Gabus was telling us to cross our legs, lay back and brace for the worst. Till now, a lovely river raft on the Telaga Waja had been serene sailing. Sure, there was the odd bump here and there but most often we were bobbing along, having a laugh and paddling where necessary. Now for the first time he looked serious, and rightly so, we were about to go over a waterfall.
We’d made our way to Telaga Waja river as part of Erin’s week-long Bali birthday bash. We had actually been in Bali a while but had not had time to tick off some of the more popular pursuits had by fellow tourists on a more standard whistle-stop tour. So, with mates Simon and Lee over for the week this was as good an opportunity as any to hit the rapids.
Sobek river rafting came as the most recommended outfit. Sobek have been operating for nearly 30 years, and had a clean wrap sheet as far as any incidents are concerned. The next decision was whether to choose the local and more placid Ayung river, or the more adventurous and remote Telaga Waja river with up to grade 3-4 rapids and finishing with a 5-metre waterfall! Given we had no previous rafting experience I went with Telaga Waja! They say, fortune favours the brave!
We met our guide Gabus in the Sobek office along the river bank. Gabus hastily wrapped any items we didn’t want to get wet into his dry bag. After being kitted with helmets, life jackets and a paddle, a quick but thorough safety briefing was promptly followed by slipping into our awaiting inflatable raft. A few practise paddling drills later and we were off!
The river bubbled along between smooth boulders, carrying us swiftly downstream, our very unsynchronised paddling was for direction rather than propulsion. Gabus though instructed us with military precision. ‘Forward paddle; Backward paddle; Stop; Duck; Boom boom!’ and so on. ‘Boom boom’ was used when we were about to crash into the canyon wall, an instruction we began to pay particular attention to avoid getting a face full of rocks and tree roots!
After a while we got into the flow, so to speak, and began to enjoy the spectacular scenery that accompanies Tejung Waja. We were in a deep canyon carved over time by the river where waterfalls often showered down on us through the thick jungle canopy. Occasionally, the river would open to some wider plains containing small villages and farmers tending to their fields, the smell of a wood fire still in the air from the morning’s cooking with a cow lazily chewing on the lush green grass. It was easy to get distracted, although Gabus’ paddling commands brought my mind quickly back to focus.
Rafting first begun in Bali in 1989 with a a few outfits, including Sobek rafting, pioneering the routes initially along the Ayung river. Since then over 35 companies have battled for space on the Bali rafting scene and a search online for ‘Bali rafting’ draws more options than you can poke a paddle at. Finding a reputable company can be a challenge as tourist counters are generally clogged with rafting brochures which are often the less reputable operators. There have been a number of incidents of late and the guides ability to respond correctly in an emergency is essential.
Back on board, we had a halfway stop at a pebbled beach at the same point as a large waterfall poured into the river. An opportunity to stretch the legs and rest the arms after an hour of paddling. A very scenic spot and a few other rafts had pulled in to what was clearly a scheduled stop on Sobek’s tour. It seemed though that only one other rafting company was running on the Telaga Waja this day. Entrepreneurial locals had a cooler with drinks for sale which they had carried down a long rickety bamboo ladder, loosely strapped to the sheer cliff.
Near the end of the second hour and after 8 or so kilometres of very pleasant rafting we pulled to one side. It was waterfall o’clock. We got an extra safety briefing from Gabus and he secured our paddles to the rear of the raft. Then we were told to cross our feet out in front, lean as far back as possible and hold on tight with our hands, we would not see the waterfall until we were going over it. A thin canal led down to where water disappeared over a void. Sooner than you could say ‘waterfall’ we were peering over the edge to the white water below and nose-dived into the awaiting pool. Legs and arms flailing about, the raft bent, almost in half, then and then sprung back violently, the most astonishing thing being that we were all still wedged in the raft! [Waterfall drop appears at 1:30 into this video]
Rafting wrap up
Any trip to Bali can fit in a rafting trip to Telaga Waja. While I can’t personally compare it to the Ayung I certainly found the Telaga Waja catered for all levels. There are plenty of operators to go with but do check their safety credentials and their respect for their local guides and the surrounding environment. I hope you get on the Telaga Waja one day too!
The photos at the end are quite expensive, up to $30 for the whole selection. If you wish to take your own footage and have a waterproof camera or GoPro it’s best to attach this to your wrist as you will have a helmet and life-jacket on while on the river, so the head strap and chest strap won’t be suitable.