White Water Rafting Class 5 Rapids

It was only day two of our Flying Kiwi experience and we were already facing the thrill ride of a lifetime! 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.
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, windbreaker, helmet, booties and a life jacket. We may have felt a chill before hand, 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…

white water rafting new zealand

See more at: Thrill Seeking New Zealand Adventure Tours

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 New Zealand

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.

in the boat white water rafting new zealand
So now that we were thoroughly warned…

It was time to face a class 3 rapid. Just before entering the white water 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.

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going into class 3 rapids in new zealand
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.
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.

entering class five rapids on rangitata river nz

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 white water in new zealand
What a rush

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.

white water rafting with flying kiwi
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.

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.

Deb Jumping off Rock Number 1

Once we got to the end of our swim we had the chance to jump off a big cliff. I am ashamed to admit that I chickened out. I was very cold during our drift and wasn’t looking forward to having the shock of hitting the water again. Plus, I was already proud of myself for jumping in at the smaller jump and actually getting in the water.

Read: 15 of the Best Things to do in New Zealand

I am never a fan of cold water, so I went very far out of my comfort zone. Dave on the other hand looks for a rush wherever he goes so he not only jumped off of one cliff he went again off of the 10 metre (30 foot) jump.

Dave Jumping off the big 10 Metre Rock

He came out with a big smile. After I heard that the water felt warmer the second time around I felt extreme guilt for not giving it a go.
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.

river rafting the rangitata river in New Zealand

It was only a few seconds later that Deb fell out

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.

white water rafts on river bank
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 next: 33 Reasons to Visit New Zealand

Check out more Whitewater 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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