There’s nothing like a river-rafting trip to pull a family towards each other. Mine went down the Orange…
Ever laughed so much you’ve wet your pants? I really hope so.
One summer many years ago my brother returned to South Africa after seven years in the United Kingdom. Tired of England’s dull days, he longed for open skies, broad landscapes and light – beautiful, uplifting African light – and a family memory that would last a lifetime.
The Orange River was the perfect fit. As children, we’d spent many glorious days on the Pongola River tubing down its rapids when there’d been rain.
Our group was motley. There was us – my brother, older sister, mother and I – and then a gaggle of kindly, corporate, overly chivalrous men on a team builder. My sister and I were paired in an inflatable, my mother and brother in another.
The start of the trip was sublime. The river drew us gently down and the scenery was breathtaking. Fish eagles, kingfishers and dassies watched us pass and clouds floated beautifully above.
Then it was rapid time. My mother and brother put on their big game. They rowed in unison at the rush of water, their paddles in glinting, flashing harmony. They expertly negotiated each rapid and punched the air in triumph on the other side. We were proud to be related to these sporting successes.
Then it was the turn of the men. They’d had a few beers. It wasn’t elegant but they overcame all obstacles. They bobbed around at the other end, self-satisfied, and waited for us.
There was no putting it off. Leading the charge like a commander, my sister barked orders at me. But authority among siblings is a laughing matter, and I started to giggle. She yelled and began an interpretation of a windmill. I doubled over my oar. In deadly slo-mo, our inflatable began a rudderless orbit and I lost all control. My sister yanked her feet out of the water in disgust, but to our horror, we saw the chivalrous men begin to row over, rolling up their sleeves. And to my infinite gratitude, my sister, with great steeliness, planted her feet back down and whispered, ‘Don’t worry, sister, I’ll keep your dirty secret.’ My public shame was averted.
I wish every family a trip down the Orange River. It’s safe, exciting, and anyone can do it. In this issue, two former river guides take their families down the Orange 30 years after they ruled it as strapping young men (Just Add Water, page 52). It’s a great guide and asks all the questions to consider before taking the trip yourself.
If you love active holidays, consider skiing – and don’t be afraid if you’ve never tried it before. We sent a valiant rookie, Chris Davies, to do it, all for under R20 000 – flights and lessons included. It’s possible (Alpine Addiction, page 62). And if you just want to escape the SA winter, try out our budget Seychelles options (I Rest Mahe Case, page 70). Closer to home, we visit characterful Calvinia. For all these stories, we’ve also stated why it’s important to book now: the most experienced travellers advise that planning ahead is the best way to secure the good spots and save money.
Finally, don’t miss our thought- provoking debate on wild lions. Did you know that there are over 170 captive-lion breeding facilities in the country? Allowing trade in their bones will fundamentally impact our wildlife, argues Adam Cruise on page 40, and may threaten the wild lions we’re trying to protect. Can you imagine an Africa without range lion? Sobering thought.
This article first appeared in the July 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.
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