Rafting in New Zealand

Something for everyone

New Zealand White Water Rafting is a high-energy recreation combining individual challenge with teamwork while enabling you to experiencing some of the most incredible natural environments on the planet.

When it comes to getting into those places that are truly off the beaten track and considered remote wilderness area’s, then there is not a more efficient or fun way to get into the great outdoors than by rafting.
New Zealand’s mountains feed the many wild river systems that flow through forests, foothills, plains and even caves systems, giving three distinct options for the rafter. Firstly ‘Blue Water Rafting’ for those interested in easygoing, scenic drifting, through peaceful rainforest settings. Then there is the recent phenomenon of ‘Black Water Rafting’ usually achieved onboard a tractor inner tube while drifting through various caving systems experiencing underground formations, eliminating the need for the abseiling (rappelling) etc usually required to explore the subterranean environment - Waitomo and Greymouth are the main locations. And then there is the ever-popular ‘White Water Rafting’ moving quickly over rapids that are found on most rivers in New Zealand. Trip durations range from a few hours to awesome multi-day camping adventures.
North Island Rafting
Rafters mainly operate in and around what is known as the central or volcanic plateau in the center of the North Island. The highest peaks here are three volcanoes and two of these provide a significant water catchment that feed those rivers and lakes that surround the Plateau. They are Mt Ruapehu (2,797 metres) and Mt Ngāuruhoe (2,287 metres) with the small lakeside towns Rotorua and Taupo being the most recognized departure points. Also popular are the east coast area’s of the Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay.



Some of the key North Island rafting trips worthy of mentioning are:

  • The Tongariro River - offers more than 60 Class III-IV rapids in an immense volcanic gorge. This is a favorite river of both kayakers and rafters and offers both single and multi-day river options.
  • The Upper Mohaka - 2 Day Expedition - Helicopter in with stunning scenery from challenging grade III to technically difficult grade V rapids.
  • The Motu River III to V Day - untamed wilderness rafting, a 100 kilometre (62 miles) journey to the sea with exciting grade 3-4 rapids.
  • Waitomo’s Black Water Cave Rafting – Float through an underground Labyrinth of caves and tubes experiencing some of the best underworld formations. (3 to 4 Hours)




South Island Raftingriver-rafting--new-zealand.png
As we know the higher the mountains the fasters and the Southern Alps of New Zealands South Island feed some pretty wild but very beautiful rivers! This is especially true with the islands West Coast that experiences litteral torrential rain creating Turbulent rivers that cascade down from the mountains through lush native forest before spilling into the Tasman Sea. These extremes of the west coast make heli rafting an exciting region for multi of even single day adventures. Conversly on the eastern side of the Alps the rivers spread out over the flood plains of Canterbury allowing fantastic scenic journeys possible. The other areas worthy of note are Queenstown the so called ‘Adventure capital of the world’ in Southland/Otago has two white water rivers rafted and that is the beautiful Kawarau and Shotover rivers and in North Canterbury near the seaside township of Kaikoura is the mighty Clarence River.

Some of the key South Island rafting trips worthy of mentioning are:
  • Upper Buller River - One of the highlights of paddling the class III-IV Upper Buller River is going over the 4.8 meter (16 foot)Ariki Falls on the South Island’s West Coast.
  • The Karamea River – Its either a 2 day hike or a heli-journey to get to the headwaters of this 3-5 day trip down the class II-V Karamea river that allows to experience the wildly beautiful Kahurangi National Park in very north of the West Coast.
  • The Clarence River - One of New Zealand’s longest river journeys, this  five day river run moves down class II-III rapids is mild but an overall great trip for beginner and intermediate rafters.
  • Charleston Black Water Cave Rafting – Float through an underground canyon and experience galaxy’s of glowworms and amazing cave formations. (4 to 5 Hours)

River Grades - Scale of New Zealand River Rafting Difficulty

Here is a list of the six New Zealand river grades to help you choose what sort of experience would suit. The range is from easy drifting to dangerous.
  • Grade I: Little or no rough water, slight maneuvering maybe necessary, passive (Skills Required: very basic)
  • Grade II: Little or no rough water, possibility of rocks, might require some maneuvering. (Skills Required: basic paddling skill needed)
  • Grade III: whitewater likely, some small waves expected, possibility of small drop, no considerable danger. Significant maneuvering maybe required. (Skills Required: experienced paddling)
  • Grade V: Whitewater, large volume, large waves, likely large rocks & hazards, the possibility of large drops, precise maneuvering required. (Skills Required: advanced whitewater-rafting experience)
  • Grade VI: These rapids are so dangerous that they are unnavigable safely. Expect substantial whitewater, huge waves with huge rocks and hazards. Drops will give severe impacts beyond the capacities of almost all-rafting equipment leading to an increased likelihood of ending in serious injury or death. (Skills Required: not recommended)
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