The White Nile I

Do you remember Guy Baker's epic account of his standoff with a hippopotamus after taking a swim on the White Nile? I do. Guy's swim was during the first descent, only four years ago, of what was reckoned to be one of the last remaining sections of one of the world's greatest rivers still unexplored by kayak. I've seen nothing since in the canoeing magazines about the White Nile. It was only when I went to the Zambezi that I discovered that Adrift raft the Nile.

It had to be done... After convincing my girlfriend, Julia, that Victoria Falls was a very romantic holiday destination (oh, and I think there may be some sort of gorge below the falls) I saw an opportunity for another scam. A romantic two week holiday in Kenya and Uganda snorkelling amongst reefs in the Indian Ocean, intrepidly tracking lions in the Masi Mara, gentle 'sea' paddling on Lake Victoria (oh, and I think there may be one or two rapids on the White Nile just downstream of Lake Victoria). It worked!

It also just so happened that a friend of mine, Simon, was working for the British Government in Kenya and Uganda and that Simon happens to be a white water kayaker. Of course, Julia isn't stupid. She knows from my incessant visits to Hurley just how sadly obsessed I am and so we worked out a plan that gave me my white water fix and also lots of things we see in the travel brochures, also, Simon's wife simply hates canoeing so no canoe bore talk, then.

So that's how we found ourselves flying into Nairobi to be confronted by the culture shock that only a place like Nairobi can provide; the heat, poverty, noise and chaos. Phew! Would Simon be there to meet us? I hadn't had a reply to my last email and we didn't know their address. (Julia didn't need to know all the details.) Fortunately he was, phew! Staying with Simon and Hilary was interesting, giving us a feel for ex-pat life, a life of contrasts, colonial comforts (the apartment with shared pool, office at the British Embassy, eating out all the time and the reality of Africa (armed guards, driving everywhere for fear of being mugged, the shanty towns).

Next followed the travel brochure bit which, in practice, gave Julia a feel for the rufty tufty backpacker lifestyle, overnight train to the coast, snorkelling in the Indian Ocean, Landrover to the Masi Mara and overland bus to Kampala, Uganda. In Kampala, we teamed up with Rob and Kristina, who were running Adrift's rafting operation in Uganda. I suppose I'd better write something about white water...

At last we arrived in Jinja, an hour from Kampala and at the point where the White Nile starts as it drifts northwards out of Lake Victoria on its way to the Mediterranean. We arrived in Jinja by driving over the Owen Falls Dam. In 1954 the dam flooded out Owen Falls, which is where the source of the Nile used to be. We were driven six miles north/downstream of Jinja to just upstream of Bujagali Falls, the start of the 23 mile rafting run.

Julia decided (after some nerves caused by talking to friends who, unlike Julia, had had bad experiences rafting the Zambezi) that she would just do it' (Julia wears Nike.) I then began the usual performance of trying to borrow a boat, ending up with a Dagger Redline, a boat for the (how can I put it?) more lardy paddler, oh well. So, to the familiar experience of my stomach churning over as I fumbled with my spraydeck, the roar of Bujagali Falls ringing in my ears and memories of the pub talk the night before. You know the sort of thing. 'You've really got to fight to make that ferryglide or you land in the hole of death.' It also didn't help that Adrift rated the Nile as harder than the Zambezi in their brochure.

The reality is a less intense paddle than the Zambezi, maybe half the number of rapids over a similar distance and no dramatic gorge but huge volume and a more off the beaten track experience. The volume is often spread between islands and some of the rapids are technical, requiring breakouts and ferryglides to skirt holes, different from the Zambezi, then. The Nile is also, at times, a very mellow experience, with lunch on an island followed by a half an hour drift past locals in dugout canoes, like going back in a time machine.

And, so, to the white water highlights...

The Thing

So named because the rapid's weird and confusing. The central smooth tongue tempts you, then you run up a huge boulder that blocks your path and get dragged downwards and backwards into holes on the right or left, a nice warm up.

Bujagali Falls

One hundred yards downstream a river right run past a bankside audience hoping you provide some entertainment in the hole. Break out river right halfway down, peel out and paddle hard to skirt the hole (grade 4+).

Total Gunga

So named because of the confusing mess of holes and waves. No line because the holes tend to move around (grade 5?).

Point Break

Wave train with a big gnarly surf wave. (Lunch on a midstream island followed by a half hour drift).


Technical double drop on the river right of several islands. Break out river left of the righthand channel, then ferryglide across to river right; that's the first drop negotiated. Then, peel out and paddle hard to make it back to the river left to avoid the waterfall. One kayaker, who shall remain nameless, decided to shoot the waterfall. His boat then achieved spectacularly long downtime without him in it (grade 5).

God's Own Playwave

A river right feature after another cluster of islands, consisting of a green wave with small breaking sections either side. Cartwheels and blunts possible left and right. I sat in the eddy muttering, 'It's not Hurley; it's not Hurley'


Monstrous continuous rapid with big holes and weird tubing laterals the height of a house. After hearing tales of very good safety kayakers having very bad experiences swimming the whole thing we spotted a line down the righthand bank. We did however, run the second half of the rapid, which was still testing. A river right breakout and then paddle like heck away from the bank to avoid raft eating holes called the Bad Place and the Other Place (which is also bad, if you see what I mean).

And so, back to dry land and the long journey back to normal life. As the waifs shrieked and laughed as they jumped up and down on the rafts, we clambered up onto the boats on the back of the truck. A beer in one hand, a fag in the other, bouncing up and down along dirt tracks with the wind in our hair; We've survived! We never did do that nice 'sea' paddle on Lake Victoria!

Chris WheelerThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The White Nile II - How was it for you?

Photos from Ian Thoms...they show the wave called 'Surf City' by the NRE rafters, 'Point Break' to the Adrift paddlers. Dave Broadley is in the red Disco.