I like being thrown in the deep end.

But when I found myself in a raft with three strangers, white water, house-sized boulders, and a grade five rapid before me - I knew I had gotten myself in too deep.

For an Aucklander I'm pretty outdoorsy, and have been both aching, and terrified to try whitewater rafting.

So with the team at Mohaka Rafting's assurance, I thought I'd be fine tackling a grade 5 trip - the highest level of commercially rafted water - even though my closest experience was kayaking.


I'd be lying if I said my nerves didn't grow as my four rafting companions and I were driven an hour from the Te Pohue base to the Mohaka River, or that any bravado completely disappeared when I hopped into the raft for the first time.

With 30 minutes of calm river to start the trip, our guide Lucio Luoni used the time to drill us on the paddling orders we were to follow when he called. Less calming for my nerves was a safety briefing - including what to do if we became trapped under an upturned raft.

That was all I could think about when thrown in the deep end with our first rapid of the day - which was also the hardest.

Leaving our rafts to climb a boulder, we looked out over the rapids we were about to take on as Lucio explained our route - we'd paddle left into the rapids, around that giant boulder, dodge that giant boulder, back paddle this section or we'll get caught, forward over the pyramid shaped rock and it's done.

Lucio was yelling the instructions as we went, but the moment we dropped down into the Long Rapid and I saw the white, frothing water, with rocks lurking just below the surface or rising menacingly above us - all I could think about was holding on.

The idea of paddling FASTER toward the rushing, turbulent waves was the complete opposite of what every part of me wanted to do.

I remember paddling at some point - although my slowness was probably less than helpful - and before I knew it, the rapid was behind us.

We were soaking, I could feel my heart racing and a smile spreading across my face. I wanted to do it again.


We went over the milkshake and shark tooth rapids, stopped for lunch and then were thrown back in it again.

It was "easy forward" as we drew close to the roaring rapids then a sharp "back paddle!" to skirt a log sticking out from the water, "forward" again as we raced down the rapids, the nose of the raft dipping down and us trying to balance as a wave cascaded into the boat.

If we were going too fast and couldn't skirt an obstacle in time we got the call to 'get down!', or scramble to the other side of the raft. When we were told to "hold on!" - that part was easy.

Despite gaining confidence, every time we approached a rapid I couldn't shake the feeling that this was the one where I would fall out, topple the vessel while doing so, and injure the lovely English couple and guide in my raft.

Of course Lucio's experience meant that never happened. Even when we confused the order, or on one occasion got stuck between a rock and a hard place, he knew how to navigate us safely through.

Near the end of the journey we got to explore "Hotel Rock" - as big as a house, and full of holes we could climb up through, before finishing the trip by getting in the water and floating downstream.

The breaks between rapids offered a chance to enjoy the unforgettable scenery - the landscape changes from rocky caverns towering over the river, to woody slopes, or black beached shores.

It's hard to believe the landscape the Mohaka cuts through is in our own backyard - I think the gaping chasms and skyscraper cliffs in the Mohaka Gorge could be on par with Milford Sound.

The activity is pure adrenaline, the location magnificent, but it's the crew at Mohaka Rafting that really made the trip special. From arriving at their Te Pohue base they looked out for me, while the guides' experience meant I never felt unsafe while rafting.

And, after an exhilarating day, we ended our journey somewhere inland near the Wairoa district boundary, greeted by hot tea coffee and biscuits back at the bus, even stopping at the pub on the way home.

Whitewater rafting is not the cheapest activity, and you need to be fit to do it.

But if you're able, it's something everyone needs to try at least once - with Mohaka Rafting trips graded from the introductory grade two, grade three being an experience of whitewater, swimming rapids, cliff jumps, to grade five.

- Check out what trips are on offer at mohakarafting.com