Here’s one of the things I really love about New Zealand: I keep stumbling across incredible adventure activities I never knew existed.
This latest one is called River Sledging. It’s where whitewater rafting meets the luge.
Essentially, you shoot down a river clinging to a board, coming face-to-face with grade three rapids. What does that even mean? Well, the official definition is: high waves (1-2 metres), broken water, stoppers and strong eddies, exposed rocks and small falls. In other words: lots of fun.
Now, I think it’s important that I be upfront here. I was in Rotorua looking for adventure activities, and sledging was my get-out-of-jail-free card.
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There was talk I should raft the Kaituna River – complete with the world’s tallest rafting waterfall. It’s seven metres of terror, and if you fall out, you need to crawl up into a little ball underwater and wait for the current to spit you out. Some call this fun; I’d rather hike naked to the top of Mt Ruapehu.
So when I came across this mysterious sport called River Sledging – that starts just after the waterfall – it was the perfect excuse. It sounded fun and much more relaxed.
Fast forward a few days, and I’m sitting in the shuttle bus heading out to Kaituna River, seated alongside the rafters who are about to head over the waterfall.
My smugness is quickly shattered as the guide tells us “they’ve got the easy day, we’re actually in the water battling the rapids.” Insert expletive.
Our trip starts at the base of the waterfall, with military-style instructions on what to do if we come off. For the record, you need to thrust your hips in a hula-hoop style to get back on your board. I’d later find out my thrusting needs a bit of work.
So we push off on our first rapid, rolling around the corners with smiles and laughs. It was a lot of fun, not too difficult; this is going to be a walk in the park.
Our guide gathered us together – and once again shattered my smugness. “Right, that guys, was grade zero. That was literally just a corner. Coming up is our first grade three rapid of the day.”
Now, the thing about this sport is you don’t just float down and hope for the best. At each rapid, the guides stop you – and instructs you on how to keep out of trouble. But they don’t call it trouble, they call it “life getting really interesting.”
Our first rapid was “The Cheese Grater” which we all managed to get down with ease. Then my life got unexpectedly “interesting” when I fell off near a feature called “The Cave” – and you don’t want to get stuck there. Turns out my thrusting wasn’t quite an elegant hula-hoop, more emu attempting breaststroke. But I eventually got back upright, with the help of our ever-watchful guides.
The course was a challenge, but more importantly, the most fun I’ve ever had on a river. If adrenaline runs through your veins – and you’ve already given rafting a go – this should be your next stop.
GETTING THERE: Rotorua is an easy drive from Auckland, or fly from Wellington and Christchurch. Flights and rental cars can be booked through Expedia.co.nz
PLAYING THERE: River Sledging with Kaitiaki Adventures costs $129
STAYING THERE: According to Expedia, travellers in Rotorua can expect an average of $175 a night.
READER OFFER: For Kiwis keen to explore their backyard, download the Expedia App and get access to exclusive members deals. Use the discount code “STUFF12” on the Expedia app for 12 per cent off select New Zealand hotels or “STUFF10” for overseas hotels. T&C’s apply. See: expedia.co.nz/g/rf/stuff12 and expedia.co.nz/g/rf/stuff10
CARBON FOOTPRINT: Flying generates carbon emissions. A return trip for one passenger flying from Auckland to Rotorua would generate 49kg of CO2. To offset your carbon emissions head to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset
The author’s trip was supported by Expedia.