After an amazing season of consistent super-high flows on the Vaal (my home river), the water had been back down to usual low flows for a while, but further down the drainage, the Orange was still pumping at 1500 cumecs (40 000 cfs), and was looking like a good option for an Easter road trip. So, we piled 5 guys (myself, Philip Claassens, Lloyd Wallace, Hannes Pienaar, Adrian Vroom) and 2 girls (Jolene Fisher and my lovely wife Phia Longridge) into a Hannes’ dad’s Kombi and headed for Augrabies falls, one of the Northern Cape’s main tourist attractions, and one I’d never been to before.

The thing about the Northern Cape is that it is far away from pretty much everything, and the drive from Parys to Augrabies Falls is very long. However, and we managed to make it even longer with a speed limit of 100km/h (to save fuel), a ridiculous amount of pee and food stops, a leisurely lunch at the Spur, and getting lost here and there. Eventually, what should have been a 9 hour drive turned into 13 hours, but it was an extra-long weekend, so we knew we’d get our money’s worth in terms of paddling time.


Lloyd showing one of the many uses for a Pelicase with some beers for the drive 02

Philip and Hannes keeping themselves busy on the long, long drive 03

Phia relieving her boredom while the rest look, well, bored 04

A thunderstorm in the distance whilst driving through the Northern Cape 05

Northern Cape scenery on the road to Khamkirri 06 07

A sunset over the Orange River from the deck at Khamkirri 08Chilling on the deck with a few beers

We stayed at the very nice Khamkirri camp, which has a great bar and deck overlooking the swollen Orange River (South Africa’s largest). When we woke the morning after our epic drive the wide, brown river was an impressive sight, but it was nothing compared to earlier in the year, when it had flooded to an amazing 7000 cumecs (almost 200 000 cfs) and the entire camp was under water. We arranged some lifts on our first afternoon there with old friends Danie and Phillipa van Zyl, who run the camp at Khamkirri. They were taking some clients rafting down the section above the camp, and this would be a light intro to the river. Most commercial trips usually get run further downstream, on the so-called Augrabies Rush section, but since the river was so full, getting out before the 60m Augrabes Falls was slightly tricky and no-one was taking any chances. The section was pretty flat, but the high water made for some lekker surf waves, a few of which had eddy service.


Catching a ferry across the river to go run the section above the camp 10

Luke surfing a wave at the end of the section 11

A pile of boats on the bank, the end of the 1st section we paddled 12

Luke and Lloyd enjoying their 1st day on the water 13The ‘Green Kalahari’ of the Northern Cape: grape farming in the desert using water from the Orange River

The next morning we ate a leisurely breakfast in the nearby town of Kakamas, then decided to do some more driving, with a quick 150 km run to Upington to pick up Scott Alexander from the airport. Scott had run the Two Oceans half marathon a couple of days previously and couldn’t drive up with us, so he flew in to Upington. Then we decided to head for Neus Falls, a large and very wide rapid outside Kakamas, where we could spend some time running different channels. The super-high flows meant that the usual creek-style rapid had become some nice big water, and provided a good big-water intro for Lloyd, who hadn’t run much big water before, but who handled things nicely.


Kayakers checking out the weir upstream of Neus Falls. Needless to say no-one ran it 15

Jolene and Luke checking out the left channel of Neus 16

Luke and Lloyd running the left channel 17

Luke, Lloyd, Philip and Adrian running the left channel. (not me, must be Adrian Vroom) 18

Lloyd walking across some islands to check out the other channels 19

Philip walking through some thorns, sans footwear as usual 20

Adrian and Philip running a different channel 21

Philip, one of the channels at Neus 22Adrian dropping into the meat on the left channel of Neus


After mucking about running various lines, it started to get late and we headed back to pack our gear for a multi-day on the Ontseepkrans section.   Doing this 2-day (usually 3-4 days at low water levels) section involved even more driving, and we started to realize that the Northern Cape is actually a very big place. Eventually we got to the put-in, and loaded up for an overnight, whilst Phia had the less-pleasant responsibility of the massive drive around/shuttle. An overnight trip gave Lloyd and I the opportunity to test out our Big Bangs, which were brand new, and ideal for this sort of a trip. Although I normally paddle a large Solo, and can pack quite a bit of gear in there, the extra space and the hatch meant that we could pack in loads, even taking gear for guys who were paddling playboats. Paddling a Big Bang is like paddling an armchair to me, and made for a super comfy trip, especially on the second day, which was mostly flat water. Lloyd has paddles his on some creeks too, and as a plus-size (very tall, 110 kg) kayaker it’s his boat of choice. Having a playboat would have been nice, as there were lots of waves, but mostly it was good to just be out in the desert, enjoying the spectacular scenery.


Loading boats for an overnight on the Ontseepkans section 24

Luke chilling in the Big Bang 25Lloyd in his Big Bang

After about 10km of small rapids, we eddied out above the spectacular Ritchie Falls – we had opted for the safe right hand channel, and a portage past the falls, although the left hand gorge can be run. Following the falls were the two biggest rapids of the trip – 42 man hole was immediately after the falls, and after checking out the massive curling hole which makes up the meat, most of us decided that we’d try punch it right in the meat, as it flushed out on the right, and there was a large pool afterwards. The run went well, and we only had one swim due to the massive boils downstream. After this was a rapic called Big Bunny, where we made camp. We had a look at the big wave/hole that makes up the rapid at this level, and I decided to give it a surf in Hannes’ Nemesis. The wave had a really awesome shoulder, but no eddy service, and after a quick surf we called it a day as it began to get dark. Phil and Hannes promised they’d give it a go the next morning.


Fighting through the bushes trying to portage Ritchie Falls. We missed the official take-out, but luckily made it out before the falls 27

Jolene, Scott and Lloyd chilling before lowering boats down for the portage 28

Lowering boats down Ritchie Falls 29

Phillip catching Jolene’s Solo 30

A view of Ritchie falls from the left bank of the river 31

A view upstream of the lower end of the gorge (which we didn’t run this time) 32

Philip, Hannes and Luke lining up for 42 Man Hole 33

Hannes and Luke, 42 Man Hole 34 35 3637

Luke taking on the meat of 42 Man Hole  38

Carnage below 42 Man Hole 39

Thumbs up after an entertaining run with 42 Man Hole in the background 40 Luke surfing Big Bunny in Hannes’ Nemesis– this is a video still, to see the full clip click HERE


Back at our sandy beach, we tucked into all the whisky, wine and sherry we’d loaded into our Big Bangs and Solos (Paddled by Scott and Jolene), and even shared it with the playboaters who had brought nothing.  Most people neglected to bring sleeping mats, but sand can get very cold and hard, and I was grateful for my thermarest as I went to bed, and even more glad I’d brought my Big Bang.


Chilling around the campfire 42

The stars are always spectacular in the remote Northern Cape 43

The Big Bang, the boat of choice for overnight trips. Especially is someone else is paddling a playboat 44

Orange 2011 – good times! 45

The view from my sleeping bag the next morning  46The crescent moon the next morning

The next morning began with a different kind of bang for Hannes, who stuck to his commitment to surf Big Bunny. The river had dropped a bit, and the nice wave/hole of the previous evening had become a rather nasty looking pit of doom. With shouts of encouragement from the bank, Hannes dropped into the pit and received a solid beating for over 30 seconds, eventually flushing just when we thought he was about to swim. Philip chickened out, dropping into the pit right on the edge where he flushed immediately.


Everyone lining up to run Big Bunny the next morning 48

Scott running Big Bunny 49

Lloyd running Big Bunny 50

Jolene running Big Bunny and getting smoked by the diagonal 51

Luke running a different line 52

Philip ‘attempting’ to surf Big Bunny but really chickening out 53

Hannes dropping in… 54

Surfing… 55 56 57And getting beaten!

From here on it was about 25km of flat water with small rapids to Pella, where Phia was waiting (after getting harassed by Northern Cape tik addicts for money when getting directions to the river). We all loaded up, headed through to Poffader to buy snacks and drinks, and then drove back to Augrabies, where we finally got to see the falls in all their glory, and cape at the class VI+ rapids of death in the gorge below.


Lloyd enjoying the awesome Northern Cape desert landscape on the long flat section before Pella 59

Lloyd and Scott at the take out, Pella pump station 60

The awesome Augrabies Falls 61

A close up of the top of the falls. That platform got destroyed by the massive floods earlier this year 62

The bottom of the falls 63Some class ‘death’ rapids in the gorge immediately below the falls

Article by Luke Longridge! Thanks Luke :-)

Thanks to Phia Longridge for all the driving and to Phillipa, Danie and camp Khamkirri for accommodating us.
Check them out at
Pictures are by everyone on the trip, but thanks to Scott, Jo and Phia for their pictures.

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