Whitewater Rafting a 21 Foot Waterfall

Whitewater rafting is definitely cool – it’s an extreme* sport where all you have to do is sit on an oversized rubber duck and float down a river. Not too much work so great for a fun holiday activity! Plus you don’t need prior experience – the guide will tell you what to do. All you need is a sense of adventure and a reasonable level of fitness.

A while back we’d heard great things about whitewater rafting in Rotorua. At a wedding we met a number of people who were (or had been) rafting guides on the Okere river and they all spoke highly of the experience.

A little research on Google turns up some cool photos too! Who doesn’t want to experience this???


We were heading down to Rotorua for the long weekend so I used bookme.co.nz to secure two spots with the Kaituna Cascades rafting company.

We arrived early enough to meet our guide and to determine that it would not be safe to strap my new toy, the GoPro Hero 3+ Black, to my helmet, but that I would be able to strap it to the front of my lifejacket. The risk of hitting someone with it when on the top of your helmet is too great, especially while negotiating that 21 foot waterfall!

You’re provided with an armless wetsuit, wetsuit booties, a helmet and a fleece jumper – all that you need except your towel for drying off afterward. The guide got us to jump into the raft while on the land, gave us a quick run down of the paddle strokes, then we were in the van – 2 minutes down the road and we were getting into the raft.

“Push off” said our guide, and just like that we were away.

We did a forwards paddle, a backwards paddle, an alternating paddle to spin the boat and most importantly practiced the “Get Down” manoeuvre, where we squeeze into the bottom of the raft between the seats and hold on for dear life.

I was surprised by how quickly we hit action on this river. I’ve rafted in Austria and also in Colorado; with no doubt this rafting trip was the most exciting.

I forget the order, but we went down small waterfalls, little rapids, double waterfalls where you only have a moment to paddle in between before you have to GET DOWN again and hold on for the second waterfall. Whenever there was a larger waterfall ahead our guide would pull up to the side of the river bank and tell us what was ahead, make sure we were all ready and also notify the photographer with a whistle so that he could get some great shots like these.

Note that I didn’t take any of these photographs (I was in the raft filming with my GoPro), they were taken by the Kaituna Cascades rafting company photographer.

Then of course there was the BIG ONE. The twenty-one foot waterfall that we’d all come to do. The one featured in those Google image searches we’d been doing. There was a nervous quiet in the boat when our guide told us matter-of-fact like that we would be going underwater. Then of course there was the worry that we would flip. Apparently many rafting trips do capsize going over this waterfall.

For me; once we were heading to the edge it all went pretty fast – over, down, sprayed, submerged and then back on the surface and spitting out the water I’d swallowed. TIP: Keep your mouth shut and your chin down.

And some other photos from our trip.

All in all it was an action packed 50 minutes of rafting which I’d highly recommend to anyone else heading to Rotorua for some fun!

I put together this 5 minute video of our rafting experience. Let me know what you think. Had fun with testing out how the 48 fps that I had the GoPro set to was for playing back in slow motion. All recorded HD 1080p 48fps.

*extreme depending on the river grade, size of the waterfalls you topple off and quantity of whitewater