Incredible birdlife. Ancient rock art. Wild rapids. We head north from Cape Town to discover there’s more to South Africa’s buzziest area than the eastern Winelands …
There was nothing cute and fluffy about Big Bunny. It rumbled ominously and spat water over the rust-coloured boulders that clogged the river downstream. Ian Morgan, my rafting guide, led us to the riverbank where we beached our inflatable kayaks and set off on foot to scout out the rapid. Clambering over terraces of gneiss rock, polished smooth by floodwaters, we reached a viewpoint over the room stretch of churning water. Big Bunny gnashed its teeth and I felt my stomach tighten.
On the previous day of our four-night Orange River expedition we had tackled Scorpion, Corkscrew and Screwdriver – rapids that you expected to have a few twists and turns, or a sting in their tail. We had prepared ourselves for the ups and downs of Dolly Parton and had no choice but to portage around Ritchie Falls. But as hard as I stared at Big Bunny, I couldn’t find anything that resembled a fluffy white tail. Instead, Ian pointed out stopper waves, boils, strainers and a particularly vicious looking boulder half-obscured by the flying spittle of the rapid.
My two other guides, Jan and Geoff, went first, paddling kayaks heavily laden with food and camping gear. For a moment it looked as if they might make it. Their kayaks bucked and spun, almost vanishing from view as they clawed through the rapid. Then Big Bunny bit back. The half-hidden boulder caught both kayaks broadside and, with a sharp kick, flipped them over.
I watched the upturned rafts disappear downstream, Jan and Geoff clinging on, helpless to do anything until Big Bunny had finished chewing them over. Ian gave a wry smile and scratched the stubble on his chin. “Maybe we should try a different route through the rapid,” he murmured.
As we walked back to where we’d left the inflatables, my mouth felt dry, but there was a ripple of anticipation spreading through my body. Ten days earlier, I had set out from Cape Town following an unorthodox route north in search of a wilder, more rugged and adventure-packed corner of South Africa Big Bunny seemed like a fitting climax.