Whitewater rafting was not something Brian wanted to do. It took some wheedling on my part, but eventually he was on board with Kaitiaki Adventure’s 2-for-1 winter special. I hadn’t done much research on the experience since it is a standard Stray promotion. As such, I knew intellectually we were undertaking class 5 rapids and going over a seven-meter (>20 feet!) waterfall, but I didn’t understand that Kaituna River’s Tutea Falls is the tallest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world! In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t know because I wouldn’t have done it and, although challenging, it was a worthwhile experience.
The trip began with a lecture about proper care and feeding of our wetsuits. “How do you spell wetsuit?,” the guide asked.
“W-e-t-s-u-i-t,” someone replied.
“That’s right! There’s no “p” in wetsuit so don’t pee in the suit.”
After we had that down and had donned thermals, a wetsuit, booties, a pullover, helmet and life vest, we were ready to go. At the river, the company’s name, Kaitiaki (meaning guardian in Maori) came into play when they taught us how to paddle, “hang on” and “get down,” gave us a safety briefing on how to protect ourselves if we fell out of the raft or it capsized, and offered acknowledgment and thanks to the river spirits for our safe passage. Then we were off, practicing on a few small rapids and falls before taking on the big daddy.
We had done well so far and I was feeling confident, but nothing prepares you for a seven-meter drop. Everything happened so fast that I don’t even remember that part of it. All I know is that one minute we were heading over the edge and the next I was underwater, wondering when my next breath would come and trying to hold onto the raft as we’d been taught. I failed. I lost hold and was immediately pulled down further into the churning waters.
Still remembering my training, I tucked myself into a ball and floated to the surface, only to be dragged right back under. I did manage a quick breath in between. I came up again, dazed from the shock and cold, and our guide, who had crawled atop the overturned raft already, was right there, yelling at me to swim. I did what I was told. The raft was still moving away from me, luckily headed toward the river bank and a protected cove. I caught up and climbed onto the rocks, still gasping but thankful to be safe.
I turned back toward the fall just in time to see the other raft go over. My eyes locked on our friend, Emily, who was smiling as the raft bounced and hovered in the pool beneath the fall. They not only made it; they made it look easy!
Our guide quickly had us back into the raft and on the river for a photo op. We’re all too dazed to know what’s happening here.
The rest of the 45-minute trip passed quickly and uneventfully. We plowed into rocks a time or two and held on tight. Afterward, I realized that my jaw was aching – from shock of freezing water or from clenching it, I’m not sure – but it subsided as the trip came to a close.
Back on dry land, we shared our experiences. I was the only one who had lost hold of the raft, it turns out. A couple of the guys wound up underneath the raft and had to swim out. Ryan, the thrill seeker, loved every minute. You can see it in the photos. Treasa, who was scared at first and considered backing out, was proud of how she handled the capsize versus the guys around her. The guys, Brian included, defended themselves, saying it was the icy water that had them gasping rather than any terror. But, all in all, we were all happy and pleased with the experience.
Would we do it again? For Brian, the answer is no. He didn’t like feeling out of control on a large raft and much preferred his earlier surfing experience. He also developed an earache soon afterward which certainly didn’t help. That water was frigid; it’s winter in New Zealand after all.
For me, it’s a qualified yes. Rafting, definitely; Tutea Falls and its seven meters of awesomeness, probably not. I would raft with Kaitiaki Adventures again, however, if they had other excursions. I felt well taken care of during the capsize, like the guide was right there for me and keeping me safe as soon as I broke through the surface. How’s that for a girl who was afraid to swim in piddly ocean waves? Consider me cured, with a little babying in Kona and some tough love on Kaituna.
On to the next adventure!