Home / Africa Blog / The Orange River

The Orange River

The Orange River is South Africa’s longest river at 2,090 kilometres in length. Spreading over a total area of around 973,000 square kilometres, it begins in the Drakensberg mountains in the Lesotho region and runs west for around 2,200 kilometres through South Africa, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The river makes up part of the international borders between South Africa and Namibia, and between South Africa and Lesotho, as well as numerous provincial borders in South Africa. Aside from Upington, the River doesn’t flow through any main cities. The Orange River plays a crucial part in the South African economy by providing water for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

A well-known belief is that the Orange River was given its name due to the ‘orange’ hue of the water, as opposed to the Vaal River, which means ‘grey’.

As the River is a collection point for most of South Africa’s water, it is vital in supporting agriculture, industry and mining. This has led to the establishment of two big water plans, including the Orange River Project and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Due to the lack of dangerous wildlife and high water levels in the summer months, the River is often used for thrilling activities such as canoeing and rafting.

The Orange River is not a region that is inhabited by much wildlife, with just 16 fish species living within its waters, of which seven are endemic to the River’s system. These include the common carp, Mozambique tilapia, western mosquito fish and rainbow trout. The River doesn’t house any big animals due to its location. It was once populated with many hippo, but in the 1800s the creatures were hunted to extermination.

The Gariep Dam, which is located close by to Colesberg, is the primary storage unit within the Orange River. The villages surrounding this dam as well as Vanderkloof Dam, offer fantastic accommodation with views of the countryside.  In 1867, the first diamond was found in South Africa (the ‘Eureka Diamond’), nearby Hopetown on the Orange River. Two years after this, a much bigger diamond called the ‘Star of South Africa’ was discovered in the same region, thus creating a diamond rush. The rush was soon overshadowed by the diamonds of Kimberley in 1871, but alluvial diamonds continue to be found near the Orange River even today.

Throughout the months of March and April, the River usually experiences good rainfall that allows canoeists to easily travel up to thirty kilometres a day. The lower areas of the River are most well-loved due to their incredible landscapes. Orange River rafting is conducted through the Richtersveld desert, which boasts unique plant and wildlife, rock formations and ideal year-round temperatures. This is one of the best adventure routes in Southern Africa.

Guides are available to lead you on various trips on the river, or hikes through the area, all the while educating you about the area’s intriguing eco-system. Known as the ‘great river’ by the local Nama folk, this River supplies an unforgettable outdoor experience to those seeking peace and adventure.

Related articles:

White Water Rafting

Places to Camp along the Orange River

About Bronwyn Paxton

Article by: Bronwyn Paxton
on August 16, 2013
Filed under  Africa Blog • South Africa 
African Overland Tours Experts
  • First-hand experience
  • Advice and guidance
  • We're passionate travelers

Enquire Now


How many species of lions are there?

How many species of lions are there?

How many species of lions exist? There is actually only one species – the Panthera leo, however, there are several sub-species of lions which you may not know about. So when you head off on your...

6 reasons to go to Malawi

6 reasons to go to Malawi

The landlocked nation of Malawi doesn’t get as much press or as many visitors as its neighbouring countries – Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia or nearby Kenya – but it deserves a lot more attention –...

Best time to visit Africa for Weather & Viewing

Best time to visit Africa for Weather & Viewing

When is the best time to visit Africa? If you’re planning to tour to Africa then it helps to know what the best time to visit Africa. Africa’s landscape is as diverse as it's expansive, with each...

  • Blog categories

  • Contact us

    UK  +44 80 0098 8010

    USA  +1 888 815 2423

    AUS  +61 1800 768 149

    SA  +27 21 448 0997

    Email  info@africanoverlandtours.com


    Local Time in South Africa

    We’re Here To Help

    Having traveled extensively on all our routes in Africa we are able to narrow down the best options based on our experience and knowledge and guide you through the best possible options for your incredible African Overlanding experience.

    African Overland Tours is owned by Escape 4 Africa Travel.

    We are SATSA Bonded (Southern Africa Tourism Services Association) and SATIB insured (Safari and Tourism Insurance Brokers, providing financial protection with all monies paid

    We have a 24 hour emergency number.

    We offer a Price Beat Guarantee.