White Water Rafting on the Rangitata River

No matter where you are in New Zealand, there is always some wild adrenaline adventure less than an hour away. Nothing is too far in New Zealand! And oh look, we just happen to have an example of that! We jump in the campervan from Timaru, South Canterbury’s coastal city, and head inland to Peel Forest and the Rangitata River, the base of Rangitata Rafts.

PRe-rafting lunch by Rangitata Rafts

White water rafting of grade 5 rapids is not the only thing these guys are good at, but they know how to put on a good spread. We arrive to Rangitata Rafts to a table of soft bread rolls and plates and plates of sandwich fillings. It looks like the guides REALLY want us to have energy when we hop in the raft with them.

The sun tries but fails to peak from behind the clouds as we sit in the garden with two nervously excited Americans, but it looks like the warmth of the sun is not going to take the chill off the glacier-fed waters of the Rangitata River.

The option to chicken out

Trip leader extraordinaire, Maddy, calls the 30 of us rafters into the large changing area for briefing on what the hell is going to happen today. Among that, she tells us how if any of us chickens out after taking on some grade 3 rapids, and doesn’t want to get amongst the grade 5s, then there is the option to walk around. This is an option that is rarely even offered in white water rafting. You usually have to commit to the river and whatever it throws at you. As we look around the various groups of people, most of which are on a badass work Christmas party, we think peer pressure will be the thing that stops anyone from taking the easy road.

Obligatory team jumping photo Obligatory team jumping photo
The photo says it all really... The photo says it all really...
The stunning scenery of Rangitata Gorge The stunning scenery of Rangitata Gorge
Grade 5 madness! Grade 5 madness!

Suit up and boot up!

Using the floor as a mannequin, Maddy shows us in which order we should put on our super thick wetsuit, thermal layer, then fleecy layer, the booties, the spray jacket, the life jacket and finally, the helmet. It’s a well-oiled machine of making sure everyone is suited and booted up. If anyone is to f*ck this up, then you know their raft is flipping!

Bus bonding session

Sexily dressed, we load onto the bus for a 20-minute drive to the Rangitata River, complete with in-bus bonding session. One of the guides soldiers through the same three questions to 30 different people getting us to introduce ourselves and silently judge each other. If we didn’t like their answers, then we know who to stand away from then the rafting teams are being sorted. (Luckily, we only have to avoid one guy who says he would like to have dinner with Donald Trump…)

Gumby’s dream team

Alongside the milky blue waters of the Rangitata River, we assemble into teams of six along with a guide. From now on, we only listen to one guide in order to act as the dream team of white water rafting, and his name is Gumby! (Not gumboot).

After some team photos by the photographer, April McEwen, who has to be on-it for the entire trip, jumping off rafts and running up hills to capture the chaos, we gather around our raft for the first briefing by Gumby. Then we’re carrying our raft towards the river.

The calm before the storm

Learning to white water raft with Gumby

The first 20-minutes of the trip gives us the time to become Gumby’s dogs and learn every single command he gives us. By the time we hit the first set of grade 2 rapids, this is our time to practice. It’s a little rough around the edges, paddles hitting each other and what-not, but we make it through. After each series of rapids, the six rafts on the river meet together at a river eddy to make sure everyone makes it, then we can power onto the next rapids.

Charging at rapids

Grade 3 gets a little more gnarly, but as Gumby calls “The American Way” – being the U.S of A citizen that he is – we charge at every rapid with as much power as possible! That’s when the adrenaline kicks in – when you’re faced with a huge dip in the water, yet you still have to paddle through it anyway. For a second, there’s no water to paddle! Then as you go back up the rapid, the water crashes into you from the front. But, no, you can’t rest yet! We still have to paddle the last few rapids until we can find safety on the side of the river.

If we thought grade 3 was crazy, which we do – we seriously do, then what the hell is grade 5 like?!

Well, it’s rapids higher than a person, random rocks sticking up in the middle of the river, and narrow gorge walls. All in all, it is insane. No one is opting out of this section, so let’s do this!

It's fair to say we got a little wet It's fair to say we got a little wet
Going for a swim! Going for a swim!
Ending the day with a BBQ! Ending the day with a BBQ!

Rampaging grade 5 rapids

Two sets of grade 5 rapids are a ahead of us, one 50m set and one 300m set. The first one was just a dramatic teaser. The second one is just pure madness.

The more raised Gumby’s voice gets as we confront a towering rapid, the harder we paddle in unison. Teamwork never seemed so important as right now. As we look like we are about to hit the side of a large rocky outcrop, it takes everything in us to do our own thing to avoid it – only acting upon Gumby’s commands actually gets us through. Once down this huge rapid, our raft is crashing down the river backwards, just in time for the perfect view of the raft behind us flipping!

See you on the flip side

It takes everything to not stop paddling to watch the colourful swimmers and paddles float down the river. We just want to watch and be all like: “Wow, that was craaaaaazy,” but Gumby is still shouting commands to make sure we’re in a good place to start helping grabbing people out of the water.

Rafts are dispersed in separate eddies along the river, guides working together to collect people out of the water. Gumby has climbed on top of the gorge walls to look out for people and communicate between guides. It’s pretty impressive to watch our guides organise what we consider chaos.

Once established that everyone is safe and plucked out of the river, the work Christmas party raft are put back together in their raft along with a few broken paddles. (Considering white water rafting is all about teamwork, we dread to think what life is like in their office). All the swimmers bear proud smiles on their face. After all, we are here for the wet and wild ride!

From here, it’s just a few wind-down rapids, time to gaze at the beauty of the blue waters amidst the grey rugged walls of the Rangitata Gorge, and a stretch of calm water to jump out of the raft and go for a cold swim.

BBQ, photos and awesome memories

To reward our hard work, it’s back to the Rangitata Rafts base where hot showers and a BBQ are waiting for us! Sausages, bread, salad and potatoes are devoured as each raft group watches their photo slideshow on the big screen.

We collect our photo USB stick, (who wouldn’t want to keep a photo of those facial expressions forever?), say goodbye to our awesome rafting team and guide, then hit the road for Geraldine and the ever-so spacious and homely Rawhiti Backpackers.

Join us tomorrow, when we do some sort of hike! (Ok, that doesn’t sound as thrilling as white water rafting… but we’ll make it awesome, we promise). See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

Following the stunning Rangitata Gorge after the grade 5 rapids
Following the stunning Rangitata Gorge after the grade 5 rapids Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about seeing little blue penguins in Timaru? How about these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions, and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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Comments
  1. Rafting sure is a great activity to enjoy in New Zealand! I had the rush of thundering down the grade 5 rapids of the Wairoa river on the North Island. I actually was lucky enough to travel throughout New Zealand and see many incredible things, but rafting was still one of the most amazing experiences of all!

    Comment avatar Pilot Mark
    28/02/2017 at 11:18 pm
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