Thunder Alley

Summer, Autumn, Spring. Class 2-4.

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Thunder Alley in the Upper Karoo near Hopetown, Northern Cape, contains wild rapids and eerily beautiful semi-desert scenery.

egerton longdrop rapid being rafted RAMAH

Thunder Alley is a great trip. Running in a deep trench below the karoo plains, the river is flanked by polished black rock walls.

The trip starts near Ramah farm, east of Hopetown, and ends some way above Douglas where the Vaal meets the Orange. The 5-day route features some of the best rapids on the Orange. It was first pioneered for rafting by Graeme Addison, the Riverman, in the mid 1970s. hopetown flutedrock black polished schist

The surrounding country is unbelievably stark and beautiful. The semi-desert karoo falls steeply to the water’s edge with great beaches and rock shelves for camping.

In times of severe drought or flooding, this is the most reliable and runnable stretch of the Orange. Here the river is fed and controlled by two upstream dams: The !Gariep and Vanderkloof. The dams limit floods and also let water go in dry times. Irrigation and hydro power releases are made at regular intervals, especially in winter, so we are guaranteed a raftable river.

While Thunder Allley offers thrills aplenty there is also time to chill out, just having fun in the water and off it. You can go tubing on the smaller rapids and hiking to the hilltops. Hopetown is where diamonds were first discovered in South Africa, so who knows, you may be lucky.


rafting shake rattle n roll 1024

Shake, Rattle & Roll

About the trip


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Prepare yourself for an extraordinary experience of South Africa far from the beaten track. The drive to our base camp across the bare and featureless country south of Kimberley does not prepare you for the scene that greets your eyes as you descend to the river. Rich reedbanks and dense riverine forest alternate with canyon walls where the river winds and roars. The fishing is good and the diving into deep pools even better. Read on below.

egerton fish kiss

egerton diver

From our put-in near Ramah farm we drift downriver to the first major rapids: Shake, Rattle ‘n Roll and Long Drop. Both test the resolve of paddlers


and are long, with high standing waves and strong whirlies to catch the unwary. The river moderates after that and we pass under the railway and road bridges to the Cape.

Next comes the old railway bridge that was a significant landscape feature during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902: here British troops patrolled attempting to prevent Boers from crossing into the Cape Colony to wage guerrilla war.

Camps are made on convenient beaches and among rock walls that stand like castle battlements over the river. Superb sunsets and sunrises may be broken by cloudbursts but the rain in this arid region is welcome and seldom lasts long.

hopetown orange river scene

The river now carries us towards the two most notable rapids which give Thunder Alley its name: Hubbly Bubbly and Hell’s Gate. Depending on river levels both are runnable or it may be safer to take the Chicken Run. After these dramatic runs the river moderates, with a few good surfing waves and lots of swirlys that spin the rafts around.

The riverbed is due to be dammed soon for a run-of-river hydro project, so, sadly, our visit may be among the last to see these rapids. After the excitement comes the calm – a long, easy float towards our pull-out above the town of Douglas where the Vaal River meets the Orange. #



Hell’s Gate


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