The five best day rafting trips in New Zealand

Jun 10, 2015 BY Brian Megaw

New Zealand is a new country in every way. It’s land form is created by tectonic and volcanic forces that keep pushing up the mountain chains of its two major islands. Beautiful mountains and a lot of rainfall produce some of the earth’s highest quality technical white water rivers, making New Zealand day rafting trips some of the best in the world.

The best day rafting trips in New Zealand

There is no better way than by raft to investigate all that these rivers have to offer. We’ve ranked the 5 best day rafting trips in New Zealand based on our quarter century of experience taking rafts out on these incredible rivers.

We thought about many different things when we were making our white water rafting trip list. The length of the river’s rafting season, its accessibility and both the type and number of rapids it provides were considered, although we did not include trips featuring a rapid grading of II or lower, nor rivers accessible only by helicopter. In cases where a river has more than one section, the section with the highest grade is the one included. Also, we’ve only taken into account trips that last a day or less.

The top 5 day rafting trips in New Zealand

5. Let’s begin with the Wairoa

The Wairoa River has just about everything. Lots of wonderful rapids that are easy to access, a great put on, and the chance to repeat this fun run more than once in a day.

But the reason that the Wairoa only ranks fifth on our list is because it is only possible to raft it 26 days per year because it is a dam release river. With this in mind, you’ll have an amazing ride on this coaster if it’s flowing while you’re near. The Wairoa is located close to Tauranga, a city on the east coast of the North Island. Its 2.7 km provides rapids ranging from Grade IV+ to Grade V.

The best day rafting trips in New Zealand flickr image by Klearchos Kapoutsis

4. Continuing to the Shotover

Our fourth best choice for rafting day trips in New Zealand is the Shotover, an essential river to include in any ranking of our rafting rivers. The Shotover is famous mostly because it is near Queenstown, but it’s still a great river trip.

Driving through Skippers Canyon to access it is beautiful in itself. That alone makes it worthwhile. The final 1.5 km of the trip is where the majority of the action takes place, and you’ll know you have reached the end of the trip when you get to the Oxenbridge Tunnel. Gold miners, years ago, carved the tunnel through the rock and now rafts at most levels can float through it. Its 12.5 km offers Grade IV through Grade V rapids, which vary with the water’s flow, and which can be rafted all year long.

3. Making the most of the Mohaka

Our third choice is the Mohaka, even though it is probably the least rafted out of all the top 5. The Mohaka deserves a high ranking because it has lots of great rapids, stunning and rugged terrain, and a good, long season. But accessibility is the reason that it is only at number three on our list.

The best day rafting trips in New Zealand flickr image by Tim Parkinson

You actually have to drive hours between the take out and the put on. The Mohaka could definitely hold second place if this weren’t the case. Access to the Mohaka is via the Taupo – Napier Highway.

The river’s flow determines whether you will encounter Grade III+ or up to Grade IV rapids, and its 14 km length can be enjoyed all year, although the typical rafting season only goes through the spring, summer and autumn.

2. Rafting the Rangitata

Our choice for second of the best day rafting trips in New Zealand is the Rangitata, which provided me with one of my most humbling rafting memories. Years ago, while navigating through the Pigs Trough hole at a rather high flow rate, I experienced a mind-boggling flip. I definitely ate a large piece of humble pie after my swim.

With the Southern Alps in the background, it’s a stunning and enjoyable white water rafting expedition. Just like lots of Canterbury rivers, this one begins easily with braided water.

The best day rafting trips in New Zealand flickr image by Arbron

But different from the majority of Canterbury rivers, the Rangitata moves through an area of bedrock, with most of the gradients and rapids being found there. Over the 10 km trip length, rapids range up Grade IV+ to Grade V (depending on flow), throughout the river’s October to May season.

1. The legendary Rangitikei

And last, but certainly not least, our choice of the best day rafting trips in New Zealand is the legendary river, the Rangitikei. According to Graham Charles in his book, ‘New Zealand Whitewater,’ the Rangitikei possesses the ability, above all rivers, to turn a simple day trip into an epic, a story, a legend. The Rangitikei will give you everything you could possibly want in a great river rafting trip. It’s not just at the top of our list of our best day rafting trips in New Zealand , but in addition, it’s among the planet’s best half-day Grade V trips.

You usually run this middle North Island river based from River Valley Lodge. There is a brief 25-minute panoramic ride to the put on. The journey begins easily enough with a number of Grade II and III rapids to deal with prior to exposure to the meat of the trip at approximately the half way point.

The best day rafting trips in New Zealand flickr image by PeterJBellis

After you pass the half way point, you approach the Gorge. There are ten major rapids that come in quick succession, similar to a staircase – steep rapid, pool, steep rapid, pool, etc. Another area of Grade III rapids provides the finishing touch for this outstanding river rafting trip.

The trip draws to a close just outside the Lodge’s front door. A stout ale served up at River Valley Lodge’s Fulcrum Pit Bar has often transformed what was once a day-long rafting trip into an epic journey, a storied adventure, and at times even a legend. Its varying water flow can produce rapids of Grade IV to Grade V, and its 11 km can be rafted year round.

Time for you to try the best day rafting trips in New Zealand

So, while we’ve given you our version of the best day rafting trips in New Zealand, remember that all rivers provide their own unique experiences and we enthusiastically suggest that you get on as many as you can.

No two rivers are the same. There are differences in the water, the view, the rapids and the rocks. They’re all very special and each can make for a wonderful experience.

Mohaka River, Napier, New Zealand, North Island, Oceania, Queenstown, Rangitata River, Rangitikei, South Island, Southern Alps, Taupo, Tauranga, Wairoa
Class V, Whitewater (Rapids)
Travel Articles

3 responses to “The five best day rafting trips in New Zealand”

  1. Rafted all these rivers bar Mohaka and would have to say there are a number of other rivers that would top my list before these. Anyway we are all different! Every river is Grand!

  2. Hi Tim – thanks for your comments. Please let us know which rivers and we could do a follow up post. Don’t forget the above post is about rivers you can raft in a day that are easy to access and commercially rafted.

    You are more than welcome to write a post on your top 5 which we will publish.

  3. I agree with Tim, I have been rafting for 18 years and have rafted all of the above rivers. The Karamea and Whataroa rivers as well as the Perth are by far the best day trips in New Zealand, all of them flow under the main highway so are easily accessed. Check out our photo gallery and videos and compare them to the other rivers and Im sure you will agree.



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