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Rafting the Mighty Rangitikei

The Rangitikei River holds some of New Zealand’s best Whitewater rafting. Near River Valley Lodge is a famed section of river with a succession of Grade 4 and 5 rapids for the thrillseekers.

Our journey was in winter, so having cold feet wasn’t just a metaphor. Fortunately we were dressed for it: helmet, wetsuit overalls and top (double chest layer) neoprene boots, thermal jacket and life jacket. The only way we were going to expire was heatstroke.

Our 12 km stretch of river started with a few easy Grade 3 rapids to get us comfortable with the idea of danger. There was a nice balance of frothing pools and quiet stretches where you can take in the landscape. River Valley Lodge describes it as one of the best half day grade 5 rafting trips in the world, and I’d be tempted to believe them. Later, our trip would culminate in the gorge: a heady onslaught of 10 major rapids from Grade 3+ to Grade 5, the highest Grade accessibles to non professionals. The International Scale of River Difficulty describes Grade 5 rapids as:

“Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.”

Oh good. Nothing too hardcore, then.

Splash down on the Rangitikei

Fortunately out guide was as competent as they come, and was able to keep two novices safely on the raft with a series of commands. From memory, they roughly translated to “paddle like a maniac”, “hug a friend for the last time” (dive across the raft to balance the weight), “slow down or we’re doomed”, “just stop, I’m taking over”, and my favourite: “hold on for dear life”.

Jokes and hyperbole aside, this was an incredibly fun, unforgettable experience. There’s nothing like the thrill of embracing danger and paddling headlong into the abyss. Watching us navigate a thundering river would probably scare the crap out of my mother, but I never once felt out of control. We were like surgeons, cutting the river with precision.

And, for all our professional instruction, we still got wet. Most important box ticked.

Hold onto your butts.

In a quieter moment our guide mentioned a rock jump we could do towards the end of the journey. Sharon was no fool, but I nodded in agreement like a big dope. Suddenly I was standing on the edge of a seven metre drop into the icy river. The instructions were clear about going feet first, but I’m no Red Bull cliff diver. Today it’s arse first. A great way to end the trip.



We did the Half Day Rangitikei River Grade 5 Whitewater Rafting adventure through River Valley Lodge. Cost is NZ$175 pp, minimum age 13 years. Morning and afternoon trips in summer, morning only in winter.


River Valley Lodge is around four hours north of Wellington on the North Island. The drive is slow once you get off the main road. Morning tours kick off around 8:30am, so we recommend staying at River Valley Lodge the night before. Rooms, camping and camper sites available. Large campers should call first - you might struggle on the steep driveway.


Open to anyone with a sense of adventure. The chances of falling in are low, but I make no guarantees. Average fitness needed to paddle the raft.

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