For adrenaline-fuelled rafting in New Zealand, you should definitely check out Kaitiaki Adventures. Not only do they take you down a 7-metre waterfall – the highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world – you can combine this trip with sledging, taking you deep into the heart of the rapids on a plastic board with handles!
WHY KAITIAKI ADVENTURES?
Kaitiaki Adventures are based in Rotorua on New Zealand’s north island – an exciting destination with plenty of other attractions including thermals, Maori experiences and adventure parks. They pride themselves on offering a safe and exciting trip with professional guides and plenty of banter thrown in for good measure.
They only employ Kiwis and ensure that both the environment and Maori culture are respected. For this reason, and to invoke spiritual guidance and protection, a guide will say a prayer (or Karakia) before every trip.
RAFTING IN NEW ZEALAND
If the 7-metre waterfall on the Kaituna river hasn’t already got your attention, there are plenty of other rapids, including one where you spin the boat round and round as you go down, a massive wave you can surf until it drags the front of the raft under and shoots you back out (the best hangover cure in the world), and another named after the famous skateboarder Tony Hawk, who our guide told us once lost his shorts during a rafting trip!
If you’re nervous about falling out, it’s actually not that common for boats to flip, and when they do, they have protocols in place to ensure you are rescued and pulled back onto the boat as quickly as possible.
You’ll be encouraged to splash the other boats with your oars (as is customary on a rafting trip) and to join in ridiculing anyone who sits down too quickly on the one rapid you can take on standing up! Our guide Joel also had a few surprises up his sleeve to keep us entertained.
Otherwise known as hydrospeeding or riverboarding, sledging came about in the early 1980s when the first purpose-built sledge was constructed. It’s now a professional sport in Europe and becoming increasingly popular around the world.
The basic principle is that you lie on a plastic board and propel yourself using fins on your feet. The sledges are designed for you to lie on them comfortably, with grooves for your arms and a couple of handles to ensure you maintain a good grip.
The three rules of sledging are:
1) Never let go of the sledge
2) Don’t stand up in the river unless you’ve been told you’re in a safe area where the water is calm
3) Turn your head to the side as you go down a rapid in case the board is forced up towards your face
Easy right? Well, no…not really. It’s actually very difficult to control your direction, but the guides are experts at giving advice on how to approach each rapid and dragging you out of harm’s way.
Both the rafting and sledging are a sure-fire way to get your blood pumping, but they are also very different. That’s why I’d recommend you take on the combo tour – a trip of 3 or 4 hours including transport – for an unforgettable experience.
Before and after your river experience, you have access to shower and changing facilities. Kaitiaki Adventures provide you with thick wetsuits, fleeces, jackets, buoyancy aids, warm rubber boots and helmets, ensuring that you barely notice the water temperature, even in the middle of winter.
All you will need to bring with you is a swimsuit, additional warm clothing and a towel. You can’t take photos during your trip (it’s too dangerous as you need to concentrate on what you’re doing), but you have the option of purchasing a photo package on CD afterwards.
They also provide a safe locker to store your other belongings.
GETTING TO ROTORUA
If you have a car, it’s a fairly easy drive to Rotorua from nearby Waitomo or Taupo in just a few hours. Intercity Buses provide services to Rotorua from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Taupo (1 hour); Hamilton (1.5 hours); Auckland (3.5 hours); Gisborne (4.5 hours); or Wellington (8 hours +). Further transfers are available from these locations. Search for journeys using the tool below, or click through to their website for bus passes and day trips.
If you can’t get enough of the rapids, check out this post on rafting the Shotover River near Queenstown by Agata from Null ‘N’ Full. Ok, so there isn’t a 7-metre waterfall to slide down on the South Island, but it still looks pretty damn awesome, and her photos are fantastic!
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Rotorua Downtown Backpackers, which is very close to the iSITE tourism centre and main bus terminal. There are parking spaces at the front, cooking facilities and a communal area with a mean selection of DVDs. The staff go out of their way to offer advice and can arrange virtually any trip or discount combo in the area.
I was a guest of Kaitiaki Adventures. They did not request that I write a favourable review and all of the opinions expressed here are my own.