From Iceland — The Playground Hvítá River

The Playground Hvítá River

Published June 29, 2007

The people at Arctic Rafting could tell just by looking at me that I had never been rafting in my life. I assumed that by showing up in a hipster windbreaker, a flannel button-up and a pair of hiking boots I might appear ‘outdoorsy.’ I hadn’t realised that this trip I was taking was called ‘River Fun’ not ‘River Nightmare.’
After a 2-hour ride into the scenic southlands, our van pulled up to a large shack in the middle of nowhere. Once inside, we were surprised to find a humungous suiting room with hundreds of wetsuits, helmets, jackets, and one-size-fits-all booties. The shack was filled with other rafters and the atmosphere inside was alarmingly serious – we were all going to get wet.
A white bus picked up our group (30 people) and drove us out to a clearing on a hill just above the Hvítá (White River). We grabbed our oars and gathered round Águsta, a compact and tough Icelander who instructed us on rowing, turning and, most conveniently, on holding on. We were then ordered to carry the huge rafts down a series of steep, grassy slopes.
Once we got into Hvítá, the current carried us down green canyons and a few spots of quickly moving water. Águsta, like some golden blonde Valkyrie, shouted orders and commands while our flummoxed group awkwardly skidded into the rapids. I wasn’t exactly holding on for dear life, but there were definitely times when the level 2 waves had my adrenaline going.
As we came out of the first set of rapids, we entered a narrow canyon made of the kind of rocks you only read about in grade school geology classes. We nestled the boats into an enclave and our guides lead us to the top of a 30-foot high cliff. They pointed down to the milky Hvítá and told us to jump. I was particularly sceptical when Águsta said that jumpers sometimes feel the shelf of the river with their feet but, as I saw heavier guys surviving, I leapt.
We eventually entered a wide and calm section of the river that Águsta called “the playground.” Boats began attacking one another with rafters splashing like 6 year-olds in a pool. We even played a balancing game where one person would stand at the front, another at the back, and the rest would put the boat into a spin. The goal? Don’t fall into that cold river.
Arctic Rafting’s ‘River Fun’ kills two birds with one stone – the drive out to the gorgeous Hvítá offers some breathtaking southern Icelandic panoramas, and the river itself is as exciting in summer as the amateur rafter could hope. Trip provided by Arctic Rafting. Tel.: 562-7000,

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!


Show Me More!