New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country. With two main islands and 700 smaller ones, you’re never far from the ocean. And inland is just as beautiful. Green rolling hills are punctuated by rushing rivers and calm lakes. It’s as picturesque a country as they come.
It comes as no surprise then, that this stunner attracts all sorts of adventurers from far and wide. With snow in winter and bright, warm sun in summer, there is all sorts of fun to be had. And you may find that river rafting is your favorite activity.
River rafting in New Zealand is one of the best ways of seeing the awesome landscape. Get an adrenaline rush while also taking in the sights and having tons of fun and excitement.
I’ve put together this list of the ultimate rivers to launch off in, and the best experiences to carry you through. You’ll find all the information you need for an exciting, safe whitewater rafting adventure, whether you’re going solo, with a partner, or along with the whole family.
White Water Rafting North Island
Your New Zealand river rafting adventure is bound to be affected by which island you’re staying on. Whether you’re in New Zealand on vacation or are a resident who wants to have a bit of fun and see your own gorgeous country, your location will affect your experience.
We’ve put together a list of rivers to explore on the North Island, and a list of those in the South Island, so you can check the options in your area.
Below are the best rafting NZ rivers on the North Island. From the ever-popular Tongariro rafting to the calmer Rangitikei river, there are plenty of options for all kinds of explorers.
Tongariro River Rafting
Located on the North Island, this lengthy river winds through Tongariro National Park. The impressive space is the oldest national park in New Zealand and the 6th oldest park in the world. So it is a magnificent and well-established landscape to be rafting through.
With active volcanic mountains rising from the earth and tall trees lining much of the Tongariro River, the experience is certainly beautiful. And with over 60 rapids, it’s thrilling too.
When Tongariro river rafting you’ll get a safety briefing and an expert guide, so you can be secure in your safety. This experience doesn’t allow children under 10 years old, as you’ll be taking on Grade 3 rapids. These are super exciting for beginners and fun for experienced rafters.
Kaituna River Rafting
Also located on the North Island, this experience allows you to take on the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. It’s not for the faint of heart, but will certainly not be forgotten. And not to worry, you’ll feel safe in the capable hands of your rafting guides.
With this Katituna River experience, local Kiwi guides meld Maori culture with a thrilling adventure. While you raft through the wild landscape, you’ll learn about guardianship and protection of the land, according to Maori storytelling history. So you’ll walk away with a lot more than an adrenaline rush.
The landscape is incredibly lush and beautiful, with canyons covered in greenery. In the summer months, you can hop into the river to cool off. Just note that, because of the awesome rapids and waterfalls that you’ll be traversing through, Kaituna River tours are not suitable for children under 13 years old.
This is an experience that you can fit into a morning, as it isn’t a very long river. You can fit in more activities in the afternoon, making it ideal for those who don’t have tons of time and want to make the most of their vacation.
Now, one for the whole family! As long as your little ones can fit into the child-sized safety equipment, they’re more than welcome on the Rangitikei River. This scenic, peaceful river is also suitable for older and less active participants.
One of New Zealand’s longest rivers, this 185-kilometer (115 miles) river is located on the North Island, in the Kalmanawa mountain ranges. The water is clear and in summer it’s warm and pleasant for swimming.
The scenery is wonderful, and the river itself ranges between completely peaceful and exciting. There are grade 2 rapids for you to explore, but the experts guiding you along the water will ensure that you and your family are safe at all times.
Located in the east-central region of the North Island, this river flows from the Kaweka and Kaimanawa mountain ranges. The river is named after the town closest to the area where it empties into the sea, Mohaka.
When rafting down this river, you’ll come across a number of steep gorges, adding to the drama of the landscape. You’ll also come across waterfalls and native forests as you float your way along the 172 kilometers (107 miles) of the river.
You can raft down the Mohaka with a local company. They offer grade 2, 3, or 5 level rapids at different points in the river. The grade 2 option is a great choice for those who want to take their kids along for the adventure. The grade 3 offers a little more excitement, and the grade 5 is extreme, for those daredevils amongst us.
Rafting New Zealand South Island
Much like its northern counterpart, the South Island has tons of winding rivers and rushing rapids. It’s covered in gorgeous greenery and makes for a stunning vacation destination.
Whether you’re having adventures in Queenstown or living elsewhere on the island, you’ll be able to get involved in one or all of these tours. They are scenic and exciting, sure to get your heart pumping, while also taking your breath away with their beauty. You’re in for a treat!
Kawarau River Rafting
Ideal for beginners and those wanting a calm day of relaxed and fun rafting, this river is a gem. It’s located on the South Island and drains into Lake Wakatipu. Kawarau River is also part of the landscape that features in the epic Lord of the Rings movies. It was known as River Anduin in the films.
The views are absolutely breathtaking, and you’ll have enough time to enjoy them. Rafting down the river takes approximately two hours. But depending on the tour you choose to take, there are other activities to engage in.
This rafting tour encourages cliff jumping for those who haven’t had their full of adrenaline. You can also take a jet boat ride. Or float down the river on your back, with a safety jacket keeping you afloat and safe.
This experience is unfortunately not suitable for children under 13 years old or pregnant women. The guides ensure that everyone stays safe, but also have a great time. They are light-hearted and fun but know what they’re doing.
Located in the Otago region of the South Island, this long, fast-flowing river is sure to bring the thrills. The 75-kilometer (46 miles) river carries you past sheer cliff faces and threatening rock formations. It too is not for the faint of heart, but it’ll certainly get your blood pumping.
The adventure starts out slow and peaceful as you paddle over calm waters. But it quickly gets exhilarating as you go over the lower canyons’ rapids. You’ll also be plunged into darkness as you go under the historic Oxenbridge tunnel.
If the rains have been too heavy and it’s dangerous to go down the Shotover river, you’ll be taken to the Kawarau river instead. Either way, you really can’t lose. This experience, as it goes over grade 3 to 5 rapids, is not suitable for children under 13 or pregnant women.
This rafting adventure is a great option if you’re based in Queenstown. It’s also an incredible drive to the starting point, and you’re sure to enjoy taking in the scenery on your way to Skippers Canyon.
If you’d prefer not to paddle, consider riding a jet boat through the narrow canyons of the Shotover River.
This wonderful river has two separate grades available so that all sorts of folks can get a little wet and wild. There is a grade 2 section at the lower part of the river, for beginners and families. And then there’s a serious grade 5 section through the gorge, for those who want to go all in.
This river is rafted commercially by a local company and they have various options and deals to suit different explorers. The river is located in the Canterbury High Country, a particularly beautiful part of New Zealand.
The river is within the Tenehaun Conservation Area, so after a morning of rafting, you can spend some time tramping through the area. You could also mountain bike across the Moorhouse Range. There’s certainly no limit to how active you can get here.
What to Bring When White Water Rafting in NZ
When setting out for a river rafting adventure in New Zealand, you want to be sure you have everything you might need in your backpack. But simultaneously, you don’t want to overpack with things that aren’t necessary, or which is included in the rafting tours you’ll be joining.
So in order to avoid lugging around objects that won’t be used, or end up not having things you really do, check out this list of what to bring with you.
- Water shoes
- Dry clothes for afterward
- Waterproof camera (GoPro)
- Waterproof ziplock bags
Fortunately, you can generally leave your bags with the company you go with. So you don’t need to worry about dropping your cellphone into a rapid. But having something to record the experience from your perspective is a great idea.
When to go Rafting in New Zealand
New Zealand is a country with a wildly varying climate. The far north has subtropical weather during the summer months, while the alpine area of the South Island can reach temperatures as cold as -10°C (14°F) in winter. Whatever the time of year, the North Island is warmer than the South, because of their differing distances from the equator.
While tours run in the cool months, most are put on hold during winter, as the water may freeze over. But while the tours are running, don’t let the cold stop you from launching into this adventure. The experienced guides and companies are well aware of the cold and give you everything you need to keep warm.
If you don’t want to worry about getting a little chilly, or if you want to swim between rapids and jump off cliffs in some of the adventures, it’s best to go in summer. This would be between December and February.
Last Words on White Water Rafting in New Zealand
New Zealand is undisputedly one of the most beautiful countries in the world. You’ll admire endless green hills, soaring mountains, crystal clear blue lakes – and an impressive amount of rivers to raft down. You really cannot go wrong with a vacation or, if possible, living in New Zealand.
There are plenty of adventures to be had in New Zealand. Skiing, surfing, hiking – the options are endless. But nothing allows explorers to see as much of the iconic countryside quite like river rafting. And as a bonus, it’s great fun, and a good workout, without being too draining.
Armed with this guide, you’re sure to have an incredible time on the water. If you do embark on one of these adventures, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know how it went!
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