Updated: May 5
Once you've decided to book a rafting trip you immediately start wondering what you will be in for.
Well, let's cover off some of the main things before you make a final commitment to a specific rafting outfit.
Have I chosen the right outfit to raft with?
The most important thing on any rafting adventure is your safety. Check out the reviews on the rafting operator before you make a decision on who to do the adventure with. Next up is communications, logistics, food, comfort and equipment, and price.
Isn't it just amazing how terrible communication is from some operators? Some keep you waiting for days, others don't reply, and sometimes you end up getting replies from assistants that don't answer your questions properly! This is such a waste of time and utterly frustrating. My rule is simple here, namely if they can't respond timely and in a professional way, ditch them and work with an outfit that knows their product, tries to understand your needs, and responds quickly!
You certainly don't want to travel too far, nor cross borders if you can help it. Convenience counts for a lot!
Meals need to be wholesome and well prepared. After a day of powering away on the river you need good, tasty and well prepared meals. It would be foolish and false economy to go with a cheaper operator, only to discover their food is terrible!
Comfort and equipment
You need to be able rest properly at night, so the camping gear supplied needs to be in good condition. Very few, if any, operators offer you the use of camping gear as part of the price you pay. The rafting equipment also needs to be in good condition, as your safety depends on it!
I deliberately left this until last. Yes, affordability does count for a lot, but don't get sucked into 'Cheap is best.' There are many reasons why an operator might be cheap, such as desperation, poor equipment, bad service, shocking food, etc, etc. The Afrikaans saying 'Goedkoop is duurkoop' is so true in many instances, so buyer beware! Rather look at what is on offer, whether it's fair, what the benefits are to you, whether you can trust them with your money and safety, what the reviews say, and conenience. Affordability is paramount, but so is your happiness, enjoyment and safety.
What happens on a typical day of rafting?
You tend to wake up as dawn arrives, so typically before sunrise. The guides will make a fire and boil some water. You can emerge from your tent and make yourself some coffee, enjoy the view of the Orange Rivet, and chill around the warm fire.
Others will start waking and will join you around the fire. Breakfast is typically around 7:00-7:30 am, and afterwards, you can go for a wash in the river. There are many private places to go and wash, brush your teeth etc. Once you are clean and dressed, you pack up your stuff, drop the tent, pack everything into drybags, and start loading the rafts. Each raft will contain a cooler box with ice, two camping chairs, two drybags, and two paddles.
Before heading off, the guides will check that everything on every raft is properly packed, tied up and secured. You need to have your sunscreen on, water, a hat, appropriate clothes, sunglasses, river shoes or booties, access to your camera (secured in a small waterproof bag, and a sarong to protect your legs from sunburn.
Before heading off, the trip leader will brief you on the day ahead, what rapids to expect, when lunch will be etc. Please listen carefully, as this briefing is important. Around 9:00 am you all set off and the rafting begins! Don't dawdle, stick together, and keep a 4-5m gap between your raft and the one in front of you. The trip leader is in front, then a couple of rafts behind him or her, a guide near the middle, a few more rafts behind the guide, then a guide at the back of everyone.
After paddling for about 2-3 hours, depending on the water level and flow, it's lunchtime! Lunches are generally light and you need to stay hydrated. The lunch break is approximately one hour long, but this is just a guide! After lunch, you check your sunscreen, pack up your things, secure all the items again on the raft, and head off. The trip leader will once again brief you on any rapids or hazards before you depart. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to listen up to these briefings!
For obvious safety reasons, the consumption of alcoholic beverages while you are rafting is not allowed. Alcohol makes you tired and this could impair your ability to navigate rapids as well. Once you reach your camping spot in the afternoon, by all means have a drink or two!
After about another 2-3 hours, the trip leader will identify a camping spot and everyone will pull over and unpack the rafts. Suitable places are identified to pitch your tents, blow up your mattresses, unpack your gear. The guides can assist you if and when necessary. They will set up their 'kitchen' area, and the area where you will relax, then make a fire. In the meantime you are free to swim, relax, have a drink and socialize!
Supper is normally served around 6:30 pm and everyone chills around the fire afterwards relating all their 'war-stories' of the day, especially if they had a tumble in one of the rapids, have caught a yellow fish or two, or have seen some wild animals.
Although there are a few 'night monsters' from time to time who like to stay up late, most people head to sleep by 9:30 pm! Rafting is of course hard work if you listen to all the 'war-stories' told daily!
It certainly doesn't take long to fall asleep once the Orange River sprinkles its pixie dust on you and you get swept off into dreamland!
And that then is a typical day on the river!