I first met my Drifters Adventures Overland Tours mates on the 24-day Cape Town to Johannesburg excursion at the welcoming dinner at the Quay Restaurant at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, and afterward our young guide/driver Jo bought a round of shooters at the Tavern Bar down stairs. Everyone on the tour was a digitally wired Millennium except for me, the old geezer.  To date the oldest person on any Drifters Tour has been 72 years old.

This four country adventure was a combination of lodge stays and camping in National Parks and in the unique Drifters Camps.  All camps had running water and flush toilets except for the Okavango Delta Camp in Botswana. The Lodge stays are strategically placed between the camping so that a little civilization was introduced along the way.  Drifters supplied the tents and pads (cots are on order by the time you read this), but not included are sleeping bags (Drifters can sell you one), blankets and pillows (sold at PEP stores).

Our tent camp along the Orange River.

All National Park entrance fees are included in the tour price, as are most meals, but Drifters still keeps all its tours in the budget “Roughing It And Loving” it category.

Before we set off for 11 days in Namibia we toured around Cape Town, including a hike by the Millenniums up Table Mountain National Park (I took the cable car.); plus we toured the Cape of Good Hope, and the penguin rookeries at Hout Bay;. My favorite Cape stop: the Stellenbosch winelands for cheese and wine tasting.

Cape Town views from Table Mountain National Park.

The morning we left the Drifters Cape Town Lodge for the first 500 kilometers jaunt a huge weather front approached from the Atlantic like a moving living mountain of cold wind and mist – it was autumn, the rainy season on the Western Cape.

At Table Bay, just outside the Mother City, we stopped briefly to dip our toes in the ocean at Blouberg Strand, an area that Jo eventually wants to open up his own bed and breakfast hostelry, called Vibe. (I suggested Jo’s Bitchin’ Beach Bungalows, which brought a laugh and a grin to the 22-year-old Huckleberry Finn Drifters guide.) We jumped onto the N7, the road toward Namibia and drove up and up into the Swartland drylands, past huge harvested maize fields, past the Cedarberg Mountains with birdseye views, and then into the nearly deserted Namaqualand.

The rugged Swartland on the road to Namibia.

Somewhere in the middle of the Northern Cape we picked up a stone on the gravel road that elbowed off the N7 so we stopped to fix the flat, luckily it was the outside tire on the rear duallies. Jo and I had a discussion about the birds in the area that sounded like sick ducks, but he insisted they were African Crows.

Out first night respite was at the privately run Honnehokke self-catering Chalets on the Honnehokke Bay coast in the midst of the diamond mining region. But we didn’t have to self-cater at all because owner Attie and his wife Esme poured the drinks at the bar before their wonderful home cooked meal.

Driving through the outback.

The DeBeers Mining Company owned the diamond bearing gravel beds all around the town of about 200 that was on the brink of civilization and existence.  The diamond mines were played out but when Attie built his block house accommodations he used gravel from the mines for cement in the foundations.  DeBeers showed up on his doorstep stating that they had mistakenly given him gravel that hadn’t been processed; the diamonds in the foundations are the most valuable asset on the property.

The triple cold front had turned bitterly brrr nasty and there was no heat in the rooms, but we were Drifters, prepared for any condition; we wrapped up in our blankets and sleeping bags, and it was a comfortable and warm night except for the bathroom visits. By the way my roommate, Jo, snores.

It was a double stop through the South Africa and Namibia Orange River border for visa stamps. The gregarious Namibia officials welcomed us with warm regards. Our base camp for the evening was at the beautiful Felix United Resort located on a bluff overlooking the Orange River on the Namibia side. Jo’s first guiding experience was at the resort, where he conducted canoe paddling on the peaceful, non croc or hippo threatening waters.

The Felix United Resort on the Orange River.

Felix United Resort was a combination of lodges and camping bivouacs.  We set up our hefty tents on the lawn and hundreds of sparrows swooped in and out and around like miniature fighter planes, but they never dropped their bombs. Jo and resort guide Michael, set up the kitchen facilities under a large thatched roof open air Adirondack; we had a grill and picnic tables; clean showers and toilets were steps away. The resort had a pool with bar where everyone congregated at night after Jo’s one pot meal of spaghetti and beef meatballs and salad.  The next night, like a rabid jackal, I eyed the baby back ribs Jo slung on the braai. This was my kind of camping.

Jo, our guide, driver, chef, prepares dinner.

Paddling the Orange River

A dip in the Orange.

The Orange River is South Africa’s largest and longest river and the fifth biggest river in all of Africa, after the Nile, Congo, Zambezi, and Niger rivers. The Orange-Senqu River Basin drains a huge area of South Africa, and we were destined to paddle a few kilometers of it, or so we thought.

The Orange River rises as the Senqu in the landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho at over 3,300 meters and then flows for more than 2,300 kilometers to the Atlantic Ocean; it separates the borders of Namibia and South Africa. The Orange has over one million kilometers of basin catchment, including the tributaries of the Vaal River in South Africa and the wild Fish River of Namibia, which has carved a deep declivity of a canyon in the Namib Desert nearly as big as the Grand Canyon.

There are actually four countries in the Orange River basin: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Lesotho. On its way to the sea, the Orange cuts through Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park that protects the wilderness on both sides of the border. The river gets its name because of the orange colored sand it washes out of the mountains at flood stage.

Our adventurous crew of Drifters.

The plan was to gear up and pack up the two person canoes and float/paddle downstream through the Richtersveld National Park and camp under the desert stars somewhere on the banks.  The weather front was stationary and gale force winds blew up river, making paddling tedious for everyone except for the two lanky and fit Vikings from Norway, Hans and Siri, who showed us their Norse heritage with big synchronized scoops of their double paddles. My canoe mate, Olivia, from Germany, and I were like an un-tendered barge in the wind, making no headway; we were actually going upstream; the guides had never experienced anything like this before. 

It was apparent we would never make it to the next camp. The Millenniums are totally wired for all occasions; Jo whipped out his cell phone for a canoe pickup on the Namib side. He tossed us a line and was our tug boat through the wind and waves; soon we were back at Felix United base camp for the night just as rain sieved through the clouds, the only storm we saw in 24 days.

A calm port from the gale force winds.

The wind and angry clouds had toned down the next morning so we drove upriver and debouched among some thorn trees; it was a pleasant and leisurely paddle on the wide expanse of the Orange.  A sand bar had collected diamond bearing gravel mid-stream and we pulled in where Jo whipped up hearty Voortrekker sausage dogs with salad.  I mentioned to Jo that if we are on the Orange River he should serve Duck L’Orange, after I spotted a few wild ducks crash landing in the water. He laughed, “If you catch the duck, I will make Duck L’Orange.” I scouted around for a net in the flotsam.

I followed an old stream bed to see if any diamonds sparkled in the nebulous sunlight. I only found some old nylon cord and made a fishing line. Ernest, one of the guides, fashioning a hook out of a piece of wire which I tied on with a blood knot. The last half of a sausage dog was used for bait and as we continued on I threw the line in for catfish or the much tastier yellowfish.

The two British gals on the trip, Pip and Alice, paddled as if rudderless, pushed by the current into the reeds; this was their first experience in a canoe.  The wind was still brisk, but not howling like the day before. Near our pullout point a few miles downstream, below the Felix United Resort, two of the other Norwegians, Heidi and Natalia, capsized in a riffle, but all wore life jackets; the water is about a Class I stream, with no troublesome rapids. Jo was a shirtless veteran on the river, paddling all over the place, like Tarzan, sometimes standing paddleboard fashion. This was why you go on a D
rifters adventure. We all had a grand time on the Orange River.

Natalia tests her skills on the slack line.

Before dinner I sat poolside and Dougie, a resort guide, brought down some rooibos tea which topped off the afternoon.  There’s no naysayers on the guiding team, they know they are living the dream in paradise; the afternoon sun was a paint pot of light on the desert cliffs across the river. The weaverbirds left their twitter hash tags in the treetops.  The Milleniums tried their hands, rather feet, on the slack line between two trees, but most caught mostly air in the warm afternoon light.

"This Place Is Alriight"

Fish River Canyon is the 2nd largest in the world.

When we woke the next day at 5:30 a.m. it was as cold as a Frigidaire with the door left open. We ate and packed swiftly and curled up in the truck in blankets and down bags as Jo drove us to the Fish River Canyon for an overlook looksee of the world’s second largest canyon.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Edidor, Jetsetters Magazine. The adventure continues, click the sign below to read more about the Drifters Adventures Overland tours 24-day Cape Town to Joburg trip.

Adventure into the Namib