Borneo Wavehunters Review: Rafting in Kota Kinabalu with Kids

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Interested in whitewater rafting in Borneo with kids? If so, then check out this Borneo Wavehunters review. We had a great experience with them rafting in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah family portrait 2 rapids

Borneo Wavehunters Review: Rafting in Kota Kinabalu

If you’ve perused this blog’s pages, then you know that we like the water. Whether we’re canyoning in Galiciasurfing in Lombok, or scuba diving in the Gili Islands it’s pretty obvious that we like getting wet. We love rafting, too, of course. The kids have been rafting in Japan and tubing in Indonesia, and this rafting trip in Borneo was an adventure to remember.

*Borneo Wavehunters website*

Whitewater rafting in Sabah, Borneo comes in different levels. For the experienced and true thrill seekers, there is the Padas river with class 3 and 4 rapids. For us, however, we wanted a few thrills, but nothing too extreme. We also wanted less time in a car getting there.

The Kiulu river was a great choice. Not only is it closer to Kota Kinabalu, but it’s also a much tamer stretch of river. Here you’ll fond only class 1 and 2 rapids that even a five or six-year-old can handle.

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Early Start: Borneo Wavehunters Review

The trip started at 8 am when our driver, Moss, picked us up from downtown Kota Kinabalu. We had a 90-minute journey ahead of us, but it was easy roads and Moss was an interesting guy and a great driver. The time flew by, especially as we left the city and drove further into Sabah’s green landscapes. We felt fortunate for the late start as well – think 8 am isn’t a late start? Try doing the Padas river: those drivers leave at 5:30 am!

Once we arrived at the launching point, Borneo Wavehunter staff fitted us with lifejackets. Then they made us some impromptu sunglass holders out of rubber bands. They advised us to strap on any eyewear in case it fell off on the trip. I wasn’t too worried about my cheap shades, so didn’t prepare anything. But the guides threaded a few rubber bands together and attached them to my sunglasses. Viola: now they were secure to my head for the day.

We left our towels and dry clothes in Moss’s car — he would meet us at the end of the trip. Then we handed our passports and other valuables to Harry, our guide. Harry put these inside a dry bag that was fixed to the boat. In the car or in the raft: where you keep your wallet is up to you.

Into the River: Borneo Wavehunters Review

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah river launch

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah training paddling class

There were two boats on our trip: team Epic Education and another boat with tourists from Hong Kong. Harry and the other guide spent the next 15-20 minutes going teaching us the basics of whitewater rafting. How to hold the paddle. How to sit in the boat properly. What to do if you fell out and how to help others back into the boat.

Then we were off! Much of the river was quite shallow — up to my waist at the deepest — but it was enough for our boats to glide over its surface. After just a few minutes on the water, we had our first bumpy ride on a rapid. The kids loved it. This felt like a real adventure, but to be honest we probably didn’t have to do much paddling to make it through safely.

The river was cool and refreshing but not bracingly cold. Don’t expect clear azure water here. This is the jungle, after all.

The Rapids: Borneo Wavehunters Review

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah one meter drop

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah Keiko drops

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah in the river

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah fell out of the raft

Each rapid we encountered was bookended with small stretches of relative calm. This gave us enough time to joke around, take a few pictures and incite a splash war with the team Hong Kong in the other boat. The flow of the river was such that we didn’t have to paddle constantly. And when we did, the thrill of the approaching rapid made it fun.

Two rapids, in particular, gave us a real thrill. The first dropped in such a way that both Keiko and the boy tumbled out of the boat. Less than a minute later, Harry had pulled them back in the raft — they were laughing hysterically.

Harry knew that we enjoy the excitement, so he was giving us as much action as a river with only class 1 & 2 rapids could give us. In the other boat, the guide for the inexperienced tourists from Hong Kong followed a different route, avoiding the bigger rapids and having an altogether different ride down the river. If you have little ones with you, I am sure you can request accordingly.

The next rapid was more like a small dam, with a meter-high drop. After this drop, we hit a patch of small rapids. For this, Harry put our girl on the front of the boat and told her to hold on. Like a rodeo cowboy, she rode the raft through the froth, her legs kicking up with each bump in the river. She loved it, laughing all the way.

Body Rafting & Safety: Borneo Wavehunters Review

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah body rafting riverbank

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah riverbank portrait

For the final stretch, Harry asked us if we wanted to float down the river on our own. The kids jumped at the chance. For this, we hauled the raft onto the riverbank and walked upstream with Harry. Then he guided the kids out into the current and off they went.

This was a small and fairly safe stretch, Harry said. Yet he insisted that we stay with him and wait for him before jumping in again. One of the Hong Kong couples must not have been listening, however. Minutes after Harry floated off with our kids, they ventured out into the center of the river. The current caught the woman’s leg and pulled her downstream. She promptly began to scream in panic until Harry and the other guide got to her and swam her back to the shore.

The point of this story is this: listen to your guide and follow his instructions.

A few minutes after the body rafting section, it was time to pull the rafts back to shore. Had we really already rafted 14 kilometers? Time flies.

Lunchtime: Borneo Wavehunters Review

As we climbed up the riverbank, we saw Moss standing there. We grabbed our stuff and went to the showers to wash off and put on some dry clothes. Then it was time for lunch, which is provided on the tour. Borneo Wavehunters staff had cooked up chicken wings, cabbage, a sweet eggplant dish and a curry. Everything was mild enough that even my 11-year-old enjoyed them. We washed it down with cold water from a dispenser and some watermelon. Sodas were available for an additional charge.

After finishing a second plate, the boy and I walked over to a nearby laptop to see the pictures that Borneo Wavehunters staff had shot of us along the way.

You can take your own waterproof cameras with you, but the pics they take cost an extra 70 MYR (approx. USD $16). Well worth it if you ask me.

Summary on Our Borneo Wavehunters Review

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah girl on the front

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah family portrait

Borneo Wavehunters Review Family Adventure & Rafting in Sabah family portrait river raft

Need a quick synopsis of this Borneo Wavehunters Review? Here are the main points

What we liked

  • Close to Kota Kinabalu — only one hour from downtown
  • Good lunch provided: plentiful buffet that’s kid-friendly and isn’t spicy

What we loved

  • Great guide: Harry was fun, considerate and professional
  • Safe but feels adventurous: class 1 & 2 rapids can be handled by elementary school kids

Other things worth mentioning

  • Wear sunscreen or cover up: The sun along this river fries guys like me to a crisp. Make sure to cover up or wear lots of sunscreen. That goes double for your head, neck, shoulders and the top of your thighs (you’re sitting the entire time).
  • No flip-flops — wear strap-on sandals or shoes. It’s quite possible that you’ll fall out of the raft at some point. If your footwear isn’t strapped on, it’s gone. One of the riverbanks where we stopped was rather sticky/mucky and it actually pulled my sandal off. I recovered it, but you might not be so lucky. Tighten them before you launch.
  • Listen to your guide. This isn’t a dangerous river, but it’s important to follow your rafting guide’s instructions at all times. People can get hurt when they don’t.

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Disclosure: Our day with the Rucksack Rainforest Kayaking was sponsored, but all opinions are my own.


  1. Angel Bogart says

    Thank you for reminding to never ever wear flip-flops when you go white water rafting because you could lose it when you fall into the river or break it when you get stuck in the muck or mud. This is just what the family would have to remember when they detour from Bali to Borneo for a jungle river adventure. They’d better be wearing only the toughest waterproof adventure sandals that won’t leave their feet even in the strongest currents and the stickiest riverbanks mud.