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Everything you need to know about white water rafting

From white water rafting down the Palmiet River in the Western Cape to white water tubing down the Sabie River in Mpumalanga, South Africa offers many white water rafting opportunities for the water adventurer. It is one of the most exciting activities you can participate in while on holiday in South Africa.

Many rafting options are suitable for families and all the rivers are graded with a degree of difficulty of between 0 and 5, with 6 generally being hazardous and not safe to run. You can set off on one day trips or stay over on a multiple day adventure, depending on where you go and at what time of year.

In most cases all the equipment you need is provided and the qualified guides will brief and lead you on your excursion. On longer trips, meals and drinks are usually also included. Multiple day journeys include stopovers at specific camp sites.

Below we give you some information on what you need to know about white river rafting:

Planning a rafting trip

Besides the adrenaline rush associated with white water rafting, it is also a great way to see landscapes that are usually not accessible in any other way.

In planning a rafting trip, climate and the season play an important role. In some places, it’s only possible to raft during high or low water periods, and in others, it’s too cold for certain times of the year. There are also places where you raft all year-round, even in winter. Find out more about the conditions in your chosen destination before deciding whether to add a white water rafting trip to your itinerary.

It is extremely important to choose a company with a good reputation and fully trained guides. Always check a company’s credentials before signing up.

Key terms to know

Although your guides will brief you before you hit the water and give instructions on the key terms they will use, here are some of the most important that you will hear:

  • Put in – the starting point of a rafting trip.
  • Take out – the ending point of a rafting trip.
  • River left/river right – sometimes, your guide will be facing you, with their back to the direction your raft is traveling. If they want to point out any features to the left or right, they’ll use “river left” or “river right” relative to the direction in which you’re traveling.
  • Swimmer – if you should fall out of the raft your guide might shout and refer to you as “swimmer” to get your attention when attempting a rescue.
  • Flip – that is when the raft capsizes.
  • Safety kayak(s) – these kayak(s) accompanies the raft to help swimmers. The number of safety kayakers on your trip will depend on the number of raft passengers.

What to wear

Most of the companies offering white river rafting will provide you with gear. This includes paddles, life jackets, and helmets. Some operators will also provide a wetsuit if you are rafting in really cold water. Others may provide a water-resistant top that won’t keep you as warm as a wetsuit but will reduce the effects of cold splashes and wind.

Whatever else you wear is up to you, but it is recommended that you wear suitable closed waterproof shoes, or sandals that strap firmly to your foot. Most people prefer to wear synthetic t-shirts and shorts of tight yoga-style pants for rafting. If you’re on a multi-day trip that requires camping, pack appropriately for overnight conditions in a tent.

Avoid taking valuables on a rafting trip. Some guides will provide you with a dry bag that you can put small personal items in. If you want to take a camera, make sure it’s waterproof or in a waterproof case and can be secured onto your lifejacket.

Safety tips

Always follow your guide’s instructions since they are trained to keep you safe during what can be quite a risky activity.

Don’t go rafting if you can’t swim. You don’t need to be a strong swimmer to go white water rafting, but need to be able to help yourself if you do fall out of the raft. Guides are trained to swiftly pull swimmers aboard if they fall out, but your chance of panicking and behaving dangerously if you fall in the water and can’t swim is much greater.

Another don’t is to not take small children white water rafting. Most operators usually only allow children from 10 years and older. Lower-grade rivers and rapids will normally be more suitable for younger ages.

Where to go white river rafting in South Africa

In South Africa one of the popular areas for white water rafting or tubing is on the Sabie River Gorge in Hazyview, Mpumalanga. Not only will you see an abundance of birdlife and lush indigenous forest scenes, but you will experience grade 2 and 3 rapids, jump off an 8 m waterfall and enjoy a picnic stop along the river.

In conclusions, floating down a river through the forest with the sound of birdsong all around, gazing up at the walls of the canyons, jumping off the raft for a swim, pulling up to camp on a riverside at the end of the day are only some of the highlights of a white water rafting trip.

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