Resetting the Cape Compass – Cape Town

A river runs through it

I traced the Diamond Coast as far north as Kleinzee. A busy mining centre until 2008 when De Beers scaled down operations, the town now lures travellers with its shipwreck trail and seal colony. Turning inland, I followed a dirt road, snaking across rust-red plains. Occasionally, I glimpsed meerkats standing bolt upright beside their burrows like clusters of chimney pots. Ostriches strutted through the heat haze while pied crows and goshawks patrolled the lonely line of electricity poles that faithfully followed the track 100km to Springbok. From there, the N14 arrowed east, no more than half a dozen stops in its entire 160km run to Pofadder, where I turned north one final time.

The gravel road weaved through groves of quiver trees that rose defiantly above heat-stunned plains pockmarked with kopjes (small hills) of jumbled dolerite boulders. Nothing seemed more precocious in South Africa’s arid north, however, than the Orange River. One moment I was trailing a dust cloud through the desert, the next I was parking on a grassy riverbank.

Rafting on the Orange River

It was there that I found my rafting basecamp, located next to the quiet Namibia-South Africa border post at Onseepkans, where I had passed a troop of gibbons making the crossing undisturbed. From there, we slipped quickly into the wilderness, tall reedbeds drawing a golden veil behind us as we paddled our five kayaks downstream “Look,” my guide, Ian, whispered again and again, pointing out goliath herons, pied kingfishers and a Cape clawless otter.

I flopped overboard whenever I needed to cool off and we pulled ashore for gourmet picnics or to set up camp on sandy beaches surrounded by towering cliffs. Ian led the way, boulder­ hopping to a vantage over Ritchie Falls and fossicking for river-tumbled pebbles of basalt and agate. I cooked over an open fire, counted shooting stars and slept out in the open under the glittering arch of the Milky Way.

And then, of course, there were the rapids. When anyone asks me why they should go north instead of east from Cape Town, I tell them about the rock art and the flowering deserts, the diamond surf divers and the star-spattered night skies. Most of all, though, I tell them about the time I grappled with Big Bunny – and made it through, unscathed.

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