Kiwi Hayley King rode Dreamworld's Thunder River Rapids ride yesterday, just hours before the accident that killed four people, including a former Kawerau woman.
Mother-of-two, Cindy Low, had lived in Sydney for at least a decade with her New Zealand husband and was on holiday with her family on the Gold Coast. It is believed the 42-year-old was on the Thunder River Rapids ride with her 10-year-old son, who was hospitalised.
Initial investigations suggest a six-seater raft collided with an empty raft that had become stuck near the end of the ride. It's believed to have then flipped, killing four adults.
Just three hours earlier, Whakatane Beacon reporter King had arrived at Dreamworld with family members and chosen Thunder River Rapids as her first ride.
"We decided to go on that ride because it was near the entrance at Goldrush Country, seemed relaxed and chilled and we could all go on it together.
"We said things like, 'This will be a nice ride for us to do first', 'The water looks nice' and 'This will be safe'.
She said the rafts were round and seated six people with deep seats and thick Velcro safety belts. They faced each other in a circle and there was a space in the middle to put their belongings.
During the three-minute ride they floated on a river, through a cave, around some corners that turned the vessel around, all the while going over small rapids and a couple of bigger drops.
"It was a bumpy ride but was fun for us to start our day.
"Halfway through there were water guns that other visitors could squirt the riders with. The guy who squirted us yelled 'good luck' in a cheeky way. Which we all thought was a crazy coincidence later on."
She said at the end there was an uphill conveyor belt, of no more than 10 seconds, that took them up and over to the end of the ride.
"We didn't feel unsafe or that anything was irregular and were shocked to find out the deaths were caused on that ride because it did seem so harmless compared to the other attractions."
It was not until an hour after the accident that King realised something had happened, having been alerted by texts from people asking if they were okay.
"We had been on five rides and watched a bit of the tiger show before we realised something had happened. I read what had happened on Facebook, that people had died on that ride. We were lining up for the Wipeout, which I thought was the most dangerous-feeling ride, when the Dreamworld worker taking the ride said it was the last ride of the day. "
The group were advised that the park was closing and, as they went to the entrance, saw police and the area taped off.
"My younger cousins asked a woman dressed as a fairy what had happened and she told them one of the rafts had flipped over. We didn't hear any screams and didn't notice any panic. It didn't seem like what had happened had just happened."
- Whakatane Beacon