Rafting Rotorua- and Surviving to Tell the Tale - MapNomads
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Rafting Rotorua- and Surviving to Tell the Tale

(Or that time we rafted the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.)

You know us. When we heard that you can raft the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, they couldn’t keep us away. We even changed our perfectly crafted itinerary so we could do this. So, you can imagine just how excited we were when we arrived at Kaituna Cascades for our adventure day out.

Kaituna Cascade New Zealand

We met our guide, Pete, whom we instantly liked. He’s just a fun, outgoing, passionate guy who made this day one of the highlights of our whole New Zealand road trip.

Kaituna Cascades New Zealand


After the introductions, they gave us our equipment. Shoes, life jackets, and some funny looking fleeces. I suspect the reason for said fleeces was more to make us look like farm animals than to keep us warm. Because, who wants to go down a waterfall with regular clothes? Not us. 

Kaituna Cascades

Kaituna Cascade

You see, right up until Pete explained what to do in case the raft flipped over on the highest drop, it hadn’t occurred to me that that could actually happen. Stupid, I know. Of course the raft could flip over and send us spiraling out of control under the water. He showed us how to hang on for dear life and assured us that if we managed to keep the raft over our heads and float, that we’d be able to breathe. This didn’t reassure me. In fact, I started to silently freak out a bit. Breathing underwater with a huge plastic raft on top of your head, Johnny-Depp-and-Orlando-Bloom-in-the-Caribbean style doesn’t sound promising, does it?

Rafting Rotorua

From the second we took our places and started paddling, we had a blast. If you’ve never rafted before, we strongly suggest you try it. It’s humbling, and liberating, and exhilarating, and so much fun. 

Kaituna Cascades

We paddled down the rapids of the Kaituna River and you won’t be surprised to learn that 5 minutes in, we took a turn, and I was sent flying through the air and into the river. The only one that fell, mind you. 

After my awesome team jumped into the water (to rescue me, of course) it was time for the first drop. Pete told us that, as tradition, we all had to scream something at the top of our lungs before each drop. For this one, he asked us for something in Spanish. We all yelled ‘no mames’, and we skipped the explanation. (Look it up.)

Kaituna Cascades

Kaituna Cascades

For the actual fall, we had to sit on the base of the raft, hang on to the outside rope, tuck our chin in, and enjoy the ride. The first one was short, but it gave us a little taste of what the big one would be like. 

As we came closer to the big waterfall, our excitement grew. We could all feel it. The air was charged. We grew louder, restless and eager. Wild anticipation was written in our faces, and the second drop (second in height as well) only served as further enticement. 

Kaituna New Zealand

We were ready!

We stopped paddling right before the final drop so Pete could tell us again what to do should we end up rolling under the waterfall. He went over it three times. Three. We could tell he was being serious about not wanting the raft to flip. This is when I really started to get nervous. But hey, what’s an adventure without a little terror?

This time, for the scream, Pete called out to the the river guardian. We all stomped our paddles together and screamed as loud as we could, ‘SWEET AS’.

And off we went. 

We paddled forward, forward, forward. Pete yelled, “GET DOWN!”. We clasped our feet in, sat, gripped the rope so tightly that my knuckles turned white almost instantly. We tucked our chin in, closed our eyes, took a huge gulp of air….and fell. 

Kaituna Cascades

Kaituna Cascades

Kaituna Cascades

We were at the river’s mercy as water covered us completely. It was quick, but confusing. I honestly didn’t know if we were still on the raft. We came out and realized we’d made it. We hadn’t flipped!

Kaituna Cascades

Kaituna Cascades

We screamed, and howled, and celebrated that there hadn’t been the need to test the breathing-under-the-raft theory. 

We couldn’t stop laughing, and shouting, and being completely crazy. It felt just like an unforgettable adventure should feel like.  

Kaituna Cascades


Afterwards, we went for a celebratory swim and all too soon, we reached the end. It was seriously one of the best days we had on the trip and going down that waterfall is something we’ll remember forever. 

Kaituna Cascades

Crazy good times!

What has been your favorite rafting experience? Is Kaituna in your bucket list? Have you been to mud baths? Did you like it? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below!

Thaks to Kaituna Cascades for the pictures. 

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