by Martin Ashplant
Location: Kaituna River, Rotorua, New Zealand
“Sorry mate. They’re not doing that river tomorrow. But you don’t want to do that one anyway, the Kaituna’s far more exciting.”
“But isn’t that quite a powerful river for first timers to do?”
“Nah. You’ll be right. Pick you up at ten?”
Say no. Say no. Say no.
But there I was at ten the next morning waiting to take my life in hand and raft the Grade 5 Kaituna River in Rotorua, New Zealand.
After kitting up, we were given the whole drill on how not to fall out as we were plummeting down waterfalls and rapids, but what to do if we did – just in case! Apparently, you curl up like a ball and hopefully pop-up to the surface cork-like. Alternatively you could panic, splash around madly and probably drown in the re-circulating water. Good job I wasn’t the panicky type!
“Two forward strokes,” our guide barked, as we thrashed at the water with utter lack of proficiency. This was soon followed by the call to hold on as we approached our first drop. We plummeted over the one metre Powerhouse Waterfall where we’d been warned that the raft might fold up. Fortunately it remained unfolded, but before we had a chance to be thankful we were white-knuckling it again as the raft disappeared over the three-metre Weir waterfall.
But this was all just a dress rehearsal for the main event.
With the raft pulled in on a calm siding, ominously named Last Chance Eddy, our guide told us that this was it, this was Tutea’s Falls, the biggest rafted waterfall in New Zealand and we were about to go down it. He asked for a high-five of paddles and a group yee-hah to show we were all ready, and then there was no turning back. Just in front of us, we could hear the torrent of water we were about to plunge down and my sanity wasn’t the only thing I was beginning to question. Before I knew it, the call to get down echoed again, and I plunged into the boat hanging on for dear life.
What happened next is like a jigsaw puzzle that I haven’t quite managed to put back together yet. I remember dipping over the edge and feeling completely helpless as the raft nose-dived downwards. It powered under the water, which was so bitterly cold that it stole the air from your lungs, and then everything became a blur. Disorientation took over and I had absolutely no idea which way up I was, let alone if I was still in the raft. It felt like I was underwater for hours, but suddenly we re-emerged back at the surface and a quick check revealed everyone was still in one piece. That seemed nigh on miraculous considering the surge of water crashing down behind us.
The adrenaline was still rocketing around my body after we’d got out of the boat and I could feel my heart racing as we thanked the spirits for our safe return. It was exhilaration in the extreme but probably a bit much for my disposition to take too often!