“ New Zealand's white water rafting „
Queenstown Rafting offers rafting on both the Shotover River and the Kawarau River. We chose the Shotover option because it seemed to be the tougher of the two rivers in terms of the grades of the rapids on the rivers, but both options are the same price and give the same amount of river time.
The rafting experience, for us, began in Queenstown town centre where we were picked up in the bus and taken to the main headquarters at Cavell's Rafting Lodge, just a few minutes' drive up the road. During the summer, there are two departures each day for those doing the half-day rafting - early morning and lunchtime. There, you're "measured" for your wetsuit and other safety gear and given a short safety talk before the main journey to the staging point commences.
On the way up to our starting point on the Shotover River, our guide 'Deano' entertained us with his safety briefing by holding up a card that was not unlike those safety cards you see on nearly every flight.
"Unlike that briefing on an aeroplane before each flight, this card WILL save your life. Please read it. If you are Australian, there are pictures down the side for you to look at. If you don't speak English, then there are instructions in other languages on the back that I'm pointing at now. However, because you don't speak English, you'll have no idea that I'm telling you to turn the card over..."
Deano wasn't done with his jokes either...
"What's the difference between a pot of yoghurt and an Australian?
A pot of yoghurt has culture!"
Deano kept the entire bus amused (apart from the poor Australians, of course) until we were well on our way. That was just as well because the road out to the launch point, Skippers Road, is fairly narrow and there are huge stretches of road where, if you have a window seat (it doesn't matter which side), you'll see sheer drops right beside the track. Obviously, if you're afraid of heights, get an aisle seat and don't look out!
Arriving at the launch point in Skippers Canyon, we hung around for a few minutes awaiting the other buses and a few stragglers. The rafting crew started preparing the rafts for the trip downriver and the rest of us milled about in our wetsuits.
Once everyone had arrived (including a group of lads who touched down in a rather dramatic and impressive-looking helicopter ride), Deano gave everyone a safety talk. Despite his humour on the bus, he was correct: nearly everything he mentioned in the safety talk and on the card, I put to use later that day, so it's advisable to really pay attention here.
Selection for the rafts was done somewhat arbitrarily with a bloke standing in front of the crowd and selecting six people from the crowd. As advised by Deano, my travelling companion and I stood close together so that the selector knew to keep us in the same raft.
Once the raft allocations had been sorted, our personal rafting guide, Grant, gave us a further safety talk and allocated seats. We were grouped with two Australian blokes, an Irish girl and her English friend. Grant asked for two people to take point on the front of the raft and the two Australian guys jumped at the chance, before I could stick my hand up. Introductions were made and we clambered into the raft.
The first part of the journey was rather lazy as we let the river do most of the work (this is true for most of the voyage and we were only really required to paddle to change direction, speed up or slow down). Taking advantage of the lack of action, Grant taught us the commands he would use to guide us down the river or in case of emergency and what we were expected to do when he shouted these commands.
During our journey down the river, Grant was a fount of knowledge about the river which was the centre of a major gold rush in the late 18th century (and there's plenty of evidence of this left behind which Grant pointed out). Surprisingly the rafters allowed a certain amount of japes, so expect a lot of splashing as you pass another raft (or are being passed). When a raft full of Israeli ex-military personnel (the guys who arrived by helicopter) started getting a bit "competitive" with the other rafters, they were soon put in their place when we boarded them, pirate style, and threw them all overboard, before returning to our raft and paddling downstream, much to Grant's amusement. Arrrr, me hearties!
There were a lot of people on the river that day. If I recall correctly, there were at least six rafts (possibly a couple more), each with a maximum of seven people (six rafters plus a guide) and there were also a few people following our "convoy" in canoe, purely for safety purposes. It was all quite sociable, even though we were split up for most of it, trading banter as we passed each other on the river. We even bumped into our fellow raft mates, the Irish and English girls, later in our trip around New Zealand and shared more than a few beers with them.
At certain points the water was quite deep and there was hardly any current. Grant suggested that anyone interested could go for a swim. I duly obliged because I was slowly roasting alive inside my wetsuit and enjoyed a few minutes in the cold water, floating alongside the raft. The water was bracing and I would imagine it's not an option that's offered during the winter months. If you have a choice of when you want to do this, I'd suggest the summer as in the winter, the start off point is much further down the river meaning a shorter journey in the raft. I'd also suggest enquiring about taking a drink along with you as I was terribly thirsty in the raft and there wasn't anything on offer (apart from the river...)
Grant also suggested (in one of these deep, quiet areas) that we could try and flip the raft. The three girls onboard were vehemently against this, but that didn't stop the four boys on board from trying (and failing) to land everyone in the water!
All-in-all, we were on the river for around 3 hours, though the entire experience was really around 4.5 hours from departure in the middle of Queenstown to drop off back in the town centre. I really enjoyed the white water rafting and would thoroughly recommend it. It's not as dangerous or difficult as everyone pretends and I would have liked to have had a few more rapids to go through, but all-in-all I had a fantastic afternoon. Despite the relative lack of danger, everyone involved still takes safety very seriously and it's not as strenuous as you might think (though I still felt it in my shoulders the next day). In order to get a little more of a thrill out of the trip, if you can blag the front seats in the raft, then I'd thoroughly suggest that.
Queenstown rafting offers plenty of different options and we only decided on the vanilla half-day rafting option. You can do heli-rafting (as the Israeli boys had chosen) as well as rafting/jet boating combos at a range of price points. I think our rafting experience cost us around NZ$165 which, with the exchange rate, was about £60 and I thought every single penny was well spent. If I were ever back in Queenstown again, I'd definitely be up for further rafting.
New Zealand's white water rafting