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White Water Rafting in New Zealand


New Zealand boasts an abundance of white water rafting options, catering for all levels of white water enthusiasts, whether searching for an easygoing scenic river ride, fun for the whole family or a stomach flipping, heart-in-mouth thrill down the most extreme rapids. Rivers are graded by their speed and rough waters, ranging from 1; where the water is flat, to 6; where the water is too extreme to raft commercially. In the North Island, rafting rivers are mostly found on the central East Coastal areas of the Bay of Plenty near Rotorua and Hawke’s Bay. On the South Island, the main sites surround the Queenstown area and are on the West Coast.

If adrenaline and speed is what you’re after, go for the grade 5 experiences with the Kaituna Waterfall’s 7m drop, Wairoa or Shotover River and Rangitata gorge. The 14km Rangitaiki and Rangitikei Rivers come in at a close second in terms of thrill seeking where stunning scenery meets tumultuous rapids for an unforgettable experience. The grade 3 Tongariro River boasts 65 rapids varying in aggression from peaceful drifting to white knuckle fun, providing an exciting challenge for any team paired with views of the ancient beech forests, glimpses of rainbow trout and imposing volcanic cliffs.


Image of a raft negotiating the rapids white water rafting in New Zealand

Recommended for first timers, the grade 3 Kawarau River in Queenstown, used as a backdrop to Lord of the Rings, offers the 400m long Dog Leg rapid, offering a peek into New Zealand’s wilderness as if passing through middle earth itself. If a relaxing and captivating ride through some of the region’s best scenery is what you prefer, the Lower Rangitaiki River begins at a easygoing grade 2, enabling riders to enjoy the cascading waterfalls and still enjoy a fun ride.

There are a number of tour operators to choose from around New Zealand, most offering a full package complete with transfers, wetsuit, a hot shower and food. ‘Rafting New Zealand’ will take you on the Tongariro River for NZ$119 per adult, including a professional Kiwi guide and the bonus of an on river hot chocolate, hot dogs and a refreshing Taa Kawa Beer, a Maori Indigenous Ale to sweeten the deal! ‘Wet ‘n’ Wild’ specialises in one-day trips on the Kaituna, Rangitaiki and Wairoa rivers as well as multi-day expeditions. Packages combining white water rafting and mountain biking start at NZ$170 per person. ‘Queenstown Rafting’ promises the answer to your New Zealand adventure wish-list, offering trips for NZ$195 to experience the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers, just two of the trips available.

Whatever rapid you ride in New Zealand, you will be in for a wet and exhilarating experience. If you are up for the challenge, be sure to prepare your trip in advance, choosing from the vast array of operators to give you a wild and memorable adventure.

GO Play activities in this area

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    Rafting & Kayaking Trips

    River Rats Raft & Kayak have been offering quality adventures for over 30 years. There’s something for everyone, from a gentle scenic raft trip suitable for kids, through to the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall. There are also plenty of Kayaking options available. Paddle the local lakes to a secluded beach or enjoy a hot water swim.

    391, SH 33, between Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti. Tel : 07 345 6543

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    Flights, Walk & Jet Boat

    Enjoy a thrilling jet boating adventure and guided walk in the Queenstown–Lakes region. Combining culture, nature and history, it’s more than an exciting jet boat ride! Set amongst the spectacular scenery of Mount Aspiring National Park, see hanging glaciers, waterfalls and Lord of The Rings & Hobbit film locations. Experience remote wilderness and walk beneath breath-taking scenery. Heli Flights to the glaciers from the jet boat are also available.

    99 Ardmore Street, Wanaka. Tel : 0800 544 555