Why is white water rafting so much fun? Adventurer Steve Dickinson suggests some answers…

Many uninformed people look at white water rafting as simply playing bumper boats with rocks on a fast-flowing river. But as anyone who has tried it knows, it’s so much more than just that. It’s the whole process; getting ready, pulling on wetsuits and thermals, driving to the river, understanding instructions, practising in the calm water and then just like that, you’re into it.

New Zealand is renowned for its adventure activities, and rafting has been top of the list since the beginning. Because New Zealand is long and narrow, our rivers have a great fall-line creating high impact fast-flowing water in stunning settings.

The rivers that are commercially rafted are graded ‘one’ being close to a pond, through to ‘five’ which feels like a near-death experience! Anything over that is considered too dangerous to raft.

Anyone can pick up a rubber tube and decide to float down a river, but be aware, rivers are not like the sea. They are unforgiving, and one cubic meter of water weighs a tonne, so if you get hooked up or pressed into a small space, those tonnes of water will be unrelentingly holding you there. It is for those reasons that it is best to raft with a commercial rafting company. Fortunately, in New Zealand, we have some of the best in the world.

Kaituna River

New Zealand boasts the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Just 20 minutes outside of Rotorua, the Kaituna river offers up the Tutea Falls. It is a gut-wrenching roller coaster as you plummet over seven metres. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and although you don’t need to be an expert, you do need to have the courage to do it. You build up the anticipation for the seven-metre drop with a range of rapids and a few smaller waterfalls before facing up to the big one! You know it’s going to be interesting when everyone is told to get off their seat inside the raft! It’s all over pretty quickly (if all goes well), and the waterfall flows into a large calm pool where you can look back and reflect on what you have just conquered. A word to the wise – try to go in the first raft of the procession as it’s fun watching others crap themselves as they tumble over the waterfall. The whole trip is only about two hours, but it’s a fantastic experience.

Tongariro River

Rafting New Zealand is one of the most professional rafting companies in the country and operates extensively on the Tongariro River,
which is a grade three. It is based in Turangi, next to the climbing wall, about 30 minutes from Taupo.

It is a half-day experience which will take you down the mighty Tongariro River. The trip gives you access to some of the local scenery that you would never be able to see and also some of the best trout fishing in the country (you can book fly fishing rafting trips).

Rafting New Zealand is the full package with generations of experience. With everything from a hot drink and chocolates halfway down the river to a beer and hotdog when you get back. It is a great half day package in any season, making it an excellent alternative day if you are on a ski trip but the mountain is closed.

Mohaka River

Flowing through the Hawke’s Bay, the Mohaka River is one of the most renowned rivers for rafting. ‘Mohaka’ translated means ‘place for dancing’ – I’m not sure how that applies to rafting the river, because it goes from a grade two to five, and the grade five is less about dancing and more about holding on for dear life.

The company, Mohaka Rafting, offers several different white-water rafting experiences from day trips covering grades two to five, and multi-day expeditions for up to a week. However, they are not the only company that runs this river and if you search online you can find a range of options. No experience is required except for grade four/five, and you will surprise yourself with how well you can hang on.

The Rangitata Gorge

Rafting is not just found the North Island. The Rangitata Gorge is a gorge located in the Canterbury High Country in the South Island. The narrow gorge links the headwaters of the Rangitata River with the fertile Canterbury Plains. Rangitata Rafts raft the Rangitata Gorge which is a mix of grade two to five rapids – just a few hours in the car from Christchurch it offers something for everyone. The package is four hours on the river with hot showers and a BBQ dinner at the end.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of rafting in New Zealand, as pretty much everywhere you go there is some sort of rafting on offer.

From amazing holiday locations like River Valley on the Rangitikei where you can stay for a few days and add in horse riding and trout fishing to smaller half-day excursions offered almost anywhere there is a river. On par with skydiving, grade 5 rapids give you the exhilaration and feeling that you have escaped death and it will keep you coming back for more.

But whatever trip you decide to take you will meet some great people, see parts of the county only a few people get to see, and have an adrenalin rush that you will remember for a lifetime.

Article by: Steve Dickinson