Orange River rafting trip- Zastron to Aliwal, 28 Dec-2 Jan 2015
Mud masses of glutinous mud; the paddle power of 9 children, 45kms and headwind in one day and Orange River guts all round- who says we can’t have fun over New Year?!
On 28 December 2014 24 people left Joburg for the annual New Year’s Rafting trip, waved off by Bruce Fordyce who spotted us packing up at Piers’ place. After meeting the Brugmans in Zastron, we made camp on the river bank beyond the bridge at Zastron. That night was a beaut one: sitting by the fire or sleeping under the stars made the rat race seems miles away…
We got on the river around midday, after the cars had been left in Aliwal and a helpful farmer given the drivers a lift back down the mountain. Paddling through the water-polished corridors of sandstone and dolomite, the 9 crocs, 3 kayaks and one large raft raced along, giving the rafting novices a thrill and reminding the old hats of previous epic trips. We camped early that night, hauling kit up a cliff to a level plateau (due to high rainfall in the interior the river was chocolate brown with sediment and rising). Bruce D brought along his fishing rod but the only catch was Tessa, who had to be cut out of her lycra. Matt D cooked another amazing dinner which went well with the OBies. That night it rained so the tarp sleepers either had to burrow deep or dash for friendly tents.
The second day saw more easy paddling and floating lazily along in lifejackets (Steve didn’t like swimming alone so persuaded Bruce T, Anne and Brian to fall off and join him) while the hot sun blazed down but soon after lunch the heavens opened and then it was slog into the freezing rain. Luckily the earlier rapid had excited the blood and spirits were high. The campsite chosen was a good mixture of rock and flat grassy beach so tents were quickly pitched and kids dried out and warmed. Less fortunate were the hardy heros who braved a hailstorm to erect a tarp over the fire. Paul’s canopy above paddles proved a winner and soon the skies cleared and steaks were sizzling over the coals.
New Year’s Eve saw us bomb through the largest rapid on this stretch, with only Frank, Brian and Simon going for a brief swims. By this time a few stomachs had begun to prove unfriendly: we deduced the water as John was the only one to be unaffected by the end of the trip, and he had drunk nothing but boiled water or beer from the barrel merrily bobbing behind his croc the entire journey. Undaunted, the group made camp up a lovely slope of grass and settled in for a long evening of popcorn, massages and heated ‘discussion’ (Brian’s term not Jeanne or Hayley’s) then crackers at midnight to welcome in 2015.
Gilly woke all the babelases with a rousing bang on a saucepan and we were on the river early, hoping to get in some good mileage before the headwind got interesting. Matt and Dakota were man down with river guts and floated the whole way to the end, while Frank had a sleeping Tess in his bows, but the big raft was filled with shouts and laughter as they played general knowledge and memory games, and threw welcome chocs and snack bars to the starving masses moored all around them. Despite being new to it, John T and Dylan were stirling rivermen, paddling their kayaks throughout. We did 45kms that day and after hauling out, washing and carting all the kit up the sandy banks, were ready for the hot springs. Another great new Year’s trip had drawn to an end.
Many thanks to Paul for all his great management, both the beforehand preparations and on the river: as Paul says,” It’s not the children who are the problem- it’s the parents!” Also to Heidi for her constant backup work and unfailing good humour. The kids were also amazing: no whinges or paddle floaters, and all good firewood collectors and gopher- pad carriers.
It was a memorable trip and great to have the opportunity to share special experiences with the next generation of Explorers. Thanks ESSA!