Rafting has been on my bucket list for ages – I am not that mobile on my legs, but love paddling, biking and swimming. The opportunity to raft the Clarence River in the South Island of New Zealand was definitely not something I wanted to resist.
The Clarence River is just north of Kaikoura at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. We have opted for a 3 day/two night trip, shorter and longer versions are available with our guides – Clarence River Rafting
Eight of us drove the 3.5 hours North from Christchurch heading for the small community of Clarence north of Kaikoura. So we were ready for an early start, we stayed overnight at Ochiltree Retreat – highly recommended.
4 Wheel Drive on Bluff Station
Our convoy of 3 four wheel drive vehicles has permission to cross Bluff Station – an added bonus of the 3 day trip is the four hour 4Wheel drive to our start.
We followed rough station tracks, barely formed roads and crossed boulder strewn creek beds, stopped to fix a flat tyre – it was a spectacular and memorable trip – but I was glad I was not driving!
You can go in by helicopter, but why miss this drive?
Eventually we spied Clarence river off to the east, snaking between two mountain ranges – the Seaward Kaikouras and the Inland Kaikouras. For the next three days the Clarence was our highway – to our west the distinctive mountain of Tapuae-o-Uenuku is always with us – the highest mountain in the South island outside of the Southern Alps at 2885 m.
Rafting on the Clarence
We have transferred our gear to a series of dry bags supplied by Clarence River Rafting Company who also kitted us out with tents, water proof gear, thermals – everything you need. The neoprene socks they supply are fantastic as our feet are going to be wet all day.
All is piled into the rafts, some safety instructions and we are off. We are given some tips on paddling – gentle forward… and stop… and forward… and stop…. We learn to paddle together, to listen to our guide and we are soon hitting a good rhythm. Hard hats are on for some of the more challenging rapids – we learn to be ready to … and forward… as we hurtle down the rapid to the cliff on the other side … and stop…
To be honest the river does much of the work, our guides do the steering and we paddle occasionally for extra power and manoeuvrability around boulders.
A couple of hours and we are at our first campsite – we unload our gear, pitch our tents and get out of our wet gear while our guides get the camp ready. There are even chairs to sit on – we are soon gathered around debriefing the day, drinking a glass of wine while our guides work on dinner.
The food is amazing – no dehydrated camping food for us – we are glamping – wine, steaks, vegetables and home make dessert the first night. The second we enjoyed freshly paua and salmon steaks. Breakfast is equally wonderful – fresh coffee and bacon, eggs and tomatoes one day, the second it was salmon and cream cheese bagels.
We are way beyond any signs of civilisation, apart from what we brought with us – no sheds, or stock – just birdsong and the occasional wild goat. We drink from the river, and swim in the river, and fall asleep to it’s rhythm. When we get hot, we dive into the water to cool off.
We learn to read the river – the way it moves over rocks barely under the water the way, the way it gathers momentum over rapids, the way it moves slowly over deeper waters, or seems to want to throw us into a cliff …and forward…
On our final day we see our first sign of the world beyond the river as we pass a house and under a bridge.
Another few hours and we reach the end of our journey – we pull in just before the river cascades the last of it’s journey to the sea.