“Any final tips?” Vladimir nervously asks our guide, Lee – not entirely sure that he really expects an honest answer. With a smile the width of the Tongariro River, the response is quick and delivered with typical Kiwi humour – “Just stay in the raft”.
Bobbing up and down like excited toddlers on a fairground carousel, the sounds of gurgling white water heightens our senses. This was it. There is no time for shirking responsibilities. We paddle intensely as if our lives depend on it as we crash through the first of over 50 white water rapids.
Tongariro River’s gentle white-water rapids are ideal for aquatic newbies like me. White-water rafting might not be an exact science with different meanings to its I, II, III, (all the way to a VI) classifications, since different countries have their own “ideas” of what constitutes what. But, whatever class you chose, you’re going to have to learn teamwork; you’re going to get wet; and you’re going to embarrass the living hell out of yourself. We could have chosen one of Rafting New Zealand’s more extreme options but opted for the class III, which still promised 2.5 hours of white knuckle adventure.
With life-jackets and helmets secured, my wife, 13-year old daughter and I introduce ourselves to our fellow adventure seekers who include Vladimir, an Australian university professor, and his two teenage children. Decked out in boots, wetsuits, blue/green/black fleece jackets (it’s supposed to be warmer than cotton), red life-jackets, and lime-green and red helmets it is hard to tell anyone apart. I guess when you look like a rainbow-stuffed bratwurst that’s bound to happen.
Didn’t I say you’d somehow manage to embarrass yourself? Who cares what you look like? Take it up with the Fashion Police – I had a river to tame. More specifically the Tongariro River, which nestles in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, not too far from Turangi.
Our first lesson in teamwork involved us carrying the raft from the bus to the banks of the crystal clear Tongariro River. No slacking on carry-duty. We reach the riverbank. Lee shouts instructions on what to do, but it is hard to pay attention to anything other than the steep volcanic cliffs framing the river. Pushing off from the river bank, the current quickly drags us away from the comfort of terra firma. “Fast forward” roars Lee.
We paddle hard and furious through the first whirl-pool. Then silence – the calm before the storm. Sounds of hissing and roaring water catch our attention. “Hold on tight” Lee bellows in an effort to prevent the ignominy of one his guests receiving an early soaking. Our chorus of squeals and gasps boomed and echo as we successfully navigate our first obstacle.
When we we’re not buckarooing the many rapids, the tranquillity and sheer beauty of the landscape takes our minds off the job in hand. We bob and weave silently through a corridor of sheer pumice rock faces and my neck is still stiff from gazing skyward.
We even find time to paddle to the riverbank and climb a small waterfall and dive feet first into the river.
Refuelled with hot chocolate we continue to paddle left and right through smaller rapids. Suddenly, the river dog-legs around a corner and a much bigger and even angrier rapid would surely test our new-found skills. We clutch our paddles as firmly as we can and we’re soon back in mother nature’s grip and in the midst of a violent washing machine. We thrash and jolt up and down in our raft like rodeo stars in a bull-riding contest. A good soaking ensures that everyone stays wet but thankfully no one goes “man-overboard” and we simultaneously wave our paddles in a team high five.
The final few rapids ensures our raft continues to twist and turn wildly as water swirls around like a washing machine on its fastest spin setting. Losing my balance, I slip and swallow a good amount of Kiwi H2O and cling tightly to the ropes as the raft spins and is relentlessly pounded.
Lee leads us confidently through our final push as we paddle as hard as we have all day. Riding through our final rapid we feel like peas trapped in a saucepan of boiling water but realistically I guess it’s quite tame by New Zealand white water standards.
White-water rafting might not be for everyone, but anyone with a sense of adventure should give it a shot. Nothing but a white-water rafting trip transforms you from a leisurely float one minute to being hammered around on some sort of waterslide on steroids moment.
I look at Cerys and she looks like she has paddled so hard that I know it will be hours before she taps out any text messages to her friends!
Our aches and pains are quickly soothed with hot showers, complimentary drinks and hot dogs in Rafting New Zealand’s sleek, modern HQ. I was already planning my next white water adventure.
I travelled the Tongariro River with Rafting New Zealand (0064 (7) 3860352); www.raftingnewzealand.com. The Tongariro White-Water River Trip costs $109 per adult for an action packed afternoon and includes all safety equipment, hot drinks and snacks.