From the outlet of Lake Rotoiti near Rotorua, a river flows over waterfalls, cascades, and swift rapids in Okere Falls Scenic Reserve. If you’re on a raft, the river is pure, thrilling fun! The trip down the Kaituna River, also called the Okere River, includes several class 5 features like Tutea Falls, the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. While you can get good views of the park’s beautiful waterfalls from Okere Falls Track, the best way to experience the river is on a whitewater rafting adventure. Going over the 7-meter (23-foot) Tutea Falls is enthralling, and the rafting trip is the type of experience you’ll never forget.
If you’re not a whitewater rafting pro yourself, go with a guide who knows the river. Kaitiaki Adventures is an outfitter with the experience and personnel to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. They offer three trips a day, each with about an hour on the water. Kaitiaki Adventures provides a free shuttle to pick you up and drop off from wherever you are staying in Rotorua. In short, they take care of all the arrangements, so you can focus on the fun.
When you arrive at Kaitiaki Adventures, you’ll get an overview of the trip, learn what to do, when to do it, and how to stay safe. Once you’re geared up with a life jacket, helmet, and boots, board a bus for the starting point on the river outside Okere Falls Scenic Reserve. The river connects Lake Rotorua to Lake Rotoiti above this outlet and then begins a journey toward the coast. Thanks to hydrothermal sources around the lakes, the river’s water is surprisingly warm. You won’t mind getting splashed and may find it refreshing to jump in the river when it is safe to do so.
A check dam at the put-in point controls the water going down the river, maintaining a predictable flow that helps make Tutea Falls safe enough for rafting. The Kaituna River, which translates to ‘eel food’ was a significant food source for the Ngāti Pikiao who lived here. Kaitiaki Adventures pays homage to the river’s first inhabitants. Unlike other outfitters, they asked for and received a thumbs up from the local Māori tribe to raft on the river. As you get in your raft, you’ll recite a Māori prayer for a safe journey (and for good measure, you’ll recite the prayer again before attempting Tutea Falls). While this bit of history and culture is kept brief, the prayer actually enriches the experience on the river.
Float down the river on a raft with four to six passengers. Each raft has a guide to steer and keep you out of danger and having fun. This is not a leisure cruise. The guide will shout commands like “paddle, forward, backward, and get down.” When you hear that last one, it’s time to drop to the floor of the raft and hold on tight as the inflatable vessel is swept over a waterfall.
The river picks up speed as you head for Okere Falls, where the raft rides down class 5 cascades, drenching everyone in the process. Below the falls, you will swiftly pass the remains of an old hydroelectric power station that produced the region’s first electricity starting in 1901.
Okere Falls is pretty fun, but things get a lot more exciting a short distance down river. Are you ready for Tutea Falls? The waterfall is 7 meters (23 feet) tall, splashing down in a frothy mix of spray at the top of a green punchbowl. Rock walls pinch the waterfall on both sides to create a perfect flume of water for rafts to go over. The ideal conditions make it feasible for you to attempt the drop, which is the world’s tallest waterfall that can be commercially rafted. It’s a plunge of over two stories. Say your (Māori) prayers and slip toward the waterfall.
As you crouch into the boat, keep your head up so you can see what’s going on around you. Crossing the brink, the raft tip almost completely vertical and drops down the waterfall, colliding with the rapids below. For a moment, you’re below the surface, soaking in a swirl of whitewater, and then suddenly the inflatable raft surfaces. You made it! Some rafts buckle, some rafts pop up on their side. The important thing is that everyone is still there – everyone’s still there, right?
Across from the large pool below the waterfall, a photographer is positioned at a lookout on Okere Falls Track, snapping photos of the feat. Later, in these photos, you’ll see your raft disappear completely in the white of the falls, before successfully reemerging. It’s quite amazing.
Grinning ear-to-ear, pose for a triumphant photo below Tutea Falls. The river becomes more gentle now, allowing you to appreciate more of the scenic surroundings. The Kaituna is made up of stark white rapids and dark emerald pools, framed by cliffs covered in a dense forest. At one point, you may have a chance to jump out of the raft and float through one of the smaller rapids. This can seem alarming at first as your guide tells you to “get out” and then “let go” (which were not commands that you had practiced), but floating freely down the river is a great way to experience its strength and beauty.
Get back in the boat before things get too rough and prepare for more adventures. Your guide will pretty much ensure that you get the most possible fun out of every bend in the river. As you come to the end, there’s a short rapid to play around in. Paddle upstream and nudge the tip of the raft into churning water, drenching the front row passengers. This of course, makes for one last great photo-op.
Before you want to, but not before you have to, it is time to leave the river. The take-out point is up the river from Trout Pool Falls, a class 6 waterfall that would be too much even for this limit-pushing adventure. Walk the raft a short distance from the river to a car park where the bus is waiting to take you back.
What an adventure! Since you can’t bring a camera or anything else with you on the raft (the river has a way of lifting possessions), a photographer for Kaitiaki Adventures chronicles the journey from viewpoints along Okere Falls Track, snapping stills as you cross Okere Falls and Tutea Falls and come to the end of the trip. When you see photos of yourself crossing Tutea Falls, your first thought will probably be something like “holy crap, did I actually do that?” Yes you did. It just looks too crazy to be true. A disc of all the photos from the trip can be purchased when you get back to Kaitiaki Adventures.
The entire experience takes about three and a half hours. To get more information, check rates, and book a trip, visit kaitiaki.co.nz. You can also email Kaitiaki Adventures at email@example.com or call (64) 7 357-2236. There are risks associated with whitewater rafting. Follow instructions from Kaitiaki Adventures and make sure you are comfortable with the dangers. Your safety is your responsibility.
Directions: From the center of Rotorua, take State Highway 30A east from State Highway 5 for a few kilometers. The road joins State Highway 30 and proceeds north. Drive 9 3/4 kilometers and turn left into the parking area for Kaitiaki Adventures, which is located 650 meters south of the intersection of State Highway 33 and State Highway 30.
You may not need these directions, however, as Kaitiaki Adventures shuttles patrons to and from their headquarters.
Kaitiaki Adventures address: 1135 Te Ngae Road (SH 30), Tikitere, Bay of Plenty, 3074, New Zealand
Kaitiaki Adventures coordinates: -38.085, 176.3264 (38° 05′ 06″S 176° 19′ 35″E)
Use the map below to view the track and get directions:
|Okere Falls Track|
This scenic 3-kilometer walk through Okere Falls Scenic Reserve has views of multiple waterfalls, cascades, and pools on the Okere River near Rotorua.
This 6.15-kilometer circuit near Rotorua provides a pleasant loop across lakeside beaches and forests, rising to a lookout over Blue Lake and nearby Green Lake.
|Waimangu Volcanic Valley|
This 4.75-kilometer one-way route descends through a landscape of spectacular geothermal features like Frying Pan Lake, the largest hot spring in the world. Pair a walk down the valley with a Lake Rotomahana Boat Cruise for a memorable geothermal experience in Rotorua.
|Lake Rotomoahana Boat Cruise|
Take a boat tour over the lake at the bottom of Waimangu Volcanic Valley, getting close to steaming vents and geysers right along the lakeshore for a unique on-the-water experience. The cruise is reachable by bus or a hike down Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
This 1-kilometer walk in Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve goes to an overlook with views of a turquoise pool below vibrant cliffs.
This short walk follows Kerosene Creek down to a hot pool below a crescent-shaped waterfall. Bring your bathing suit and wade into warm, welcoming waters.
|Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland|
This thermal area full of hot pools, geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots can be explored on three successive loops for walks of 1.35 to 3.05 kilometers.
|More trails in New Zealand|
Explore other destinations for walking and hiking (as well camping and lodging) in New Zealand.
|Rotorua Top 10|
This holiday park has campsites, cabins, and motel accommodations in a fun setting near the center of Rotorua with amenities that include mineral hot pools.
|Murupara Motor Camp|
Set in a small town in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand, this motor camp is half holiday park and half motor lodge, offering a variety of accommodations in a location that is both removed from busy tourist centers and close to lots of fun outdoor activities.