That’s right, it is exactly what it says on the tin. We were about to whitewater raft one of the most famous rivers in Queenstown and to get there we jumped on the Thunder Jet Boat, wetsuit and all.
Our day started at the raft base. Kitted out in everything we would need to stay dry, warm and safe on the river. We huddled together on the bus taking up a little more room than usual due to the extra 75 layers we were all rocking. The guides filled us in on safety procedures as we made our way to the water front. We were about to raft down the Kawarau River, made famous by the Lord of the ring’s trilogy, appearing as the gates of Audin. We were about to enter real Middle Earth, the Frodo obsessive inside was working hard to keep her sh*t together. But first, we had to get to our rafts. We were offered the chance to upgrade our trip. Instead of opting for the shuttle bus to the raft put in we chose to arrive by jetboat. Already spray jacket and life vest prepped we hopped in to the back seat of the Thunder Jet.
Thunder Jet offer a one-hour safari ride that travels further down the Kawarau River than any other jet boat, conveniently passing where the rafts depart, linking up just in time to jump out of one boat into another. The Jet boat ride was INSANE. If you’ve never been on a jet boat, then you’re in for a treat. Picking up speeds of up to 90km, throwing in plenty of those famous 360 turns and navigating under not one, but two bridges. It was amazing and getting everyone seriously pumped for the next leg of the journey. Happy to be dressed appropriately as Stan, our driver was making the most of a fast-flowing river giving all on board a firm soaking. We watched as the rafts made their way to shore via a genius pully system. After another safety briefing, the one you actually want to listen too, you know just in case the raft flips or you have to recuse a fellow paddler, we all jumped in the boat.
The Kawarau River adventure sure is an adventure. It is the perfect introduction to whitewater rafting. The likelihood of a raft flip is slim to none, yet you will still experience plenty of rapids, just not the ones that will make you question your life decision. We even jumped out of our boat and swam through a rapid. Plunging into ice cold glacier water in the back end of winter wasn’t my smartest move however I didn’t want to be the only one not participating so freely dive bombed into the ice bath. We watched as others jumped from the famous AJ Hackett Bungy bridge, narrowly avoiding our bright blue boats. Cliff jumping is also on the agenda, using the huge metal staples (rungs) that have been attached to the rocks we climbed high above the river and leapt into the icy blue below giving us the wakeup call we all needed after completing the calmer stretch of river.
Just around the corner was the mac daddy, the big dog, the longest commercially rafted rapid in New Zealand. Dog Leg was imminent. The guides had us pumped, **no dippers allowed on this section of the river**. A dipper is referred to a rafter who doesn't pull their weight and merely dips their paddle in the water. We paddled hard, held on to the ropes and got the hell down when instructed to do so. We made it! all in one piece and the relief washed over everyone. We cruised the rest of the river, down to Rafters Road where our ride home was patiently waiting. After collectively loading the rafts back on the trailer, we boosted it back to raft base and straight into those hot showers. Beer in hand at Canyon Food & Brew Co we reflected on our epic adventure, an absolute must do while in this beautiful corner of the world!