Tasting the Rangitata

“Paddle, paddle, paddle.” I hear from behind me. I put my paddle in the water like a woman on a mission. The further we go, the more confidence I gain and the further I hang out of the boat. It probably doesn’t look half as cool as it does in my head, but in my head I’m the bomb.

Yesterday I made the sudden decision to go rafting. I had wanted to do something exciting, but the weather forecast was looking horrible. With the rain from the last few days, the rivers would be high and wild and rafting seemed like a good idea. Today happened to be a gorgeous day. It was over twenty degrees, so perfect to be on the water.

Billy came to pick me up in Christchurch and drove the two hours to the little town of Peel Forest. We arrived at a beautiful location where lunch was served soon after. After a big sandwich we got some information and started to gather our clothes. First a merino long sleeve, then a wetsuit, special shoes, a waterproof jacket, a helmet and a safety vest. And then some string to keep my glasses attached to my head.

It was a 20 minute drive to the river. I ended up in a raft with three German boys and a boy and girl from Israel. While we were on a mellow part of the river, our guide Jason let us introduce ourselves and explained the basics of rafting. We would start slow and make it more intense, from grade 1 to grade 5, the highest grade there is. This river is the only one in New Zealand that offers grade 5 rapids.

Then the commands started. “Paddle forwards. Paddle backwards. Hold on. Take cover. Over left.” That last one meaning that we had to put all our weight on the left. While you hold onto your paddle with one hand, you throw your body to the other side, as far over the boat as you can, so that it would  hopefully not capsize. I suddenly understood why this is such a good team building exercise. You get very close with (or to) your raft-mates.

So why do people get into an inflatable boat and let the current take them? Well, because it’s fun. At first everyone was a bit nervous. We’d just gotten into the boat, neatly in the middle. “And now you have to get onto the edge of the boat, lean over, and put your paddle in the water as far as you can. Use your body to put power into it.”

The grade one, two and three rapids were a piece of cake, but before we started the grade five, we got a small briefing. Not that we had much influence as to where the boat would go. We were basically just listening and taking commands. And the most important thing: keep paddling, even if the waves are in the way. So there I was, on the edge of my seat in the raft, my body pointing out, pushing my paddle through the water.

“Take cover!” Quickly my feet found a place to hold on and I made myself small, hiding in the raft. We were shooting through the water. “Back to positions!” Clumsily I found my seat again. “Paddle forwards!” And here we go again. We did well. Although, while doing a paddle high-five, two guys fell out of the boat even though we were on flat water.

There is some time left for a refreshing swim and then we try some raft surfing. There is a bit of wild water that you can ride like a wave. We have to paddle to it and then we hold on. The raft is at such a steep angle that I’m sure we’re going to capsize, but it doesn’t happen. I’m still here. I didn’t fall out. And my glasses are still in one piece. This, I’d like to do again some time.

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