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Guide to White Nile, Uganda

Thursday-Friday Dec 16-31, 2004
Kayak: Cheryl Robinson, Simon Wiles, Mark & Heather Rainsley, Chas Couchman. Tim & Maria Rex, Nick & Graham
K2: Cheryl Robinson & Paulo Bibi
Organizer: Simon WIles
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium high

Guide to Uganda, White Nile.

Flying: we used British airways (from Newark - USA), no hassle or charge for the two kayaks we took. The flights were expensive at $1300, but we booked late. It was sweetened when we received an upgrade from Heathrow to Entebbe then Heathrow to Newark.

Transport: we arranged transfers in advance from the airport to accommodation as taxis with racks can be difficult to come by. The cost is around $35 per person.

Accomodation: Again we booked in advance and opted to stay at NRE (Nile River Explorers) for five Nights (day 1 section). Then at Hairy Lemon (day 2 section) for Five days then back to NRE for the remainder of our holiday. Both sites are different but offer similar accommodation, Bandas, camping and Dorms. Hairy lemon is a little more expensive but food is included (3 cooked meals a day). Both offer open river view showers. NRE also has a more exclusive resort area that you can stay for $80 per night which provides you with a rather nice river view banda with private bathroom and shower, breakfast and exclusive use of the pool. NRE offer two places to get meals; the bar (which can get quite rowdy) or a restaurant. Both reasonably priced. Hairy Lemon is an island on the Nile and can only be reached by boat, they won't take walk ins so it essential to book in advance. We preferred Hairy Lemon, it is more of a paradise island and has a very relaxed feel to it.

Health: Uganda has a very high Malaria rate and you can guarantee someone you know or meet will get it while you are there. Before we went we had to be immunized for Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Meningitis, Polio, Tetanus and Yellow Fever. We also had to take Malaria tablets I opted for Malarone (daily) while Simon opted for Larium (weekly). Neither of us suffered side effects and neither did we suffer any health problems while we were there.

It is advisable to wear both ear plugs (highly recommend doc pro plugs) and nose clips to reduce taking on any bacteria from the water.

We took lots of suntan lotion factor 30. We did burn despite efforts of applying lots of lotion. The temperature varied between 84f and 94 f.

We wore long sleeves and trousers at night to prevent any nasties biting. We took our own mosquito net and used it despite them being provided in the accommodation (they looked very holey and our friends got badly bitten when they used them).

Culture: Uganda is a very poor country, but don't compare it to nearby countries such as Sudan or Ethiopia. These people are not starving. The economy is just third world. The people are probably the nicest people you will every meet and they will go out of there way to help you. The children will run to greet you and shout "Jambo Muzungo" which translates as "hello white person". The glow off their smiles when I waved back at them will sit in my heart forever.

At the takeout, I often got asked to have my kayak carried for me. I usually got charged around 1000 shillings about 50 cents...and believe me it's worth it after a long days the local people are so appreciative of the money, I even got some local language lessons included one day. They also asked us for our water bottles that we had purchased from the bar. We originally thought this was for the clean water (most homes do not have running water and so they either go to a well or use the river), but it turned out they wanted them for recycling to earn money.

The primary language is supposed to be English, but generally they speak various dialects of Lugandan or Swahili.

So to the Important Part the RIVER .

Despite the Nile being the longest river in the world, the commercial section is only about 36km and the kayak section 50km.

The river is split in to three sections: Owens Falls, Day 1, and Day 2.

The river is dam release and the water fluctuates during the day, generally lower in the morning getting higher around 3pm. On Holidays and weekends the water generally stays a lot lower.

Owens Falls : Grade 2/3

Don't get too excited this section is normally only used as a put in for the commercial rafts or people taking kayak lessons.

I was actually the only person in our group to run this section, and it was very uneventful and consists of 3 easy grade 2/3 rapids. I only did it once.

Day 1: Grade Various including some 6's

This is the section that is rafted by three companies almost every day. This section consists of many channels and I personally never ran this in my Kayak. I did however do it in a Topo Duo with Paulo Bibi, Ugandan's No 1 kayaker and recent winner of the big air competition held there in October.

The put in is NRE's campsite, the walk down is steep and treacherous...many people opt to take the daredevil route and go in off the huge but badly designed scary air ramp...I am a chicken and just let the boat go down it, then struggled down the rest of the way. The ramp is definitely a back breaker if not landed correctly. Simon opted for a nice aerial blunt/ face plant every time. We did witness some crazy guy's using beer crates to go off it...wouldn't surprise me if it makes then next young guns productions movie.

Near the put in there are two nice play spots one a small hole know as the campsite hole and the other known as the back wave, very similar to push button on the Ottawa. I paddled both of these a lot and really enjoyed them, but to get back to the campsite meant either running a grade 5 known as Brickyard or hiking across the island and doing a ferry across the bottom of Bujagali falls.


Before I proceed to breakdown each rapid, it is worth knowing only the first (Bujagali) and last rapid (Itanda) can actually be scouted from land, the rest, well I don't really want to say close your eyes and hope for the best, but it is quite like that. Because of the sheer size and volume it can prove difficult to see the whole or part of the rapids. On your first run it is worth going down with the locals.


Stay close to the right hand bank. Easy class 4, or 3 as the locals call it. Stay away from the undercut tree / island. Unfortunately one of our group didn't. If in doubt portage, on the right, as the rafts do, to lead you straight to:

Bujagali Falls (grade 4/5)

How hard can it be if the local guys swim it on a large jerry can? Inspect from the right side, and get ready to move to the left of the tongue, there is no point in trying to avoid the hole you're going in, then hold on tight through the run out. The boils can provide some entertaining mystery moves!!!


Straight forward class 3 wave train. Or so they say....I never seen a grade 3 with waves this big!!

Total Gunga

Long series of huge breaking waves at grade 5 ferocity. Watch out for the G Spot left of centre, which likes to surf rafts. Long rapid, with some interesting whirlpools at the bottom on the right.

Surf City,

Take the right most fork after Total Gunga. Nice easy class 3 rapid.


Just below surf city, one of the most fun rapids on the river. A HUGE (GIGANTIC) wavetrain (grade 4 / 5), with 4 waves stacked one after another. Very boily at the sides, so best to just run straight down.

If you want a short run, it is possible to arrange a Boda Boda (Moped) (outside the gate at NRE) to pick you up from just below Silverback on river right, five minutes up a path. This avoids all the flat water, and gets most of the good rapids.

There are some easy class 2 rapids, and lots of flat water, before:

Overtime (grade 5)

Usually portaged (on river right), can be run though as long as you hit the line.... Another channel exists further left called the Dead Dutchman. I wonder why??..

Retrospect (grade 3/4)

Just below Overtime on the right hand channel. Straightforward run through the centre tongue of a hefty wide hole. Followed by lots more flat water.

Bubogo / superhole. (grade 4)

Similar to Retrospect, but in a centre right channel. Its another simple tongue through the Hole rapid. Nice surfwave on the lip of the hole. Just after this, head far right, to arrive at superhole, a fun wide playwave.

Lots more flatwater......

Itanda / The bad place

Pull out on the right when you see the mist rising....the monster awaits!!! There is an eddy right on the lip if you so wish....The rafts carry Itanda (grade 6), which is one of the most impressive just about runnable rapids ever seen. A series of massive offset holes, each with their own name, that you have to thread through. Pencil Sharpener, Cuban, Ashtray, Bad place, the Other place. You can put in halfway down, about level with the Cuban, which gives a much simpler run, or a warmup for the whole thing. Trouble is, if you are taking out here, you'll just have to carry your boat back up the very steep path. If you're lucky you can get a local to carry it for a small amount.

Also Hypoxia, Kalaga (grade 6)

Two other channels exist offering other gnarly options than just Itanda. Not often run, Hypoxia is supposed to be the most fearsome of the three, with a massive hole waiting to give some serious downtime. Kalagala (on river left) is a waterfall / big hole affair.

Day two. (All day two rapids are Grade 4)

Can be accessed from either river left or right, as can the day 2 takeout. If staying at and returning to NRE, then you'll start below (or above) Itanda, and take out on river right below Malalu. If staying, or returning to Hairy lemon, you'll probably put in on river left. There are some great views of the river from high up on both sides, and its worth having a good look at some of the biggest rapids around.

Total Vengance

A short warm up leads you to an island. Take the second left channel. A first short section, allows you to catch an eddy on the left to surf the wave / hole. Or you can run straight (look for the tongue) if you miss the tongue prepare to surf big time, and if your caught unawares it can be difficult to get off upright.. (I flipped big time). The second part of the rapid is just a long wave train.

Hair of the Dog

Easiest route is the right hand channel, where you run straight down the massive wave train. There is a large broken wave you can surf half way down.

After a short while, there s a great small playhole on river left, which is a nice spot to practice loops. Then it's a short paddle across a large pool before:

Kula Shaka

You probably want to eddy out towards the right hand end of the large pool. From there you can boat scout your way down. A nice wave forms just above the split round an island. Make sure you end up on the right side channel. Run centre down the big wave trains, and watch out for the pour over on river right...but if like me you end up river right..go hard right and you miss the pour over...the best choice is to head left.

A fair bit of flatwater follows until:

Nile Special

Lovely big surging wave on river right.

The Nile special is comparative to Big Joe on Lachine, it isn't smooth and it has a lot of bounce. The wave is supposedly at it's best early morning, but personally we felt that it was a little less surgy in the afternoon (around 2pm) and a little easier to surf.

Just below here, on the mid stream island is the Hairy lemon campsite.

There is then 6km more flat water, but believe me this flat water is worth paddling to get to Malalu, You can either float down by staying in the current...or you can paddle hard!! But don't waste too much'll want to save it.


is the next rapid of note you'll come across after Nile special. Again there are a number of channels, so make sure you don't miss it. Take the second channel from the left, it starts quite wide, but you'll know you're in the right place when it narrows down. Make sure you catch the eddy on the right, next to the wave, and watch for the boil lines. The best time to be on this wave is anytime after 3pm. The wave is fantastic, I was advised that it would be the perfect training wave, and my first time on it I was surrounded by the likes of Steve Fisher and Rush Sturges. I was begging the water Gods to be on my side, thankfully they were and I strutted my stuff like a true beginner minus the swims!!. The wave is the biggest I have ever surfed, but once you're on it its like being in a comfort blanket, It wants to keep you safe and give you that nice warm fluffy feeling. It also just begs you to keep getting back on and surf it some more, it is very addictive. The problem with this wave is what's behind it. The wave train narrows to form huge boiley eddy lines and is very testing on one's roll and balance. A swim can result in heading down stream along way and mean a fairly difficult paddle back up.

When we were there we generally found we had the wave to ourselves.

Both these last two rapids have great viewing areas that make for a great picture spot or just to get your breath back!!


Both NRE and Hairy Lemon can arrange shuttles for you. My advise for the Day 1 section is join the rafts, for $10 you get shuttle, food on and off the river and Cool soda's and beer at the takeout. If you get a bit bored with all the flatwater on the Day 1 section, you can run multiple Silverback runs in one day, or combine with some play on the backwave. You need to arrange a boda boda shuttle for this shorter section, which is a great way to see some countryside.

For Day 2 from NRE, I would recommend getting a group of four or more and hire a taxi bus (matatu's) with roof racks, it only costs around $40 for drop off and pick up (NRE can arrange). From Hairy Lemon, they will also order you a taxi to the put in, and boda Bodas for the take out. For just a Malalu paddle you need Hairy Lemon to arrange Boda Boda's. We found after the first night you can arrange with the drive to pick you up the next night...and they are very reliable. Tip if there are two of you but the boats on one bike and both of you hop on the other one.

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