3 days of wilderness rafting in the South Island

By: Scott Kennedy, journalist who rafted earlier in the year with Queenstown Rafting

When people think of whitewater rafting in the Southern Alps a few things come to mind: ice cold water, thrills and spills and some stinky borrowed wetsuit. The word luxury rarely enters the equation, let alone the whiff of decadence. The team at Queenstown Rafting is aiming to change your mind on just what a high-end rafting trip is all about.

The three day trip down the Landsborough River started early in Queenstown. Our first port of call was to the head shed to collect our equipment and meet the team. After a quick introduction we grabbed our refreshingly not-so-smelly wetsuits and the remainder of our gear and loaded up the van for the drive to the West Coast.

Over the Crown Range and the Gates of Haast westward we go. At a non-descript pull-out the van pulls over. As our driver and raft guide, Michel an affable French-Canadian, starts to explain what is going to happen a distant thumping is heard. As if right on cue the chopper buzzes the roof and lands in the paddock beside the road.

Like I said, this is luxury rafting. Loading our gear into the machine we climb aboard as the pilot revs the engine and the magic carpet lifts off the ground. Soaring effortlessly we glide above the forest heading up-river. The carpet of green is only broken by the blue ribbon of water that bisects the landscape. On the horizon the hulking statuesque silhouette of the Southern Alps stand guard like a fortress wall.

We touch down in a tiny clearing beside the river. Over the low frequency din of the rotor blades we unload the helicopter and in an instant we are left alone in the silence. I grab my gear and walk a few steps into a fully set up camp. An elaborate cooking area complete with table, chairs and fire pit. Just beyond is a tiny village of tents dotted amongst the trees.

I find my tent - this isn't some backyard pup-tent - tall enough to stand in and complete with camp cots, this is posh digs for the backcountry. Returning to the kitchen area I find that our guides have laid out a cheese platter and are pouring me a nice glass of Central Otago Pinot Noir. I wonder to myself if this new standard of luxury wilderness adventure will spoil me forever. Will I ever be able to go back to scroggin and Milo?

Before dinner I take a stroll amongst the forest. The sound of birdsong echoes all around as the sun begins to head towards the horizon. Upon my return dinner is on the go - and what a meal it is. A stir-fry befitting an up-market bistro is finished off with a chocolate pudding that you wish your mamma used to make.

The next morning I wake up early and promptly stay in bed for an hour - it's one of those sort of trips. Eventually the smell of breakfast urges me out of my palatial tent. After breakfast it's time to actually do some rafting on this rafting trip.

We load up and hit the river. It's a stunning day, warm and sunny - so not the West Coast. The river twists and turns through the landscape, bumpy second class rapids are broken up with larger sections of whitewater. As we head down river the intensity of the rapids builds.

We pull off to the side of the river to scout a rapid called 'Squeeze'. At a house sized rock the river takes a sharp right then a left. We would have to be precise, committed and ready to negotiate it. We paddle for all we're worth and ride the liquid locomotive. The rollercoaster of whitewater throws the raft at its whim. In a flash it's over and we're out the other side, laughing, elated, high-fiving and ready to take on the world.

The rest of the day is predicated with fun rapids, lazy floats and stunning views. We pull out late in the afternoon to another prepared camp. Before long the Pinot emerges and the smell of a roast lamb fills the air. As I drift off to sleep I wonder what the next day of rafting is going to entail. I wonder what's for breakfast and what jaw dropping views I'll see. I wonder if I could get used to being this spoiled. I think I could.

Check out the images on Flickr

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