Imagine a trip with 40 participants from all the ages between four and fifty four, with people coming from Cape Town, Durban Polekwane and Jozi. It had five provinces represented as well as toddlers, kids, teenagers and adults of all genders and opinions. Single moms, single peeps, couples and families all joined us as we headed towards Bloemfontein after fitting the entire ESSA storeroom into our vehicles. Food had been co-ordinated from across the country and last minute flurry to find lifejackets for tiny people was accomplished en-route.
Google earth had shown us a great put in just upstream of the Zastron sterkspruit bridge and we convoyed thru potholed roads to reach there in the evening. organisation and disoranisation began in earnest as we checked our gear and waterproofed the heaps of equipment. Organising for such a diverse and large bunch is no walk in the park, and with over 30 people coming on their first ESSA trip we had many novices. We were dissapointed to find almost all the boats had leaks and teams of newly trained rafted pathchers tackled the task of river worthying our craft with enthusiasm. Our long convoy of card departed with local minibus taxi in tow to find a suitable take out point just upstream of Aliwal North with our goal being the farm of Gert who had hosted us on a trip way back in 1986.
Finally after the return of the drivers and lunch we were on the river that was nicely pumping from good rains in the Sani pass area. We had four kayaks, ten crocs and two 7man rafts all loaded with miscelaneous people and equipment.
We had our first swimmers as we passed under the bridge hich boasts strong hydraulics as the river narrows through a rocky gorge... therafter we enjoyed almost contiual small rapids intersperesed with fast flowing water. The river banks were uninhabited and we only saw a single other person the whole 4 days we were on the river. Finding a campsite was not an easy task as it required sufficient flat area (well shaded of course) for the 40 of us as well as numerous tent sites for the multitude of brightly coloured tents that were errected on arrival.
We collected wood and soon had a great fire burning , as a group of volunteers set about preparing the huge amount of food that such a large party requires at a meal. It was pretty impressive to see the huge pots simmering away and the multitude of activity that the prearation caused. Pauls small book was much in demand as the finer touches to the meals were debated and ingredients for other meals requested. Generally the little ones (we had 12 kids on the trip were the first to be fed) before the adults, suitably watered, followed.
Paul led a patching delegation each evening as all the holes were hunted down and fixed, lak by leak. By the end we had only two boats that still sported th comfy look. We enjoyed the solitude and the wonderful night skies with the mumur of conversations late into the night.
Day too, we hit the biggest rapid and we all took a good look at it from the banks while the kiddies played in the delightful mud. Most craft sailed through the rapid with a few kayakers taking a tumble at the very end, caught by the unseen hydraulics as they relaxed after a succesful run. The river had widened out with each corner reavealing another wonderful view. We were certainly a very strung out group with Luke and Mike gnerally heading in front to scout for any problems, followed by a long line of craft. The water was a deep brown as a result of the heavy rains upstream and now and then an unseen submerged rock would hold a boat for a while.
Mike was also the controller of the snack box, and every few hours we would be gathered round his yellow croc as we took a break from the ardous drifting and enjoy the delights of a sugar rush, interspersed with long swims in the river.
Day three saw a sharp steep grade three rapid and the high water made for some big standing waves. Shouts and whoops of joy echoed around the rocks as the boats plunged down, with pete managing to swim it twice. Novice kayakers braved its drop and their were big smiles as they got through, tossed like corks but still upright.
On Day four , we were keen to make the cars, and so hard paddling and the youngsters volunteered to paddle the heavy rafts as the river had flattened out. We were hit with a viscous headwind, and on the point of abondoning our uest spotted a large roof close to the river, decided to push for that. I was impresd by the youngsters who knuckled down and paddled for the end despite the very strong wind. On arrival here we recognised the hot springs that flow into the river here, and this became a luxurient end to a wonderful trip
I am organising a mellow paddle down the Orange river over new year. The plan is to do the section from Zastron to Aliwal North but it does rely on getting enough water in the river. If it is low we will head for the Hope Town section. Its a wonderful landscape with lots of sandstone overhangs and also boasts a hot spring towards the end of the trip. This is an ideal trip if you are a first timer and is suitable for kids. Distances travelled each day are fairly short so bring your binocs and camera to explore the abundant birdlife.
Essa has all the required gear , including boats,, pots and pans and cooler boxes lifejackets and safety equipment so all you will need to bring is your sleeping gear, pillow, and your inexhaustable good humour.
Costs last year were around R1500 per person and I expect them to be pretty much the same. No profit is made on the trip but a small part of the expense is a contribution to the club gear.
Let me know if you are interested. firstname.lastname@example.org