Power boats and white water rafting on the Shotover river

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Queenstown
March 9th 2009
Published: March 26th 2009
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Queenstown is extreme sports town full to the brim with European back packers and thrill seekers. There is a unspoken competition of who can be the most nonchelont, unaffected and cool. Young men with deadlocks juggle in the park. Two men jam on guitar and fiddle buy a jewellery and arts market. People stroll around, shades down in the sun.

We sign up for a power boat trip down and white water rafting down the Shotover river and in a moment of bravery a Skydive the following day. We put thoughts of throwing ourselves out of a perfectly good plane to the back of our minds and get on with enjoying the rest of our activities. After a ten minute bus ride out to the Shotover river we are dressed in black waterproof coveralls and orange life jackets and queue up for our turn on the power boat. We sit on wet seats and listen to the brief safety instructions. 'Don't stick your head out of the boat, Don't stand up and Hold on.' simple really. We set off at speed winding down a thin corridor, the rocky cliff faces whizzing past our ears. The driver steers the boat as close to the jutting rocks as he dares before pulling away at the last moment. We spin and slide spraying water over ourselves and up the river banks. It is allot of fun and although the driver does his best to scare us I feel very safe. After the ride we walk up to the river rafting station where we have to put on wet suits and are given life jackets and helmets before we pile onto the bus that is too take us to the launch point. The journey takes along a just road that winds along a cliff edge. There is no margin for error and I look down at the Shotover river two hundred feet below the wheel of the coach only an inch away from the crumbling road edge, it is not a pleasant journey.

There are about a fifty of us rafting that day and we are given safety instructions whilst the raft guides lark about behind the instructor pulling faces and taking the piss. We are split into groups of six and given an instructor each. I take a dip in the river before we set off as it is unbearably hot in a wet suit in the middle of the afternoon. The trip starts easy with instructions on how to steer the raft, paddling forward and backwards, shifting weight to the left and right then finally and most importantly the 'Hold on' position where we all duck low in the raft, hold on and let the river do with us what it will. I feel good but Lou feels a little uneasy having had a bad experience with a rapid whilst Kayaking on the North Island a few days earlier, fair play to here for getting back on the water and having a go. The rapids come small and easy at first and Kyle our American raft guide talks us through them, he doesn't stop talking the whole trip. He is an experienced guide who does not like getting wet and we feel safe in his hands. We come to what are know as the 'Mother' rapids where the water is forced, fast and furiously through a thin channel in the rocks. In bubbles and foams angrily as it grows and smashes against boulders. 'Forward' shouts Kyle and we obey propelling ourself towards the first of the big evil looking 'mother ...' rapids. 'Hold on' shouts Kyle just as the nose of the raft goes over the top of the rapid. We all duck down and grab a rope. I am at the front of the raft and get a soaking and a gob full of river as we crash through the first wave but there is no time to contemplate or recover as we have to quickly paddle forward again lest we be taken by the river and smashed into the rocks. We travel down several more rapids, it's pretty scarey and there are some hairy moments when I am sure that we are going in to the swirling water but Kyle keeps his head and I have no doubt that it is his expertise that gets us through safely. There is a period of calm when we get to enjoy the beautiful scenery before we face the second set of rapids. It is whilst negotiating these that we get stuck fast on a rock the water smashing us from one side wedging us against the rock on the other. 'I don't know how this is going to turn out' says Kyle, 'This could end badly' he is not kidding. We obediently lean into the rock side of the raft as we are buffeted by the water and we are stuck there for an age Kyle making minor adjustments that prevent us from going in before we get assistance from another raft guide who pulls us off the rock and sets us free into the buffeting wave. There are a few more scary moments when we frantically paddle back and forth trying to escape the clutches of the rapid which eventually we do and head off down stream breathing a sigh of relief. The last section takes through an old mining tunnel then down one more big rapid where we get a good final soaking before floating gently around the bend back to the safety of dry land.

We had loads of fun and if a little scary at sometimes it was still well worth doing for the buzz and relief that followed. We celebrated with a meal and some drinks agreeing not to mention the skydive that awaited us the following morning.


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