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Rafting the Kaituna River and the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall is near the top of every self respecting adventure junkies bucket list, but don’t let the hype scare you away. This is more fun than fear and an adventure anyone with water confidence will enjoy.
Best described as a natural hydro slide the Kaituna river is an exhilarating series of playful rapids and more intense waterfalls that carve their way through a beautiful natural gorge shrouded in pristine native bush.
Each raft can take a maximum of 7 people plus a guide so it's a real team experience perfect for meeting other travelers or getting out and about with friends or family. Your guide will fit you with a wetsuit, booties and saftey equipment before giving you a briefing and some instruction on how to handle the raft.
Once on the river the first little stretch of water is relatively tame giving you a chance to practice and get a feel for the raft on some smaller rapids before things get a little more interesting.
After a few small rapids you reach the first waterfall, it's only a couple of meters high, but pausing at the top for some final instruction builds anticipation and gets the adrenaline going. Mist from rushing water surrounds you and the river drops away in front as you paddle into the flow then hold on and get down for the drop. The impact is gentler than expected and the rush of cold water over the front of the raft is refreshing, catch your breath and the instructors calls to "forward paddle" as your straight into another drop of white water, bobbing back into the even flow of the river your grinning from ear to ear.
The river winds through more rapids with a few flatter spots where you catch a chance to look up and appreciate you stunning surrounds. Sunshine filters through the forest canopy and sparkles off the cool clear waters, volcanic rock formations and mossy canyon walls glisten with moisture - everywhere you look your surrounded by the beauty of nature.
Getting closer to the main attraction the gorge narrows, river flow increases and so do the adrenaline levels as the roar of the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall greets you. The moment of truth has arrived and your guide pulls the raft to the side, this is your last chance to get out and walk around the thundering 7 meter fall, but there’s no second guessing and everyone is up to the challenge. Rounding a corner in the narrow gorge you can now see the river beginning to drop away in a rumbling rush of mist and whitewater. Gripping the wall the raft pauses and we watch the safety kayaker drop into the fall and out of sight, a last minute team talk, paddles in the air for group salute and with an ancient Maori battle cry you paddle into the flow and the fate of the river.
Beyond the point of return you plummet in slow motion in the white rush of the falls, 7 meters down and beyond hold your breath and close your eyes as the raft goes below the surface of the aerated river in a cool rush, bursting back into daylight and a gasp of air.
What a rush! Hoots of delight exhilaration and high fives all round as you reflect on conquering the challenge, relieved the raft didn’t flip (many do!). After watching a few more rafts take the plunge and rescuing a few scattered people from a flipped raft it’s on to the final stretch of the river.
With the main waterfall out of the way the rest of the river seems very relaxed but there are still plenty of fun rapids with a chance to play at surfing and dunking in some, as well as just enjoying the stunning untouched surroundings.
Reaching the end of the raft-able section of the river there is still one more challenge to tick off - a 10-meter jump into the river below which is great fun for those that are keen. In the bus and back to base it’s time to check out the photos before heading to the famous Okere Store for a delicious coffee or a hot chocolate.
The on river experience is approximately 45 minutes of action packed entertainment.
I enjoyed this experience so much I have already been twice this year once in summer and a second time in June with family – it’s definitely cooler in winter but the wetsuits keep you comfortable - the girls who were worried about the temperature totally loved the whole experience.
Having a good guide definitely adds to the experience and I can highly recommend Wet n Wild Rafting and Kaituna Cascades as the two companies I have rafted with – they are two of the oldest operators in the industry with sound safety records and fantastic guides. The cost (approximately $85pp) is great value and includes pick up and drop off from your central Rotorua accommodation.
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