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Sabah’s whitewater rafting adventures are not to be missed

Published on 27 January 2018|
2 min read

Here in Sabah, we’re blessed to have the Kiulu and Padas Rivers for whitewater rafting fun!

by Tommy Duncan, Carrybeans

Whitewater rafting is an adventurous sport for both the beginner and experienced. Here in Sabah, the Kiulu River is the popular option for beginners as its waters are Grade 1 and 2. Padas River is a Grade 3 and 4 so it’s a little more extreme.

Although I am afraid of water, I headed to Kiulu River in 2015 for a whitewater rafting excursion. I had a surprisingly enjoyable time (so anyone can do it!) navigating my way down the river. Getting to Pukak Kiulu, Tuaran from Kota Kinabalu takes around one hour by car.


A little bit about Kiulu, where my adventure began

A small town in the district of Tuaran, Kiulu is a largely Dusun community with an agricultural backbone. The locals rely heavily on the land, with rubber plantations, fruit orchards, paddy field and mixed produce gardens.

Credit: SBT

While most are small-scale, there are some large farms that export products such as ginger. You can experience a little bit of the local life here by visiting the tamu (local market), but it’s largely a small town with friendly people.


Prep time! It begins at the riverbank

When we arrived at the starting point for the whitewater rafting journey, a safety briefing was conducted by one of the local guides. He taught us proper rafting techniques, how to maneuver the vessel and the right way to hold the paddle.

The live demonstration is helpful and really gave me a clear picture of what to expect. After the briefing we were given a life jacket each and after applying a tonne of sunscreen, we were good to go!

The river was waiting, so we paddled, paddled and paddled

Credit: 3bp

At around 9.30am, we pushed off. The first leg of the journey was easy as the rapids were gentle and the current not strong. However, as we travelled further down the river we encountered more challenging rapids. Along the way, our guide kept reminding us that the most dangerous thing when rafting is not actually the river or falling overboard, but it’s actually the tip of the paddle.

Rafter must always hold the paddle by securing one palm over the tip and the other to navigate. This is to ensure you don’t lose your grip and injure one of your partners with a flying paddle.

Fortunately for us as it had not been raining for the past few days, so the water levels were pretty low. This caused the rapids to be quite intense as the rocks were above the surface of the water. We had to do a fair bit of navigating and go through some water ‘turbulence’!


Before noon, we were safely back on land

After around 2 hours of paddling, the raft overturning and being pushed overboard (purposely!), we finally reached our destination. In between our journey, there were times we took small breaks to just enjoy the scenery and beauty of the natural environment.

On land, we could use the restroom to shower and freshen up before lunch was served at around 1pm. It was quite an experience for me. Here are 5 things that I learnt:

1. Safety is the most important thing

2. Teamwork is required

3. Don’t panic if you are in water, the life jacket does its job to keep you afloat

4. No pain, no gain

5. Respect nature always

Sabah is full of adventure and for those of us lucky to be living here or dropping by, whitewater rafting is one thing not to be missed! Have a great weekend, and head on over to Kiulu or Padas for an adrenaline rush.

Have you gone whitewater rafting in Kiulu or Padas? Describe your experience in one word by commenting below!

For you curious lot, here are 10 differences between Sabah and West Malaysia

Featured Image Credit: Borneo Holidays

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