Packed To The Rafters
The Sun-Herald Traveller
29 May 2016
Bali boasts beautiful rivers – and the view is best from the foam, writes Tatyana Leonov.
Call me Chicken Man,’’ the grinning fellow utters self-assuredly. ‘‘Many of us river- rafting guides have easy nicknames to remember. I am Chicken Man because I look like a chicken.’’
I squint my eyes trying to grasp the resemblance . . . nothing. Still, I give Chicken Man points for managing to capture the attention of the group.
We’ve travelled for over an hour from our hotel to get here, and judging by how quickly everyone is stripping off, we’re all keen to get the show on the road.
White-water river rafting is one of Bali’s most popular adventure activities. Typically holidaymakers spend their first few days in Bali chilling out beachside and exploring the many shops and bars. Then – for those inclined – it’s time for a dose of adrenalin.
There are several river-rafting setups in Bali, with Ayung, Melangit and Telaga Waja rivers all used for the activity. Sobek, the company I’m rafting with today, is Bali’s oldest rafting company, with 27 years’ experience.
Chicken Man can sense we’re all itching to head down to the river, so he gets right into his spiel. He explains that our pace will be somewhat dependent on today’s currents. He tells us that we’ll have a snack stop midway. Helmets and paddles are fetched. He gives us a quick demonstration on how to best grip the paddle. Finally, he cautions us to give our cameras to our raft guides (so they can keep them in their waterproof pouch) before we set off.
Ayung River is Bali’s longest river at 75 kilometres – and arguably the island’s most picturesque. The river chutes down the northern ranges across deep lush valleys, weaving its way past sprawling rice fields and through dense rainforest.
The Sobek rafting tour covers just 11 kilometres, but according to Chicken Man it’s one of the most scenic sections of the river. ‘‘After two hours you will be tired and want your lunch anyway,’’ he laughs. ‘‘Eleven kilometres is enough!’’
There are many rafting companies in Bali, but Sobek prides itself on a few points of difference. Their zero accident safety record is the most important and the tasty local lunch buffet is an attraction in itself.
When I notice how crammed some of the other rafts in the river are (the section we are rafting is popular with several companies) I am relieved that there are only four people plus one guide in our raft.
Our guide is Rita. She’s the only female guide working at Sobek and, perhaps because of her reputation, she doesn’t need a nickname. After all, everyone knows Rita – she’s rowdy, she’s loud, and I quickly discover she likes her name pronounced with an over-the-top rolling of the R.
Ayung River is graded as class 2 to 3, meaning rafters will come across some bumpy waves and are expected to steer around rocks. That said, it’s also a fine for beginners… which is good, seeing as I’ve never rafted in my life.
Rita gives us a quick rundown of how she likes to work it – pretty much when she yells to raft we paddle and when she yells to stop we do exactly that.
In the water we grasp it pretty quickly. And when Rita’s voice gets louder we figure we need to paddle faster.
Within minutes we are negotiating the cascading rapids like pros. Well, sometimes. Rita does the bulk of the work and I think the midway snack break is more to rest her arms than ours.
When the excitement of rafting down a thrashing river wavers a little I take note of my surrounds. Sure, white-water rafting is an adventure activity, but Ayung River is one heck of a good looker. The boulders and mountains around us are clad in rainforest and spritzed with cascading waterfalls – and whenever we pass one that’s easily reachable Rita asks if we ‘‘want in’’.
By this, we quickly learn, Rita means a trip into the waterfall – raft and all. We reluctantly agree and she enthusiastically steers us towards the torrent of tumbling water.
Suddenly there is water pounding on our helmets. We try to paddle out quickly, but end up in a raft traffic jam as more and more rafts veer off course to join the fun.
Completely soaked and laughing loudly we eventually get back on track . . . but not for long. Rita is already gushing about the next waterfall.
MORE INFORMATION: bali-tourism-board.org
GETTING THERE: Tigerair Australia flies to Denpasar daily from Melbourne and Perth and five times a week from Adelaide. See tigerair.com.au
TOURING THERE: Sobek runs daily rafting tours on Ayung River and Telaga Waja River. They also offer cycling, hiking, paragliding and buggy adventures. See balisobek.com
STAYING THERE: Mercure Bali Legian is one of the best four-star options in Bali. There are 321 rooms, two pools and plenty of shops and restaurants in
the area. If you’re looking for a luxe stay away from Bali’s hustle and bustle, Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua is a tropical paradise comprising of 415 elegant rooms and suites.
Tatyana Leonov was a guest of Accor Hotels and Tigerair Australia.