Riding the River Face Down
Racing through Roaring Meg’s rapids or the infamous Chinese Dogleg sections of New Zealand’s Kawarau River, you’ll want to use those flippers on your feet to steer. Face down, you’re river sledging through turbulent whitewater. The tour operators claim previous experience isn’t required, so you put on the padded wetsuit, the helmet, booties, life jacket, and fins, not quite sure what to expect.
Before hitting the big-time rapids, you’ll probably be introduced to maneuvering the sledge in quieter backwater eddies. First you rest your chest on the sledge, which looks a bit like a modified boogie board, and put your arms in groves on each side for a good grip and control. Using your flippers you start moving with the flowing water, gradually working up to steering through rougher whitewater. Each time you successfully steer around rocks and jockey among eddies and whirlpools, you get a thrill. Maybe it’s the sense of control, maybe it’s the scene of the water roaring all around you. Or maybe it’s just the fun of bouncing up and down, soaking wet, one on one with Mother Nature.
River sledging (or river boarding as it’s called in the U.S., and hydrospeeding in Europe) is popular on the more turbulent sections of the rivers near Queenstown and Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island. A number of companies run 3- to 5-hour excursions on the Kawarau and Clutha rivers. You could take a trip through Roaring Meg, which provides a mix of fast-flowing rapids, whirlpools, and boils, with a quieter section at the end. For a bigger adrenaline rush, choose an all-day trip through the Gorge, with its Class IV rapids, and Roaring Meg. Frogz Whitewater Sledging and Mad Dog River Boarding are based in the Queenstown area. If you’re staying in Queenstown and need a little time out of the water, lots of other activities including bungee jumping, four-wheeling, horseback riding, and hiking are all close-by.
On the North Island, you can river sledge on the Kaituna River in Rotorua, a region famous for its Maori culture, and its geothermal geysers and mud pools. Kaitiaki Adventures offers excursions on the Kaituna River and a heli-sledge excursion to the Okere River, which includes a jet boat ride. You can also go sledging down the Waingongoro River then “dam dropping” over a high water weir, under the shadow of Mount Taranaki. —LF
Waingongoro Sledging ( 64/274/706899; www.damdrop.com). Frogz Whitewater Sledging, Queensland ( 800/4-FROGZ or 03 441 2318; www.frogz.co.nz). Kaitiaki Adventures ( 800/338-736 in New Zealand or 0064/7/357-2236 outside New Zealand; www.kaitiaki.co.nz). Rotorura Tourism (www.rotoruanz.com). New Zealand Tourism (www.newzealand.com).
When to Go: Dec–Feb (New Zealand summer).
Queenstown or Rotorua.
In Queenstown: $$$ Queenstown House, 69 Hallenstein St. ( 64/3-442-9043; www.queenstownhouse.co.nz). $$$ Hotel Sofitel Queenstown, 8 Duke St. ( 03/450-0045 or 0800/444-422 in New Zealand; www.sofitel.com). In Rotorua: $$$ Peppers on the Point, 214 Kawaha Point Rd., Rotorua ( 64/7/348-4868; www.peppers.co.nz). $$ Rydges Rotorua, 272 Fenton St., Rotorua ( 800/446-187 in New Zealand, 1300/857-922 in Australia, or 61/2/9261-4929; www.rydges.com).