Heli rafting in New Zealand

The Mother-in-Law rapid… photo by Queenstown Rafting

“Rosie, your helicopter is ready for you now.”

I could get used to hearing that.

It’s 9am on a frosty heli-pad. A group of wetsuited and seal-shaped rafters have just started a snow ball fight, one whistles past my ear and disappears over the hilltop.

Fortunately, the helicopter arrives, and in groups of three we jump in and buckle up.

Wow. I’d been trying to prepare myself for the views, but you just can’t. Even in the groggy light of a grey Monday morning, New Zealand is preening, its sharp valleys and rolling hills dusted with snow and frost. We follow the Shotover River, a snaking ribbon of green through the white, and land on a shingle beach unreachable by road in the winter.

Brad, our guide, runs us through our safety brief. We quickly learn what to do if we fall out (swim to the raft), flip over (swim to the raft) or get stuck under (swim away from the raft).


We jump in just as it starts to snow. It’s beautiful – high cliffs with quivering icicles, frozen waterfalls and secret sandy beaches. I can feel myself relax; it’s so peaceful.

That’s until we hit a succession of rapids; Aftershock, Squeeze, Anvil, Toilet, Oh Sh*t and Pinball.

Let’s just say they are all perfectly named.

Brad expertly shouts for us to paddle left, right, to duck in, to lean over, his voice competing with the roar of the river and the dizzying spray coming from all sides.

We spin out, all of us dazed and grinning, and paddle on through gold mining country. Brad points to a long piece of rusting metal snagged on the rocks.

“They spent three years shipping that pipe here from England. Within 6 weeks, the river had taken and twisted it beyond repair.”

I can feel the water humming louder, up ahead a ginormous slab of rock the size of a double decker bus seems to be blocking our way.

“This is Jaws!” Brad shouts, “In 2006 a mini earthquake made a new rapid, but the guides didn’t know until they went down it in the morning. A nasty surprise for the woman who hit the rock, broke three teeth and cracked her jaw.”

As we approach the looming rock, I have to admit, ignorance really is bliss.

Thankfully, we all make it with our teeth intact, and head into a 170m long pitch-black tunnel. It’s shaped like a hollow Toblerone packet (usually how mine are) and feels like a theme park ride.

“This is the big one.” Brad’s voice echoes off the narrow walls as we get closer to the end of the tunnel.  “Grade 5. The Mother-in-Law.”

I can’t see the river ahead. It just falls, like a nightmarish infinity pool.

“Where’d the river go…” I ask. Natasha, a kind Manchunian opposite, replies with a look of terror.

“Hold on hold on!” Brad yells, and we all duck down and grab the safety ropes. The raft shoots off the top of the waterfall and dives down into a frothing, churning pit of white water, we’re underwater for a split second, then we bob up and out into the calm eddies.

Jesus. If I ever marry, I hope to god my Mother-in-Law is as fun as that. Here’s the full video:

A massive thanks to Queenstown Rafting – they were superb! Visit their website to find out more.

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