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“Go left!” cries Myrna, as we veer towards the Namibian bank – the river marks South Africa’s northern frontier. “Right, Adam, right!” comes the next order, as we zigzag back over to the South African shore.

A few minutes of spinning around in circles and snaking backwards and forwards passes before we get to grips with the situation, ready to tackle the forebodingly named Dead Man’s Rapids.

To a novice like me, this first stretch of white-water looks every bit as terrifying as it’s name suggests. In reality, it’s just a “baby slope” – a mere grade-one rapid.

We’re dodging rocks left, right and centre, turning quickly, and narrowly avoiding everything the river has to throw at us. “Wow,” I say to Myrna, adrenalin pumping, “I can’t believe we didn’t get stuck.” But before I can get the final syllable out of my smug mouth, we come juddering to a standstill, marooned on top of a low-lying rock, rapids churning around us.

Luckily, I‘ve plenty of time to perfect my technique: we’ll cover 40 miles (65km) over the four days and tackle about a dozen stretches of the white water– that is when we’re not swimming, lazing in our rafts, or floating down the rapids with our lifejackets around our bums.

The mercury edges close to 50°C, but it feels pleasantly mild – we’re constantly soaked from all the paddling and swimming.

The tempo ratchets up a gear on day two, as we brave our first grade-three rapid, a great swirling monster of white foamy swells.

Amazingly, Myrna and I traverse its slalom of rocks like a couple of pros. “Again, again!” we whoop. The whole group’s buzzing.
We tackle a couple more grade-twos later that day, before setting up camp beside a rocky inlet separated from the main channel by a bed of reeds. I feel like I’ve booked into a posh spa as I take a bath in the balmy grass-fringed pool, shoals of tiny fish nibbling at my toes.

The scenery along the route is absolutely stunning: magenta-hued cliffs; grass-choked tributaries; rainbow-coloured kingfishers skimming along the water. It’s a real back-to-nature experience – no phone signal, no emails, no annoying Facebook updates – just us and a solitary goat herder for 50 miles. Pure bliss.

Come day three, Myrna and I are starting to feel pretty confident about this rafting lark, paddling in unison as if we were born to do it. One of the guides even compliments us on how slick we look – although I suspect we’re not the only ones whose egos he’s massaged this way. Feeling cocky, we float down a particularly dicey rapid backwards – admittedly, it may have been by accident – but I like to think we pulled it off.

“Thanks for this,” a rather contented Myrna turns to say on our last night sitting around the campfire, as we watch the full moon rise from behind the mountains, fireflies dancing across the cobalt sky. “It’s been the perfect escape.”

Mission accomplished.


See next page for some South Africa travel dates for your diary...


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