New Zealand : Rafting the Kaituna River

“The highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.” When I read this, I knew we HAD to do this rafting trip.
The Kaituna River is a Class 5 rapid with a 7 meter drop off Tutea Falls.

We booked with River Rats. They provide free transportation to and from most accommodations in central Rotorua. We were dropped off at their office where we changed into our bathing suits and received our helmets, life vests, and water shoes. Another quick ride brought us to the Kaituna River.

We rafted through some relatively gentle rapids and a few drops. At the time those drops were frightening but they were nothing compared to the massive drop off Tutea Falls.

Our guide, a total surfer-dude type from Canada, rowed us off to the side before the waterfall drop to talk us through the fall. One of two things will happen: you’ll go down the waterfall and float off OR you’ll go down the waterfall and flip over the raft.

Of course, we flipped the darn raft.

After our pep talk, we slowly rowed to the top of the waterfall. We grabbed onto the ropes and oars as the raft inched over the edge. I got a glimpse of how high we were before I chickened out, crouched down into the raft, and shut my eyes. It felt like we were dropping for the longest time. It IS 7 meters after all. I finally felt the raft hit the water as we landed.

And then….. I felt the raft start to come up from under me and I thought “fuck.”

Our tour guide’s instructions quickly came to me as I gripped the ropes and handles on either side of me. And I went under. I can’t swim.

An air pocket forms underneath the raft and I pulled myself up into it gasping for air. Then I think to myself, “Now what?” The guide.. or someone, I don’t even know.. tells us to go under again and come out the other side of the raft.

It’s pretty funny to replaying the whole thing scrolling through these pictures:

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Well, that’s 2 for 2. I rafted the Class 4 Pacuare River in Costa Rica (AMAZING. MUST DO.) and fell in the water that time too. I’d really glad we did though. It was so exhilarating! Did I mention I can’t swim?

The other raft came and pulled us up as our tour guide flipped our raft back over. The rest of the trip was smooth sailing.

Comparing this with the Pacuare River in Costa Rica, I’d say the Kaituna was actually tamer. The Kaituna is only classified as a Class 5 because of the waterfall. I found the rest of the rapids to be pretty calm. The Pacuare starts as a Class 1 and progresses to a Class 4 but felt more challenging. But I might just feel that way because it was my first rafting trip. Also, the scenery on the Pacuare is BEAUTIFUL. Lush rain forest all around you with waterfalls flowing down the sides of the cliffs next to you.  It’s also a much longer trip. It was a half day trip with a lunch buffet in the middle. The Kaituna is still amazing though. Now you can say you rafted the highest commercially rafted waterfall in THE WORLD.

The whole trip was about 3 hours, including transportation. You’re on the water for a little under an hour. A shower is not provided but don’t forget to bring a change of clothes and a towel.

FYI: You’re allowed to bring a GoPro only if you use a chest strap. No helmet mounts.

River Rats hires a photographer to take pictures of you throughout the trip that can be purchased. It even comes in a cute raft shaped USB.


River Rats

Address: Hangar 14s, Rotorua Airport 837, Te Ngae Road, Rotorua 3074 New Zealand

GSP Coordinates: -38.111335, 176.317009

Contact: +64 7 345 6543; 0800 333 900


Cost: $105 NZD per person. $45 NZD for photos

Duration: 3 hours including transportation. About 1 hour on the water.



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