Rotorua has a considerable reputation for its nearby whitewater rivers, which you can tackle aboard rafts, kayaks (usually tandems) or, more in-your-face, by “sledging” – floating down rapids clinging to a buoyant plastic sledge (really only for good swimmers). There’s no shortage of operators willing to take you out (usually from September to May); the most popular rivers are listed below. Other options include renting kayaks or undertaking kayaking courses and guided trips on several of the larger lakes in the region, with the emphasis on scenic appreciation, soaking in hot pools and a little fishing.
Kaituna River Much of the hype is reserved for this Grade IV river, or at least the 2km section after it leaves Lake Rotoiti 20km north of Rotorua, which includes the spectacular 7m Tutea’s Falls (sledgers walk around the falls).
Wairoa River If you can get the timing right, this Grade IV+ river, 80km by road from Rotorua, on the outskirts of Tauranga, is the one to go for. It relies on dam-releases for raftable quantities of white water (Dec–March every Sun; Sept–Nov & April–May every second Sun). This is one of the finest short trips available in New Zealand, negotiating a hazardous but immensely satisfying stretch of water.
Rangitaiki River If your tastes lean more towards appreciation of the natural surroundings with a bit of a bumpy ride thrown in, opt for this Grade III river, which also shoots Jeff’s Joy, a Grade IV drop that’s the highlight of the trip.