In recent years kayakers and rafters have realized that some of the most thrilling and scenic whitewater trips are on New Zealand’s West Coast, where dramatically steep rivers spill out of the alpine wilderness, fed by the prodigious quantity of rain that guarantees solid flows most of the time. The steepness of the terrain means you’re in constantly thrilling if not downright scary territory (rivers in this area are mostly Grade IV, sliding either one up, or down). If you enjoy rafting and want more, this is a good place to come.


Few of these rivers had been kayaked or rafted until the 1980s, when helicopters were co-opted to reach them. Most rafting trips still require helicopter access, so costs are relatively high, and what you pay will often depend on numbers, so getting, say, six people together will save you a packet.

Booking and seasons

Though their popularity is increasing, trips are still relatively infrequent and you should book as far in advance as possible. The main season is November to April, though rafting is generally possible from early September to late May, and there is a minimum age of 13 years (15 for some of the more frightening runs).


The most commonly rafted rivers are (from north to south) the Karamea (Grade III+), the Mokihinui (Grade IV), the Arahura (Grade IV), the Whitcombe (Grade V), the Hokitika (Grade III–IV), the Wanganui (Grade III), the Perth (Grade V) and the Whataroa (Grade IV).

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