© Timbukar Whitewater Rafting.
© Timbukar Whitewater Rafting.

White-water Rafting in Indonesia with Kids

"Weeee! Wapids ahead! Wapids!' my son yells. 'Incoming! Wapids!"

We’re racing along a turbid river in the highlands of Sulawesi, Indonesia. A slabby, dark rock-face rises scarily high on our right. Steep slopes lush with palms, ferns and grasses spill down to the water’s edge. Against the blue sky, the mountains have a stark beauty that almost hurts the eyes. There’s not much time for contemplation right now, though. We are in the white water, surfing a channel that swells between two rocks. Our inflatable catches on a boulder and hangs in the air for a second.

“Wooooo!” screams my son.

“Back!” yells our guide.

I dig the paddle into the water and backwater hard, feeling the strain in my shoulders and upper arms. The boat tilts, catches the flood, soars through the rocks and slams into a wave. Water buckets into the boat as raft as we lurch into the trough, and up another wave. I realise I, too, am howling with joy, the sheer adrenaline buzz of our apparently unsinkable craft, these beautiful surroundings.

The current slows. We paddle the dinghy lazily.

“Wow, wow, wow the boat, gently down the stream, mewwily, mewwily, mewwily, mewwily, life is but a dream.”

My son is singing, and I’m not surprised. Here we are, in the middle of nature. We have trekked an hour or so to get down to our jump-off point, from the Torajan village where what passes for a road in these remote highlands comes to a dramatic stop. We could hear the river roaring as we descended the gorge, long before we saw it. Now, 30 minutes in, the stream is, suddenly, quiet enough for us to experience the world around us. A gold-tailed iguana rushes from the bank into midwater, crossing ahead of our path. The blue dart of a kingfisher flickers peripheral.

We round a curve and a new vista opens up; white waterfalls pouring creamy down dark rock steps, surrounded by evergreen bushes.

“More rapids?” I ask.

“Not before lunch,” says our guide.

“I want to go swimming,” says Zac.

“Is it safe?” I ask.


And, still in his lifejacket and helmet, he jumps into the water and drifts along beside our boat. By the water, a farmer is hand-feeding his prize buffalo long grass. It’s a charming, tranquil scene, the perfect contrast to what has preceded it.

At its best, white-water rafting is an amazing insight into rivers less travelled. One moment you are slamming into a rock wall, and bouncing miraculously back, the next you are, well, Three Men In A Boat.

We have lunch on a pebbly shoal, the force of the water apparently dissipated, cerise and aqua dragonflies flitting from rock to rock. And then we are off, just cruising, floating very lazily with the current as idly as one might laze in a punt on the Thames.

“Wapids ahead!” screams my son again. And the adrenaline kicks in.

Read our tips for white-water rafting holidays with kids and see our hand-picked recommendations for family adventure holidays in Indonesia.

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