White Water Rafting in NZ

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How's your week going?  I feel a surge of adventurous spirit kicking in. I would like to share with you my first backpacking trip and my first white water rafting experience.


  • When :  4th April 2007, Wednesday
  • Where:  Kaituna River, Rotorua, North Island, NZ
  • Level of Difficulty:  Grade 5   
    Adrenalin rush, thrilling and very powerful rapids. Complex, precise and powerful sequential maneuvering is required.   Note: Level 6 is not commercially raft-able
My hubby and I decided to share an adventure together. It was my idea to do white water rafting together.  I have always wanted to do this since I saw the movie River Wild. It seemed incredibly exciting and challenging.   Since, he hasn't done this before and he was interested, we agreed to do it.  We were picked up by a small van at 2:30 P.M. from our backpackers.
We arrived at a shed where we were asked to change into some wet suits, booties, and safety helmets.  We strapped our life jackets and took our paddles.  We had a 10-minute crash course of rafting on a stationary raft outside the shed.  The pros assigned us our seats in the raft.  I have never rafted or done any canoing in my entire life!  I was surprised that we had to sit on both sides of the raft unattached to anything.  Our only support was inserting our foot in between the crevice of the inflatable raft while paddling. 

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We carried our rafts down the gorge.  There were 4 passengers and 3 professional rafters.  The 4 passengers were Yohann and I, Laura from NZ and her friend Chris from UK. 

One of the 3 professional guides was a Japanese rookie who was very kind and accommodating while one of them was a bit crazy who was always ready to push us out of the raft and very eager to make us experience the wild adventure the whole trip has to offer.  The other professional rafter was the camera guy. 
I would say this was the scariest experience I've ever had in my entire life. Scarier than Skydiving.  The Kaituna Cascade raft trip was about 45 minutes.  We were told then that we would be doing a 7-metre drop down Tutea Falls.  I was, like  "What the h---!" I thought it was just cascades and ripples. 

I drastically tried to remember everything they taught us because if I fail to do what they said, it might cost me my life. There are safety measures but anything can happen.  I  paddled and followed.  The view of the lushly vegetated deep gorge was amazing.  The crazy guy asked one of us to jump in the water as a sacrifice in the beginning.  Chris volunteered.  The first part of the river was easy.  We practiced our moves on the class 2-3 rapids. They made me jump into the water to get me wet.  I reluctantly did.

The first big 10 foot drop
"Forward, forward--- Hold on!"  Uh oh...that was a sign that we're about to fall into a waterfall. We paddled forward, tucked the oars at the sides grabbing the rope around the sides of the raft, inserted both our feet, sat and buried ourselves in the raft, heads down as we plunged to the first big 10-foot drop.  I swallowed a lot of water.  Luckily, our rafts still remained afloat. We moved on for some more cascades and ripples until we reached the next drop.

Tutea Falls 7 Meter high Source

Tutea Falls
This 7 metre high waterall was our second drop.  It's the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.  You know that feeling in your stomach when you're falling. That was definitely a killer.  We were practically about 90 degrees heading straight down the bottom.  I drank a lot of water.  We were all breathless as we plunged the strong frothy base of the falls. Luckily, our raft didn't flip over.  The guides were incredibly disappointed.  They wanted us to experience falling off the raft. 

What lies ahead
We continued rafting through the very narrow deep gorge, fern cladded steep high rock walls bordered every turn.  I was asked to sit in front of the boat this time.  We paddled and enjoyed the 14 rapids.  Before the final drop, the guides steered the boat to charge against the small waterfall.  I encountered the strong water head on as they paddled forward.  The water crashed and filled up the raft and tipped the boat.  All of them fell on top of me and our raft flipped over.  We fell and I was underwater.  I thought I was going to die!  I floated and battled against the currents.  The strong currents took me away from the boat as I screamed for help. I found my husband floating towards the boat.  He couldn't save me.  I was being carried by the strong current to the opposite direction.  I tried to swim against the ripples and cascades but the harder I tried, the stronger it pulled me.  I grabbed on to the vine near the huge rocks and settled there until I get help.  They were yelling at me to swim but I couldn't. I didn't let go of the vine.  That was the only thing that was keeping me safe. 

The guides steered the raft towards me, threw the rope to rescue me.  I only felt safety when I was back on the boat.  I was sooo scared!  They nervously laughed at me and expected me to smile to show it's okay.  I smiled and pretended everything was fine.  I didn't want to spoil everybody's time by showing how frightened I was for I thought I nearly died.

We reached the end of the river for a "Victory Pose" as each of us charged again towards the small waterfalls. The end was a huge sigh of relief for me.  I'm still alive.


Love & light,
Arni

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