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FAQs - Kawarau River

FAQ's related to rafting on the Kawarau River.

1. What is the difference between the Shotover and Kawarau rivers?

Aside from the location and scenery, there are a few differences between the rivers. These include the grade of rapids, the amount of rapids rafted and the swimming ability needed by participants.

Shotover River - Is graded 3-5 (5 is the highest grade commercially rafted in the world), therefore it's a more exciting river to raft, harder to navigate and with a higher risk of falling out the boat. There are more rapids on the river, compared to the Kawarau including a section through the 170m long Oxenbridge tunnel. It is a requirement that participants be able to swim on this river.

The drive to the start of the Shotover river ratfing trip is via Skippers Canyon which is an experience in itself. The narrow dirt track road hugs the sheer cliffs of the canyon and gives spectular views over the river you will be rafting.

Kawarau River - Is usually graded 2-3 (however occasionally grade 2-4 at higher water levels), therefore easier to navigate and with less risk of falling out. There are flat stretches of river between the rapids where you'll have the opportunity to race your friends on the other rafts or jump out and swim, also watch out for the other rafts as there's always a good chance of a water fight breaking out. 

The Kawarau River is a much deeper and bigger river, flowing through some spectacular Central Otago vineyards and the trip ends with a 400 meter long, grade 3/4 rapid.

2. Do I need to be able to swim?

Yes you do, however different abilities are required for the different rivers.

Kawarau River -  This trip is suitable for less confident swimmers. As the Kawarau river is a lower grade river, there are less chaces to actually fall out of the raft. You are given a floatation jacket (life jacket) and the wetsuits also help as a buoyancy aid but you will still need to be able to help the guide and move towards the raft (or safety kayaker in high water levels). So water confidence although not essential is recommended.

Shotover River
- You must be ‘water confident’ and be able to swim on this trip.

One way to describe ‘water confident’ is to imagine yourself swimming in the sea where you can't stand up, with medium waves around you and being tossed around a bit. If you feel comfortable with this then you should be ok.

3. Do I need rafting experience?

No you don't. Everyone can enjoy rafting on either river with no rafting experience. You will be given training and a full saftey briefing before the trip starts. All of our qualified and certified guides will be able to give you any extra personal instruction you may need while in the raft.

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4. What do I need to bring?

You will need a swimsuit and a towel. There are showers and a sauna after the trip. Anything valuable should be left behind at your accommodation or there are secure lockers at the shop in town.

5. Do I need to book this trip in advance?

Yes we recommend that you do, especially during the peak seasons because space can be limited. This is also true for mid winter and school holidays.

6. How can I book / pay for the trip?

You can book your trip online from this webiste with your credit card or in person from the shop at 35 Shotover St when you arrive in Queenstown. However we recommend booking early as trips can book out.

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7. Can I wear jeans or my own clothes under the wetsuit?

Generally no. We recommend you only wear swim wear as the wetsuits work best when they are close to your skin. Any clothing such as cotton t-shirts or jeans under the wetsuit prevent it from working effectively and will actually make you colder. The only exception to this is if you have specific merino wool or polyester thermal underwear, however we find that most people are warm enough with the wetsuit and additional layers that we provide given the specific conditions on the day.

8. What shoes should I wear?

We provide wetsuit booties for when you are on the river, so you can wear your normal shoes to the rafting base.

9. Can I wear sunglasses / prescription glasses or contact lenses?

Yes you can, however we do recommend a sports strap or tie for glasses. Because of the nature of the river, we can’t guarantee the safety of your glasses so if you can do without them we recommend leaving them behind.

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10. Can I bring my camera?

Yes you can, although we recommend that cameras are left behind at the hotel as we cannot guarantee their safety against damage even if waterproof. However if you would still like to take a camera on the rafting trip, we recommend the cheap disposable waterproof cameras which we also have for sale.

Otherwise there is professional photography available for purchase upon completion of your trip and video head cams for hire that you can shoot your own footage with.

11. Are there professional photos taken that I can purchase?

Yes there are. There will be a professional photographer with you at the start of the trip and again at the last rapid taking both photos and video footage. You will be able to view and purchase the photos / video at the end of the trip when you are returned to the shop.

12. How long is the trip?

The total trip time for both the Kawarau and Shotover river trips is around 4.5 hours. We typically run two trip a day with an 8:15am and 1:15pm depature from town.

However the time on the water varies depending on the river speed, the water level and time of year. Generally the Shotover River trip can be between 1½ to 2½ hours on the water and the Kawarau River is between 1 hour and 1½ hours on the water. When we’re Heli-rafting on the Shotover River in the winter, this time tends to be reduced to an hour on the river due to cold weather restrictions.

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13. Where are the rivers and how far is the rafting from town?

The Cavells Rafting base is on the banks of the Shotover River, approximately a 10 minute drive from Queenstown. At Cavells after being fitted out with your wetsuit and other gear, you will be taken to the river you’ve chosen to raft.

Shotover River - This Shotover river is found to the north of Queenstown flowing out of the mountains. The drive into the rafting start point is via Skippers Canyon, behind Coronet Peak, which takes about 40 minutes. You get to raft down 14km of the Shotover river all the way back to the Cavells Rafting Base where you started. You can view a map of the trip by clicking here.

Kawarau River - The Kawarau is the only outlet to Lake Wakatipu and flows out to the east of Queenstown. The drive to the rafting start point is via Arrowtown and takes about 25 minutes. The trip covers 8km of the river and at the end the return trip is past th elocal wineries through the Gibbston Valley and takes about 30 minutes. You can view a map of the trip by clicking here.

14. Is there a minimum / maximum number of people on a trip / can you cater for groups?

We run any trip when we have more than 8 people booked on and the maximum per trip is 70. However if we get more people than this booked onto a river we break the trips up into multiple groups.

Given prior notice, we can carry groups of up to 200 people on any one trip.

15. How many people in a raft?

The rafts are large enough to carry six or seven people plus your rafting guide. If you’re travelling with friends or in a group, we can generally organise it so that you go down the river in the same raft.

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16. Is there a guide in the raft with us?

Yes, every boat has a qualified and certified rafting guide that will not only keep you safe as you go down the river but entertain you with stories and information about the area you are travelling through.

17. Do I need to tip my guide?

Tipping is not expected in New Zealand, however if you feel you would like to show your appreciation that is totally at your discretion and will always be appreciated.

18. Can I go if I have a medical condition?

Some medical conditions may prohibit you from whitewater rafting but most will not. It's very important however that if you do have a medical condition that you let our staff know prior to rafting, this is not to stop you from rafting but to inform your personal guide so that they can help in the unlikely event that something does go wrong. If you require medication for your condition (eg. ashma inhalers), you will need to bring that with you incase it is needed.

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19. Can I raft if I am pregnant?

No. Company policy is that we don’t allow anyone who is pregnant on grade 3 or above rivers. There is a risk that a pregnant person could sustain a blow to the abdomen either through falling out the raft, from a paddle from another client or someone falling against them.

20. Can I raft if I have a disability?

This will need to be assessed on a case by case basis and we recommend you call our staff and have a chat with them about your specific needs. Generally we are able to accommodate most people if we are given prior notice.

Ultimately though your invlovement will be at the descretion of the trip leader and guides who will be able to assess the conditions on the day and inform you of any potential safety concerns.

21. Will I get wet?

Yes you will, but you will be in a wetsuit. White water rafting is a great activity for rainy days as you are going to be wet anyway!

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22. What is the possibility of falling out the boat?

That often depends on the river levels but there's always a chance that participant’s may fall out of the raft. The guides are trained to deal with this and every Shotover River trip (and Kawarau in high water levels) has a safety kayaker. There is a full safety briefing before you commence your rafting trip explaining what to do if you should fall out of the boat.

23. Are there seatbelts in the raft?

No but you will be instructed by your guide how to brace yourself in the raft to minimize the chance of falling out.

24. Is there a minimum / maximum age or weight limit?

The minimum age for rafting is 13 years, with a minimum weight of 40kg. There is no maximum age or weight limit for rafting however the person must be able to fit our gear and safety equipment. We do have a number of extra large wetsuits but ask that you are physically fit and able to swim.

Ultimately it will be at the discretion of the trip leader and guides as to who is appropriate to participate in the rafting trip.

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25. Do you raft the same river as the jetboats?

Yes but on different sections of the rivers.

The Skippers Canyon Jetboat operate on the top part of the Shotover River.

Queenstown Rafting paddle the next section which is where the rapids are. Shotover Jet operates on the section after the Oxenbridge tunnel and the Kawarau Jet operates on Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau River and the lower Shotover River.

The thunder Jet opperate on Lake Wakatipu and up into the Kawarau river.

Queenstown Rafting paddle a section of the Kawarau River further down from where any jet boats operate. 

You will see different scenery as no jetboat or rafting is on the same stretch of river, except a 500m stretch after the Oxenbridge tunnel as you float to the rafting base on the Shotover River.

26. I see you raft in the winter as well, will I be cold?

The temperature of the water varies depending on the time of year, the water level, however you will be provided with waterproof booties, a full length 5mm wetsuit as well as a 5mm jacket, spray-jacket and life jacket. These should keep you adequately warm and the ‘paddling action’ will certainly keep the blood flowing. We have additional neoprene socks and gloves for the winter rafting.

27. When is the New Zealand winter?

New Zealand is exactly the opposite to the northern hemisphere (UK, USA etc) and winter is between June and early September.

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28. What happens if it's raining?

Whitewater rafting will still go ahead if it's raining, you are going to get wet anyway and the river is normally at its best then. We will not refund if you decide to cancel at short notice due to rain or bad weather.

29. What is your cancellation policy?

We require 24 hours notice for cancellation to get a full refund, after that a portion of the cost is retained.

30. Are there toilets?

Yes, there are toilets at the Cavells rafting base and at Deep Creek where the Shotover River rafting trip starts.

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31. Can my friends or family watch while I go rafting?

Due to the nature of the terrain and the remote location of the river, it is not possible to view the rafting trip. However there is an opportunity to stand by the last rapid on the Shotover River as you come through the Oxenbridge Tunnel. Timings can depend on river levels though so your friends or family may need to wait a while to ensure they don’t miss you.

32. Is there somewhere to buy food?

Yes at the end of the trip, after your sauna and shower you will be Cavells Cafe and Bar. We recommend that you eat something before you leave town though because it will be 4 hours by the time you finish your trip and get to celebrate with a beer. 

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