Updated: May 28
There are so many sections on the Orange River to do a rafting trip on, so let's run through the pros and cons of each key section so that you can make a more informed decision about which one to do your adventure on!
Thunder Alley (between Hopetown & Douglas)
There is absolutely no doubt that this is the most enjoyable and exciting section of the Orange River to raft on. There are around 30 rapids along this section, depending on the water level and flow of the river. Most of the rapids tend to be grade 1-3, depending on the water and flow levels. Hell's Gate can become a grade 4-5 rapid at times, depending on the water level, but then gets portaged around for safety reasons. The camping spots along Thunder Alley are great too (flat and sandy) and provide an amazing backdrop to some of the most stunning, scenic scenery in the Northern Cape. For those interested in fishing, there are plenty of Yellow Fish and Barbel (catfish) along this stretch of the river too. You can use bread, corn and pieces of chicken as bait, barbel particularly liking the latter. There are lots of antelope and birds along this part of the river too, so bring a pair of binoculars with. Thunder Alley never disappoints and is my favourite section to raft on the entire Orange River.
Orange River Gorge section
This section of the Orange River is quite remote but very scenic too. The gorge is challenging to get into, as everyone has to exit the river and manually enter the gorge by absailing into it during rafting trips. There are a few challenging rapids on this section, particularly Big Bunny! This section of the Orange River is more physically demanding than Thunder Alley, as well as more remote, but exciting. The summer temperatures in this section can become extreme, so be aware and prepared for this. There is good fishing here too and awesome scenery.
Vioolsdrif to Aussenkehr (Namibia)
This is one of the busiest sections to raft along on the entire Orange River, as it gets very crowded in the summer months and over public holiday weekends. There are lots of operators rafting on this section, however, it gets extremely hot in summer and and one has to cross the border into Namibia. There is a road user tax payable in Namibia too, which adds to the cost of a rafting trip on this section. This section of the Orange River only really has one exciting rapid called Sjambok, with the rest of the rapids being rather tame and bland. Camping is great and fishing tends to be good too, depending on where one camps, and what the water level is like. In recent times, there have been many droughts and flooding along this section, which impacts rafting trips. It is definitely a good experiece and worthwhile to do if you have the time to travel up all that way. The scenery is beautiful too, but also being encroached upon in certain areas by commercial grape farmers, which tends to spoil things a little. In times of drought you often have to portage around dry areas of the river bed, which is definitely not pleasant at 40 deg C plus temperatures!
Other sections of the Orange River
Finally, let me stress that there are many other sections along the Orange River to raft on as well, but I have only covered the 3 most popular sections above.
One can raft on sections between Lesotho and the Gariep dam as well, but it gets very cold there in the winter months. There is also a section between Van der Kloof dam and Hopetown that has some grade 3 and 4 rapids such as Gert se Perd, but this section is not generally commercially rafted due to access issues.
The Vaal River enters the Orange River near Douglas, which can be problematic at times, especially when flood waters come down from the Vaal River. The section between Douglas and Prieska is flat and totally boring, and the same can be said for the section from Prieska to Groblershoop.
In my opinion, stick to the 3 main sections rafted commercially, choose a worthwhile operator, and rather have some excitement along the way! Why go rafting if there aren't many rapids, great camping spots, and some awesome fishing?
Convenience, safety and value for money are definitely important to consider nowadays, so make sure the trips are fully catered (all meals provided), the food is wholesome, the rafting equipment is in top condition, there's an option to have all or most camping equipment included in the pricing, communications are professional and timely, the location (base camp) is accessible by car, the rafting is done on a conveniently situated part of the Orange River, and you can feel safe!
Avoid the notion of 'Cheap is best' as you always get what you pay for. Check out the Google Reviews of the operator you want to go with too before committing!
I hope this article has been useful to you as you consider various options in order to make the right decision about where go rafting on the majestic, iconic Orange River!