We took NZ's best skiers and snowboarders rafting in Queenstown!
We took 17 of NZ's best skiers and snowboarders on an adventure down the Kawarau River...
After a full-on winter season for the Cardrona and Treble Cone teams of athletes, we thought they needed to cool off... literally. So we surprised them with a totally unique experience over in Queenstown - Go Orange's Jet to Raft trip!
The crew included X Games, Olympic and Freeride World Tour athletes, as well as some of New Zealand's best up and coming youngsters. Most of the athletes have been doing back-to-back winters for many years, so there were only a couple who had been rafting before.
what we signed up for
The Kawarau River Jet to Raft trip combines two of Queenstown's iconic experiences - jet boating on Lake Whakatipu and down the Kawarau River, then continuing the trip down the river on rafts. One of the best parts of the day was seeing the athletes' faces when they found out what we were doing, then seeing them again when they realised they got to do both activities in one trip.
We met at the Rafting Base in Arthur's Point (because we were coming from Wānaka - if you're staying in Queenstown you meet at the Go Orange office on Camp St), and started by filling out our (digital) paperwork that said we could all swim and we trusted the guides to not lose us (too much). Once all 21 members of our party arrived, we were assigned wetsuits, wetsuit jackets, booties and a helmet. We then loaded onto the Go Orange unimog and received our first safety briefing on the bus on the way to Steamer Wharf in Queenstown.
the jet boat
By the time we got to Steamer Wharf, we were H.O.T HOT. We were wearing super thick wetsuits for warmth and buoyancy on and in the river, but standing in the bright Queenstown sunshine, they definitely felt like a layer too many. The Go Orange team made a cheeky suggestion that the only way to cool off is in Lake Whakatipu... at which point 21 wetsuit-clad individuals took a flying leap off the wharf and into the bay, before climbing back onto the wharf and onto the awaiting bright orange jet boat.
The jet boat ride took us out from Queenstown Bay, where our driver introduced us to 360° spins, and down the Frankton Arm to the Kawarau River. The whole way we were all beyond impressed at his skill behind the wheel - it felt like we were getting within millimetres of some of the obstacles while zooming at pace down the river. If this was just the first part of the journey, it sure was an exciting way to kick things off.
By the time we got to the spot on the Kawarau River where we were swapping to our rafts, we were already pretty amped on our adventure so far. We gracefully (read: awkwardly) disembarked our jet boat and stepped onto the shore for our safety briefing. After getting some key information on how to hold our paddles, what to do if the raft flipped, and a reminder to listen to our guides, we chose our raft squads and launched our boats into the river.
We got another crash course in paddling once we were on our rafts, practising paddling together in time. That's when we got our first briefing - we were about to reach the first set of rapids. The first ones definitely felt the most exciting because we weren't quite sure what we were up against, but we pushed through and were brimming with over-confidence by the time we got through to calmer waters. And then we were given the go-ahead - we were heading straight for the Swimmer's Rapids, which only meant one thing... time to get out.
The whole trip was full of fun and laughs in the calmer sections of the river - trying a "helicopter" where you spin the raft around to the point where it flips, some unauthorised boarding of other rafts, and even a cliff jumping section where the athletes showed off their skills in the air.
By the time we got to the last rapids, we felt like total pros. We navigated it with confidence with adrenaline pumping, and we were all grinning ear to ear by the time we had to pull the rafts out of the water and get back on the bus.
Most of us Kiwis don't often take the time to explore our own backyards, but if 2020 has taught us anything it's that there's a lot of adventure to be had right here in New Zealand. We were all blown away by the jet to raft trip; it was a great entry-level journey down the Kawarau and the guides made you feel safe the whole time, but they also pushed us all out of our comfort zones and got us to try new experiences. We were buzzing by the time we got back on the bus, and we were all talking about the experience days later. For a lot of us, we were living the "Do Something New, New Zealand" life, and we loved every second of it.
To the team at Go Orange - thank you so much for having us!!
Thanks to Go Orange and GoPro ANZ, we're giving away a Kawarau River Jet to Raft trip for two, a night in Cardrona's studio apartments, a double mountain carting session, and a GoPro HERO8 Black on Facebook and Instagram. We'll choose one winner from all the entries on Wednesday, December 30... good luck!