The difficulty of a section of river, with respect to rafting, is graded using a number scale. Most beginner sections are a 3. Due to the number and height of the waterfalls along this stretch, we spent our first time white water rafting on a grade 5 section of river.
Fortunately for us novices, our guide down Okere Falls was as good as we could have asked for (Raftabout or River Rats, same company) and the sections of the river between the falls were calm and slow moving – not to mention staggeringly beautiful – which leaves plenty of time for tuition and to catch your breath.
“Has anybody ever played the ’45 second game?'”, our guide asks us casually. When everybody shakes their heads he tells us all to jump into the water so we can play. Thanks to the thermal activity in the area, the water is a mild 26 degrees so we all enjoy the respite from the paddling, except the man who couldn’t swim who stayed in the boat. Bless him.
Then the guide tells us the rules of the game – “We go down the big waterfall in about 45 seconds… everyone back in the boat, QUICKLY!”. Fun times. I scramble back in and turn around to haul the guy next to me back into the boat, grabbing his life jacket the way we were shown in the safety briefing.
It gets the heart racing, but it was also good practice in case anyone falls out while going over the next fall. It was pretty likely that someone would fall out, as at 7 metres high this fall is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
No time to think, we’re up to the edge and over it. For a brief moment we’re almost completely vertical. When we hit the water the bow of the boat goes under, followed by the rest of us until we’re all entirely submerged for about half a second. We spring back up to the surface and receive a cheer from the rest of the boat teams as we all managed to stay inside the boat (and alive).
Although a bit pricey for the average backpacker budget, it was one of the bet days we had in NZ. The company is run by some great guys and it always feels safe. Highly recommended!
Price: NZ$85 – NZ$105, cheapest if you book through your accommodation
Age Limit: 13 years for full river experience
Equipment: All provided, wet suits aren’t necessary during warmer months
Transport: Transfer from/to Rotorua included