White Water Rafting the Shotover River

“No camervans. No trailers.” The Warning signs say at the entrance of the Skippers Road, one of the World’s Most Dangerous Roads. And here we are in a mini bus with a trailer full of rafts on the back…

What makes it worse is that we have taken the Skippers Road twice before. It seems that each time we go down this gnarly single-lane road on the side of a mountain, our choice of vehicle gets more extreme. Not only do we have to approach oncoming traffic more than a few times – one time being another bus!

Yet, the Skippers drivers approach the drive like it’s no problem. Our bus commentary guy and one of the white water rafting guides is as relaxed as can be, stood up in the bus doorway explaining the waiver everyone is about to sign. Meanwhile, the full bus load give awkward glances down the mountain edge…

Queenstown rafting

How did we get into this crazy situation? Well, today we are joining Queenstown Rafting for a Grade 3-4 adventure down the Shotover River in the midst of the Skippers Canyon. We’ve checked in at the Queenstown shop, then transferred to the Queenstown Rafting base alongside the Shotover River where we chucked on some thick wetsuits, red jackets, helmets, booties and a life jacket, then on the bus once again to drive 45 minutes up the Skippers Road to our starting point.

The infamous Skippers Road

Some might say the Skippers Road is an adventure all in itself. Not only due to the obvious “danger” element, but because of the sensational scenery. Dry tussock-covered mountains, freestanding rocks isolated from the rest of the mountains, and a backdrop of white mountain peaks, the highest being Mt Warren.

The drop on the side of the road changes sides halfway through to reveal the Shotover River gorge. Far, far, far below is the blue waters of the Shotover River – the river we are going to be rafting today!

The loveliest bunch of rafters the world ever did see The loveliest bunch of rafters the world ever did see
Holding on for dear life! Holding on for dear life!
Surviving the waterfall Surviving the waterfall
We're going under! We're going under!

How to survive a raft flip

Two busloads of thrill-seekers get of the buses. The guides load four rafts into the water, leaving one on land for a safety demonstration – yah know, what to do in case the raft flips. Meanwhile, Lea from Germany is capturing all the moments to put together a video and pictures for rafters to pick up at the end of the trip. (By the way, you can thank the talented Lea Schuler-Beck for capturing most of the moments on this blog post).

We are then divided into rafts, meet our guides, and there’s nothing left to do but hop in and let the river take us!

Power to the paddles

Our guide is Sam from Australia. Before we get into any of the craziness and big rapids, we do some practice paddle commands. Sam is going to be shouting instructions to us to make sure we stay in the raft as best as possible. This is all in between going around the group for each person to “tell their story”. It’s a good way for us to relax a little, work as a team, and overall improve on our paddling skills.

All in all, it feels like we are just all having a casual conversation while someone shouts: “Forward paddle, team… And stop,” every so often.

Chaos at Red Rock

Our first obstacle, and test of our skills, is Red Rock, named after a bar in Queenstown that the rafting guides like to go to. The river gorge suddenly gets narrower, squeezing the water into some fierce rapids. As we approach, all we can think is: “Holy sh*t!” But we have never acted upon someone’s instructions so hard to get ourselves down there. We made it! Because we are the first raft through, we paddle to the side of the river to make sure everyone else gets through Ok… They don’t.

The next raft that comes through flips over straight away. Instructions from Sam, from the other guides, and from the safety kayak are being thrown everywhere. It feels a bit like chaos! We pull two people out of the river, while the others wash downstream with a safety kayaker chasing them.

The Queenstown Rafting dream team

The walk of shame

Man, the shock on the rafters’ faces! We can’t help but laugh at the craziness that just occurred but feel a bit bad for laughing. We hope Karma doesn’t come back to get us further down the river…

As the fallen rafters do the Walk of Shame along the rocky riverside, their guide loses the raft further down the river!

“What the hell is going on?!” Sam exclaims half laughing half concerned by the whole thing. Oh well, this is all part of white water rafting, ay?

Nailing it!

The rest of the rapid sections are obviously taken on like a pro for all the rafts after that incident. Next up is Rock Garden, a grade three rapid. Somehow, while Sam is giving the paddle commands, we can feel ourselves clenching on our way through the rapids hoping we make it all the way down still in the boat! Once we make it through, we have a resounding feeling of achievement, whooping and cheering and so forth! We do a paddle high-five!

Swimming in the SHotover river

Between rapids, Sam says, “The water’s deep, if you want to go for a…”

Robin is already in the water, floating along… Feeling the icy chill of the glacial water on his hands.

“Hold onto the rope!” Sam shouts as girl in our raft has dived in and has been left for dead upstream. She holds onto another raft, floats to the river banks, runs and jumps back into our raft. It is so ridiculous! We love it!

Picking up strays from the water Picking up strays from the water
A voluntary swim in the glacier-fed river. A voluntary swim in the glacier-fed river.
Paddle high-five, team! Paddle high-five, team!

Merino and miners

This two-hour trip on the water also gives us time to see plenty of stuff: rusty mining machinery forever wedged along the river banks, merino sheep going some hardcore grazing on the edge of the river gorge, people jumping off the edge of the gorge in all sorts of inventive ways on the Canyon Swing, and, of course, just the impressive scenery of the rocky river gorge.

Close calls

Our next set of rapids are a series of grade 4 rapids throwing challenges one after the other, including Aftershock, Anvil, Squeeze, Toilet, Oh Sh*t and Pinball. The urgency in our guide’s voice as he shouts commands indicates that something is up. We translate his urgency into paddling our arms off, finally making it through the series of craziness!

“Woah, I thought we weren’t going to make it then! We started spinning and I was like: ‘What’s goin’ on’!” Sam shouts in relief.

A 170m tunnel and a waterfall

Jaws & Sequel are the next grade 3-4 rapids then its the 170m long Oxenbridge Tunnel. This is so cool! We whoop and echo all the way through.

Sam’s voice echoes in the tunnel: “You wont be able to see the river at the other end, and that’s because there is a waterfall called the Cascade.” A water-what-now?! “Get low and hold on!”

Oh my Gawwwwwd! Water splashed over the front of the raft and into our faces. We tumble down the cascading rapids and make it to the other side. Thank goodness!

Runaway raft

Now it’s time to watch the other rafters while our guide holds our raft on the river banks, which is all well and good to watch but just when everyone is down safely, somehow, one of the guides lets go of his raft full of rafters. We watch in disbelief as he runs down the banks to chase them. We are in stitches!

Despite all the chaos and, truthfully, hilarity, no one was hurt during the making of this blog post.

Warming up

The rafts land back at the Queenstown Rafting base, where we started before taking the Skippers Road. There’s a sauna to warm up in. We opt for getting a hot chocolate from the cafe instead.

We are going to be talking about this insane trip for the rest of night back at Nomads, we’re telling you! Tomorrow, it’s back in the wetsuits for some canyoning! Join us then!

Laura and Robin

PReparing for the next set of rapids the Shotover River throws at us!
PReparing for the next set of rapids the Shotover River throws at us! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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