Tales from abroad: New Zealand

Lamp and friends were flown out to their rafting location in the mountains by helicopter.  (credit: Courtesy of Nicholas Lamp) Lamp and friends were flown out to their rafting location in the mountains by helicopter. (credit: Courtesy of Nicholas Lamp)

In spring of 2009, Nicholas Lamp studied abroad at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. While there, he met a group of friends that decided to go to New Zealand for spring break. Lamp decided to keep a journal of his trip, which proved to be worthwhile, as the week Lamp spent in New Zealand with his friends was one of the best times of his life. The following is an excerpt from Lamp’s journal describing his adventure rafting in the New Zealand rapids.

Monday, April 13, 2009:

On Monday morning I woke up early to cook pancakes and bacon before heading out to go white water rafting. I had called the location up the night before for directions but the man with whom I spoke told me to make a left when we had actually needed to make a right, and as a result, we ended up getting lost. Luckily, we figured it out and weren’t too late.

We arrived at a small car park to see our guides getting things prepared for us. It was a very cloudy day and the second we all stepped out of the car, it started to rain and the wind began to blow harder. It wasn’t looking like the day would be very fun; it seemed like we would be freezing the entire time, but the guides provided us each with two sets of thermal pants and shirts that instantly got us all warmed up. It felt as if we could stand at the North Pole in the middle of a blizzard and still be completely warm.

My friend Brian and I were able to get into our gear first and, just about the time that we did, a helicopter flew in and touched down nearby. We were riding a helicopter up to the start of the river! Brian and I climbed in the tiny aircraft and put on the headphones inside to dampen the noise. Almost immediately, the pilot took off more smoothly than any airplane could have ever hoped to. We climbed about 100 feet and skimmed over the tree tops and across the river we were going to raft in, in an exhilarating ride. The pilot dipped up and down and side to side, giving us the sensation of being weightless numerous times in the smoothest and most fun rollercoaster ride I’ve ever been on. After landing 20 kilometers upstream after a mere five-minute ride, Brian and I hopped out and headed over to a few rocks where our guides were leading us.

As we waited for the helicopter to return and shuttle the rest of our friends to our position, the guide told us about the surrounding area. Apparently, gold runs through the river and some hot springs nearby. I immediately started looking around on the ground for some gold nuggets, hoping to pay for the whole trip with a lucky find.

The second time the helicopter came in for a landing, the guide told us to brace ourselves for the wind that it would produce. The pilot dropped the load of rafts and oars before going in for a landing that I apparently wasn’t prepared enough for. The wind blew me backward to a rock I hadn’t noticed and I fell. The whole thing made me laugh quite a bit and enjoy the entire experience even more. The pilot then took off once again and gathered the others while Ed, Brian, and I pumped up the rafts. Once the final group of people arrived, the rafts were nearly completely blown up and the guides gave us the standard safety briefings.

We were finally ready to get on our way and we set off on our rafting adventure. Within 60 seconds we were being briefed about our first grade-three rapid (medium difficulty), and within the next 60 seconds we were going through it.

The entire trip was action-packed as we went through rapids between the grades of three and five (six being the deadly, illegal kind). The calmest moments of our trips were the parts when we needed to pull over to the side of the river to be given a safety briefing on the coming rapids. There were two times on the trip when we needed to get out of the boats and walk around turns in the river because they were simply too dangerous to pass over, but even these moments were intense as we needed to hike up the walls of the river valley and then travel down them on the other side.

After drifting through a passage known as the “grand canyon of New Zealand” — one of the most stunning sights on the trip with 100-foot cliff walls and waterfalls pouring down into the river from either side — we pulled our boats up onto the bank for lunch. Another meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches refueled our tanks and we walked up the stream we were parked next to. We hiked up some massive boulders to a cliff edge overlooking the stream and a 50-meter waterfall 20 meters away from us. After a nice little group photo, we were allowed to jump the 15 feet into the water below, which was a lot of fun.

We swam to shore and then hiked back to our boats on the bank, pushed them into the water, and began the journey again. More rapids and exciting twists and turns left us at the end with only a few grade twos and threes left for us to traverse.

Further down the river on a dinky grade three, the guide was distracting us all with some lame little joke and a wave came and broadsided us, knocking me out of the boat. I surfaced and heard the guide telling me to swim to the paddle that was being held out to me while everyone was laughing, but I accidentally thought he meant for me to swim to the paddle I had dropped. So I swam to the wrong paddle, which made everyone laugh more as they were finally pulling me into the boat once I swam the right way.

The end of the trip had us all thanking our guides as much as possible. We climbed into our cars and shouted some more goodbyes out the window as we rambled on along the road to our campsite.