Once again, here I was, watching the others scream as they plummeted down in an inflatable craft. We were standing in a viewing platform in the middle of the bush, fantails and tuis zipping around the palms and ferns that shaded us from the clouded sun. The roar of the river drifted up along with the screams.
Each boat of six was led by a guide and all were accompanied by two kayaking escorts. The Kaituna Cascades are rated at a Class 5, the highest level of difficulty that is still considered nonlethal. Very few of those aboard had been rafting before.
The seven of us who had chosen not to raft watched as everyone else suited up on the other side of the river: wet suits and sweaters, shoes and helmets, topped off with a life jacket. We laughed as they attempted to practice on dry land, taking informal bets as to which boat will flip.
Eventually, we left the nervous and excited rafters for the bush trails along the river so we could witness their descent. With the kayaks leading the way, the boats floated along, bumping along the tumbling waters. Soon they flew down the waterfalls, briefly dipping into the cold river before popping out to reveal the soaked and shocked riders.
To our slight disappointment, no one flipped. Two did fall out, though, toppling out of the raft before anyone noticed. As they were being rescued by the kayaks, we peered over the outlook’s railings to try to distinguish the faces of the overboard rafters amongst the waves. (I shouted and laughed when I discovered that one of those poor souls was Kirsten.)
At the end, the guides took the rafts to a smaller waterfall so that they could dip, Titanic-style into the river. I got some fantastic photos of their expressions.
As the rafters dried off, we observers went out for a coffee at a local café. The bus then picked us up and we all began our long drive back to Auckland. As the others talked about the waters, I dozed. I didn’t mind not going out onto the river. Their faces and screams were enough entertainment.