White Water Rafting the Tongariro River in Taupo, New Zealand

This post may contain affiliate links. We may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase. Read Disclosure.

“White water rafting in New Zealand….Are you kidding me?…It will be freezing!” was my initial reaction when Caz told me the itinerary for our trip to the land of the Kiwis.

White water rafting on the Tongariro River in Taupō, which connects to the iconic volcanic lake of Lake Taupō, is one of the most thrilling experiences you can do.

group of peopel white water rafting

This Grade 3 rapid route takes you along a 13km stretch of river, passing more than 60 rapids, the most amount of rapids in New Zealand.

And because it’s only a Grade 3, it’s perfect for beginners, too.

But if you’re not sure what White Water Rafting the Tongariro River in Taupo is like, then this is our experience on the rapids…

What is White Water Rafting in Taupo Like?

We had been white water rafting several times before, and I know how incredibly wet you can get.

I hate being cold, and I especially hate being wet and cold. And the first thing I thought of about white water rafting in New Zealand was, “Where is the originating source of water coming from?”

…and my answer, well, snow capped mountains of course.

The good news is that the North Island of New Zealand is somewhat warmer than the South, and that the rapids were a grade 3, which means it’s unlikely the raft would flip.

The whole 13km stretch graces you with incredible scenery, and even though you’re flying along the river, you still have moments to appreciate the stunning mountainous beauty of the Taupō region.

Whitewater rafting is one of the most unforgettable adventures you can have on your travels, and the Tongariro River route is world-famous for a reason.

The total trip time is about 3-4 hours, with a total time of 2.5 hours on the water.

Our Experience White Water Rafting in Taupo

Taupo Lake and Tongariro volcano landscape at sunset, New Zealand
Lake Taupo at sunset

We decided to use the most experienced rafting operator for our awesome experience, Tongariro River Rafting, which is a 100% Kiwi company.

They provided all the clothing, equipment, and essentials, so all you need to bring with you is a swimsuit, towel, and a sense of adventure.

We met at their office in Turangi, where they run daily trips to Taupo or Ruapehu.

From here, we met our guide, named “Mad Dog”, though don’t be fooled by the name, he was lovely and informative and would go the extra mile to make us all feel at ease.

Mad Dog was a colorful character who loved the wilderness and showing people a good time. He had one of those loud, repetitive laughs that you couldn’t help laughing back at.

He had been down the Tongariro River more times than he could remember, and I was warming to the rafting trip more and more by the minute.

Under the guidance of Mad Dog we began our journey dressed in our spray jackets, fleece tops, wetsuit and helmets – ready to take on the Tongariro River.

It wasn’t long into our adventure when the first bit of action took place. We were navigating one of the more aggressive rapids when Mike, or Princess, as Mad Dog called him, bounced out of the raft and banged against the rock wall we had become friends with.

Luckily for Mike we were against the rock wall otherwise he was definitely going for a swim. The raft kept moving downstream and Mike exited from the front, hit and spun off the wall, and re-entered the raft at the back.

It was also a team effort to keep Mike from ending up in the drink, and my reflex action was to grab him by his life jacket, as instructed by Mad Dog on our safety briefing, and reef him back into the raft.

Where’s Mad Dog?

Whilst all this was going on, and unbeknownst to us, we had lost Mad Dog overboard and he was floating downstream.

It took me a few seconds to realize who it was. That can’t be our guide, surely not I thought to myself. But sure enough, it was Mad Dog and we all clicked into rescue mode to bring him back on board.

Reaching out with paddles for Mad Dog to grab, we safely dragged our soaking wet guide back into the raft, who found it all quite amusing with that loud laugh of his.

It wasn’t until the end of the day that we learned that all the guides had a little competition running. The rule for them was that they aren’t allowed to hang on to any of the safety ropes in the raft, and the guide who falls out the least is the winner.

We safely navigated the rest of the river without losing anyone overboard again.

After the trip, we sat around drinking hot chocolate and eating snacks and laughing about the whole experience

The River

The Tongariro River is one of New Zealand’s most famous rivers and one of the world’s best trout rivers. It really was a special wilderness experience.

In between conquering each rapid we witnessed ancient beech forests, rainbow trout swimming upstream, breathtaking gorges, waterfalls, limestone and volcanic cliffs, and pristine water so clean and fresh you could drink it!

It’s also a great place to spot some New Zealand native wildlife, such as the allusive blue duck which can often be seen sitting on the water.

The Rafting

Group of five people whitewater rafting in river

In a two hour period we navigated over 60 roller coaster rapids with Mad Dog at the helm.

This river is known as the perfect river for your first rafting experience, and after beginning my rafting career on the Grade 5 infested mighty Nile River in Uganda, I highly recommend the Tongariro River as a good starting point.

The experience was diverse – from a peaceful drifting trip in between rapids, to the white water fun of navigating around rocks and boulders.

Not only is this river suitable to people of all rafting abilities, but you’ll also see plenty of spectacular unspoilt wilderness which leaves you longing for more.

Will you get wet?

Yes, you will absolutely get wet rafting on the Tongariro River, but after two hours, I realized that the icy waters were a small sacrifice for one amazingly scenic and heart-pounding ride.

And waiting for you back at base is a nice hot shower and a bowl of freshly made hot soup to warm your insides whilst you exchange stories of thrills and spills from the wilderness adventure just had.

When you come to New Zealand, and you visit the North Island, head to Lake Taupo and take on the Tongariro River.

White Water Rafting Tips

A group of whitewater rafters on the Kaituna River, New Zealand
Rafting the Kaituna River, New Zealand

If you’re first-time rafters, then this will be a great first white water rafting experience for you. But to make the most of your experience, here are some top tips to bare in mind before you go…

  • Don’t go alone: If you are not an experienced operator or rafter, you are taking a massive risk by going into anything higher than a grade 2 rapid. White Water rafters can and do end up in the drink, and without any kind of expert to help, you’ll be on your own.
  • Safety in numbers and power in knowledge: Try and get the biggest group you can get together as possible. If you take a fall, you’ll have a greater team of people that can paddle against a powerful stream to come and help you. Also, know where you are going, what the grade is, where the danger points are and mentally prepare for what you are up against.
  • Listen to your guide: You will have a rafting guide for the duration of your experience and they are experienced and knowledgeable, so be sure to listen to them, especially during the safety briefing.
  • Acclimatization: Especially important in the colder regions, make sure you take a bit of a dunk in the water to get yourself wet before you take off. It might be a little chilly to face, but it will get your body used to the cold temperatures. If you get dunked in the stream and aren’t acclimatized, you’ll be faced with the shock of scrambling back to the raft, plus your body will suffer a temperature power slam – which can lead to hyperventilation and hypothermia. Remember, many streams decrease in temperature the further you go down.
  • Feet first, baby: If you do take a tumble and find yourself outside your raft – and you are having trouble getting back to it – the most important thing to do is to keep calm, raise your feet up, and ride the stream. This will help you avoid snaring against any rocks, which are your worst enemy if you wind up in the water.
  • Life Jacket And Helmet: This should go without saying, but it really, really needs to be said. Your head is a precious melon. Rocks are very hard. Streams are fast, powerful and chaotic. These three elements combined can produce disastrous results. You need to protect yourself to the best of your ability and these two items are ESSENTIAL. Also, a wetsuit will help in colder waters.
  • Wear river shoes: flip flops, sandals and other slip on shoes are not going to stay on your feet for long. You should wear water shoes, or old sneakers that you don’t mind getting wet.
  • Wear warm clothing: even if you’re visiting in the height or summer, it can get very cold white water rafting. Most companies provide a splash jacket and polar fleece jersey, but you may want to bring warm clothes to wear as well.
  • Also pack dry clothes to change into: after your trip, you’re going to be soaked and a little cold. Bring a towel and dry clothes to change into.
  • Bring your swimsuit: While you’re going to get soaked anyway, you may want to bring swimwear to wear in the showers after the experience.
  • Leave valuables at home: You can’t take a bag with you, so leave any valuables at home and only take essentials. There will be a luggage storage place where you can keep your belongings while on the water.

Where to Stay in Lake Taupo

We stayed at the Lake Taupo Top 10 Holiday Resort, which was the perfect base for enjoying Taupo’s recreational activities.

The resort offers clean, comfortable and affordable accommodation with lots of facilities to keep you entertained. It has an outdoor pool and a small thermal pool which is available year round.

For the kids, there’s a playground and TV and games room. They have studios and self-contained apartments, so you can easily make yourself at home.

Final Thoughts

Our experience white water rafting Tongariro River was one of the highlights of our trip to New Zealand. It was certainly an exhilarating experience and one we still think about often.

It’s thrilling, but without the scary anticipation of the raft flipping. If you want to check out a rapid that’s more adventurous, then consider checking out the Grade 5 Kaituna River and Wairoa River route near Rotorua to experience the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall with a 7-meter drop.

That might be a little too scary for beginners, though. Click here to see other whitewater rafting experiences in New Zealand.

Would you try it? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: My trip to New Zealand was courtesy of Qantas and the Great Crusade tour, however all opinions, thoughts and ideas in this guide are my own.

Have you been rafting before? Share your experience in the comments section below…

You may also like

You may also like

4 Powerful Ways to Travel More & Create Better Memories
Want to know how we've made a lifetime of travel for 25 years? In
This is what gives us incredible memories to share around the campfire. Join our community for insider tips and updates!
Scroll to Top