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The Shotover vs Kawarau River

There was a whole heap of emotions running through my head as I pulled on my wetsuit at the rafting base. A mixture of, how cold will this water be in the middle of Winter and why on earth had I agreed to raft both rivers back to back. That’s right the notorious Shotover River was first and then the Kawarau River through Gibbston valley would greet me in the afternoon.

At the Raft Base we were kitted out with all the necessities. Wetsuit, booties, helmet, fetching red spray jacket and the all-important life vest, stocked up we boarded a bus and headed straight to Coronet peak. Now in the summer months the crew will lead you down the world-famous Skippers Canyon Road, famous for its steep cliff edges and blind bends, it’s not for the faint hearted I tell you. But in Winter the road is closed so the only way to access the river is to fly, that’s right, fly. We were about to embark on some kind of Mission Impossible style entrance down the Shotover river, personally I was beside myself.

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I fully lost my sh*t when they scooped up all the rafts and equipment into a net and flew that into the canyon, my mouth full of flying grass and dust as I stood there, mouth wide open in awe, waiting for our ride to appear. We jumped in the Heli, just to let everyone know, this was my first ever helicopter ride. Sandwiched between my colleague and one of the guides I had the perfect view, right over the pilot’s shoulder. It was epic, like actually epic. We flew over the back of Coronet Peak and down into the Canyon, weaving in and out, following the river we were about to raft back down Tom Cruise, eat your heart out.

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Safety briefings are important, so listen. I pushed my way to the front, I wasn’t taking any chances. After listening to the commands and what to do if a raft flip occurs. We were in the boat before we knew it, pumped and ready to embark on an adventure with the crew. The day was beautiful, the sun was shining, the air was warm, perfect day to be throwing ourselves down some grade 5 rapids. I couldn’t ignore how fast my heart was beating, I was trying to keep my cool, I really was as we paddled ahead carefully listening to every practice command Martine, our guide, threw at us. I was taking no chances, listen and listen hard. It was winter after all and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who didn’t fancy a frosty dip in the cold waters. After a short leisurely paddle, we all knew the inevitable was coming. The rapids were around the corner, safe to say my adrenaline was at an all-time high and I was doing my best to not drop my paddle with my shaky hands. The key to getting down this rapid is to listen to everything and I mean everything coming out of your raft guides mouth.

GET DOWN, GET DOWN shrieks came from the back of the boat, we were 80% into a ridiculously crazy flowing rapid and we were holding on for dear life, conscious not to jab each other with the paddles but selfishly holding on for one’s life, I closed my eyes and waiting until the command of paddle high five was called, we had made it & man it was EPIC!

Go Orange Queenstown Rafting - Shotover River Rapid Action

Pinball, toilet, oh Sh*t, squeeze, aftershock and rock garden await. The rapid names give you a little insight to how crazy this adventure is. After safely making our way through them all and arriving, all finger toes and paddles intact to the entrance of the Oxenbridge tunnel I thought it was time to relax. The tunnel, made back in the gold mining era by some keen miners wanting to redirect the flow, is a 170m tunnel blown out under the mountain, its pitch black, low and narrow but calm. As soon as you exit the tunnel, there it is, right up in your face. Your final frontier. The Cascade rapid, hold on for your life, the raft base is in sight. As I watched our fellow comrades navigate safely down the final exhilarating rapid an overwhelming sense of achievement washed over me. Stripping out of your wetsuit is also pretty satisfying as is washing down your accomplishments with a cold beverage from Canyon Food & Brew Co next door.

Okay, it’s not over yet. I don’t know what what was scaring me more, the thought of having to squeeze back into a wet suit again or knowing that in a few short hours I would be back out there facing the white water. Either way, I completed both, I know I’m proud of myself too. Loaded back into the bus we started the journey to the Kawarau River. Any Lord of the ring’s fans out there? Just me? Well this river actually starred as the River Aundin in the first film, I was ready to get my fellowship on and jump in.

Go Orange Queenstown Rafting - Kawarau River Adventure

As you and your crew of fellow adventurers take a short walk down to the water’s edge, the boats are being zip lined down above your head. The journey started with a safety briefing, I again listened with all intent, I didn’t want to slip up on this one. This river is different, perfect for those looking for an introduction to the white water, packed with adrenaline pumping rapids and also calmer stretches of water, allowing you to sit back and take in the incredible scenes surrounding you. The 2-3 grade rapids will get your heart pumping, but not fearing for your life. Dramatic I know but the Shotover River is so intense, this river feels like an absolute dream. We passed under the iconic Bungy bridge and watched someone throw themselves right to the water we were paddling through. We also tipped out, intentionally on a calm stretch of river and swam down a smaller rapid, trust me, it was cold!

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We sailed through the Kawarau River and I fell in love with rafting, we worked as a team to pump the paddles, make it through the rapids in one piece and enjoyed the chat from our experienced guide. I even managed to keep my cool when rafting through the unforgettable 400m long Dog Leg rapid, New Zealand's longest commercially rafted rapid!

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As the boat of champions paddle high fived for the last time, I felt safe enough to take a deep breath in. My crazy paddling adventure was over both equally as epic, both equally as heart racing and both an absolute Queenstown must do! White water rafting is one of the ultimate activities to partake in here in Queenstown and I invite you to join the leaders, Go Orange quiet literally blew me out of the water today and when I’ve calmed down, I will be back for more!

Book Shotover River Heli-Raft here

Book Kawarau River Rafting here