Of everything there is to do in and about Rotorua, the first thing we were desperate to experience was white water rafting on the Kaituna river. Amy had navigated the Zambezi during her time spent in Africa, so I was eager to give this a try myself. After a few days in the area we had it booked, and before we knew it, we were helmeted and paddled-up beside the water.
The group leader began by offering our respect for the river in Maori, a traditional prayer that would hopefully allow us safe passage as we journeyed the short but tumultuous stretch of river ahead. We launched the boats into a deceptively still area of water. Our raft leader was a guy called Jezza, a big bearded chap with a no-nonsense sense of humour, and a somewhat maniacal streak (a trait perhaps necessary for the job) and Amy and I were accompanied by another young couple and two chaps that barely seemed able to work our which end of a paddle to put in the water. After covering the basics, we found ourselves navigating the first series of rapids – proving surprisingly easy, but we soon came to our first major waterfall. The raft’s size meant we still managed the descent reassuringly easily, and we were able to relax as the river meandered slowly through peaceful stretches of rainforest. But the stillness was short-lived.
|The blurred lip of Tutea Falls looms ahead.|
The current quickly gathered pace, and after a few paddle strokes, Jezza directed the raft towards the right hand bank of the river and grabbed hold of a rope tied into the rockface. The edge of the Tutea Falls rumbled 30ft ahead of us, a foaming horizon where the black water narrowed and plunged 7 metres. “That thing on?” Jezza asked me, looking at my GoPro strapped around my helmet. “Hell yes”, I replied, trying to maintain an air of bravado. Jezza blew a whistle and waited for a reply from one of the leaders below the falls to ensure the plunge pool was clear. A few moments later, his whistle was echoed. The roar of the water was immense, but the faint sound was definite and rang like a firing-squad command. Jezza commanded us to paddle forward, and after a couple strokes yelled “GET DOWN!”. We braced ourselves, took as big a gulp of air as we could and held on tightly to the raft’s rope and handles.
|I have no idea if I'm still in the raft at this point!|
The next few moments are, unsurprisingly, hard to recount. We were suspended in free-fall, yet at the same time completely immersed in the tumbling water. There isn’t a moment when you realise that you’ve reached the pool below. Instead the weight of the furious water blurs the line between the surface and the depths below. In any case, at some point I was thrown out of the boat - my grip torn from the raft as it became submerged in the surf. As instructed, I tucked myself into a ball and felt myself being thrown around by the current, not knowing which way was up or down or when I might resurface. I hadn’t taken enough air in before the drop, what little wind within me was knocked out, and I hadn’t much idea what was going on.
After what felt like aeons, I felt fresh air on my face. The current had dragged me underneath the raft and belched me out at the far end of the plunge pool, to the whoops and hoots from the other rafters. Two others had been ejected as well, but had managed to climb aboard by the time I had found my senses. Amy had managed to hold on throughout, having to suffer Jezza’s insistence on surfing the churning water at the foot of the falls while I spluttered at the pool’s edge. After we’d all caught our breath, we clapped our paddles together in celebration – we’d just rafted the world’s tallest commercially raftable waterfall.
I had my GoPro running through the whole thing, check the video out here!
|Soaked and stoked.|
The next few falls were child’s play by comparison, but the adrenaline rush of Tutea waterfall made the rest of the journey downriver awesome. We surfed more rapids, with Jezza ensuring the girls on the raft were made to experience the full might of the river by making them kneel at the front of the raft and dunking them beneath. Aside from a slightly pulled muscle in my left arm, we came away from the water with only immovable smiles on our faces. What an experience!