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If you’re an adventurous traveler, always seeking new and exciting experiences, then you absolutely need to go whitewater rafting in New Zealand!
New Zealand is perhaps the best location in the world for river exploration. Here, you can find many rivers of varying difficulties which traverse alpine landscapes, rugged gorges, lush forests, and groves bustling with wildlife.
You don’t need to have previous experience to go whitewater rafting in New Zealand, either. There’s a large variety of tours – from scenic routes on calm Grade 2 waters, to fierce Grade 5 journeys through some of the roughest gorges and tallest waterfall drops in the world. You can even explore underground rivers that pass through ancient caves or try out Vector Wero, New Zealand’s hand-built rafting park.
If you’re ready for a one-in-a-lifetime whitewater adventure, you’ll need to know where to go. Based on my experiences, I’ve compiled this list of the best places to go rafting in New Zealand. I hope you find the right location for you and have an amazing time!
Best Places to go Whitewater Rafting on the North Island
1. Kaituna River (Bay of Plenty)
- Where: In the Bay of Plenty region on the North Island.
- Best for: People with at least a moderate fitness level, families with children over 13 (children under 13 are not permitted for full river tours, while children under 10 are not permitted for half river tours).
- Highlight: This 50 km (31 mi) river flows from Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti and is the perfect destination for Grade 5 whitewater rafting. Here, you can slip down the Tutea Falls, the highest commercially rafted waterfall with a height of 7 meters (23 ft)!
This Kaituna River Whitewater Rafting tour is amazing for all those who want an unforgettable experience full of adrenaline and amazing views. It starts at $115 NZD, and hotel pick-up can be arranged for an extra $15 per person. if you prefer to drive, the starting point is off the 761 State Highway just outside Rotorua.
Once you hit the water, your raft will take you on the rapids of the Kaituna River through a subtropical rainforest in a deep canyon. You’ll slip down the Tutea Falls and can jump into the river from 3-meter (10 ft) high cliffs.
This is easily one of the most popular whitewater rafting tours in NZ and also the most extreme, made famous by Tutea Falls. That’s right, you’ll actually raft over a waterfall! This waterfalls is 7 meters (23 ft) high, so this whitewater rafting experience isn’t for the light-hearted.
Despite the massive thrilling aspect of this tour, you never feel unsafe. You also get access to all necessary equipment and a professional guide.
Related Read: For another run adventure activity in Rotorua consider ziplining – it’s so much fun!
2. Tongariro River (Turangi)
- Where: In the center of the North Island, this river flows from the mountains of Tongariro National Park all the way into Lake Taupo. Tours depart near Turangi.
- Best for: People of all ages and fitness levels. Suitable for any type of adventurer.
- Highlight: On this river, you can embark on whitewater rafting tours of varying difficulties (from Grade 1 to Grade 4). The river is also attracts fishing enthusiasts for its serene fishing spots filled with rainbow and brown trout year-round.
If you are looking for an adrenaline-filled adventure down Tongariro River, this whitewater rafting tour is the perfect choice for you. Starting at $153 NZD, it includes all the equipment you need plus snacks, as well as a return trip from your hotel. You can also join at the meeting point in Turangi.
From there, you’ll venture over 50 Grade 3 whitewater rapids with stunning views of the volcanic gorge. My favorite aspect of this trip was the opportunity to jump off high cliffs into the wild waters – it was a rush but also very refreshing!
If it all sounds crazy, don’t worry. You’ll also get short breaks between the more exciting parts of the adventure. You can enjoy the view as you float down gentle steams through native green forests.
3. Te Awa Kairangi/Hutt River (Wellington)
- Where: This river stems from the Tararua Range, in the southern region of New Zealand’s North Island. Most people do rafting tours from Wellington.
- Best for: People with little to no experience in whitewater rafting. It’s a good middle-range river offering some exciting rapids, but nothing too extreme.
- Highlight: This 56 km (35 mi) river features lots of Grade 2 and Grade 3 rapids moving through native forests and floodplains. There are also a series of drops (named “The Double Drop”) so be prepared for extra adrenaline!
This Whitewater Rafting tour on Te Awa Kairangi River is perfect for adventure seekers that enjoy feeling close to nature. What I love about this area is that it feels like it hasn’t been touched since ancient times. You’ll have amazing views of native forests, wildlife, and gorges sculpted by the river.
The tour costs $220 NZD and includes a shuttle ride to your starting point, which is only 45 minutes from Wellington. You can also arrange a pick-up from the Wellington or the Upper Hutt Train Stations for an additional fee.
All equipment and lunch are included. You just need to show up ready for the adventure of your lifetime!
Related Read: If you’re based in the Wellington, check out the 12 best day trips from the city!
4. Mohaka River Rafting (Hawke’s Bay)
- Where: On the North Island, in the east-central region called Hawke’s Bay.
- Best for: Both beginners and experienced rafters. Anybody who is interested in history will also enjoy this area as guides provide commentary on the rafting tours.
- Highlight: The river offers something for everyone, from easy Grade 2 sections to a Grade 5 technical rapid for a little adrenaline rush.
If you’re looking for a fun stop on the road trip from Taupo to Napier, the Mohaka River is right around the halfway point and has some excellent rafting spots!
For beginners or anyone looking for a family-friendly adventure, this Scenic Raft Trip on Mohaka River is an excellent choice. Prices start at $205 NZD including lunch, and starting times do vary day to day, so be sure to check when you book.
On this 5-hour tour, you will float down the easier, Grade 2 rapids of the river. You’ll pass through a series of forests, admiring the native wildlife and bird song.
Throughout the trip, the tour guide will tell you about the local history, dating back 80 million years ago. There are also some calm spots perfect for swimming. But if you prefer staying dry, there’s no need to get off the raft!
For those who want to experience the wilder side of Mohaka River, we recommend this Grade 3 Rafting Tour for $200 NZD. It has all you need to satisfy your craving for adrenaline, from whitewater rapids to spectacular cliff jumps.
Meet at the Mohaka Rafting meeting point by 9:30 am. The tour doesn’t include lunch so you might want to bring some snacks. However, photos are included so you’ll get some nice shots of your group going down rapids!
For this one, you will need to have at least some experience with rafting, as well as a moderate fitness level. On the way, you’ll also visit a historical goldmine, making this adventure as educational as it is exciting.
5. Vector Wero Whitewater Park (Auckland)
- Where: In Auckland, the northern region of New Zealand’s North Island.
- Best for: People of all training levels that want to test their skills before venturing into nature.
- Highlight: This park offers rafting and kayaking on two expertly crafted river courses: Tamariki River and River Rush. You can also experience the highest human-made waterfall drop on the 4.5 m (14.8 ft) Pump Waterfall!
While at Vector Wero Whitewater Park, you can try the two available river courses.
Tamariki River is perfect for those who don’t have much rafting experience, or for families with kids. The Grade 1-2 rapids are quite mild and gentle, so you’ll experience the thrill of rafting without putting in much effort.
River Rush is better for those wanting to test their rafting skills with a higher-grade course. This Grade 3-4 course contains 300 meters (328 yds) of exhilarating whitewater river action, ending in the exhilarating 4.5 m (14.8 ft) drop from Pump Waterfall.
A tip for you based on our visit here is to build up skills and confidence on the easier river before hitting the harder one!
Related Read: If you’re an outdoor and sports enthusiasts, check out the best hikes on the North Island!
6. Black Water Rafting Experience (Waitomo Caves)
- Where: In the central area of the North Island, about 195 km (121 miles) south of Auckland at the famous Waitomo Caves.
- Best for: Adventurers with little to no experience. Those seeking a unique, underground experience and the opportunity to see glow worms.
- Highlight: Waitomo Caves are considered New Zealand’s most diverse cave systems. People can explore them by venturing up to 80 meters (262 ft) underground. Here, you can observe the masses of glow worms on the ceiling, stalactites and stalagmites, all while whitewater rafting!
Forget whitewater rafting, why not change up with “blackwater rafting”?! Blackwater rafting is unique because you’ll actually raft in the dark through caves!
If you’ve come all the way from Auckland to Waitomo Caves, you absolutely need to embark on this underground Black Water Rafting Experience. This experience starts at $170 NZD and comes with two tour options.
The 3-hour Labyrinth tour is the perfect cave exploration experience for beginners that want the thrill of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Children 12 and older are also welcome and usually love the underground element! This tour takes you through caves on an inner tube, allowing you to explore the beauty of cave formations, see the shining glow worms, and jump off a small waterfall.
If you are seeking a more intense adventure, take the 5-hour Black Abyss tour. This one offers the added experience of rappelling 37 m (121 ft.) down the cave’s limestone walls. While training and equipment is provided, moderate physical fitness is required and you must be at least 16 years old.
The departure point is at Waitomo Homestead. This tour doesn’t offer hotel transport, so you’ll need to drive or take public transport. You must weigh at least 45 kilos (99 lbs) for these tours, and make sure to bring swimwear and a towel.
7. Rangitaiki River Whitewater Scenic Rafting (Bay of Plenty)
- Where: This is the longest river in the Bay of Plenty region.
- Best for: Everyone from beginners to experienced rafters looking for the ultimate challenge.
- Highlight: This 155 km (96 mi) long river crosses impressive gorges, rugged cliffs, and serene forests untouched by human civilization. The whitewater rapids range from low to high grades.
If you venture on Rangitaiki River, you can choose between two different organized tours depending on your experience level.
If you want a relaxed experience on calm waters, consider this 6-hour Scenic Rafting Tour. It costs $169 NZD and includes hotel pick-up, lunch, all equipment, and a guide. The Grade 2 river waters are perfect, even for people with no previous rafting experience. Plus, all gear, training, lunch, and hotel pickup are included in the price.
For those with prior rafting experience, we recommend this Grade 5 Whitewater Rafting Tour$230 NZD. This 4-hour, 11 km (7 mile) river journey is not for the faint-hearted. While a guide will assist you, you’ll need to have be very physically fit to paddle through the rapids. The rugged cliffs, lush forests, and waterfalls make this tour an incredibly scenic one as well.
The tour starts and ends at the River Valley Lodge where you can take a hot shower after.
Related Read: For road trips from Taupo to Rotorua, read about the best stops along the way.
Best Places to go Whitewater Rafting on the South Island
8. Shotover River (Queenstown)
- Where: In the south of New Zealand, flowing through mountain ranges all the way into Kawarau River. Tours depart from Queenstown.
- Best for: People with some rafting experience, as well as moderate to high fitness levels.
- Highlight: As far as rafting trips in New Zealand go, this one is probably the most scenic. The river flows through the impressive, rugged landscapes of the Southern Alps, Skippers Canyon, the Richardson Mountains, and the Harris Mountains.
If you want to explore rugged cliffs and primeval alpine landscapes, we recommend taking this 5-hour Shotover River Rafting Tour. Prices begin at $224 NZD and include all equipment and pick-up and drop-off at the meeting point in Queenstown.
This unforgettable tour will take you through fierce whitewater rapids ranging from Grade 3 to Grade 5. At the end, you’ll get the chance to pass through the 170 m (186 yd) Oxenbridge Tunnel.
It should come as no surprise that this is one of the best tours available in Queenstown!
The rapids of Shotover River may change throughout the day, but you don’t need to worry! Based on our trip, the experienced tour guide can deal even with the harshest water currents.
9. Kawarau River Rafting (Queenstown)
- Where: This river begins from Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown.
- Best for: People with little to no experience with rafting. Unlike most river adventures, you can embark on this one even if you are not a great swimmer.
- Highlight: Kawarau River is rated between Grade 2 and Grade 4 and is considered relatively easy to navigate. Part of the river was featured in the 2001 movie “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” On the Kawarau Bridge, you can also try out the world’s first commercial bungee jumping site, roughly 43 m (141 ft) above the river.
This Kawarau River Rafting Tour offers something for everyone. Start the tour on a jet boat, and then continue by raft as you explore the amazing gorge carved out by the river.
On this 4.5-hour tour, you’ll learn more about the river’s gold mining history and the role it had in The Lord of the Rings franchise. If you’re feeling adventurous, try jumping from one of the many high spots in the cliff jumping section.
Tour prices start at $219 NZD and you must be at least 13 years old to join (ages 13-15 must be accompanied by an adult). Make sure to arrive at the meeting point 20 minutes ahead of time, and bring snacks.
Related Read: If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you might enjoy one of these nearby Glenorchy LOTR tours!
10. Pelorus River Hobbit Barrel Run Rafting (Havelock)
- Where: In Marlborough, in the northern part of New Zealand’s South Island. Tours depart from Havelock, not far from the city of Nelson.
- Best for: People with little to no experience in whitewater rafting. All visitors should have at least a moderate fitness level.
- Highlight: The Pelorus Bridge crossing the river became famous in 2013 when it was used as a filming location for Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” Surrounded by lush green forests and cliffs, this bridge has a Middle Earth-esque vibe.
Pelorus River is the perfect place for beginners to gain some whitewater rafting experience, especially via a tour like this Pelorus River Hobbit Barrel Run Rafting Tour. This 4-hour adventure takes you through magical forests and glades down the Grade 2 rapids of the river, with plenty of recovery spots.
For me, the highlight of this tour was stopping at Pelorus Bridge, where you can get a tour of the area used in one of The Hobbit movies. The professional guide (included in the price!) will also talk you through the mining and milling heritage of the area.
Overall, the tour has a nice balance between physical and cultural experiences. Prices start at $190 NZD and include entrance to National Parks and return transport from Havelock.
11. Landsborough River Rafting (Queenstown)
- Where: In the West-Coast region of the South Island.
- Best for: People over 15 (or over 17 without a guardian) who enjoy a mix of adventure and quiet relaxation far from city life. Visitors should have a moderate fitness level and know how to swim.
- Highlight: The areas surrounding this river are mostly untouched by humans, making them ideal for those wanting to immerse themselves in nature. You can also visit the only ‘tent frame’ hut left in New Zealand, the Historic Landsborough Rangers Hut.
This Landsborough River Rafting Adventure could be the adventure of your lifetime. This 3-day trip takes you on a guided tour through steep glacial valleys, rugged landscapes, and dense rainforests with unique wildlife.
You’ll begin with a helicopter ride to the starting point far from civilization. After that, you will experience 3 days of paddling through Grade 3 and Grade 4 rapids, swimming in cold waters, and enjoying New Zealand’s best wine at resting sites.
The entire trip costs $2,499 NZD per person. Accommodation and meals are included, but you’ll be responsible for bringing other items. You’ll receive a preparation list beforehand to feel fully prepared for this remote adventure. This is definitely one of the best multi-day tours in New Zealand! Departures are typically organized from Queenstown.
12. Whataroa River Heli Rafting (Franz Josef)
- Where: The Whataroa River is in the South-West of New Zealand’s South Island, near Franz Josef.
- Best for: Adults and children above 14 with at least some rafting experience and in good physical shape. Most tours will also require above average swimming abilities.
- Highlight: The scenery is one of the most spectacular in the country. The glacial waters of the river have a bright blue tint. They take you through tall white gorges, canyons, and white pine forests.
If you want to explore all Whataroa River has to offer, you need access to the starting spot via helicopter from Franz Josef.
Tours like this Full Day Heli Rafting Adventure offer helicopter transport up to the first canyon, followed by an unforgettable whitewater rafting tour through the biggest glacial ice field in New Zealand. The waters are mostly Grade 3 and Grade 4, but you’ll also encounter a Grade 5 rapid near the end of your journey.
Prices range from$450-$1550 NZD per person and include the helicopter, rafting, equipment, and food. This tour will absolutely test your endurance and swimming abilities, so make sure you are prepared accordingly.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
As you can see, New Zealand has lots of places for whitewater rafting. Whether you’re experienced or trying it for the first time, you’ll find a river that suits your rafting needs. I hope this list has helped you make a decision, and you have a fun time on the water!
Thanks so much for reading this blog! If you’re traveling around either the North Island or the South Island, feel free to browse around for more info. I hope it can help you plan your trip to New Zealand!