A new adventure awaits water lovers in the Richtersveld.
It is difficult to hear the briefing over the noise of the thundering rapids. From where I stand on a rocky perch next to the washing machine of tumbling water, I feel like nothing is going to prevent me from hitting the giant scattered rocks, washing me down the river in an instant.
As a complete newbie, I did not really know what to expect at the start of my four-day adventure on the |Ai-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park’s Desert Kayak Trails. It covers approximately 40km from Gamkab on the Namibian side of the park to a point near the confluence of the Orange and Fish Rivers. The SANParks Times was offered an exclusive opportunity to try it out before the official launch in 2016, guided by the park’s nursery and herbarium assistant Pieter van Wyk.
As we climbed back into our canoes to tackle the first rapid, I quickly reminded myself that relaxing is the right attitude to enjoy the adventure. I tried to recall everything as the white water in front of me edged closer. The only clear thing in my mind was the instructions when falling overboard. “Don’t worry about the canoe, just leave it. Make sure you are in the cocktail position through the rapids,” Van Wyk’s voice echoed in my head. This entailed floating on your back, toes pointing upwards and keeping your imaginary drink in the glass and your smoke in the other hand.
I started picking up pace and before I knew it I started bobbing over the rocking water. My focus shifted to keeping straight and staying on board, but it was over as soon as it started. “Was that it?” I wondered aloud as I paddled out at the other end. I quickly realised that the anticipation that made me nervous was actually for no apparent reason.
Apart from the adventure, the Richtersveld scenery mirrored by the glassy water was truly spectacular. Mountains tower illustriously along the river as if keeping guard over this life-giving water source. The river snakes through the landscape, guiding you from one tranquil setting to the next. In some spots, thick riparian forest stretches over the water’s edge as if hiding secrets behind the green wall.
As a nature and bird lover, the diversity found in this remote wilderness had me in awe. We spotted a kudu coming for a sip, monkeys frolicking in the vegetation and vast quantities of water birds. Everyone lives in harmony, from the goliath heron perched on a rock to cormorants and African darters breeding in the same overhanging tree. Small kingfishers and weavers played among the riparian vegetation and the unmistakable call of the African fish eagle echoed in the distance.
Camp was set up right next to the water every night. When darkness fell, fireflies by their hundreds came out to play, illuminating the sky with their lime green torches in a spectacular display. These beautiful evenings were never long enough and soon the dying camp fire indicated time to rest.
By the time we hit the last two big rapids on the final day, some uncertainty hit me again after Van Wyk’s mentioned rescue with a rope to ensure we don’t drift straight into the second rapid. It features the only grade two rapid in this section of the river with a large rock at the bottom.
“If you don’t know what you are doing…,” I did not really listen to the rest of the sentence. But whether it was a blessing in disguise, the section leading into it did not have adequate water, so we took a different line. With the two long rapids in quick succession of each other, it was quite exhilarating to make it through successfully. The final stretch to the end presented little white water with quiet areas. At this point I wanted to conjure some rapids or fast-moving water to give my arms some rest, and to let the adventure continue just a little longer.
Exploring the park from the comfort of the water gives you an opportunity to experience the area’s unique biodiversity, geology, botany and wildlife. Park manager (South African side) Nick de Goede says that it will be the only luxury kayak trail along the section of the Orange River within the Transfrontier Park. This slack packing adventure even includes a cook to prepare your meals. The official launch will be during the first quarter of 2016.
The cost is estimated at R4 300 per person for a four day trip. Packages include your equipment, a qualified guide, accommodation and meals.
Words: René de Klerk
Content courtesy of SANParks Times: www.sanparkstimes.co.za