I went to sleep in Hanmer Springs and woke up in Scotland. As I drove out of town to the Waiau Bridge, where Thrillseekers Rafting is based, the clouds hung low over the mountain peaks and there was a chill in the air. The smaller mountains near the road were coated in a greenish velvet. All around me, I felt like there were scenes right out of a drive through Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands…although no drive of mine through Glencoe has ever ended in a whitewater rafting trip!
Thrillseekers is based in a wooden cabin high above the brilliantly blue Waiau River. It was in the loft of this cabin that we met Graham, a matter-of-fact Kiwi who has been rafting this river for eight years, and were given all of the essential rafting gear.
Unlike many rafting trips I’ve done, there was no long drive to the starting point. “How will we get back?” queried one fellow rafter. The answer was simple: the jetboat. Cool!
Once everyone hauled the raft down the gravel path to the river, we were off. I could tell that we weren’t in for any serious rapids by the fact that we didn’t have any paddling lessons once we’d launched; on other trips we’ve been required to demonstrate that we can somewhat competently paddle before heading downstream.
In our 1 hour, 15 minute trip we hit a few patches of rough water, but I would say that none of them were bigger than a grade 2 rapid. It was fun when Graham steered us spot-on into a rapid and we got soaked, but there was never any real fear that we were going to capsize (at least, until he suggested on one straight section that we all get up and play tag in the boat).
Near the beginning of the trip, we tied up to some rocks after the guys in the boat volunteered to jump off a small cliff. Their reactions were hilarious — pretty much as soon as they hit the water, they started swimming back to the raft to try to get out of the 8C temperatures as quick as possible! This didn’t deter me when Graham suggested we jump into a calm patch of the river; I was the first person overboard. Graham captured the moment when I landed in the water perfectly. The look on my face says “why did I just do that” mixed with “OH DEAR LORD THAT’S COLD!” I’m very glad I did jump in though, because it made all of the subsequent splashing from the river seem mild, whereas it had previously been a bit like a slap in the face.
Speaking of getting splashed, we got to see the Thrillseekers jetboat up close and personal when it sped by us on a tour; luckily we were in a reasonably narrow part of the river so when he sprayed us it didn’t knock anyone out of the raft (which Graham said had happened before).
I found the most interesting part of the trip to be the scenery and Graham’s description of the changing ways of the Waiau River. He often pointed out areas where the river had decided to completely change course and areas that had evidence of the last flood (of which they get 6 or 7 a year after heavy rains in the mountains). Most interestingly, he pointed out Dog’s Head Rock, which is where a certain rather notorious fault line runs.a reasonably narrow part of the river so when he sprayed us it didn’t knock anyone out of the raft (which Graham said had happened before).
After about 7.5km of rafting, we pulled up onto a bank, deflated the raft, and waited for the jetboat. The trip back was, needless to say, much quicker than the trip down. We didn’t do any 360 spins because we didn’t want to lose the raft overboard, but we still got to take turns at speed and, at one point, had rock walls whizzing past our heads at a much closer proximity than I expected!
Overall, I had an enjoyable trip with Thrillseekers Rafting, but I’d be hesitant to call it “thrillseeking.” I know this is the brand and many of the other activities, like bungy jumping and jetboating, are definitely thrillseeking, but the rafting was pretty tame. As Graham told us, that changes markedly when the river levels are much higher, but I still think that people looking for the big rapids may have to find a different river. That said, it was the perfect trip for me because I’m still nursing a healing knee and I was still able to get out in the raft and have some fun. I think it would be the perfect trip for anyone looking to do something adventurous without being worried that it will be too scary.
Thrillseekers is based at the Waiau River Bridge near the turnoff from Highway 7 to Hanmer Springs. They have another office for bookings at 14 Conical Hill Road in Hanmer Springs. They also offer bungy jumping, jetboating, paintball, and quad biking.