Mayaputi Gorge

Summer: October-April. Class 2-3.

mayaputi Space Shuttle evening

The very prominent landmark we call Space Shuttle, seen from many points in the surrounding landscape and always from the Orange.

Trips by arrangement.

Mayaputi Gorge is a breathtakingly scenic route on the Upper Orange River near the Lesotho border. The river snakes between high sandstone hills in a valley probably formed by glaciers aeons ago. To the East lie the Maluti Mountains, to the West the open plains of the great Karoo.

First exploration

Mayaputi-Tienies GOOD 1024In 1975 I ran what was probably the first rafting trip down this section of the Orange. A couple of businessmen were proposing to start a rafting company (it never happened but I started my own anyway in the 1980s, The Rivermen). So tackled Mayaputi with a borrowed raft, a route on the river that we knew nothing about. There was no Google Earth in those days but we did have contour maps and the gradient seemed right for rapids.

As it turned out, the big rapids (Class 3 = moderate) were fairly widely separated and provided excitement on successive days. Generally the river flowed fast and we didn’t have a lot of hard-slog paddling to do. It flattened out at the Lichtenstein Gorge so we pulled out soon after that. I’ve been back many times since and this remains one of my favorite river routes.

About the trail

mayaputi bridge22We meet at Zastron where we camp overnight. Next day we get in above the Mayaputi bridge (built 1934) which has withstood numerous floods. Here the Orange is embedded in a deep trench between polished black rock walls. The channel soon opens out and we drift downriver between thickly bushclad mountains where the call of the Piet-my-vrou (a cuckoo) echoes between the cliffs.

Rapids bar the way, all runnable in rafts and 2-seater crocs, kayaks and even tubes. None are more than Class 3 (moderate) at normal flow levels. The water can be chocolate brown after rains, signalling the serious soil erosion in Lesotho. We camp for four nights on grassy terraces and put up the tarpaulin to shelter us from sun and rain.

Along the way we may see bushbuck, kudu and many species of birds. Also, there are colourful Bushman paintings in some of the rock shelters.

mayaptui dassiekransTowards the end we enter the spectacular Lichtenstein Gorge, named after the early 19th century traveller who explored large parts of South Africa. The river is placid and we wend our way towards the farmlands where we pull out.

Book a trip

Trips here are not scheduled but run on request.

  • Call us to discuss your plans – the group size and possible dates. If your group is small we may be able to put you together with others.

    MAP mayaputi gorge orange river



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