Having rafted three times before I thought I was prepared for what New Zealand had to throw at me.
I was wrong.
We were up bright and early to meet our ‘River Guides’. I was staying at River Valley Lodge, nestled in a deep gorge surrounded by mountains and countryside on the banks of the Rangitikei River AKA Lord of the Rings territory. When the rest of our group had arrived our guides handed out a form to fill in about our emergency contacts (not the most comforting of starts!) and handed us each a wet suit. Squeezing into a damp wet suit seemed like the worst thing to be doing this early in the morning, especially when it had began to drizzle persistently outside.
After we had changed we squashed ourselves into a mini bus and drove twenty minutes up the road to our drop-off point. After a quick safety briefing (don’t die) we clambered aboard our rafts and, with the help of our instructor, set off down the river. The supposed beautiful scenery was clouded in grey drizzle but the rutting gorges still seemed to hold an atmospheric beauty.
In anticipation for the Grade 5 rapids further down the river, our guide started us off on some Grade 3s. Being quite nervous, he reassured us that these starter rapids would simply get us used to the feel of the river and how to handle the raft.
He was wrong.
This was the first near death experience of my trip.
As we braced ourselves for the first rapid, our guide had taken this opportunity to try a new line down the rapid which went terribly wrong. After an initial jolt, the raft tipped completely, throwing all of us into the fast-paced water. I had no idea what was happening and had winded myself badly on impact with the water. Unable to breathe I was forced underwater and towards the rocks on the riverbank. I desperately tried to remember our safety briefing, (try to keep your legs floating on the top of the water- this way they won’t get caught on any debris). Gasping for air, I finally reached the surface, clinging onto a rock for dear life. One of the other rafts had come to rescue us, turning the capsized raft up the right way and freeing the people trapped underneath it. They beckoned over at me to swim to the raft which was definitely easier said than done with no air left inside of you!
Scarred for life, we clambered back aboard the raft and spent the next couple of hours clinging on as tightly as we could. The rest of the trip was not without incident, at one point we were caught on a rock with a steep drop-off into the water below, an oar was snapped, knuckles cracked against the gorge-side and I nearly fell in yet again, only to be pulled back from the brink by the instructor. In comparison to all of this, the Grade 5 rapids were a walk in the park!
Completely adrenalin-drained, we squelched back to the lodge and were greeted with a piping hot chocolate. Nestling by the fire we were able to laugh about our adventures on the raft. They just won’t be repeated anytime soon!