A Duelathlon of Adventure: Tongariro River Rafting & Mountain Biking

When we called the guys at Tongariro River Rafting to do one of their mountain biking tours, somehow we hung up with a pretty unique white water rafting adventure booked AND mountain biking! Oops! Today, we are having the most adventure-filled day of 365 Days: 365 Activities yet!

So here we are at the TRR base getting kitted up for grade 4 white water rafting on the Tongariro River. We are in Turnagi at a perfect time in the year – just one out of three days a year that a dam is released so there is enough water to raft the upper gorge of the Tongariro River. This is a full-on section of river that attracts rafter and kayakers across the country for the rare opportunity to tackle the rapids!

Suit-up, ride-out, and put-in for “Access 14”

After squeezing into a super thick wetsuit, a fleece thermal, booties, splash jacket, helmet and life-jacket, we are getting in one of two vans trailing rafts on the back and hitting the road to the upper gorge. One of the guides, Nick, has some tunes blaring getting us all pumped for the day ahead. The drive is pretty stunning in itself, following State Highway One with views of the volcanoes Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro in plain sight.

As we approach our put-in point, known as Access 14, there are heaps of kayakers here seizing the opportunity. We hop out of the van, while our guides get the rafts ready, and are split between two rafts. Our guide is the energetic and experience Nick, who goes over some safety instructions and paddle command training on land first before we carry the rafts down to the put-in.

“As soon as we get into the river, we’ll be straight into it!” Nick warns. We need to know the paddle commands before getting in the water!

It’s a rocky shuffle down to the river, then we hop in the front and get our paddles at the ready. The rapids begin!

Charging down the grade 4 rapids! Charging down the grade 4 rapids!
Somewhere in that rapid is a raft full of crazy people Somewhere in that rapid is a raft full of crazy people
We survived! We survived!
Next challenge: Tree Trunk Gorge Next challenge: Tree Trunk Gorge

Straight into the rapids

All the rapids are created by the boulder-filled riverbed and the shallow water, making for a bumpy ride to say the least! The first set of rapids gives us some quick drops and straight toward a mossy cliff-face. Nick gets us to paddle hard into an eddy so we can regroup with the other raft and get ready for the next set of rapids. They are the type of rapids that makes you wide-eyed and sh*tting your pants a little as you approach it, take a deep breathe while your in it, then a super sigh of relief once you make it through to the other side.

After regrouping a second time after the second set of rapids, it’s all go. There’s not much opportunity for stopping – this river is full-on!

Powering through the grade fours

Nick shouts paddle commands from the back which our rafting mates relay to us at the front – everyone is into it! Grade 4 rapids are the type of rapids where you want to be switched on so that your raft doesn’t become a slave to the river. Just when we have “got down” for the big drops, we are straight back into it.

They’ll be splits in the river where Nick will say: “Which way shall we go?” Of course, it is the most adventurous way where we are doing limbo with the trees, bumping into cliff walls, and beaching on boulders until we can shuffle our way off them.

Put your Paddles in the air like you just don’t care!

Next mission: taking the raft for a bushwalk

Even when we approach a “quiet section” which isn’t so quiet, we quickly take in the scenery around us – thick forest growing into the river – growing into the river so much that the next section of the river is renowned for being “Tree Trunk Gorge”. According to Nick, this is not a place we want to be, so our landing point is at the next corner. Some kayakers on the river help us all get the rafts out of the river quickly and onto a pebbly beach. The van drivers are here waiting for the next mission of the day: getting the raft back to the road. With the raft’s weight separated between all our heads, we march through a pretty stunning forest for a few hundred metres until we see civilisation once again at the road. Nick encourages us to take a look over the road bridge. Deep in the narrow canyon below is Tree Trunk Gorge filled with raging rapids. That sure looks like a terrifying place to be!

Tagging out of white water rafting; tagging in with mountain biking

Luckily for us, the rest of the travelling today is going to be on dry land, so we do a quick change-a-roo on the roadside and meet our mountain biking guide for the afternoon, John. Not only do we love John because he is great company, but he also brought us lunch! We fuel up on sandwiches, tea and muffins, then fling our legs over the bikes for the next leg of epicness!

A quick power up a sealed road brings us to the entrance of the Tree Trunk Gorge Track. We have around 10km of intermediate bike trail ahead. John takes up the front and away we go!

Nestled in the forest Nestled in the forest
Have we not spent enough time in the water today?! Have we not spent enough time in the water today?!
Nearly there, Robin! Nearly there, Robin!

Tackling the Tree Trunk Gorge Track

It’s a steady downhill section with a few large rocks to avoid to begin with, but we are immediately immersed in some stunning beech forest! We have an almost knee-deep creek to cross, so we have the bikes on our shoulders and feel the ice-cold water run over our feet! Not far from icy creek is another much shallower creek where stopping to get over the obstacle gives time to a few birds to come check out the upturned soil we have left in our wake. For the first time on this trip, we spot a North Island robin that hops right up to us, as well as a black and white rifleman! Of course, we see a few familiars like a curious fantail and a clumsy wood pigeon.

Since we had to come down into the creek, we know we have to make our way back up. Shamefully, we have to push up this next section until we make it to a well-graded ridge where we can cover some kilometres with ease.

Downhill blasts and uphill struggles

We run over roots and rocks but an otherwise easy-enough downhill section crossing a couple of wooden bridges until we have some more watery obstacles to tackle. We take the opportunity to drink from the creek and even tackle the next hill on-bike… It all goes well to start with, but Laura drops out first, letting Robin and John power on ahead. Thank God we filled the water bottles in the creek!

Nevertheless, it’s cruisey from here to the Urchin Campsite where we can take a quick toilet brake then follow a mostly downhill gravel road nestled in forest. We eventually come out onto a sealed road where we catch some speed all the way down to another road bridge overlooking the gnarly Tree Truck Gorge.

Back to civilisation

We cross a dam to where a bus is parked and waiting for us. Bikes onboard and John in the driver’s seat, we make the 20-minute journey back to base. Phewwww! What a day! Between epic grade 4 rapids and powering through feature-filled mountain bike tracks, we feel super switched on and pretty stoked to be alive right now – we have to be honest. That’s just another crazy day in New Zealand!

Tomorrow, we are heading into Ruapehu country, into the shadow of New Zealand’s largest volcano to do some more mountain biking. If it is as epic as today’s session has been then we’ll be happy! See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

We really don't mind pushing for a bit to spend more time in this beautiful forest!
We really don't mind pushing for a bit to spend more time in this beautiful forest! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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