Kaituna RiverWhite Water Rafting with River Rats Rafting and Kayaking – Rotorua, New Zealand
After a beautiful morning with the Redwoods, it was time for our next experience- white water rafting. This was our first time doing this and we signed up for a Grade 5 featuring the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world- seven meters high. New Zealand, if you have taught us anything you do not do anything small! This part of the river would send us through fourteen rapids and three waterfalls.
We learned this was the Kaituna River- beckoning back to our Kaikoura days meaning food/eating- tuna in this case translating to eel, which the river was full of. Fortunately, they are not poisonous to humans but that are active in the river.
We had a total of six people in our raft, a guide that steered our boat and a safety guide in a kayak close to the raft. This was everyone’s first time white water rafting so it was certainly going to be an adventure. The safety instructions were reviewed, got our wet suits and gear, and then drove a few minutes to the rafting location. Listening during the rafting experience was key- if you fall off the boat, swim back to it and if the boat flips, grab a breathe before popping out from under the boat and when it is flipped back, get back on the boat. Seemed easy enough.
Setting the raft in the water, we all jumped in- Kevin (of course) nominating us for the front seats. We became the beat of the boat’s rows- him and I rowed in together and the people behind us followed on each side. We practiced in the calm water going back and forth as well as learning two ways of holding on- simply holding onto the ropes along the sides of the raft or sitting completely in the raft.
Then we were off to the first rapid that immediately doused us in the water- all the benefits of the front of the boat. Luckily, the water was pleasantly warm. A few more rapids later and we seemed to be getting the hang of this!
Our first waterfall appeared and our confidence dwindled- the rapids were fun but this was a plunge. We paddled towards the three meter drop, sat into our boat hanging onto the rope and sailed off.
A quick plunge under water and we bounced up resurfacing. We all cheered and felt exhilarated.
Right after, our second waterfall was upon us but a bit smaller than the first.
The next stretch of the river was actually calm and our guide offered the group a swim in the water. At this point in the trip, my sense of adventure was not too high so I opted to stay in the boat while Kevin was the first into the river. They traveled quite a good distance before climbing back into the boat.
It was now time to go down the seven meter highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. I did not think we expected it to come so soon on the journey. We went through our instructions again, how to hold on, and what to do if the boat flips. The flip rate is one in twenty so the odds felt like they were in our favor for a smooth ride. Basically, we would plunge down, pop up, and the rapids would determine our destiny.
Our safety guide in the kayak went down first. He disappeared for awhile and then we could visualize him in the distance. If he made it down in that little kayak, we would certainly be ok in this large raft. Our guide blew his whistle, signaling we were on our way down. We all got into our seated position, griping onto our rope, and taking one last breath before bracing for impact.
The series of events that followed felt like time slowed immensely. The boat began down the seven meter drop and we were immediately submerged. You could feel the strength of the rapids, like being in a washing machine. The boat popped up briefly, feeling like it was mostly vertical. Awaiting the boat the completely resurface, I tried to get another breathe in but somehow I still was getting water. Then, the center of gravity of the boat changed where the left side popped much higher than the right. We did not come out of the rapid evenly and the boat began to flip.
The entire thing was a blur as I struggled to get more air. At one point, I could tell with 100% certainty that the boat was over us. I used whatever upper body momentum I could get to pop up under the boat to get air. Then, I ducked under the boat to get out as we had been instructed. This was definitely not my most graceful moment. My hyperventilating was proof of my struggle, as was the taste of the river up my nose and in my mouth. Everyone else seemed to cope fine, I don’t know what happened. I did not want to drown in this river- not after everything we had done on this trip up to this point!
Our guide flipped the boat as we all struggled to get back on board. We were informed again of the one in twenty flip rate and that our guide had not had a flip boat in several months. We were all unsure if this was praise or not but we all made it.
The rest of the experience was much more relaxed in comparison to our flip. We had an opportunity to swim down a small waterfall into a rapid that we all took advantage of. I was the last one of commit, still traumatized by the flip. Instructed to go straight down the middle of the drop and then immediately swim to the left hand side, we went down single file. This was once again not a clean experience for me. I took a deep breath in, went down the fall, popped up and attempted to take another breath but was pulled back down by the rapid before surfacing. Gasping for air, I swam to the closest rock on the left hand side, startling a bird that was relaxing in the area, and caught my breath. This river may kill me. Next time, I am bringing googles.
With a few more rapids and some time around other parts of the falls, we were nearing the end of our experience. We had another opportunity to swim that everyone chose to skip – we had a lot of water on this trip. Our guide had some fun pushing the boat into falls and getting us all wet.
We all survived our first white water rafting experience! Packed up the gear in the bus and drove back to the store front in Rotorua were we changed and viewed our hilarious pictures. Being able to view the entire flip really captured exactly what happened. We spoke with our safety guide who was from the USA and told us about all the white water rafting opportunities near us, including PA, to experience back home.
Thank you River Rats for a safe and fun experience white water rafting!