White Water Rafting in Hawke’s Bay with Mohaka Rafting

Narrow river gorges, towering canyons, waterfalls, rare wildlife, tunnels and, of course, rapids: Mohaka Rafting has turned out to be so much more than your standard white water rafting trip. This full day trip is more like a New Zealand river experience.

Driving 45 minutes out of Napier down the North Island’s “Thermal Explorer Highway”, we easily find the base of Mohaka Rafting. We’re greeted by the big boss man, Norm; our rafting guide, Bill; and Luco, the safety kayaker and photographer, and straight away we’re getting the special treatment from a small business: we’re offered hot drinks, the team are keen to chat with us, plus, the trip is still going ahead despite us being the only customers!

Suit up for the Mohaka River

Once all the necessary waiver forms are filled, Bill is going through the clothing we’ll be wearing: a thick wetsuit, fleeces, (an extra fleece for skinny Laura), splash jacket and booties. The helmet and life jacket will come after the drive to the white water rafting launch point down the Mohaka River.

From Viewpoint to launch point

The drive to the Mohaka River is filled with stories about the river itself, where it got it’s name from, as well as some of the Maori history surrounding it. Mid-way through the 30-40 minute drive, we stop off at a stunning viewpoint overlooking an oxbow section of the Mohaka River backed with green mountains intertwined with low-lying clouds. And yes, those clouds look like they’re about to release the rain at any minute, but we guess we’re going to get a little bit wet on this trip no matter what…

At the launch point, we’re putting on our final bits of gear and getting a quick safety briefing before putting the raft into the water. Then the rest of paddle commands, what to do if you fall out of the rafts, all that stuff, can be done at the initial calm section as we drift downstream.

Breathtaking views of the Mohaka River before the adventure begins Breathtaking views of the Mohaka River before the adventure begins
Somehow, we end up tunneling on our white water trip Somehow, we end up tunneling on our white water trip
Approaching the next set of rapids Approaching the next set of rapids
Even grade 3 is good splashy fun! Even grade 3 is good splashy fun!

A rare wildlife sighting!

We say goodbye to Norm, leaving him with the bus to hopefully pick us up at the end of the trip, and get on our way on this whopping 4-hour white water rafting trip! With Luco in the kayak leading the way, Bill stays in the raft with us to teach us the various paddle commands that will help us get over the grade three rapids today. During the session, we spot three odd-looking ducks chilling on the river bank, their blueish beaks standing out against their dark feathers.

“That’s the blue duck!” Exclaims Bill, getting quite excited. These native species of duck are rarer than the kiwi bird even, so we land the raft on a small island of pebbles in the middle of the river and snap up a few photos. Bill says that these birds are often seen along this section of the Mohaka River.

Delving into the gold mines of the Mohaka River

Not too much further downstream, we help Bill land the raft behind a massive boulder and get out of the raft. He leads us to the entrance of a “gold mine” (we say “gold mine” because it turns out that there was, in fact, no gold found here). Nevertheless, the tunnel makes for an intriguing place to explore. We enter into the darkness, having no idea what we are heading into. What we find down there is pretty amazing… And in the words of Forest Gump, “And that’s all I got to say about that.”

Approaching more epicness on the Mohaka River!

Gradual grades and “gorge”-ous scenery

Leaving the tunnel buzzing by what we saw, we get back into the raft to negotiate some grade two rapids. What’s great about this section of the river is that the rapids slowly build up in difficulty and extremeness, as does the scenery. We have now moved into some wild sections of the river surrounded by native bush and far from any civilisation. The river gorge gets deeper meaning the mountainsides get taller, giving us some epic views.

Finally, we approach the grade threes with more boulders to avoid and some serious white water. To us looking down a set of rapids, just evokes thoughts like: “How the hell are we going to get down there?!” But by putting all our effort into every command shouted from Bill’s mouth, somehow, we make it every time without flipping! With some of the rapids that we pass, Bill tells us to look back at the rapids and points out various hazards in the river like “squeezes” and “sieves”. He tells stories of private rafting trips getting stuck on rocks, as well as epic landslips that have even blocked the river on occasions. We learn a hell of a lot about the force of the river, which just adds to the experience of actively helping control our journey along the river, rather than being a slave to the river!

hanging out with the fossils

After some lunch on the river bank surrounded by huge boulders holding fossilised seashells, (yep, the evidence is clear that New Zealand used to be underwater), we head on down the river to some of the most stunning scenery yet. An epic grade three rapid leads into a section called the “Upper Narrow”, a narrow canyon made up of distinct layers of rock. Lines of seashells can be seen within these layers: we have seen nothing else like this in New Zealand!

Amazing fossils seen in the walls of the Mohaka River gorge Amazing fossils seen in the walls of the Mohaka River gorge
We don't even know what happened here?! We don't even know what happened here?!
Just something we saw on the trip... that's all we have to say... Just something we saw on the trip... that's all we have to say...

Cliff jumps, rapid rides and a trip down the Narrows

A pretty splash-tastic waterfall makes an awesome entrance to the Upper Narrows, but we’re not going to delve further until we have done a cliff jump! The cliff jump does make us sh*t our pants a little, being about 7-8 metres we guess, but once we have plunged into the chilly depths of the Mohaka River, we fell pretty darn proud of ourselves.

We have a couple more of these narrow river gorge sections to enjoy: one of them by riding the rapids with our bodies(?!) rather than the raft, and the next calmer one is enjoyed by lying on our backs in the river and looking up at the towering mossy green gorge walls, floating under the odd waterfall. We also have a new-found confidence for cliff jumping one more time!

Meeting back up with Norm

Our river journey of white water rafting, epic scenery, ancient fossils, backcountry wildlife sighting, cliff jumping and rapid riding finally comes to an end with landing at the side of the river and bringing the raft up to Norm, who, thankfully, came to pick us up. Once we have stopped the river madness, we can feel the rain more, so we’re thankful for the tarp Norm has set up for us to get changed under. With some snacks and hot drinks, we reflect on the good times and the funny times: i.e. that moment when Laura pushed Robin back into the water after he went for a swim…

“That’s for all those times you have pushed me in the water on all the other rafting trips!” She cried with an evil gleam in her eye.

On that note, it’s back to the Mohaka Rafting base. Although there is accommodation and camping available at the base, we head back to Archie’s Bunker in Napier with a USB stick full of photos, from the most gnarliest rapids to the gold mining tunnel quest.

Join us tomorrow when we take a trip to Cape Kidnappers to see New Zealand’s largest mainland gannet colony!

Laura and Robin

Freestyling down the stunning Narrows
Freestyling down the stunning Narrows Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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