Monday, April 11, 2011

Whitewater Rafting with the Flying Kiwi Crew

Since I had skipped out on swimming with dolphins during my second visit to Kaikoura, it felt like it had been a couple days since I participated in any of the optional adventurous activities available to us on the Flying Kiwi tour. Sure, I chose to do the cycling rides and any short walks that were available, but there is something about New Zealand and the spirit of adventure it encourages. This is particularly evident when surrounded by a busload of people, most of whom are only in the country for a short time. Adrenaline activities are everywhere in NZ, and it’s easy to be persuaded into joining in!

The van when it was almost full... getting ready for some water!

We were camped outside the home base of Rangitata Rafts and, in the morning, some of us gathered to head whitewater rafting down the Rangitata River! We were suited up with wetsuits, thermals, booties, fleeces, wind shells, life jackets, and helmets, and then piled into the van for a ride up the river to our launching site. When I say piled into the van, there were about 15 passengers, 6 crew members, and a dog… oh, and don’t forget the hitchhiker we picked up along the way who had to stand in the stairwell!

Photo courtesy: Rangitata Rafts

We had been given a safety briefing and were broken up into our three rafting groups at the river’s edge. The guides were good at getting us psyched for the ride and we hopped in our raft to set out down the river. Our guide sat in front at first, giving his spiel about how to paddle, how to stay in the boat, and what to do if anyone took an unexpected swim.

Me in my yellow helmet-now you know who to spot in the raft!

At first the river was quite lovely and we drifted for a while, taking in the scenery and practicing our teamwork. Our guide was clearly experienced and could read the river really well, which meant that we had a pretty successful boat! There were a couple of rough patches (probably class 1 “rapids”) where we practiced our skills (paddling, back-paddling, turning, diving to the other side of the boat, sitting on the bottom of the boat and hanging on for dear life, etc.), but the first real rapids we approached were class 2. 

Photo courtesy: Rangitata Rafts

Once we made it through them, the river advanced to some class 3 and 4 rapids, which required a bit more power and precision to get through. (Just for a reference point, I looked up online and found a description for class 3’s possibly having a 3-5 foot drop, but not many significant dangers.) It was recommended we splash our faces with the glacial water so we weren’t quite as surprised when we got wet in the rapids!

Checking out the class 5's

After making our way through a few rehearsals, it was time to show the river what we were made of. It was time for class 5 rapids, which are recommended only for paddlers with advanced whitewater experience and are the highest level you can paddle commercially! We were given the opportunity to get out and climb up the bank to take a peek at what we would encounter on a class 5 (and also given the option to chicken out) but our group was quite keen and returned to the raft to give it a go!

Photo courtesy: Rangitata Rafts

It was a challenge, and we definitely got wet, but the class 5’s seemed to disappear so quickly! I just remember holding my breath and closing my eyes when we were being splashed with water, and paddling hard just like we were told. Our guide skillfully navigated us (as well as yelling to sit down inside the boat and hold on at the crucial moment) and we made it through the class 5’s with our whole team still intact!

Photo courtesy: Rangitata Rafts

There were a few more rapids along the river and we paddled upstream to a class 2 or 3 which had a certain flow about it that it suctioned our raft and held us there for a bit. It was here that we posed for a picture, and shortly after that we lost our only involuntary swimmer! She was quickly rescued by a neighboring boat and we picked her up once we were in calm water after the remaining rapids.

Following the rapids, we were all invited to take a swim by jumping off of a low cliff and floating down the river to “jump rock.” There we had the option to cliffjump off of two different rocks – one was about 4 meters high, and the other about 10. I, of course, leaped off both of them happily (though re-entering that glacial water was a bit more than refreshing!)

My 10m jump!

I honestly felt a little let down after I realized that the class 5 rapids were over. I think our guide was almost a little too good because I didn’t have a huge rush of adrenaline or fear of falling out. It felt like we were in control and spent most of the ride simply smiling and enjoying myself. 

Interesting rock formations, crystal clear waters, typical awesome NZ!

It was a great day out on the water and even if we hadn’t paddled our way through rapids, the scenery was breath-taking enough! It was a typical NZ icy blue glacial fed river that passes through a gorge and flows between dramatic mountains. Absolutely stunning. 

A very patient dog, waiting to go home


  1. More than one sigh was emitted looking at your pictures. Way to go!

  2. Thanks, Topher! I can't take credit for all of them in this post, but it was definitely a fun experience :)

  3. The pictures look fabulous, and it must have felt great to be out rafting. It's a great group activity. It's very exciting, and you get to see the glory of nature just go wild around you.

  4. Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.

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  5. Thanks a lot for sharing us about this update. Hope you will not get tired on making posts as informative as this.


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