand him, this sets him off to raise his voice even louder. He wasnt mad or crazy, but he talked real loud. I had to politely indicate with sign language that i gotta to keep moving. I dont mind chatting to people along the way, but i was not gonna shout at this fellow in the wilderness even if we understood each other.
Setting up camp this evening as the weather brews and threatens to rain gets us thinking and talking and dreaming of actually getting to kayak this classy section of river.
(THE ART OF) WALKING THE BOAT 20 January 2010
When pulling the horse coming up to the source of the Senqu the day before yesterday, i remember having an image quickly passing through my mind of pulling a kayak. Little did i know...
When the water level is too low to sit in the kayak and paddle down the river as you normally do, and you are 3000 meter above sea level, and you are one day walk from the nearest road, and the only people you see are the local herders walking or riding a donkey or a horse and only speak Sotho, and you want to see the river: You walk the boat down the river, and you paddle the possible meters there are.
As with all boating you want to go with the flow. It’s a constant looking for where the water goes. In this case, you are looking for where some water is flowing. Even if it is between rocks, the amount matters because the more water the less you scrape the boat over the rocks and the less strenous it is. Bare in mind, every less rock you have to pull (a loaded boat packed with supplies for ten days) over, the better for muscles and mind it is.
Rocks close to shore that are dry and sort of flat on the top and stable are the best. But you don’t know that until you step on it. They can be slippery, unstable and under water. Better if you can step on it from not too high, because the higher you step down on it the bigger consequences. The shorter legs you have, the more you might have to bend the knee in order to avoid too high a step down. Big feet might help, size 42-48 is preferable.
The rope / webbing / flip line is attached to the front of the boat with a carabiner. When you are walking in the river and it is narrow, it’s better to have the rope short because that gives you more control and you keep the boat close.You might have to vary the length quickly, then the rope might twist around itself. A longer rope has advantages when walking on shore and there a few rocks in the river to alter the direction of the boat. Watch your speed and the boats speed. It hurts when the loaded boat hits the inside of the knee or the side of the thigh.
There were slides (easy if not slippery and without potholes), boulder gardens (good if boulders not too high or steep), sand bottom (stable and trustworthy, only disadvantage is that sand collects in the socks and shoes or between foot and sole if wearing sandals), sand / mud (not favorable you sink or slide), shallow rock rapids (the least favorable one and the deeper the worse).
Walking with the paddle in the hand is probably the best. Leaning on it easily makes you loose your balance. Also, using it as a walking stick it might get stuck between two rocks.... Walking with it meant having no hand free to support oneself if falling. But the paddle is most valuable, you cant risk it being damaged.
Thinking of what to have for dinner (lentils or rice), whats happening next week, or anything (....) that takes your attention away from the here-and-now don’t work. The second you do, you either stumble or slide, a rock moves, the boat changes angle or gets stuck. There was nothing else to do than focusing on one step at a time, where the water and the boat was going.
All put together.
It was hard work and a great experience. And yeah, this particular walk lasted 29 kilometers (!) over four days. It was amazing when the clouds had built up enough to let the rain start and bring the river up. And we could paddle non stop rapids at 2800 meters following the Senqu winding downriver between the mountains, small sugar pea crops, an odd herder in a blanket and balaklava with his horse and some goats.
As luck,magic or belief would have it ... 22 January 2010
Our little cave/shelter had visitors in the early hours of the morning. A man on a horse and his dog. We lay in the tent shallow breathing at the unknown outside. A few sniffs, a touch of the the tent and they moved off.
Clawing into wet gear, we are aware of this last day on this river for a little while. Our bodies are tired from the last 8 days of pushing. The bridge near Mokhotlong, chocolate, warm showers and shuttle are on our minds.
Flat pools, fun rapids, sandbanks, the confluences of the Moremoholo and Mokhotlong rivers.
We get close to the cell tower and we think the bridge is nearby, about 42 turns and 2 hours later it comes into view. On approach we see a vehicle arrive at the bridge and stop. They are intrigued by us.
Lucky for him, he gets to meet us personally and he drives down to where we have exited the river. The first thing i ask him, “can you give us a lift”. “Yes”, he says .
Chucked the boats and ourselves on the back, and all of a sudden we were back at Molumong Lodge for R100 where we were 9 days ago. Both of us were beaming from ear to ear. Mission completed with 1 of the easiest and fastest shuttles ever.
In quick time we graze a large packet of sweet chilli chips, sort out all our gear, just before the afternoon rain came in.
As luck, magic, belief would have it .. we have moved through time with favourable karma behind our backs - carrying us through this incredible river system.