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If you want fresh-water adventures in New Zealand, where else would you go but the Taupo district? New Zealand’s largest lake and an area that’s both stunning in beauty and chock full of hidden gems and secret spots that make you wonder if humans had ever stepped foot there before – you couldn’t get further away from device world than that. Plus the restaurants, bars and cafes are great to visit, too.
The most pristine river in New Zealand is the Tongariro River, which just happens to flow into the southern end of Lake Taupo. It embodies everything I had just mentioned – stunning in beauty, and full of untouched areas to leave you equally in awe – and although it’s always been known for it’s world-famous Trout Fishing, that’s only one activity on the river. The other, and soon to be as equally world-famous, is Whitewater Rafting.
The adventure I chose to take was Rafting New Zealand’s most popular activity, the Tongariro Whitewater Adventure. Rafting Grade 3 rapids on the mighty Tongariro River – I had no idea what to expect, but I suited up in all the top-quality on-river apparel and watched the safety video provided. Next stop was the river…
On the trip in the shuttle to the Tongariro River and what they call the ‘put in’, the team leader provided us with an intimate story they call ‘The Battle of the Mountains’ – A story with a variation I was familiar with from my younger years, but it was interesting hearing the local rendition, which highlighted Pīhanga, the matriarch mountain of Turangi and her husband mountain, Tongariro of which the river we were to raft was named – this showed not only the respect Rafting New Zealand held for the surrounding land, but also their connection to the river itself.
Once we disembarked and got the pep talk from our guide who let us know what commands meant, how to sit in the raft correctly and safety reminders, we were on our way walking down to the river ‘put in’. We hit the water smoothly and we were getting acquainted with our paddles in the calm, before hitting the first few rapids. Almost every rapid on the river – 50+ - comes with it’s own interesting and often amusing story of how it got it’s name, and they all come with their own level of anticipation and excitement.
Rapids like the ‘Cheese Grater’, ‘Leg Breaker’, and the affectionately named ‘The B*tch’ are a Rafters introduction to the river. Each of them are fun and take you on an awesome ride to the next – provided you stay in the raft! Luckily, throughout the whole 14kms of rapids, our team all remained in the raft. We were treated with rare sightings of the Whio Blue Duck (star of the New Zealand $10 bill) and on-river treats – hot chocolate and chocolate fish – in between clusters of rapids and stories of the changes in the river flow from land slips, extreme weather and age-old lava flows that helped form the gorge itself.
Seeing the trout through the crystal clear water swim swiftly underneath us, weaving effortlessly around the rocks we were navigating was also a treat and really lamented the fact we were in an untouched region of New Zealand – something so pure and so natural, it made you forget that not even 2 hours away were the hustle of freeway traffic, and chitter-chatter of pretentious cafes.
Even though we had to paddle we could still take in the surroundings and relax our minds to truly appreciate the experience. The classic ‘Pink Floyd’ rapid – named after their equally classic ‘The Wall’ album – marked the home stretch and once we had reach the end, it was photo time and out of the river back to base, contemplating not only the pristine environment we had just left, but also the slow re-introduction back into ‘life’ as we knew it.
Once back at base in Turangi, we were treated again, this time by heated changing rooms and beer! Glorious beer! While I had the opportunity to bond with other team mates who had also come on this adventure by themselves, with no previous rafting experience. We now had something in common, a talking point to ensure we were no longer strangers.