Wet and Wild on the Shotover River

White Water Rafting on the Shotover River.

While in Queenstown this time I had of choice of some activities, since I had been there are few times before I opted to do something I hadn't tried before and it was white water rafting. I chose to go with Queenstown Rafting.

Because I had no experience with river rafting I was little worried and hesitant about trying it. Luckily two others in my group decided to do it too, so I decided to go ahead.

Queenstown Rafting comes to your hotel to pick you up and brings you first to their office in Queenstown so you can check in, then onto their actual facility which happens to be on the Shotover River right next door to the Shotover Jet. Upon arrival there you are told that you will be wearing a full wet-suit as the river can be quite cold especially since it was late fall. This in itself is a challenge as getting into a wet suit can be quite tiring, there is a lot of pulling and tugging going on! They provide you with everything the suit, socks, booties, jacket, rain coat, life jacket, helmet and even neoprene mitts. All you need to bring is a bathing suit and towel. Important tip: it is advisable to go to the toilet before you put any of this on!

Since the start of the rafting is not where their facility is you then have to pile into a van with all this gear on and drive 40 minutes into Skipper’s Canyon. Did I mention the road into Skipper’s Canyon is listed as one of the most dangerous roads in the world and it is probably one of the most scenic as well! It is a narrow one lane dirt road that clings to the side of the canyon and twists it’s way to the Shotover  River. This road was put through during the gold rush in New Zealand. On the way in you pass through 2 holes in the rock. The first was called Hell’s Gate by the miners as you were about to drive some precarious roads into the river. The second is called Heaven’s Gate as that was the first you would pass through on the way out of the Canyon and hopefully with some gold in hand. The river is still panned for gold and on occasion someone finds a nugget or two. Even one of the rafting crew showed off a ring that was made from a nugget found in the river bed.

Soon we arrive and now we are given a lesson on what to do if we fall out of the raft or if the raft flips. We also told not to stand up in the river if we happen to fall out but to float on our back with our feet up and to listen to instruction from rafting guide. At this point they tell you that you can opt not to do it if you don’t feel comfortable. I don’t think anyone ever does because the prospect of driving another 40 minutes out of the canyon in all your gear is probably less appealing. Basically after getting all that gear on you are committed!

Once in the raft you are taught basic paddling and commands as you have to work as a team. Before each rapid or challenge in the river we are given the lessons we need to successfully make it through without any mishaps. Ie. Falling out or flipping the raft.

Our guide Gabby was fantastic, she was small and mighty, full of energy and confidence which made us all feel comfortable. There is no substitute for an experienced guide with excellent people skills!

We were on the river almost two hours and it was so much fun! The ride down the river was beautiful with the fall colours and blue water. We also got a history lesson on the gold rush along the way and we saw many relics left from days gone by where people came to make their fortune on the richest gold bearing river in the world.

While on the river we encounter about 6 rapids all ranging from class 3-5 rapids, some of the names describes what you are about to encounter quite well, ie. Pin Ball, Jaws, Toilet etc. I’m happy to report that we did not lose anyone on our raft, although the raft behind us did lose one, but he was quickly scooped up and placed safely back in the raft.

One of the highlights of this trip was at the end where you raft through a man-made tunnel that was built by the miners to direct the flow of the river. Going through the tunnel was quite gentle but as you exit it you are suddenly dropped into the last rapid called Cascade, where the water completely washes over you!  It was a wild ride and I was glad that I decided to do it and didn't chicken out.

After the Cascade you are back where you started before the ride into Skipper’s Canyon. I have to say the most dangerous part of this trip for me was the walk on the sandy path, going downhill were my feet couldn't keep up with the rest of me, causing me to do an all-out belly slide on the path. At this point I was feeling pretty good about having all the wet suit gear on! I only suffered a sandy wet suit and hosing down when I got back to base.

To finish the trip you can warm up in the sauna they have on-site and finish up with a flat white coffee and treat or sandwich at their on-site café. Even though you can’t really take your camera with you on the raft, they do take photos that you can purchase as they have different cameras set up along the route.

I would recommend this for anyone that is young at heart and doesn't mind getting wet. No experience is necessary you only need to know how to swim and have the courage to try!


Denise Gushue - Travel Advisor

Kiwi Specialist