Having never rafted before, I really didn't know what to expect when I signed up for White Water Rafting on the Ash River in the Free State. It sounded great theoretically and I'm always game for anything on water. No surprises then to report that the weekend was FANTASTIC. I had THE best time
and I would SO do this again...but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning...
Roughly 300km's south from Johannesburg, in the Province of The Orange Free State (is it still called The Orange Free State or is it just The Free State? anyways,) lies the best kept secret of The Free State, a tiny town called Clarens, nestled between the Maluti Mountains, on the border of Lesotho. We left at the crack of midnight, because it was not dawn and there was no light to be seen…actually it was around 5:30am. It took us approximately 3 hours to get there because we had to stop and get breakfast of course, because food never stays behind on the itinerary.
So we (by we I mean me sisters and I in one car and me cousin and in-law in another) finally get there, meet & greet the rest of the suckers willing to die that day. It was at this point that it hit me what we were about to do and I was trying to calm my nerves with some marshmallow chocolate bunny eggs but it wasn’t working.
We were then told to board the lovely van that would take us to our deaths and upon arrival, saw this sign which read "DANGER: Collapsing River Banks, Stay Away from the Edge"...how reassuring.
But it wasn't until I saw this, that I began to shake in my river boots.
The instructors began dishing out rules, regulations, and every precautionary measure that only years of experience could have taught them. We all listened intently, making mental notes, each going through their Last Will & Testament and hoping and praying to The Almighty that we survive the day.
And what can I say? Other than it was AWESOME!! We rafted for most of the day and stopped in between to have snacks and lunch.
Rafting turned out to be quite rigourous and theres alot of physical work to do outside of the raft as well as in. I've done things on this trip that I NEVER ever thought I would do.
I climbed over rocks and boulders, over bridges and down treacherous slopes to get in and out of the raft. At one point, we disembarked the raft to walk around a miniature waterfall and had to tread through some very murky and muddy water, (in which I got stuck, twice) to get onto the hill overlooking the waterfall. I then saw two of my instructors climbing down the dodgy embankment that was about 2 to 3 meters high, with the raft in tow and briefly wondered what on earth were they doing before I realised that they intended to raft from just below the waterfall, gushing water and all. And of course theres no time to panic in the madness of it all, you're operating on autopilot, and before I knew it I was climbing down said dodgy river embankment into the raft and paddling my arms off.
I think the pinnacle for me was one of the Grade 4 rapids, I think it's called The Shoot, in the last 8 kilometres. Every other drop, up to this point was met with eyes tightly shut and hanging on for dear life while laughing hysterically. But for some reason, I wanted to keep the eyes open on this one, and it turned out to be the biggest drop from them all and I can still see us falling and feel the adrenalin pumping through my veins.
All in all, it was exhilarating and spectacular. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was March's challenge and what a great one...7 hours, 12 Rapids (Grade 3 & 4) and 19 kilometers. It was SO worth it and I'll definitely be going again. For those interested, be prepared to be soaked for most of the day and the water is quite cold throughout the year, but it is so worth it. Also always listen to your guide and you won't have any problems.
We managed to spend some time in Clarens, the tiny overpriced town thats quickly becoming a tourist hotspot.
There are only a couple of streets in the town and everything is situated around the Town Square.
So theres no need to drive and everything is in walking distance. The place is every artists dream and is filled to the brim with all kinds of Galleries, Cafés, Restuarants and Craft shops.
Even though the town is quite expensive, we still managed to keep to a budget and enjoyed some Belgian Chocolates that were not so Belgian...more wannabees. The intention of every trip is not to break the bank, rather be reasonable and modest. The only real meal we enjoyed was Nando's in Bethlehem, 30km's from Clarens, on the way home. Every other meal was made up of Cheese and Rolls. But then again, we didn't go to Clarens for the Cuisine.
I would say that one of the highlights of the trip was taking a drive out to the Golden Gate Nature Reserve, about 20 kilometres out of Clarens into the Maluti Mountains. It's all shades of peaceful and serene on one canvas and utterly beautiful.
And only 3 hours from Johannesburg...yeah I'll definitely come here again.