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First Time Whitewater Rafting in Newfoundland

Whitewater Rafting NL

Fear and fun on the Exploits River

I excitedly opened up my proposed itinerary from Adventure Central, the tourism organization I’d be working with on my upcoming road trip around  Central Newfoundland, and started quickly scanning the activities. ATVing…hiking…fly fishing… a pretty outdoorsy trip for a girl who runs a site called Suitcase and Heels and doesn’t particularly like getting dirty. Then I hit the white water rafting in Grand Falls-Windsor. “Fun!” I thought. I’d been wanting to try that for awhile.

I’d gone whitewater rafting once before, in 2012 in Costa Rica. The rapids were fun and just a little thrilling. Everyone stayed in the boat. There was a break for fresh pineapple. I thought I’d be better prepared this time, by knowing a little of what to expect (no pineapple) and having real water shoes this time if nothing else.

What I’d neglected to really absorb was that I had been signed up for the Exploits Canyon run, Rafting NL’s high adventure trip (you must be 14+ to participate) that starts with a 15 foot cliff jump into the river and an intentional raft flipping. Did I tell you that I don’t like being underwater? Hmm…

Whitewater Rafting NL

Whitewater Rafting NL

I wouldn’t say I have a fear of the water because I love swimming pools and paddling around in ocean surf (as long as I touch bottom). I’m fine on boats and SUP boards. I even enjoy snorkelling (though it takes me a while to build up trust in my mask and snorkel). I just don’t like having my face underwater.

As a child, it took me three attempts to pass the first level of swimming lessons because I refused to put my head underwater for months, eventually relenting because if there was one thing my 6 year old self hated more than being under water it was failing at something.

It’s one of the reasons I gave surfing two attempts but then decided maybe it wasn’t for me. I have no desire to roll a kayak so I’ll stick with those open top recreational ones. My favourite swimming stroke is the backstroke. Maybe I drowned in a former life?

This would be interesting.

Whitewater Rafting NL

Rafting NL has been running on the Exploits River, Newfoundland’s largest and longest river, since 1997 and has grown each year to include more and more river adventures. They now include canoeing, kayaking, and are the only company in Newfoundland offering whitewater rafting. For more gentle rafting they have the family friendly Badger Chute run which has a small rapid or two but is more about having fun on (and in) the river. They also have a nature float that ends with a charcuterie board by a waterfall. These are just a couple of the options they have for you to interact with the Exploits River. I’d heard nothing but rave reviews in recent years.

On the morning of my adventure, the weather took a turn for the chilly. It would only be 15C so I was very happy to discover that Rafting NL have wetsuits available for rent and change rooms on their converted school bus parked at our meeting point at the Salmonid Interpretation Centre. If you’ve never worn a wetsuit, they are a challenge and a half to get on. The more you struggle, the harder it becomes. They’re like quicksand that way. 15 minutes and two broken nails later, I was ready to boogie.

Wetsuits, helmets, and life jackets on, paddles in hand, our group of 9 trekked the 500m to the launch spot. There, we got a thorough safety briefing on everything from how to brace your feet to stay in the raft, how to “get down” (hint: you feel a little like a squirrel doing a superhero landing), how to safely swim in the rapids should you get tossed out, and how to pull an ousted raftmate back in. They may have made me anxious, but Rafting NL has an excellent safety track record. You’ll have fun on their tours but they take safety very seriously. They arm you with the knowledge to make sure that your trip is more thrilling than dangerous.

While we were having our safety talk the rafts were being lowered down to the river on a zip line so we had to climb down a steep set of stairs to meet them and get the party started.

Whitewater Rafting NL

So back to that 15 foot jump… yeah… I just couldn’t do it. I wanted to be brave and push myself but my stomach just kept tying itself in knots at the thought. I opted instead for a 5 foot jump that still induced a bit of panic and inhaling of water. I think the only reason I managed the jump while canyoning in Slovenia was because there was no lower option available and it was jump or turn around and go wait in the van. And you know what I hate more than being under water…

Whitewater Rafting NL

Within a few minutes of launching we approached our first rapid. We could see the water frothing up before us as if Mother Nature had a side hustle as a barista and it was latte time. Adrenaline kicked in and I tightened my grip on my paddle. We rocked and rolled over that first warm-up rapid like a boss. Oh yeah, this I was into.

After seeing my panic by being dumped back in the river during our raft flipping drill, my lovely guide Megan suggested that when we got to the spot where they like to play in the rapids and where getting tossed was most likely, she’d drop me off on a rock and pick me up when they were done. I was very appreciative of the offer. Sure enough, on the first pass back up to the rapids, two of my raftmates went for an unexpected swim. After watching the video I’m convinced I would’ve joined them if I’d stayed so I’m content with my decision to watch from a rock.

I’m happy to say though, that when I was in the raft, I was safely in the raft and had a ball. We hit four sets of rapids over our two hour trip. I loved the anticipation when you see the whitewater coming up and then you feel your raft tip downwards and you know you’re going for a ride. The raft bucks and the river splashes you from all angles while you paddle hard to get through. I whooped with exhilaration on each one. I felt a bit like Baby Sinclair from Dinosaurs after each rapid. “Again!”

Whitewater Rafting NL

We even went for a little surf. There was one place where we turned the raft upstream and guided its nose directly into a standing wave, then we piled to the front and the force of the water kept us in place creating a little whirlpool in our raft. Pretty neat trick of nature.

After two hours and four rapids we ended with a leisurely float to Gorge Park, waving to any salmon fishermen who might’ve been standing on the banks,  where we met Timmy the little red bus who would take us and our gear back to our starting point.

Aside from two broken nails and a little panic from being dunked, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on the river. The only thing I could’ve possibly wanted more from on this rafting trip was more rapids, but y’know, not the kind that fling you into the drink.

If you’re coming to Central Newfoundland, you’ll definitely want to put the Exploits Canyon run with Rafting NL on your bucket list.

Big Thanks to Adventure Central Newfoundland / Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism for making my trip possible. As always, all opinions are my own.

Whitewater Rafting NL

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