The aim of this epic expedition to Gabon is to complete an epic exploratory journey across the Equator in Gabon’s Ivindo National Park, on foot and in expedition-strength packrafts. This Gabon trek and raft adventure – open to those new to rafting – follows the routes of the Djidji and Kongou rivers, at times still and flat and at times punctuated with heart-rate-rising Grade One and Two rapids. The Djidji river falls are equatorial Africa’s highest and the waterfalls on the Kongou are arguably its most impressive.
Rucksacks will be strapped securely onto the packrafts for the paddling phases. When more serious rapids or waterfalls mean that the team portages around them on land, the lightweight packrafts will be deflated, strapped to rucksacks and carried through the waterside jungles as the adventure continues. Having successfully paddled the Kongou, the team will move into trek mode for three days, plunging into shaded primary forests to forge a route south-east across to the Djidji river to complete the expedition.
This is primarily a packrafting and trek adventure rather than a wildlife safari, and any animal sightings should be considered a plus. The 2016 expedition team spotted gorillas and paddled within metres of elephants at the water’s edge, and spotted and heard many other smaller mammals and birds.
- Undertake an epic amphibious adventure.
- Cross the Equator under your own steam.
- Navigate the Kongou and Djidji rivers.
- Explore Gabon’s Ivindo National Park.
- Trek Gabon’s equatorial jungles.
- See Djidji waterfalls – equatorial Africa’s highest.
- Stand beneath the spectacular Kongou falls.
- Birdwatch in Africa’s epicentre of forest bird diversity.
- Look out for gorillas, leopards and forest elephants.
- Travel in local dug-out canoes (at beginning and end).
Gabon is the perfect place to learn to packraft in a truly adventurous setting – or to hone your paddling skills further if already adept. Packrafts are changing the face of adventure travel. Versatile and robust, these expedition-strength inflatable boats allow explorers to navigate remote rivers in a dynamic way. If the rapids become too serious – deflate the raft, strap it and the paddle on your back and continue on foot through untracked jungle before river conditions are suitable again. Various types and brands of packrafts are available including Alpacka Rafts, which Secret Compass uses alongside Anfibio kit and the Alligator 2S packraft from Germany’s Packrafting Store. Teammates bring their own kit will receive a discount, get in touch for details.
Gabon’s national park network is world-renowned. A team from Outside Magazine visited the Djidji river in 2005 and found a ‘wild pristine place, almost untouched by time’. Very little has changed over the last ten years, making this area ripe for rediscovery by a new generation of ambitious and adventurous team members. The country seeks to model itself on Costa Rica, which has turned its abundant natural resources into a successful eco-tourism product. Over 10% of Gabon enjoys protected National Park status, and around 80% of the country is made up of tropical rainforest, with limitations on logging in place to protect this resource. Due to the serious lack of infrastructure for tourism in Gabon’s wilder reaches, tourism figures remain low – making it a great setting for an epic, amphibious adventure of this nature. You will likely have the rivers and jungles all to yourself for the duration of this remote expedition.
Wildlife in Ivindo N.P.
Well-documented species in Ivindo National Park include forest elephant, bull elephant and primates like gorillas, chimpanzees, colobus and mandril. Buffalo, duikers, bush pigs and giant pangolins might also be spotted. Observing incredible birdlife in the verdant tropical rainforests is highly likely, according to our man on the ground in Gabon. The region is home to notable species including the grey-necked rockfowl as well as many range-restricted species, and over 400 types of bird have been recorded. While animal and bird sightings cannot be guaranteed and should be considered a plus, a previous team spotted gorillas and elephants within a range of just a few metres.
Ivindo National Park (est. 2002) extends to 3,000km squared. It is a natural crossroads of unique ecosystems and biodiversity and is at the heart of Gabon’s conservation efforts. The park contains the Institut de Recherche en Ecologie Tropical, with a research station based in the park that will be visited at the beginning of the expedition and stayed at for one night. An eco-tourism organisation that is active in the region – and you will travel with its staff in dug-out canoes at the beginning and end of this expedition – is the Fondation Internationale Gabon Eco-Tourisme, or FIGET. Its goal is to protect the primary forests of the Ipassa-Migouli-Invindo region. Two FIGET guides will accompany your expedition along with other local support staff, and you’ll meet the park rangers at the trip’s end.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this epic trek and packrafting expedition to Gabon – the ‘substance’ rather than the specifics. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Gabon Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
All teammates will arrive into Libreville at or before 2300hrs on 2 June 2018. Our in-country partners will handle airport pick ups and drop offs. You’ll meet your leader at a local hotel that night, where the expedition will begin with an official briefing. It’s an early start on day two for a full day’s drive in 4WD vehicles to Makoku. Packraft familiarisation and a training session happen on day three followed by a four-hour journey on the Ivindo River in motorised dug-out canoes to the epic Kangou Falls to explore the caverns, falls and surroundings.
The next eight to ten days form the heart of this epic amphibious adventure – a flexible number as there are contingency days built into this very exploratory trip. You’ll start with a three-day trek through dense jungle, carrying your full kit (including deflated packrafts), hammocks, a share of team kit and a goodly amount of expedition ration packs.
Serious fitness and the practised ability to trek carrying weight will come into their own during this pure jungle phase. Distances are short (at just 6km-8km per day) but do not be fooled. The hours it takes to cover this are high when you’re cutting a pioneering a route through seriously wild jungle. Upon meeting the Djidji river, the packrafting stage proper begins. For five days, you’ll cover up to 20km per day in the expedition-strength packrafts – including your human-powered crossing of the Equator.
You’ll be fuelled by a mixture of high-calorie expedition food, supplemented by fresh local foods that are caught or bought en route. Taking decisions as a team, you’ll portage around major obstacles and waterfalls, run the smaller rapids and carve out wild camping spots near the river’s edge every night. Wildlife sightings are not guaranteed but previous teams have spotted gorillas and elephant at very close quarters…
Having explored the Kangou rivers, falls and caverns and packrafted the Equator on the Djidji river – a challenge to find on Google Maps – the expedition draws to its conclusion. At the river journey’s end, the 4WD vehicles await to transport you from Ivindo back to Libreville where, time permitting, there may be time to explore the city. With a final night at a hotel in Libreville for a celebratory team meal, all teammates are free to organise return flights or onward travel at any time from 18 June onwards. The expedition officially ends after breakfast on 18 June 2018 and our local partners will organise your transfer back to the airport for those leaving after breakfast.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. The biggest challenges on this expedition will be the long days of paddling and trekking through dense, humid jungles carrying weight.
Applicants will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. View Secret Compass’s suggested Expedition Training Advice and get in touch with any fitness, health, training or kit questions that remain.
Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go.
Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Trek: up to 10km per day (it’s slow going in the jungle with no paths!).
- Raft: paddling in a one-person packraft down fast-flowing rivers for up to 20km per day, negotiating rapids and portaging around obstacles.
- Carrying: in excess of 30kg when trekking which will include a deflated packraft and a share of team food and kit.
- Terrain: deal with dense jungle foliage and uneven ground, possibly cutting own paths and wading through swamps.
- Climate: a hot and humid environment at around 30 degrees C with the humidity trapped beneath the jungle canopy when trekking.
- Swim: be able to comfortably swim 200m unassisted and be comfortable in white water.
Accommodation will be in basic hotels or guest houses when in urban areas such as Libreville. Once on the trek and packraft section of the expedition, team members will carry their own hammocks and wild camp en route. Two nights will be spent at a basic hut in Kongou. There will be one night at the ranger station.
Team members will visit local eateries in urban areas. Once on the trek and packrafting section of the expedition, team members will carry all food with them for the duration. This will be a mixture of dehydrated ration packs (which are rehydrated with boiling water) and locally sourced fresh fish and food. Team members will between them carry all stoves, fuel and cooking utensils required for this expedition.
This expedition includes transport by train, in 4WD vehicles, on foot, in motorised dugout canoes and packrafts once on the river and potentially in other local vehicles. Team members should be happy to trek and to raft the distances as outlined in the itinerary and be comfortable carrying the weight as describe.
The Gabon Expedition Handbook contains a full recommended kit list. This online Handbook is provided to all potential teammates upon application to join this team. Teammates should consider their kit in good time in case buying, hiring or shipping is required. Some expeditions require teammates to also carry food/ ration packs and some shared expedition kit, from fuel bottles to water carriers or med kit. Read your Handbook and factor into your packing any required space or additional weight.
- Professional Secret Compass expedition leader with full communications kit and medical kit.
- In-country support and vehicles.
- All transport as outlined in the itinerary.
- Accommodation in hammocks throughout.
- All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
- Packraft and Personal Floatation Device (PFD).
- Local and National Park permits.
- International flights/ travel to and from Libreville.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas where relevant.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook).
- Beverages and any costs of a personal nature.
On application, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
When does this team close?
This team needs to be confirmed by 4 April as we must confirm some things in-country at this point. (Later bookings can be accepted as there isn’t a protracted visa process for Gabon but, if serious about joining this team, do send in your application as soon as possible and before 4 April so that we can consider you in our initial planning.)
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying.
Do I need a visa for Gabon?
Check with your local embassy for correct and up-to-date visa information for your nationality. Procuring relevant tourist visas is the responsibility of each team member.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to and back from the Ivindo river, with contingency days built in that were used last year. Therefore, start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge all my electricals?
This will be very challenging with limited access to power once the trekking and packrafting begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will there be telephone signal?
There is likely to be 3G in Libreville and wifi at its hotel. There might be a local network at Makokou. While on the active section of this expedition there is likely to be none.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button below to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team.
Do we have to run all rapids?
Rapids will be risk assessed on a dynamic case-by-case basis once on the ground. The skill and confidence levels of the teammates will be taken into account. It is generally possible to walk around obstacles though teammates should be keen to raft as much as possible as continual portages can slow team speeds.
Can I join as a paddling beginner?
Any raft training you’d recommend?
If they offer packrafting, a day at a whitewater training centre in Cardiff, Lee valley or Nottingham (all UK) or international equivalents could be fun and beneficial. This is not a prerequisite.
Are there animals in the water?
There may be some non-poisonous snakes and dwarf and slender snout crocodiles (can bite but like being bitten by a dog) in the water itself, with a diverse ecosystem in the jungle.
What are the waterfalls like?
The Kongou falls are the most impressive and are the ones that you’ll see great images for online. The Djidji falls are equatorial Africa’s highest but on this expedition and indeed in general it is very difficult to get into a position to appreciate them, most images on the web of these falls are taken from a helicopter.
Can I bring my own packraft?
Yes, contact Secret Compass to arrange your discount.