Imagine a thrilling roller coaster ride with the added fun and fear factor of tumbling white water rapids.

White water rafting is hugely popular in New Zealand. The country has 1500 rivers, many of them accessible by road, and commercial rafting operators have sought out the most diabolical dancing waves, ‘stoppers’ and waterfalls to provide the ultimate challenge. Around 50 rivers are regularly worked by the operators, providing a complete range of rafting experiences.

The main rafting season is from October to May and the major centres of activity are Rotorua and Queenstown, with a range of Grade 1 to 5 rivers. The North Island principal rafting rivers are the Rangataiki, Tongariro, Ngaruroro, Mohaka and the Kaituna (boasting a 7m waterfall as its highlight). The main South Island rivers are the Buller, Karamea, Clarence, Rangitata, Shotover and Kawarau. Heli-rafting companies operate in the more remote headwaters such as the West Coast’s Hokitika, Grey and Karamea rivers.

Rafting can be enjoyed by anyone who loves the outdoors, although companies usually set a lower age limit of 12/13 years for rapids above Grade 2. All you need to bring for a day excursion is your swimming togs. Wetsuits, flotation gear and helmets are provided and you receive a thorough safety briefing and some fairly intense paddling instructions. You climb aboard an 8-seater rubber raft along with one or two guides and set off down a narrow, rock-strewn riverbed interspersed with short sections of wild, churning rapids. The key to successfully negotiating the rapids is taking the correct line and paddling hard (forwards, backwards or sideways) in response to the guide’s shouted commands. It is frightfully thrilling when it all comes together and you will instinctively scream with delight and deliver high fives all around.

White water rafting is an essential part of the Kiwi outdoor experience – a spine-tingling, heart-pounding roller coaster ride down some truly magnificent rivers.