Cabanas, camping and canoeing on the Orange River
by Ron Swilling
Falling asleep to the soft sounds of the Orange River journeying along its westward course or waking up to a view of the river with its green fringe of vegetation and purple-blue mountains beyond is a balm for the soul.
The latest at the lodge
Well known for its guided river adventures, the Felix Unite Lodge is a peaceful halfway stopover for breaking the journey from Cape Town to Windhoek. Situated on the Namibian side of the Orange River, it is a convenient 10 km from the Noordoewer border post.
New cabanas with reed roofs and reed-and-stone cladding provide attractive and fresh accommodation. You may easily be tempted to spend more time here, and an overnight stop might well extend to a few days. The high-roofed cabanas have ceilings of woven mats, fans and air-conditioners. Sliding doors invite the river scenery in, and the new units are all wheelchair friendly.
A spacious new restaurant with a high roof supported by radiating wooden poles has a wall of windows that allows full river views and invites the soft warm night to join you at your table for supper. All the meat offered on the menu is free range, while down-to-earth favourites such as macaroni and cheese are also offered. Repeat visitors – and the camp has many – will be happy to find out that the popular bar area has been retained and still offers friendly service and a good place for a sunset drink. It now extends onto a large turquoise pool with loungers overlooking the river.
The central area has also been reconstructed. It has a fresh reed-and-stone character and houses reception and a shop that stocks everything- from dry bags for river journeys to cold drinks and crisps. An Internet shop offers round-the-clock facilities, or alternatively, wireless time can be bought and used from the comfort of your room.
An appealing destination
There are many other touches that make the Felix Unite Lodge a worthwhile destination. Here you can put your bags down, relax and enjoy the reedy and mountainous river environment. The place exudes relaxation. It makes you want to take off your shoes and sit on the well-tended grass, take a dip in the pool, and enjoy a drink in the sunshine.
The latest additions have rejuvenated the establishment into an appealing destination for all, local and foreign visitors alike, yet have kept the accommodation facilities comfortable, attractive and affordable. Carlos’s presence ensures that your stay is stress-free. He strives to provide a service that makes you feel you’re in a home away from home.
The third Felix Unite River Adventure partner, Mark Kampers, joined the team in 1988. Today the eight new and two family cabanas are welcome additions to the ten already in existence, filling the need for more accommodation and simultaneously upgrading the lodge. The previous restaurant has been converted into a waterfront honeymoon suite and six camping sites still offer camping on lush green grass under large trees, their lapa areas equipped with sinks, countertops and benches.
First river-rafting operator
Felix Unite River Adventures was established in 1986 as the first river-rafting operator on the Orange. Felix was the paddler, ‘the man who could take a canoe wherever- he liked’. He was joined by Carlos Peres, a friendly character who is well known and well remembered by visitors to the camp for his easy-going manner. The two built a small campsite for the river trips, which started to attract other guests and groups. Before the first accommodation facilities were built, visitors were accommodated in tents.
The River Adventures are a wonderful way to escape from the city and spend time enjoying the river and its scenic environs. Stable canoes (five metres long and a metre wide) and all the equipment required are provided, including lifejackets, waterproof buckets and cool-boxes. All that guests are required to bring is their own clothes, sleeping bags (tents if wished) and drinks. The experienced guides prepare all the meals and ensure that you arrive safely at the other side.
Felix River Adventures caters for groups ranging in age from 8 to 88, thus making it suitable for the whole family. When the groups are very large, they are split into smaller groups for safety purposes, merging together at night for sociable evenings on the riverbanks. No previous paddling experience is necessary and the small rapids are graded at 1–2 on a scale of 1–6, offering a few enjoyable and easily surmountable challenges along the way.
An outdoor experience of note
One of the most daunting series of rapids – called sjambok- (Afrikaans for whip) – is easily bypassed with a walk along the bank for the less daring. Days are spent paddling and swimming, enjoying the green of the river vegetation, surrounding mountains and abundant birdlife on the river. The camaraderie of the group brings laughter to the evenings when the guides change roles to become chefs and cook delicious fare. Carlos describes the river adventures as ‘an outdoor experience of note’ and a time ‘to sleep under the most beautiful sky in the world’.
Various options provide enjoyment of the river, the most popular being a four-day trip, giving guests a good taste of peaceful river time and a relaxing fun-filled journey. An extended six-day trip is also available, as is a day trip on the river for groups short on time, allowing them a brief taste of the river bounty. The day trip is ideal for guests on their way to explore the riches of Namibia. A two-day overnight trip for a minimum of eight people is also offered. For the more adventurous with some paddling experience, Felix Unite offers a Kunene River ten-day trip that begins in Windhoek, visits Etosha and Kaokoland, and ends at the Kunene River, where five days are spent paddling from Ruacana to the Epupa Falls in inflatable boats.
Thus Felix Unite combines incredible river adventures with restful accommodation, and for those just passing through, a peaceful sojourn to the accompaniment of river music.
This article appeared in the Feb/March 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.