Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Riversurfing on the Kawarau

Part of the fun of living in New Zealand is the chance to enjoy some totally new adventures. Way back when we first visited Queenstown in 2006, I remember seeing some flyers for "riverboarding"--aka, riding on a boogie board through whitewater rapids--and thinking, "Wow, that looks crazy and yet extremely fun." (This is the theme for most activities in Queenstown.) Alas, we didn't have time on that trip to try it.

Now we do! Or at least, I seized the chance this week when my Australian sister-in-law and her family came over to Queenstown wanting to try some fun new activities. We signed up with Serious Fun Riverboarding for an afternoon "river surfing" excursion. I'd worried my son might be too young to come riverboarding with us, but nope. Serious Fun takes kids as young as 8, since they assign each kid a private guide who stays right with them and helps control their course through the rapids. (Adults are on their own! Under the watchful eye of the lead and tail guides, anyway.)

Going on a guided trip like this isn't cheap--it's more of a splurge activity, at least for us--but for the price, you get a full set of gear (wetsuit, booties, fins, helmet, bodyboard, lifejacket), and basic instruction on how to use the board and "read" the river, after which you get guided down twice through the "Roaring Meg" section of the Kawarau River. Each time, you go through 3 major rapids: Maneater, Roller Coaster, and Dead Cow (named for the unfortunate animal some early whitewater enthusiasts found stuck against a rock mid-rapid). These are Class 3 rapids; not so pucker-inducing as the Class 5 monster rapids we once rafted in the Grand Canyon, but containing more than enough standing waves and churning water to make a raft-less ride quite exciting.

Getting a lesson from the guides before we enter the water. It's more strenuous than it first seems to exit the eddy in the foreground. You have to kick hard with your board pointed upstream, or else you get swept right back into the shore.

Entering the water. Bring on the rapids! (I wore goggles to protect my contacts. Otherwise I'd have lost them in about 5 seconds flat once we hit the first rapid.)
The first time through the rapids is both thrilling and disorienting. Waves slap you in the face, you're frantically kicking to try and follow the guide, hoping you don't get swept out into an eddy or tumbled into a hole, as you bounce up and down and all around. I confess I totally fell off my board during our second rapid. (The board is attached by a leash to your wrist. It's not a big deal to pull yourself back on, but you certainly get an interesting ride until you do.)

One of the Kawarau rapids we traveled
My husband, navigating like a pro
My son having a great time, thanks to the skills of his guide
Entering the rapid: woo hoo!
Ack, get on the board!
We all made it in one piece.
We stopped along the way to do a little cliff jump--the hardest part of the trip was climbing up the rock in our swim fins! Once through the rapids, we hopped back into the company van and headed right back to our start point to try them all again. The second trip down the river felt a lot more comfortable (but still exciting!). With a better idea of what to expect, you don't spend all your time frantically kicking and bracing. The guides showed us cool extras like standing waves to try and surf (harder than it looks), and underwater currents you can duck down and catch for an even wilder ride. So much fun!

Second time through: oh hell yeah!
A wild ride through Roller Coaster
This time I didn't fall off my board!
More, please!
Definitely a great adventure, and hey, I'm sure it'll come in handy for a book scene someday. Maybe I'd better try it again sometime, just to be sure I can properly convey all the sensations of tumbling through a rapid. Write what you know, right?

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