White Water Rafting on the Sabie River: Hippos, Crocodiles, Lightning…Oh My!

We hit the rapid completely sideways and our two-man inflatable boat filled with water. Lord help us, I thought, don’t let us drown or get eaten by a hippo! The boat tipped, throwing us into the churning water. Pete and I were on our own, boat-less, gasping for air as we bobbed our way down the rest of the rapid.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

Pete, my mom, and I stayed at the Kruger Gate Protea Hotel for five nights, hoping to spend a lot of time in Kruger National Park on a self-drive safari. When the weather failed to cooperate and the rains refused to stop, my mom had the great idea to go white water rafting in the nearby Sabie River. Pete and I weren’t super enthused, but when we saw the unbeatable price of $27/person for a half day of rafting, we couldn’t refuse. I’ve been white water rafting many different times, so when I heard that the rafting down the Sabie river was only class 2 and 3 rapids, I wasn’t too impressed.

That all changed as soon as our guide started giving our prep talk: “There are crocodiles and hippos in this river.” WHAAAA??!? My mom looked at me and said, “He must be joking, right?”, to which Pete and I replied, “Nope. He’s definitely not joking.”

As our guide continued his speech, a crack of lightning flashed and thunder rumbled in the not-so-far distance. I pondered out loud,

“There are quite a few ways we could die on this river today.”

Large predators? Check. Lightning storm while completely surrounded by water? Check. Group of rafting newbies floating down the fast-flowing river, all in their own boats? Check. We were in for a wild afternoon.

After the not-so-soothing pep talk, we quickly paired off. The guide explained that the person in the back of the raft is responsible for steering: “If the boat goes sideways or starts spinning in circles, don’t blame the person in front.” Since my mom’s also an experienced rafter, she decided to go with a friendly South African, and I stayed with Pete. We’ve been kayaking together plenty of times and he always sits in back, so we thought, why not? What could go wrong? Lol.

The only photo we got of us…

Once we were in the water, our fears dissipated a bit and were replaced with awe. Pete and I kept exclaiming to each other, “THIS IS SO COOL!” Lush rain-forest guarded the river and created a canopy that sort of protected us from the light rain. Rumbling thunder in the distance definitely added to the Indiana Jones-like experience.

We were feeling cool, calm and collected as we went through our first rapid…until we hit a wave sideways and almost tipped. Our boat quickly filled with brown, murky water, but Pete heroically paddled us out to safety.

“I’ve got to clear out this water,” Pete said as the water sloshed around our ankles. He reached down under his seat (where the tube is that would release the water from our boat)…and let out a piercing shriek. In all my 3+ years knowing Pete, I’ve never heard him make a sound like this.

“THAT IS THE BIGGEST SPIDER I HAVE EVER SEEN!”

Apparently, there was a massive spider lurking beneath the surface, swimming around in our raft. Pete pulled his feet up in a crouch and, using his paddle, frantically tried to fling the spider out. Unfortunately, the river didn’t take pity on us; we were heading straight for a tree at an alarmingly fast speed.

“You’ve got to paddle! Otherwise we are tipping for sure!”

Picking the lesser of two evils, we temporarily ignored the spider, avoided the tree and caught up with the rest of the group. Unfortunately, we still had a massive spider in our raft. And while there’s really nothing I hate more than spiders, Pete’s not too fond of them either. When I was explaining our erratic behavior to my mom, Pete determinedly and forcefully dug his paddle into the water and successfully flung the spider back into the river. And let me just say…the spider. was. ENORMOUS. I literally just got the chills from writing that sentence from the sheer memory. It was so large that my mom and her raft-partner saw it from their boat 10 feet away and were left speechless. My mom’s raft partner (from South Africa) said, “That’s the kind of spider that kills you if it bites you!”

Moving on.

Continuing down the next few rapids, I felt like we were on a commercial for one of those couples-adventure shows…and let’s just say we weren’t the couple who was smiling, getting along just fine.

Better days of teamwork in a sturdy kayak in Palau…

I tried to explain to Pete the importance of staying straight, but honestly, it wasn’t an easy feat. Due to a ridiculous amount of rain, the water level was extremely high, which meant the rapids were pretty wild. We had another close call, but Pete once again managed to paddle us to safety. We were feeling pretty good.

Until… (dun dun dunnn)

Our guide had us all pull over and “park” on the bank to explain our final rapid. He said this was by far the hardest rapid yet, so we needed to pay close attention or else we’d tip for sure.

…Except he didn’t really explain any technique. All he explained was some safety protocol – what we should do in the event that we tip. If we tipped, he’d throw us a bag that had a rope; our job was to hold on to the rope and he’d pull us in. He also mentioned a hole – if we hit that hole, he warned, we were capsizing for sure.

We were to go one at a time. Pete and I somehow ended up first in line. As we paddled towards the rapid, we had a sinking realization – we had absolutely no idea where this “hole” was that we were supposed to avoid. Oh well!

We didn’t see the massive rock until it was too late.

And you know the next part. We tipped at the very top of the rapid. In all my times rafting, this is the first time I have ever fallen out of a raft. And honestly – it was pretty frightening. As in, I was absolutely terrified.

Filled with adrenaline, I gasped for air between waves the whole way down the steep rapid. I’m a good swimmer, but I was really grateful for my life-vest and my helmet. But, as my pesky mind kept reminding me, neither of those things would save me from a hippo or a crocodile.

When I finally came out of the rapid, I saw a man throw me that rope they had talked about. Still trying to catch my breath, I frantically grabbed it, hung on for dear life, and waited to be pulled to safety.

…Except no one was holding the other end of the rope.

I didn’t notice this until a few minutes had passed and I floated pretty far down the river, carried by the extremely fast current, and the rope still wasn’t taut. Helplessly, I looked around, but swimming to shore alone was out of the question – the current was just too strong.

A man (the one who, I’m presuming, was supposed to hold on to the other end of the rope) jumped into a raft and paddled to save me. It wasn’t a proud moment, but I was so glad to get back into the raft. We proceeded to paddle with all our might to the shore, and then walk a few hundred meters, waist-deep in water, through squishy mud and vegetation. Yuck.

Fortunately, neither Pete nor I had any wildlife encounters after we tipped. The only casualty was one of my sandals (R.I.P.)…and, of course, our dignity. Only one other raft tipped, and they didn’t tip until the very end of the rapid.

Needless to say, this turned out to be one of the most exhilarating water experiences of my life. Even if you don’t go when the water is high (and the rapids are cray), I’d still recommend this rafting trip for the gorgeous scenery and the extremely reasonable price.


Essential Info:

In case you read this for informative purposes (you poor soul), here’s some useful information about our rafting trip down the Sabie River.

Company: Induna Adventures

Cost: R350 ($28)/person

Duration: 2.5 hours

What to Wear: Swimsuit, possibly shorts

What to Bring: GoPro; nothing that you don’t want to get wet

-They also take pictures of you that you can choose to purchase after the trip if you don’t want to worry about taking a camera

What They Provide: Helmets, life-vests, water bottle and snacks (we got a bag of chips)

Protip: if you are carrying anything, like a GoPro, strap it on to your life-vest with a carabiner in case you tip!

Have any questions about our rafting trip? Need other suggestions for activities near Kruger?

2 Comment

  1. Craig says: Reply

    Wow! That was an insane trip. I’d say you got your $28 worth foshaa! Did you ever find out what kind of killer spider it was? I’d like to look it online, but not necessarily meet up with it in person, especially in a small raft!! Great story – I’m sure glad you all survived!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Foshaa! 😛 No, we never did, but honestly, I’m too scared to google “spiders in Sabie River” in fear of what I’d see in the images… :O Let me know if you find it though!

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