Are you ready for the most epic white water rafting journey of all time?
Long before our ladies weekend in Rotorua, we’d booked a white water rafting journey with Kaitiaki Adventures for Saturday afternoon. This was previously not something I thought I’d be up for. Don’t ask why, but something about it scares me more than bungee jumping, which I’ve done, or skydiving, which I’m dying to do. I think it’s the fact that everyone in the boat has a part to play, and if you don’t play yours right, there are lots of rocks and waterfalls waiting to knock you around.
But when I thought about it, I figured this is why I’m in NZ in the first place, so why not jump out of my comfort zone? And what better river to do it on than the Kaituna, which boasts the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall, Tutea Falls, and is classified as Grade 5. Tutea Falls is seven meters (23 feet) tall, and I’d previously seen it from the safety of solid ground when I went hiking around Okere Falls a year and a half ago. This time, my friends and I would all get up close and personal.
On Saturday around 2 pm, we got picked up in Rotorua and made the short drive to Okere Falls to suit up and get our rafting instructions. As soon as we had donned wetsuits, booties, jackets, life vests and helmets, we were ready to head to the Kaituna for a 45-minute rafting journey. First, we had to carry the rafts down to the riverside. Man, those things are heavy!
Our guide, Dally, then showed us all the commands we’d need to remember, the most important of which was “get down!” That’s for going over the bigger falls. Eek. We’d also have to do a lot of vigorous forward and backward paddling to ensure we were lined up correctly for going over the various falls. No pressure, right?!
Before we all got into the river, one of the guides said a Maori prayer, since the Kaituna is a sacred spot to the local people. The river used to serve as a burial ground for the Maori that resided in this area. Eels would eat the remains, and then the Maori would eat the eels, thus completing the circle of life. Tuna is the Maori word for eel, and “kai” is food, so the Kaituna is literally “eel food.” As long as we didn’t become eel food, all was good.
Finally, it was our turn to hop into the raft and get started. As you’ll see, there’s seven people to a raft. There were five in our group, so an American (Texan) guy named Kevin was the sixth, plus our guide Dally.
It didn’t take long at all before we came to the first 2 meter (6 1/2 foot) falls. “Get down!”
In case it’s hard to tell with all the gear, I’m in the second row on the left. Sophie and Emma are in front, Kevin is next to me, and Sarah and Kate are in back.
Made it over the first one! It felt pretty good. The next one was 1 meter (3 feet).
Feeling pretty accomplished after tackling two falls in rapid succession, we were quickly brought back to reality when Dally reminded us we’d only done 3 meters so far. Tutea Falls loomed ahead at more than twice that!
We tackled some smaller rapids and falls as we paddled past the ruins of the old Okere Falls power station (which brought electricity to Rotorua in 1901), giving us a chance to enjoy the gorgeous scenery along the Kaituna. It’s easy to see why this was chosen as a sacred spot.
It wasn’t long before we stopped off to the side as Dally held on to a rope to keep us there. This was our last chance to get out and walk if we wanted to skip the falls. Hell no! We’d come this far. None of us were going to chicken out now. We were given very specific instructions and told we’d have to paddle for our lives to ensure we lined up correctly before going over the falls. We’d previously been told there were four possible scenarios when going over Tutea Falls – A. end up upright with everyone in the raft, B. the raft ends up upright, but you fall out of the raft into the falls, likened to being in a washing machine, C. the raft flips and everyone is in the water, and D. the raft gets stuck at the bottom of the falls. Please, please, please be A!
There she is in all her glory. We had one last stop at the top to smack all our paddles together and wait for our turn to tackle the beast. Here goes nothing! “Get down!”
I love how different all of our expressions are as we prepare for the ride of our lives.
Annnd we go under.
All the way under…
Yes, we’re in that photo under that water, if you can believe it.
And we made it! Scenario A! Wooohoooooo!
What a rush!
From that point on, it was smooth sailing. Just as we got to the end, we were in for a surprise, though.
Dally asked me and Kate to kneel at the front of the raft. Uh oh.
We thought we were past the wettest part, but we were wrong.
We got dunked into the falls face first.
That one has to be one of my favorites – the true embodiment of water up the nose.
We got a break long enough to wave at the photographer.
And then we were back at it.
Just when Dally asked Kate to go back to her seat and I thought we were done, he told me to stay there and got Kevin to join me. You can see how pumped I was for round two of a face-full of water. Kevin didn’t know what he had coming.
And perhaps the best for last…
That ends the tour of the worst faces Kelsey Fly has ever made and hopefully ever will make for the foreseeable future.
We paddled to the pullout spot just downstream from the dunking spot and carried the raft back up to our van. After getting a chance to dry off, play with a border collie named Tui and check out our photos, it was time to head back to Rotorua. We had the van driver drop us off at the Polynesian Spa for a nice long soak in the hot geothermal pools. Definitely the perfect way to unwind after the most epic rafting trip of all time!
Next up, you’re in for some slightly more low-key entertainment as we explore Rotorua and see a sheep show at the Agrodome. Thanks for stopping by!