Yet rivers as mythical
paths invoke a sense of journeying. One
recalls with joy, for example, Mark Twain’s
Hucleberry Finn and his adventures on river.
Southern Africa is not
blessed with a navigable river such as Huck’s
Mississippi. Yet there are a few river passages
that invoke the same spirit of adventure.
The 2000 km Orange River, rising in the
Mont-aux-Sources in Lesotho and flowing
westwards past wheat fields and diamond
claims towards the Atlantic, is one.
It is rich in history and
legend. The Afrikaner family who raided
deep into Namibia at the beginning of the
19th Century were river brigands living
on the islands of the Orange River. Adolf
Luderitz, the German merchant associated
with the founding of Luderitzbucht, sailed
through the Orange River mouth in an attempt
to make his way up-coast to the town of
Angra Pequena (Luderitz), and he was never
One of the better known
legends concerns a people escaping an aggressor.
(Some versions indicate the Nama were the
fugitives.) As they crossed the river, fleeing
southwards, they looked back towards their
homeland and were changed into Halfmens
plants, forever gazing north to the land
they left behind.
To Orange River Adventures
(now Bundi), one of the companies offering
four to six day river trips starting at
Noordoewer, the Orange represents a different
kind of consciousness. I was fortunate to
experience such a trip down river in a two-person
Mohawk canoe with a group of friends. The
trip was lead by Louis Milne, who has journeyed
along that stretch of river at least 150
times, and his assistant, Melt van Schoor.
Both men are keen conservationists and attuned
to the abundant wildlife that lives off
the river system.
We arrived at the camp-site
on a Sunday night in early September and
set off on Monday morning after a grand
breakfast, taking to the water in our life
jackets. Our five-metre canoes were completely
self-contained, carrying our needs for the
five day trip – two sealed drums which
acted as ballast at centre, and a drum at
each end for personal gear. Strapped at
centre was a coolbox with liquid refreshments.
Our city shoulders soon settled into the
easy swaying rhythm as we paddled in mid-stream,
novices easily mastering the maneuverable
From Noordoewer to the
confluence of the Fish and Orange we dropped
into river time… time measured by
the flow of the river from source to mouth…
by the sun and waxing moon and by the Southern
Cross. Our Mohawk moved through the wide
river, then spun through rapids as the river
narrowed and the water swirled around rocks.
Most of us sank at least once as waves swamped
the canoe. But our guides had prepared us
for such minor misadventures and we soon
re-floated and continued the journey. When
the midday sun shone too fiercely we dabbed
on the block-out and took to the water for
a swim. Then we swam the rapids in life
jackets and surfed through the white waves.
Beyond the green strip
of river on the left side lay the stone
Richtersveld desert, impressive in its antiquity.
Here one sees crusts that were formed millions
of years before man. Beyond the right bank
lies the barren Namibian landscape interspersed
with rich farmland both drawing life from
the Orange. We pass plantations of sultanas
and tomatoes and fields of Lucerne cultivated
on the expansive farm, Ausenker.
There were times when we
spent hours drifting to the current, in
the guise of amateur ornithologists. We
saw half-a-dozen Fish eagles, and were reminded
of a fable retold by the Malawian writer,
Kasiya Makaka, explaning why the Fish eagle
is a lonesome creature. At a meeting, other
birds who had been slighted by this magnificent
creature decided not to talk to the snobbish
Fish eagle as punishment for its behaviour.
So Fish eagles now sing out their territory
and hunt alone, without another bird in
Being spring, we saw an
African Shell duck with some six ducklings
following frantically behind in her wake.
Goliath herons with necks like question
marks, Grey herons, cormorants hanging out
their wings to dry, as well as the smaller
weaverbirds, accompanied our trip.
There was also time to
drift under the overhanging tree-lined banks
in the cool of the day. River willows, Black
ebony and Tamarisk created the temporary
illusion of a mini jungle, while Wild fig
clinging higher up to barren rocky slopes
rose above the river reeds. On one occasion
some of the party climbed an outcrop to
view the Halfmens plant.
At noon, we stopped on
the grassy banks for lunch and a siesta
in the shade. Unlike the mad dogs and Englishmen
of the popular song, we kept out of the
midday heat. Then we took to the water once
more. As the sun slanted, we beached our
canoes for the night at one of the many
camping spots, replete with a ringed rocky
fireplace and grass embankments. As night
approached, Venus, the western star, indicated
our path for the next day.
Our evening task was merely
to gather firewood uprooted by the floods
of some few years back. Our guides turned
out to be excellent yet effortless chefs
who treated us to leg of lamb with garlic
and herbs done in foil on the coals. Meals
on other evenings consisted of Angel fish
with Orange River potatoes (done in a black
pot), sirloin steaks, fresh salad and apple
crumble with crushed ginger biscuits. Then,
after tea or coffee, the evening opened
out – time for anecdotes and perennial
jokes by the fireside till we slept in our
sleeping bags to the distant roar of rapids,
snorers separated from the closet snorers,
to wake with the calls of the birds. In
the morning our hosts served an English
breakfast, on one occasion including kippers
and seed bread.
In places we passed fishermen
trying for barbell and Yellow fish. Some
anglers dry the barbell and sell them up
river at the village. On one day we landed
and walked a few hundred meters to find
an abandoned feldspar mine. The feldspar,
used for coloring glass, makes a brilliant
fireworks display when thrown into the fire.
The stone glows for a moment, then green-blue
sparks fly. On another occasion we passed
a diamond claim with a rusted license stuck
amid a clump of rocks. The air was thick
with the ghosts of old prospectors searching
for elusive fortunes.
On the last day we paddled
reluctantly towards the waiting truck and
trailer. For five days we had looked at
neither watch nor mirror. We loaded the
canoe and were transported back to Noordoewer
for the last night of camping at the Orange
River Adventures campsite, set in the farmland
along the river.
The next day we parted
from our guides. They had a day to prepare
for the next group. As we traveled back
to Windhoek, all the members of our party
concurred with a sense of well being: for
fathers bonding with sons and mothers with
daughters, for friends and family, for anyone
aged seven to 70, this is a river trip worth
taking; a memory stored for the days when
we relive old times from our rocking chairs.
Parties can vary from six
to 30 and the season runs all year round,
with the exception of February, when temperatures
soar. Timely booking is advisable.