Rafting Down a 23-foot Waterfall in Rotorua, NZ

2 words: Totally Awesome.

The Plan

As my guide said, “We have three plans: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Can you guess each plan?”

  • Plan A: Go over the waterfall with no hiccups or anything wrong.
  • Plan B: Go over the waterfall and lose a person or two.
  • Plan C: Go over the waterfall and flip but survive.

The river was like this: (calm bit, rapid or waterfall, repeat)*100. What you really want to know about is this: Did I survive the 23-foot waterfall? The answer is yes, I did survive.

We did Plan C. We went over the fall and flipped. We survived, but just barely. I went under the boat. The protocol for going under the boat is to take a breath and go out from under the boat. So I did that. The protocol for if the boat flips is to get to the side of the boat and hold on to the outside rope until the guide gets on top of the boat. When they have everyone accounted for, either holding on or swimming in the direction they are told, the guide tells everyone to let go of the boat and then flips the boat right side up. I followed all of the instructions to a dot, except I forgot about letting go. It took the boat starting to rise for me to remember. But all was fine, and we survived, if a bit waterlogged.


I had previously ventured onto multiple other whitewater rivers before this one, including a powerboat trip in the Grand Canyon, and I enjoyed all of them immensely. This adventure that I was about to do was on a river called the Kaituna in Rotorua, NZ, and it was for a few hours. The main attraction to it was the fact that the experience included a trip over the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.

The River History

The Kaituna River has a lot of significance to the native Māori people. It is home to the cemetery for many people, including the great Chief Tutea, who is said to have been buried behind the Tueta Falls. Fun Fact: Kaituna is Māori for “eat eels.” The river was also home to a hydraulic generator that created electricity. The remains are still there, and we floated past them.

How to Raft

First things first, the raft we were going in was not the same as the raft I had used before. This raft could fit up to 6 people plus a guide or two. We had to paddle with paddles, so no motor. Also, I had to work as a team with my family. The first thing we went over was how to actually raft.

When rafting in this kind of boat, You have three positions: ready, hold-on, and brace, also known as battle.

For ready position, you need to have your butt on the side, your feet braced with your front foot wedged slightly under the seat in front of you, and your back foot braced against the seat behind you. You hold your paddle with one hand on the sort of T at the top and the second hand about halfway down the paddle.

For the hold-on position, you have your feet braced like ready, just extra hard, and you hold the paddle at its balance point (typically about 3/4 of the way down the paddle). You hold on to the outside rope, paddle with your outside hand, and hold the inside rope on the seat behind you with your other hand.

For brace or battle position, you have both feet wedged under the seat in front of you, holding your paddle and the outside rope – like with the hold-on position. You have your butt on the floor of the boat and your inside hand holding onto the handle on the floor of the boat. Lastly, you need to tuck your chin into your chest.

Our boat on one of the small waterfalls. We are in the brace or battle position.

If you fall out, do not stand up; your foot might get caught on something on the bottom. If you are near the boat, grab it; don’t just stare at it and float away. If you are farther away, they will throw the rope of shame at you and tow you in. If you pull someone into the boat, don’t pull them by their arm cause’ it might dislocate. Don’t pull them by their head because you might break them permanently, and it also has nothing to grip onto, so they still won’t get in the boat. Don’t pull them by their leg because you will be there for the next week trying to pull them in while they are being waterboarded. Pull them in by their life jacket straps. If a guide tells you to swim a certain way, don’t stare at them like a deer in headlights; swim where they tell you to swim.