Swimming to Namibia (and Other Adventures in the Northern Cape)

by | May 23, 2014 | Namibia, Northern Cape, Parks/Nature Reserves | 13 comments

One of the most memorable experiences of my #MeetSouthAfrica trip was when I swam out of South Africa. But I’ll come back to that later.

The #MeetSouthAfrica Adventure group arrived at the Growcery — a peaceful camp on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape’s Richtersveld — after a long journey from Joburg. (We flew to Upington and then drove about six hours to the Namibian border, 120 kilometers past the town of Springbok.) The Orange River is the longest river in South Africa and the Northern Cape is the largest province in South Africa — also the least accessible province as it’s basically a huge desert.

The Growcery is my kind of camp: The tents were already pitched when we got there. We arrived just in time for sunset.

Orange River and dogs

Local dogs on the banks of the Orange River.

Sunset first night

The view from in front of my tent.

After sleeping in until the blissfully reasonable hour of 7:00 a.m., under some of the brightest stars I’ve seen, we consumed a hearty breakfast and prepared for our river rafting excursion with Umkulu Safaris.

Bush breakfast

Bush breakfast.

Kash flotation devices

Kash, aka Budget Traveller, ready to raft.

We piled into a safari vehicle, already wearing our lifejackets to ward off the morning chill, and headed a few miles downstream for the start of our ride.

Simon in river

Simon, one of our #MeetSouthAfrica hosts, was first to test the water.

Sass, our rafting guide, gave us a quick briefing and then we were on the water. Some of us were experienced rafters, some had little or no rafting experience but were keen to try (me included), and a couple of us didn’t know how to swim and were pretty petrified.

Kayla in boatSass’ bad-ass dog, Kayla, rides along on all of Sass’ rafting trips.

I quickly realized that taking photos and navigating a raft simultaneously would be impossible for me. I have great upper body strength, which is good, but I am also directionally impaired, which is bad. Meruschka (aka MzansiGirl), my paddling partner, was very patient with me but at first I think we both feared that we would spend the entire day going in circles as a I struggled to figure out which side to paddle on.

But once I stowed my camera safely in my “dry bag” and focused solely on the raft, everything got easier and we started to get a rhythm going. Within 20 minutes I was having the time of my life.

Heather and Meruschka rafting

The 2Summers/MzansiGirl paddling duo. I nicknamed us Team MzansiSummers. (Photo: Meruschka Govender)

After an hour or two of getting our feet wet (literally) and cruising over some small rapids, we made a quick stop to climb a ridge and admire the view.

Guides on overlook

Nice view of the hot rafting guides, Jan Hendrick (left) and Sass (right). Just kidding. That’s not (really) the view I meant.

Heather on overlook

Me and the real view. The most stunning thing about the Orange River is the contrast between the lush, green riverbanks and the stark, dry desert. (Photo: Meruschka Govender)

Orange River panoramic

Another take on the amazing view, courtesy of the iPhone panoramic feature, enhanced by another hot guy (Matt, aka Expert Vagabond).

Back on the water, a short paddle, another tame yet exhilarating rapid, and then we stopped on a little island for lunch.

Melvin and Caspar sleeping

Nap time for Melvin and Caspar.

The afternoon ride was awesome. Everyone was comfortable by then and we took our time floating downstream. We braved a quick rainstorm, engaged in a paddling race (Team MzansiSummers vs. Team BudgetVagabond), spotted a giant monitor lizard running into a cave, and searched the riverbed for semi-precious stones. We eventually beached our rafts back at the Growcery Camp.

Time to swim to Namibia.

The Orange River marks the border between South Africa and Namibia. We had actually been to the Namibia side already during the rafting trip. But paddling to Namibia isn’t the same as swimming there, and several of us wanted to say we swam to Namibia. So we did.

Swim to Namibia1

For some reason I decided to leave before the others. (Thanks to #MeetSouthAfrica videographer Jason Aldridge for shooting all my swim-to-Namibia pics.)

Halfway across

Oh my god. We’re swimming to Namibia. Left to right: Matt, Heather, Caspar, and Melvin (not shown: Meruschka).

Wading to Namibia

Full disclosure: With the exception of a few deep spots, the route to Namibia was extremely shallow. We may have waded more than we swam.

Jumping into river

We swam/waded to Namibia! Time for a commemorative jump.

The most adventurous part of this border crossing happened once we reached South African soil again. In an effort to avoid an underwater seaweed forest, we beached at a different spot from where we left. We thought it would be a quick walk back to camp, but instead we got lost and found ourselves in a rocky desert wasteland where the ground was blanketed in tiny, nearly invisible, yet viciously sharp thorns. This wouldn’t have been a big problem had we not been half-naked (okay, a bit more than half) and barefoot. But we were.

(I was also half-deaf due to water in my ear. This half-deafness lasted for several days.)

We limped a long, excrutiatingly painful kilometre back to camp. But we made it. This is what being a #MeetSouthAfrica adventurer is all about.

After a quick shower, we hobbled into the truck and drove to a nearby mountain for sundowners. This post is already too long so I’ll spare you more tiresome narrative and just show you the pictures, which speak for themselves anyway.

Orange River and road

One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Meruschka on top of the world

The view was almost beautiful enough to make Meruschka forget about the 20 thorns lodged in the soles of her feet.


Desert moonscape.

River at sunset

And then we saw a tiny rainbow. And then the sun went down. The end.

More #MeetSouthAfrica adventures coming soon.


  1. Timmee

    Flip! So cool! Looks so awesome!

    • 2summers

      It was. I wanna go back right now.

  2. Timmee

    Flip! So cool! Looks awesome. Properly jealous.

  3. Lungile Zakwe

    You swam (at tiems waded) to Namibia… That is too Awesome!!!! Love the pics looks like such an incredible experience….

    • 2summers

      Thanks Lungi, it really was.

  4. Sunshinebright

    Yeah, I’ve got something to say. What a great travelogue! I’ll never get to Africa in my lifetime, and I so enjoy your colorful journal/story about that fantastic place. The personal tidbits are what make the story shine, as well as the terrific photos. Thanks!!!

    • 2summers

      Aw, thanks so much. I’m glad you said that. 🙂

  5. all-TIM-ate

    The landscape has to be seen to be believed.
    Fantastic pictures, as usual 🙂

    • 2summers

      Thanks Tim! I’m still enjoying your foodgasms.

  6. Firefly - Jonker

    I am so jealous. This is a part of South Africa I’ve never been to and would love to visit some time.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Jonker. It was so beautiful — now I’m dying to go back.

  7. Eugenia A Parrish

    Some of these photos, but especially the first one, struck me as being worthy of National Geographic. You just keep getting better and better.

    • 2summers

      Aw, thanks so much. I don’t always feel that way about my own photography so it’s nice to hear from someone else.


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