White Water Rafting on the River Tana

As semi-adrenalin junkies, Mr Nomad and I and a group of other people embarked upon an adventure which entailed rafting down the river Tana in Kenya, attempting to navigate the white water rapids whilst trying not to drown or be obliterated off the craggy rocks and boulders that litter the expansive river.

We boarded a bus and travelled some two hours to Sagana, a small industrial town in Kirinyaga District, found along the Nairobi-Nyeri highway approximately 100 kilometres from Nairobi in Kenya. We arrived at the venue on the banks of the Tana river in good time to enable us to get a caffeine fix. I was a little nervous but incredibly excited as to what was was to come, and the coffee helped to settle the butterflies in my tummy whilst we listened to a detailed brief provided by the professional guides at an organisation known as Savage Wilderness, who have for 25 years, specialised in creating “breathtaking experiences in one of Nature’s most beautiful environments.”

Our Trusty Vessel

Savage Wilderness offer numerous outdoor activities such as rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, bungee jumping, mountain biking, zip lines, archery, nature walks, stand up paddling and open canoeing. They can create expeditions tailored to any request and are experts in their field. They also offer accommodation in a beautiful setting and create adventure packages to satisfy any desire to pursue these outdoor experiences.

After listening intently to our instructions, Mr Nomad and I got geared up with a hard hat and a life jacket (or bouyancy aid) and boarded a bus down to the river banks. We met with our guide, Mark who took us through some drills in the raft while still on land, and hastily taught us some commands when paddling and then Mr Nomad and I and the others heaved the raft into the water and jumped in with our four comrades and the instructor, Mark, and set about paddling away to slowly begin our quest to conquer the white water of the mighty river Tana. It was a searingly hot day so copious amounts of sun screen had been applied but I suspected that the water would no doubt wash this off in due course, if indeed, I did not sweat it off before hand.

The Calm Before the Storm

The rafting down the Tana is a ‘pool/drop’ river where there are areas of calm and tranquil water, allowing participants to take in the beautiful scenery, and makes for perfect viewing of the wild life, including a vast array of bird species. These steady areas also offer ‘the calm before the storm’ allowing you to catch your breath before the exhilarating wild rapids and during the torrents of swirling vicious water.

The trip starts with around 3 kilometres of ‘easy’ white water followed by a calmer section of around 6 kilometres. Thereafter follows a 7 kilometre section which starts easy but then comes the aptly named ‘no way back’ stretch with big rapids named Captains Folly, Can of Worms and Sphincter Flexor. Thereafter, you enter the ‘surf’ in the ‘fish eye hole’ before swimming a couple of minor rapids.

There are then numerous smaller rapids which lead to the ‘Spasm’ – a series of drops over 3/4 kilometres with what was described as a ‘big surprise’ half way through. Although we were given careful instructions about what we could expect, it certainly made me rather nervous and anxious about what was to come and I thanked my lucky stars that I am fairly confident in the water and whilst I am in no way a stylish swimmer, I am reasonably strong.

As we proceeded leisurely down the river, it was a lovely feeling of drifting along, watching the world float by in a fantastic setting with fantastic weather. However, the pace picked up and as we advanced towards hectic white water, we braced ourselves in the raft and dug in, franticly paddling upon the instructors commands in the direction which was needed to attempt to keep the boat upright.

It started out quite gently and after getting through the first hurdles, we were able to jump out of the raft into the river and float downstream on our backs, bobbing about and relaxing in the water. The sunscreen had well and truly been washed off by this point. I suspect this swim was merely to build our confidence in the water and to prepare us for what was to come.

The Narrow Channel

We clambered back into the raft and went on our way and we went barreling down a narrow channel, furiously paddling as we went, hurtling towards a large drop where we were warned it was very possible the raft would tip us off into the turbulent and crashing loud water.

Rather than being afraid, this was utterly thrilling and as we paddled in a tumultuous fashion, the raft tipped off over the precarious edge into the violent water which can only be described as being like a washing machine.

After we had successfully navigated this drop and remained unscathed, the instructor then took us back into the bottom of the drop where we were literally flung out of the raft, swished around in the angry water and spat out a little further down the river. This was I believe, entering the ‘surf’ in ‘fish eye hole.’

This was an unbelievable adrenalin rush! This was also a deliberate action by Mark simply for fun which is was! The water was incredibly powerful and our very clear instructions had been to merely relax and let the water take us; the current in the river would carry us out of the swirling water and it did just that. Our buoyancy aids kept us upright and there was no danger at all that we would sink! Despite swallowing what felt like half of the river itself, this in no way detracted from the giddying joy felt as we splashed around and wallowed in the warm river water.

Surfing in Fish Eye Hole

Actual swimming was near on impossible but it was thrilling to be sucked along by such a powerful force. Such was the exhilaration created in this moment, Mr Nomad and I repeatedly clambered back into the boats, to have numerous attempts at being ungracefully thrown out of the boat by the terrific force of the water, to be well and truly dunked and to end up bobbing along down the river with neither a paddle nor a rescue raft in sight! This certainly put a new view point on the saying ‘up the creek without a paddle!’


We climbed back into the raft which was never far away, and continued on down the river, fueled by adrenalin and surging along with the current, navigating the challenging white water rapids along the way until the next monumental drop. We careered on, enjoying the perilous path ways through the rocks and boulders, paddling our way along and reveling in every second of this terrifyingly exciting watery adventure. We got continually soaked from the surging water, but nobody minded the drenching as we concentrated our efforts on getting through without falling out of the raft, without drowning and without crashing or becoming grounded on the rocks.

There was a moment of peace as we floated past a huge waterfall which allowed us to catch our breath to prepare for the next challenge. This adventure really was breath taking, so I was grateful for that minute to enable me to gather myself and prepare for the next exertion.

The raft was docked on some large rocks where we alighted and climbed down to the waters edge which happened to be on the edge of a giant whirl pool. We were instructed to keep our arms crossed across our chest and to slide down the rock face into the turbulent river and to simply relax and let the water take us. This was crazy! As we had been told, I sat down on the rocks legs outstretched in front of me and slid down on my back side, arms tucked in across my chest into the crashing water and what a feeling came! The strong current sucked me in and I circled around completely submerged, with the ferocious water then spitting me out so I exited the whirl pool with as much vigour as I had entered, and melted back into the gentle flow of the river.

This was such a thrill that Mr Nomad did this time after time until the instructor insisted we get back into the raft to glide back home.

After the thrills and spills of the white water rapids, the terrifying drops into the wild water, the dunking from a water fall and the dizzying swirl round in the whirl pool, we floated back to base in a calming fashion to allow our heart rates to return to normal, to come back down to earth in a civilised fashion. We had survived and it had been a seriously fun day.

I had a fair few bruises from bashing some rocks when forcibly alighting the raft but we had not drowned and we had thoroughly enjoyed our time on the river. We were also overjoyed to have spotted a huge monitor lizard in the water, swimming along nonchalantly as we tried hard not to die, and the bird life along the river banks was fascinating. Mr Nomad and I had enjoyed every second of this thrilling experience and would happily do it over and over again.

It was also yet another way to marvel in all that Kenya has to offer. Life on the water had proved to be just as exciting as life on land and we extended our gratitude to Savage Wilderness for yet another amazing adventure.



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