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Guy Jones around the world

04-07-2019 Remember Rafting
By Guy S Jones
Posted: 2019-04-07T21:08:00Z
Hi All

Well, I woke up a bit early due to the sound of baaa baaaa and after a moment or two, I realized what I was hearing. Apparently three sheep out of the 27 million sheep in New Zealand were running amok outside of our palatial barn. The issue was quickly rectified but the damage was done and it was actually rather cute. We had seen the sheep plus the alpacas as we came in yesterday but never thought about them again. It appears that this is not a working farm and the animals are probably more pets than anything else.

Our day from a planning standpoint was full but we did not need to have an early start and so we sort of lounged around for a bit. About 11:00 AM, we pointed the Toyota again towards Queenstown with our first stop being the Skyline Gondola that takes you up 450 meters to Bob’s Peak on the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. From this vantage point on most days you can see the city of Queenstown and Walter, Cecil and Coronet Peaks and the Remarkables all of which are mountain ranges. Moreover they serve a buffet lunch and dinner with our interest  being lunch. Having said that, our morning nemesis, the low lying morning fog was at its worst and it was obvious even before we got in the gondola that it was a wasted activity.  Our view of the city and any of the surrounding area was nil after about 200 meters and by the time we reached the top we could see nothing. We were a bit early for lunch so we just walked around a bit and observed the activities that take place up here. First, they have a luge concession where you rent the luge and ride down a course that is a series of winding turns that covers about 800 meters at a controlled pace. This was quite a popular ride for adults and children. However, what seems to be most popular was mountain biking and these people were serious about the sport. First the bikes were all tricked out and the bikers themselves were protected to the teeth with helmets, arm and elbow pads, and knee pads and googles. There are about 30 trails some of which are 30 kilometers long and the gondolas are rigged to carry four bikes up to the top at a time. My guess, one third of all of the people going up were mountain bikers and not just teenagers but many young adults were in among the participants. Finally, our table was ready and we were treated to an all you could eat buffet for NZ$75 per person which included the gondola fee. The fare available included seafood, sushi and sashimi, curry, pork, beef and chicken with side dishes that you would expect plus fruit and deserts. My favorite as some of you might guess was the smoked salmon, and the Japanese fare and I probably made four stops at those stations. In summary the lunch was excellent but the scenic portion of this excursion was a bust due to the low level ground fog.

And, that troubled us even more because our next activity was whitewater rafting on the Kawarau River which is a class 2-3 course. Fortunately, the fog began to burn off a little before noon and by our check in time it was a gorgeous day. About 12:45 PM we presented ourselves to the adventure desk handling the white water rafting and we were promptly given the obligatory forms releasing the company from any liability should anything happen during our rafting experience. They also ask if I was a good swimmer with my response to this being the first of several lies. There also was a medical form asking all types of medical questions that caused me to lie again on questions like, any major surgeries hoping they did not take notice of my hand. Following that, there another series of verbal questions dealing with the fact that I only had one hand and how was I going to handle the paddle. No one seemed to link the medical form and the question so I just continued to move forward. Once the group was together, we boarded the bus and drove North out of Queenstown to a staging area where we changed into our rafting wetsuits. Remembering the aromatic aromas from our previous experience with wetsuits at the cave, Nina and I brought our wetsuits but in truth the concession‘s wetsuits were not as gross and so Nina used their equipment and I used mine. From there we took another bus to the point of entry but we had about a ten minute climb down to the river’s edge. Once there we had to wait because two members of our group had purchased a combo excursion which entailed a jet boat ride down the river to the point where our rafting excursion began. After about a 15 minute wait we could initially hear and then see the jet boat coming down the river with a roostertail about 3-4 meters high trailing the small speedy boat.

Ten minutes later we were away after our guide had explained the paddling techniques and his signals for when to paddle forward and backward. The entire excursion is organized to maximize safety and assumes that people at some point will be thrown from the boat. Specifically there are three boats, the first, the excursion boat is the participants. Then there is a one man kayak who acts as scout and recovery vessel in the event one or more people are ejected from the boat. The third boat is a duplicate of our boat but with one person in the boat and it has fixed oars midship. The idea here is when paddlers are ejected from the excursion boat the will probably lose their paddles and the scout boat has no room for them so they are placed in the third boat with the midship oarsman and will continue down the river with only the experienced guide rowing. Moreover, if multiple people are ejected alone the course there is enough room for the entire group of rafters. I was told that this has happened. As for me, I sat just forward of the pilot with three people on the port and starboard sides of the raft which was about 6-7 meters in length. The pilot had a longer paddle and used primarily to steer raft.

The first rapid was upon us in about ten minutes and it was over in less than a minute but the raft pitched up about 2 meters and then down and we quickly realized how easy it is to be ejected from the raft. Each rapid of the next four rapids was a bit higher and longer in duration building to the fifth rapid which was the class three rapid and was about 100 meters in length. The pilot was extremely good at positioning the raft in the correct place often coming to within inches of the canyon walls and then allowing the current to force the raft back to the center of the river. As we approached the last rapid, once more he cautioned everyone about paddling together and with vigor because this is the rapid where we could have people in the water. There is a dogleg right in the river just prior to the rapids and the pilot positioned the raft broadside to the river so when we reached the dogleg the bow of the raft was already facing downriver. Within 30 seconds the river in front of me disappeared and I was looking at the trees and even faster, I was almost vertical with a feeling of being drenched in cold water and weightlessness for a brief second and then facing skyward again. The paddlers did a great job of digging as we  climbed out of the third and then fourth downward plunge with water enveloping everyone and then turbulence of the river abated and the pilot said we were through and had the team touch paddles in celebration.

As I was sitting there doing nothing, I was already thinking about the class 5 rapid and how much fun that was going to be but that is for another time and another place. We all worked together to load the rafts onto a trailer along with the paddles and when completed we piled onto the bus.

This experience was fun and even more so because we initially thought this was not going to happen. Unfortunately, there are no pictures because you are not allowed to bring cameras for obvious reasons. However our pilot had a helmet cam but it only captured the backs of those in the raft and we opted not to purchase the video. Other rafts have the camera on the bow and those can be great pictures.

Next: Wings of Angels




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