© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Grade 3 White Water Rafting on the Tongariro River

© NZPocketGuide.com

306 Days on the Road

If you thought yesterday was rapid-y fun, then you haven’t met today! It’s time to hit the white water of the Tongariro River!

Our day begins rocking up to the Rafting New Zealand Adventure Centre in Taupo where a shuttle service takes us to Rafting New Zealand’s base in Turangi. Here, we sign our lives away on a tablet and gather round with the 32 other rafters in a huge equipment room of wetsuits, helmets, etc. Here, the trip leader, Jesse, introduces himself, the other guides and safety kayaker, as well as giving us a bit of a rundown of what’s going to happen today. We’re going to be tackling more than 50 rapids along the Tongariro River, most of which are grade 3. What’s more, the dam at the start of our trip has been released for “recreational reasons” so the river is cranking slightly more than usual. Nevertheless, a grade 3 trip makes white water rafting super accessible – there are people of all ages here today – and is a great introduction to white water rafting if you are feeling like you’re going to sh*t your pants. As for us, we have done a fair share of white water rafting in New Zealand, so we are keen as bean to get our gear on and hit the river!

Gear up for the grade threes!

Everyone lines up in an orderly fashion, while the guides judge our bodies and hand over the appropriate-sized booties, thick wetsuit, fleece thermal and splash jacket. We are among the first to rock out of the changing rooms looking sexy, where we complete our outfits with a helmet and life jacket. From there, we are asked about a thousand times if everyone has a helmet and life jacket, then we watch one of those delightfully cheesy safety videos.

It’s perhaps a 20-30 minute bus journey to our launch point into the Tongariro River. Meanwhile, one of the guides tells us Maori legends as we pass some of the immense volcanic mountains along the way.

Teaming up and hitting the river

Once at the launch point, we are filing off the bus and getting our life jackets checked by the guides. Then, we are huddling together for some group photos before being split into boats. We are teamed up with two Taupo-dwellers, Leo and Aly, as well as three American students with Jesse being our guide.

We carry the raft down a short hill following the four other rafts on our trip. Once launched in the water, Jesse is spinning the boat around for another photo and also revealing the dam behind us. There is 30 cubic metres more water than usual in the river, giving Jesse the motivation to tackle some different rapids to the usual on this tour.

Nailing the paddle commands

After we practice a few paddle commands with Jesse, because after all, this is a proactive activity, we are quickly approaching our first set of rapids! The rapids are super dippy and wavey, making our boat do some sort of Mexican wave across the water. Sometimes our raft doesn’t hit the rapids quite so smoothly giving either one of the front two rafters, i.e. Laura and Robin, a massive splash in the face. At 8-10 degrees Celcius, the water is sure refreshing!

Rapids and awesome scenery on the Tongariro River

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“Get right!”, “Get left!”, “Get Down!”

Between each of the initial rapids, Jesse adds more paddle commands to our arsenal for the upcoming rapids. One is “Get Right!” or “Get Left!”. We find out the point of this as we hit a rapid called the “Cheesegrater” where we are the cheese and the river is the grater. The raft wedges between boulders, where the only way to get around is to “Get Right!” putting all the weight on one side of the raft so we can squeeze through on one side.

When Jesse introduces the “Get down!” command, that’s pretty much for the bigger and bumpier rapids where we just get down, hold on and enjoy the thrill ride! Everyone in our raft is whooping and yelling as we take on some of the crazier rapids – happy rapids makes happy rafters.

Constant action and epic scenery

The awesome thing about the Tongariro River is that the rapids are pretty constant. There’s not much time between each set of rapid to think about all life’s mysteries. It’s action-packed so you’re not likely to feel short-changed.

On those rare occasions where there are those slightly longer sections of calmer waters, it’s time to soak in the scenery. Most of the river is lined with towering gorge walls topped with forest. We often see fantails crossing just overhead from one side of the river to the other. The real “Wow” section is in a deep and dark canyon covered in moss and tiny trickling waterfalls. At the end of this canyon, our guides bring the boats to the side of the river and start serving us hot chocolate and a classic Kiwi candy – chocolate fish. This also gives us time to have a quick yarn with our rafting crew before hitting the white water once again for more action!

From Air New Zealand to Pinball to Blue Ducks

Before hitting each set of rapids, Jesse is pointing out features of them and getting us to guess the name of the rapid. A huge log shaped like a plane on the side of the rapids is “Air New Zealand”, a rapid where we bounce around aimlessly is “Pinball”, and the list continues.

At the final rapid, Jesse gets us to do an action pose for the cameraman, with our paddles up in the air and our adventure faces on. Those faces suddenly change when we notice that our raft just closely passed two blue ducks! What?!?! These birds are rarer than kiwi birds and we were so close that we could seen the distinct lips at the end of their beaks. Awesome!

Robin goes swimming

For the whole journey, Robin has been itching to jump into the water, so as we approach the end, he seizes the opportunity when Jesse gives him the heads up. We raft on without him to the end.

Hot showers, hot dogs and cold beers

We carry the rafts a short way to the trailer, then pile onto the bus for the 10-20 minute journey back to base where hot showers, hot dogs and cold beers are waiting for us. Jesse hands out the beers and we help ourselves to a hot dog with all the condiments while looking at our hilarious photos on the TV screen.

From there, we are being shuttled back to town for our final night in Taupo. In fact, we are coming back to the town of Turangi with our friend, Casey, who is keen to show us some walks, lookouts and the birthplace of the Haka! Join us then!

Paddle high-five!

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