Whitewater Rafting Class 5 Rapids in New Zealand

Written By: The Planet D

It was only day two of our Flying Kiwi experience and we were already facing the thrill ride of a lifetime. We were about to go whitewater rafting on class 5 rapids! Rangitata Rafting is located just a few hours from Christchurch and it was one of the best whitewater rafting experiences we’ve ever had.

There’s no wasting time on this trip, New Zealand is filled with adventure opportunities and we have each day jam packed!  

It was a cool morning in New Zealand and it was about to get a whole lot colder as we dressed for the ultimate White Water Rafting Adventure with Rangitata Rafting.

What’s It Like to go Whitewater Rafting in Class 5 Rapids?

new zealand whitewater rafting group

Nerves were running high as we were about to face the glacial river, freezing water and awesome Class 5 rapids. New Zealand is one of the few places on earth that actually rafts such big white water.


Our attire consisted of a thermal layer, a wet suit, a windbreaker, helmet, booties, and a life jacket. 

We may have felt a chill beforehand, but once we are wrapped in our layers we felt cozy and warm.

We were broken into 3 groups and take one final photo before setting off to face our doom. 

Before facing our first set of rapids, we practiced paddling, turning, diving from one side of the boat to the other and holding on and diving down to a safe position.

We went through a few more drills than usual because this water is so big. We had to learn what to do if we were about to flip over a big rock or waterfall.

Whitewater Rafting Class 5 Rapids

starting class 5 rapids whitewater rafting trip | dave and deb

The last thing I wanted to do was fall out because that water is cold.

Our guide Dan told us to take a deep breath and stay calm if we fall in. The water will be cold and our lungs will constrict but we will get used to it.

He also told us that falling out of the boat at the top of a class 5 rapid will be one of the most terrifying things that you will go through in your life, but you will pop up and you should be fine if you stay calm and follow all the safety rules that he just went through.

It was time to face class 3 rapids

class 3 rapids in new zealand

Just before entering the whitewater area, we were told to give our faces a good splash of water.

It definitely gives you a shock to feel the cold water hit your face, but it helps you prepare for being soaked with it once you face the rapids and it makes falling in more bearable.

Going to New Zealand? You’ll want to check out our New Zealand Travel Guide


It may have only been class 3 but the water came over the boat and onto us in full force. We were drenched and the adrenaline was high.

We were tossed and turned and shaken and stirred, but we came out the other end with huge smiles and whooping voices.

Warm Up for Class 5 Rapids Run

We were told earlier that by the time we faced our first class 5 we would be pumped and ready for it… and it was true.

We got out of our boat to take a look at the route we would be taking.

The water looked big and scary, but we felt ready. We watched the first boat go through and within a few seconds, someone was already bounced out of the raft! Yikes.

He fell off the back and people scrambled to hold onto his feet to keep him from going all the way down the river.

They managed to get him back in and make it through the rest of the rapids unscathed.

Our turn on Class 5 Rapids

navigating class 5 rapids new zealand

We listened to Dan’s instructions and followed diligently. Dave and I were at the front of the boat and I felt confident that we were going to make it through.

The first drop was huge and we took on a ton of water. It went up my nose and into my mouth and I had to gasp for air quickly before we hit the next drop.

Just as I caught my breath, more water came in. I kept on paddling though. I was terrified that if I didn’t paddle, the boat would flip, so I listened to Dan’s every word and tried my best.

We all worked as a team and came out the other end unscathed.

Big Whitewater in New Zealand

big whitewater in new zealand

That class 5 section was only 50 metres. It was the training run for the 300 metre monster.

We had the option to chicken out but everyone held strong. Once again we got out to take a look at the line.

Dan explained every obstacle that we would be facing. He told us that we would feel like we had just conquered a maneuver, but not to get too comfortable.

The minute we finish one, another would be around the corner and we had to keep paddling and listening to his instructions.


We went for it and paddled our hearts out. We bounced around catching air, taking on water and spinning from side to side, but we made it through with success.

With a big high 5 with our paddles, we whooped and hollered relieved to make it through the day.

We Conquered Class 5 Rapids

cliff jumping new zealand

It was all fun and games now.

After conquering the rapids it was time to go for a swim. We jumped off a rock and drifted through the more “mellow” water.

The river was still fast and there were some eddies and whirlpools, but it was a fun (if not freezing) drift down the river.

whitewater rafting trip new zealand cliff jump

Once we got to the end of our swim we had the chance to jump off a big cliff.

Dave loves the water and this was the ultimate rush. He didn’t just jump once, he went for a second round off the 10 meter (30 foot) jump.

He came out with a big smile.

Mellow Rapids to End the Rafting Trip

We had one final set of rapids to face and this time it was a class 3.

We posed at a drop for some photos and turned the boat from side to side.

The water swelled over the boat and within a few seconds, I found myself outside the boat swirling around in rapids.

nearing the end of a whitewater rafting trip in new zealnd

What’s it like to fall over when whitewater rafting.

I remained surprisingly calm.

It all happened in slow motion. It seemed as if the front of the boat filled up with water and I simply drifted out with the current.

I missed catching the paddle of a fellow rafter and quickly drifted on to another raft ahead.

Luckily I was just close enough to grab the end of their paddle before we entered the next set of rapids.

Ragitata Rafting in New Zealand


They pulled me in their boat and I sat in the middle taking a free ride through our final set.

I have to admit, it wasn’t scary at all being in the middle of the class 3 whitewater.

It has always been my greatest fear to be thrown out of a boat into ice-cold water.

But, it happens so fast and the crew is very professional, you are out and back in the boat in a blink of an eye.

Would we recommend rafting the Rangitata? You bet! It is a thrill ride and adrenaline rush like no other.

Read More things to do in New Zealand

Check out more Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking

White Water Rafting in Fiji
Huge Whitewater Rafting on the Ottawa River
Learning to Whitewater Kayak

Our New Zealand Experience is courtesy of Flying Kiwi. Most of the Rafting photos above were purchase from the Photographer at Rangitata Rafting. For $40 New Zealand Dollars we have the memories to last a lifetime.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

31 thoughts on “Whitewater Rafting Class 5 Rapids in New Zealand”

  1. Whitewater rafting in New Zealand is a complete rush! I felt the adrenaline consume me as I found myself thundering down the Wairoa river on New Zealand’s North Island. There is something about the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the end of this thrilling activity that really made this a memorable experience. The beauty of New Zealand combined with this extraordinary experience was phenomenal! What an exciting way to explore and discover more of this wonderfully diverse country.

    Reply
  2. Wow. Amazing photos. I have been on class four in Costa Rica and I have to say it was warm water and still absolutely terrifying!! Granted I was the poor sap that fell out in the first 20 second ride but you are right guides are so professional and know their stuff. If you follow all the rules and tips you will be fine. I plan to go to Australia in the next year or so and this really makes me consider stopping by New Zealand while I’m on that side of the globe. Amazing photos. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Very Cool! I can’t believe how blue the water is. When I was 13 I went through class 3 rapids, but they were a far cry from these. When we make it to NZ, I’m definitely going to check this out.

    Reply
    • You are absolutely right Randy, the water is more blue here than I have ever seen anywhere on earth. Everywhere we go we keep commenting on the colour of the water. Yes, these class 5s are pretty intense. you will love it. Even the 3 was big. That is when Deb fell out on a class 3 rapid. Funny eh.

      Reply
  4. That water is such an amazing color! Reminds me of pictures of the Futaleufu River in Chile, which is also fed by glacial snow melt from the Andes. Your blog reminded me of the first time I fell out of a raft, but like you say, if you don’t panic, you are back in the boat before you know it.

    Reply
    • Good to know someone else fell out of the raft. You are right, if you don’t panic all is fine. I always thought I would be a panicker if I fell in the water. Glad to know I remained calm. Yes, Glacial water is like nothing else on earth. So beautiful!

      Reply
  5. Look at the color of that water! WOW! It is gorgeous. But yeah, you can have the white water rafting. I have a healthy fear of drowning.

    Reply
    • There are literally dozens of rivers known for their white water rafting opportunities around the world, whether traveling in the U.S. or around the world. Rivers including the the Colorado and the Snake are just two that offer the beginner to the expert a time they will never forget.

      As the types of vacation options change to suit the interests of the travelers of today, adventure tourism including activities such as mountain climbing, zip lining and white water rafting become easier to find and more accommodating to people from a variety of backgrounds. Outfitters can be found along almost every stretch of river that offers this type of opportunity and prices can range from quite affordable for a day of rafting to week long adventures that require a bit more budgeting. As the opportunities can be found almost anywhere, we would like to offer you a look at the top rivers to choose from when planning your adventure. Learn more about the many amazing sites and adventures you can choose from when planning your vacation and make more of your experiences.

      Salmon River, Idaho – One of the most popular areas in the world, rapids along this river range from beginner to Class IV and everything in between. Including some of the wildest territory in the world, it offers natural beauty in addition to a rafters paradise.

      Río Upano, Ecuador – Traveling through vast stretches of rain forest and through remote small villages, this river is truly wild. Located along the Amazon Basin, this river weaves its way through canyons and gorges, down waterfalls and offer some of the hardest treks imaginable.

      Colorado River – Making its way through a number of states including Utah, Colorado and Arizona, it is easy to see what makes this one of the most well known river rafting areas in the world today. Affordable, offering a variety of difficulty levels and access in a number of areas, it is an easily accessible destination in the world to begin your adventure.

      Whether taking a trip down a class III in the Amazon or riding the rapids of the Snake river in Oregon, your options for having an adventure on the water are only limited by you. Get out and experience the excitement that can be found around the world and make the most of your time traveling.

      Berkshire Concepts travels with you and hopes that you can find and make the most of your dream vacations no matter where you choose. Explore more, travel more and learn more with tips and advice to help from Berkshire Concepts.

      Reply
  6. My goodness! That sounds like an adrenaline-pumped adventure all right! I only did white water rafting once in Padas river, Sabah and it was thrilling! Our raft flipped and we were all under water at the Class 4 rapid.. really scary first rapid but we came back stronger than ever after that! I could totally imagine how you felt! 🙂 And gorgeous pictures by the way..

    Reply
    • Wow! Flipping over in class 4 is scary alright! At least the water would have been warm in Borneo. It was freezing here.

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    • Wow! That is crazy that all the rafts flipped. At least the water was warm in Sabah:-)But it is as equally as scary I can imagine. Glad you made it out safe.

      Reply
  7. Looks like fun! Unfortunately we skipped over the rafting when we were there, it was winter and the thought of glacier water chilled us to the bone.

    Reply
    • I was freaked about the glacial water too. We were bundled up enough that it wasn’t too bad. It was the swim that was the worst part. As I drifted down the river I was thinking to myself “Why am I putting myself through this?”:-)

      Reply
  8. Wow what an adventure! Those pictures are amazing and the trip looked like a whole lot of fun. I’m with you on cold water. Warm water is good, cold water not so much!

    Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    Reply
  9. Those photos are so fantastic! We did whitewater rafting in Queenstown but the photos they tried to sell us weren’t anywhere near this good. So much fun =)

    Reply
    • These guys did a great job. They tell everyone not to bring their cameras because the water is too big. Even the waterproof ones can get ripped right off you and get in the way. We brought a little Olympus waterproof, but really didn’t need it.

      Reply
  10. I cracked hard on the group picture lol! Wow, I just love doing extreme stuff like this.. I wish I could experience rapid rafting before I get married. Amazing adventure, love the pics 🙂

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    • We laughed at that group shot too and had to include it. So much fun. I hope you get to do it too! When do you get married?

      Reply
  11. The rapids look intense! It looks like you guys had a blast, glad you made it through safely. The aqua blue water with the mountains in the background made for some gorgeous pictures.

    Reply
  12. I did the rafting as well in NZ, but then in Taupo. I really enjoyed it as well, the only thing that made me a bit nervous that day was the 7 meter drop from the waterfall. Also had a bit to much to drink the day before, so I didnt feel that well 🙂 I can really recommend to anyone to go rafting in NZ, its great fun!

    Reply
    • Wow! A 7 meter drop, that is huge. New Zealand is filled with big water. We are sky diving in Taupo, but if we come back, it sounds like white water rafting is the way to go!

      Reply