First Nile River Source-to-Sea Expedition Ends

In 2004 the first-ever expedition from the source of the Nile River to the sea set off from Lake Victoria in Uganda and arrived on 21 May at Rosetta on the shores of the Mediterranean. The journey was planned with the relief agency CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) in order to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Africa.

The Nile is generally accepted as the longest river in the world, at 6,650 kilometres. It rises from the Great Lakes region of Central Africa and flows north through Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, where it ends in a vast delta that flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

The 2004 river expedition used kayaks, and was led by renowned South African explorer and author Hendrik Coetzee. However, the expedition was immediately shrouded in controversy, as no one really knows the exact source of the Nile. Thus, in response to claims that they had not really started at the true source of the great river, Coetzee and his party were compelled to complete an additional journey from Kagera in Tanzania to their original starting point on Lake Victoria, adding over 750 kilometres to the 6,650 that they had already completed.

These journeys were astoundingly treacherous because of the risk of drowning and of attacks by wild animals and violent soldiers, but Coetzee thrived on the adrenaline. In 2007 he returned to the Murchison Falls passage of the Nile and kayaked along it alone—slaloming through its torrential white-water rapids, diving down its waterfalls, and criss-crossing through its man-eating crocodiles and angry hippos. In 2010 he agreed to lead the First Ascent expedition through the unexplored white waters at the top of the White Nile. “Stay out of eddies, especially the small ones,” he warned his team, “because there are three-ton hippos that will bite you in half. Stay off the banks, because the crocs are having a bake and might fancy you for lunch.”

Hendrik Coetzee successfully dodged death on countless occasions, but on 7 December 2010 his luck ran out; travelling along a Congo tributary called the Lukuga River, he was dragged out of his kayak and killed by a crocodile. To this day his body has never been recovered. Still, his actions live on in his blog, The Great White Explorer, and his final entry is particularly poignant: “As hard, warm drops trashed at our little selves and a pair of goats, we stood precariously on a unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day.”