Choose to raft the Tongariro River in Turangi with Tongariro River Rafting and you may be one of the last people on earth to clap eyes on the New Zealand native blue duck (whio).
We were among the lucky ones to get close to one of these small whistling birds on a picture-perfect January day during a family float tour of the river.
Tongariro River Rafting guide Mike Dally grew up exploring the Tongariro River and took his sense of adventure with him into a career in the outdoors three years ago.
His love of the job is obvious.
As soon as we make it through the first set of rapids downstream from Blue Pool, Dally calls a casual greeting from the back of the raft.
“Welcome to my office.”
We are joined by a family of five from Noumea, New Caledonia for the morning trip.
Three of the four boys are in awe and raptures as white water grade two rapids usher the boat downriver.
The team soon rallies with multi-lingual whoops and shouts after a quick paddling lesson.
Dally’s knowledge of the Tongariro River, world famous for its rainbow trout fishing, kayaking, rafting, camping, walking, and mountain biking opportunities, is personal and scientific.
The whio we see early on in the trip near the Poutu intake belongs to a species 25 times more endangered than the kiwi.
The New Zealand government’s Department of Conservation awarded Tongariro River Rafting a special accolade in 2009 for its work protecting the whitewater habitat of the whio.
It deserves many more accolades from happy rafters, from child novices to experienced locals, this year.
In a word: terrific.