Hiking down the Orange River for 5 days!

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My back hurts. It’s hot. My backpack is heavy. My feet are raw. I’m sweating. I look up for a brief moment and disappointed that I’m still hiking through a desert I drop my head again. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. As long as I just keep on moving forward I’ll survive.

Okay, I’m being dramatic, it wasn’t that hectic but it was still challenging.

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Two weeks ago my idea of what a five-day hike would be like was completely wrong. I definitely didn’t expect it to be glamorous but I also didn’t expect that I would count to 4 for 8 hours a day just so I can keep my pace without concentrating on my feet covered in blisters. But nonetheless, here I am, a week later wishing I could do it all over again (a little more prepared this time though).

Hiking down the Orange River is very different from what I believe most people imagine it to be. It’s not a hike next to the river like I thought it would be (don’t know why I thought that). It’s more like hiking through a desert and occasionally spotting the river. However, we still managed to sneak in a few swims and thankfully had most of our lunch breaks next to the river. Let me tell you, there is nothing better than taking off your shoes and resting your feet in the water.

We did the 60 km over 5 days, starting from Onseepkans and ending at Klein Pella. You can definitely do it in longer than 5 days but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in under 5 days.  The trail can get quite difficult and it’s important to have a fresh mind and body when you have to hop from boulder to boulder with 18 kg on your back. But if you feel like challenging yourself, then go for it!

Day 1:

Distance: 10 km

Difficulty: 6/10

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The first few kilometers on this hike went really quickly. The surface is flat so it’s a good idea to make up time here because boulder hopping later on in the day takes longer than you would expect. The boulder hopping is the challenging part of day 1 and 2. Some people flew over the boulders like they were non-existent but others (like myself) struggled a bit. In the end we all made it over the boulders and that is all that matters now. What we looked like while doing it, is not important.

On the first day, you also pass the Richie Falls, which is the second highest waterfall on the river. Quite a spectacular sighting.

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The camping ground for the first night was okay when compared to the others. The river was easily accessed and the highlight of this day for me was definitely watching the moon rise over the mountains. I was waiting for it with great anticipation because it was full moon and watching a full moon rise over the mountains while you’re camping next to the Orange River was truly a special experience.

Day 2:

Distance: 11 km

Difficulty: 7/10

This was definitely the most difficult day. The first 3 km took extremely long because we were hopping from boulder to boulder (AGAIN). It was also rather tiring and after our first break I got told that we’ve only traveled 3 km when it felt like 6 km. This completely broke my spirit and moving on from boulder hopping to walking on thick, loose sand definitely didn’t help the situation.  This day’s route also included running up and down dunes (but not for fun, trying to run up a dune with 18 kg on your back is not fun).

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Apart from the difficult route, we also lost the GPS coordinates which meant that we lost the trail a few times but we managed to reach our final destination.

The highlight of this day was definitely the Fish Eagles following us the whole way. The camping ground was also amazing. It was very beautiful which made us forget about the rough day we just had.

Day 3:

Distance: 19 km

Difficulty: 6/10

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This day was not difficult at all, but it was long. We were blessed with some Jeep and cow track which were just so refreshing after two difficult days. We knew we had to move quickly because of the distance but at least the route made it possible to walk at a steady pace.

This day would have been heavenly, the easiest day hike I’ve ever done but unfortunately this was the day that the blisters decided to join the party. I’d rather not repeat my thoughts here but it was bad. And what did I learn from this? DO NOT HIKE WITH NEW SHOES! Even if you think that you’re settled because you did that one hike with them that one time and you wore them at the airport so you should be fine. You’re not going to be fine. You’re going to suffer and you’re going to think very bad things. “One, two, three, four” only helps so much.

This was definitely the worst camping ground. Lots of rocks and further away from the river than the previous days.

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Day 4:

Distance: 10 km

Difficulty: 5/10

This was definitely the easiest day. The trail was flat and there were nothing challenging about it. However, you don’t walk next to the river so you have to fill up your water bottles before you leave in the morning. You can complete this day before lunch as it really doesn’t take long.

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The camping ground here was definitely my favourite one. Maybe it was because we actually had time to enjoy it but I would’ve loved to stay another night.

Day 5:

Distance: 10 km

Difficulty: 6/10

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It’s the last day! We woke up early this morning with the beautiful sound of Fish Eagles. It was so incredible because it sounded like they were right above us.

Everyone was in good spirit and lots of photos were taken. We were celebrating like we had already finished the hike. That was dumb. Especially since my overachieving group decided that it will be a good idea to take a jumping photo. Everyone knows that it takes about 5 jumps before you kind of get everyone in the air at the same time. So there we were, jumping up and down, using most of our energy because we only got 10 km left, right?

 

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Yeah, we were all in good spirit until we started walking and we realised that this thick sand doesn’t end for the next kilometer or so. We were suffering and you could see it. Day 4 got our hopes up and on day 5 it all came crushing down.

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It was a beautiful route, again very desert-like because we were walking inland, away from the river.

So after this experience I can tell you that a 5-day hike is definitely not for the faint hearted, but anyone who has done it will agree with me that in the end it is a truly rewarding experience. It made us stronger and a Savannah Dry has never tasted better!

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Sunrise on our last morning next to the river

Stay wild, stay free

xx

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