A Rapid Day in Taupo: Rapids Jet & Aratiatia Rapids

Today involves a whole lot of rapids: rapids from a dam release and riding rapids on a jet boat! We should really savour this day, as it could just be the most rapid-y day of our lives. Let’s begin!

Our morning takes us a few kilometres north of Taupo on the Thermal Explorer Highway and beyond the Wairakei Tourist Park! It has got to the point that if we list the amount of activities we have already done down this stretch of road, the blog post will already be 1,000 words long. Ain’t nobody got time for that!! Just check out our whole past week of blog posts to see the array of stuff their is to do down here!

The Mystery of Aratiatia Dam

About 10 minutes out of Taupo, we come to the big brown tourist sign of “Aratiatia Dam” and “Rapids Jet”. Word on the street is that if you arrive at the dam at the times of 10am, 12pm, 2pm (and 4pm in summer), you can watch the dam release! When we drive across the dam on our way to Rapids Jet and already see the rapids raging below us well before 12pm, we know something is up with the word on the street! Nevertheless, we’ll find out what’s going on with the dam later. For now, we have a jet boat to ride!

Rapids Jet with Rusty

It’s just three minutes further to the Rapids Jet base, where we check in and are given some life jackets. Then we are following our jet boat driver and owner of the company, Rusty, down a path to a jetty leading out onto the Waikato River.

Rusty is filing us onto the yellow jet boat with its ever-so edgy font saying: “Rapids Jet”. There you have it, the experience is already living up to the title of being one of the most thrilling jet boat rides in the country!

Speeding on the rapid-filled Waikato River Speeding on the rapid-filled Waikato River
Charging through the rapids Charging through the rapids
Holy Sh******t! Holy Sh******t!
Taking a dip Taking a dip

Upstream to the Aratiatia Rapids!

We don’t know whether we have prime position on the front row of seats in the jet boat, but we’re soon about to find out. Rusty drives the boat away from the jetty, sits on the side of the boat while the engine steadily churns away and keeps its position in the river, and gives us a safety briefing. He also gives the option to find a place to stop where it is safe if anyone is feeling uncomfortable during the ride. Because everyone looks like brave little soldiers here, we blast upstream on the mighty Waikato River!

The river goes from being wide to suddenly narrowing between the trees creating some light rapids for the boat to almost literally hop over, then we are faced with the end of a huge set of rapids – we’re talking waterfalls here. We’re not playing in that are we?!

The aratiatia Mystery solved

Rusty pushes the boat into the light blue foamy water at the end of the rapids, then finds a place to stop and tell us more about them. This is the end of the Aratiatia Dam rapids, which are constantly raging at the moment due to Lake Taupo being so full. The Waikato River is the lake’s only outlet, so the dam is left open until the water level goes down. Rusty still recommends that we check out the rapids after the trip anyway. If this is what the end of the rapids look like, we’re keen to see the length of them!

Playing in the rapids with a jet boat: could we be anymore Kiwi right now?!

Spinning on the smooth sections

Rusty turns the boat around, heading downstream and past the jetty, not without doing the classic jet boat move of 360-degree spins! We hold on and the boat takes a quick spin, then is forced to stop in its own wake. We do this plenty of times on smoother parts of the river…

… The rest of the river isn’t so smooth.

We approach our first set of major rapids where we are able to see one rapid in particular looking like nature’s kicker. Sure enough, the boat heads straight for it and the front of the boat definitely grabs some air, the jets sound at a higher pitch in the back, then we come back down hard. Just because we got through the rapids, doesn’t mean that we have finished with them. Rusty turns the boat back around, rides back up them, then takes them again! A teddy bear tied to a tree watches and judges us.

Riding the raging river rapids!

If we thought those rapids were gnarly, what we’re about to tackle is a whole new level of crazy. We’re sure the rapids on some white water rafting trips we have done have been tamer than what’s ahead of us. The river squeezes in again making a set of rolling white water rapids. We blast through them, getting some air in the meantime, then end with a spin at the bottom. Round two has us playing in the rapids for a while longer while a photographer captures it all to to purchase mid-air action photos later.

Somewhere behind all that splashing is a jet boat Somewhere behind all that splashing is a jet boat
Then the boat was sideways Then the boat was sideways
The awesome Aratiatia Rapids! The awesome Aratiatia Rapids!

A journey of fun and facts on the way back upstream

When we get to the top of the rapids, Rusty is taking various routes weaving between islands in the turn to get back down the rapids again. We do about three runs in the rapids, before venturing off another few hundred metres down the river where Rusty takes the time to stop the boat regularly and tell us a bit about the area.

On the way back upstream, we play in the rapids some more, and Rusty finally tells us why a teddy bear is tied to a tree in the middle of the river. We have one last visit at the end of the Aratiatia rapids where Rusty tells us that usually the rapids would have died down by this part of the trip, but as we know, the dam is constantly open right now. With that, the ride comes to an end at the jetty and we go onto checking out those Aratiatia rapids right now!

The aratiatia dam and rapids

Back at the dam, we park up in a huge parking area and witness the power of the rapids. There are several different viewpoints to do so: from the road bridge closest to the dam, and two lookout points further down the rapids. We make use of two of those, mesmerised by the most powerful set of rapids we have seen – more extreme than Huka Falls! We watch as trees clinging onto rocks are smashed by the water and water squeezes in between islands. The middle lookout accessed by a short walk through the forest becomes our favourite vantage point. Although we didn’t get to see the dam release, just the rapids are a pretty awesome sight and a great way to end a rapid-filled day.

Our final night at Haka Lodge

Now we head back to our accommodation at the Haka Lodge, take off our pants that are completely soaked through from Rapids Jet, and warm up in the spa pool! Ahhhhhh! We better not get too comfortable because tomorrow we are playing in the rapids again, this time in white water rafting down the Tongariro River. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

These are the sort of rapids better seen from dry land...
These are the sort of rapids better seen from dry land... Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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