Rafting in Clarens, Free State
Did you know?
The Katse Dam is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, a partnership between South Africa and Lesotho to supply water and generate hydroelectric power.
White-water rafting in Clarens in the Free State is all about crystal waters, adrenaline-pumping rapids and perhaps the most fun you can have on water in a day.
The adventure starts in Clarens, where you meet your guides, before driving 12km out of town to begin the day's (or half-day's, if you prefer) rafting down the Ash River.
And there's 'rapids and rafting for everyone', says Ollie Esplin, owner of Clarens Xtreme, which has been taking visitors down the river since 2005.
'Even if you have never done white-water rafting before, you can do it, and you don’t need to be fit,' he says. 'It's a young river and therefore it's a narrow river, where the current is pushing you the whole time, making it easy to navigate the 6- to 8-person rafts we use.'
Each raft has a guide on it, all of whom have river guide qualifications and level 3 first aid training. White-water rafting outfits should offer highly experienced guides, and you are encouraged to enquire whether they meet these standards.
Traversing the 18km stretch of the Ash River will take you about a day (or a half-day on the 9km option). The river has Grade 3 and Grade 4 rapids, including Car Wash, Fish Pond and Big Surprise (so named because the river makes a 90-degree bend and suddenly you are confronted with a waterfall).
Some rafting outfits in Clarens accommodate children on calmer parts of the river. Esplin’s company takes those under the age of 10 out of the raft for the rapids, and they then walk or drive to the next section of the river, where they once again board the craft.
In winter (May to August), visitors are given wetsuits as the water is icy. At this time of year, the ride is called the Polar Bear Challenge.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)58 256 1260
Cell: +27 (0)82 563 6242
Cell: +27 (0)83 485 9654
How to get here
Clarens is about 300km from Johannesburg in the eastern Free State province.
Best time to visit
All-year round, but bear in mind the river is icy in winter, hence rafting at this time is called the Polar Bear Challenge. Wetsuits are provided for this.
Around the area
Apart from hiking, horse riding, golf, tennis, mountain biking and exploring the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park, adventurers can do paragliding, zip-lining, abseiling, archery and paintball, as well as take day tours to the 'fertility cave' where sangomas (traditional African healers) practise their healing arts.
It's best to drive yourself to Clarens. Tours are also available and the rafting companies can let you know what shuttles and packages they offer.
What will it cost
The various rafting companies in Clarens offer different prices, but a full day on the river, including refreshments and lunch, is priced at under R900 per person.
Length of stay
Spend at least two days in Clarens as there is so much to see and do.
What to pack
Outdoor adventure clothing for rafting, hiking, golfing, horse riding, paragliding, tennis. Pack clothing for warm and cold conditions, and particularly in winter (May to August), make sure you have warm undergarments.
Where to stay
Clarens is a tourist mecca with plenty of B&Bs, guest houses, guest farms and hotels. Some of the rafting outfits have accommodation on offer, ranging from high-end to camping.
What to eat
You'll be spoilt for choice in Clarens, which offers all manner of restaurants and eateries.