The Best Whitewater Rafting in Australasia

16th May 2024

Ever wondered where the best whitewater rafting in Australasia is?  We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites which we hope you’ll get to experience.

Where to raft in Australasia – get ready for some excitement

The Watut River, Papua New Guinea

Despite being one of the best rivers in the world for whitewater rafting, the Watut was only run for the first time in the 1980’s by SOBEK.  At the time of writing, it is likely that less than 250 people have embarked on a journey down this remote river. This trip is a proper adventure!

The river can rise and fall quickly depending on rain fall, but water levels are fairly reliable late September and early October. Rapids such as ‘Four Part Harmony’ and ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ are challenging but fun. See an abundance of wildlife with stunning birds and tens of thousands of butterfly species in this spectacular jungle clad gorge. Better yet is the chance to visit remote tribes of Morobe Province. These friendly people give insights into a completely different culture.

Rafting the Watut River in Papua New Guinea, Australasia. Clients holding on in orange raft on Watut River

Unrivalled whitewater

Rafting the Franklin River, Tasmania, Australia

In the 1970’s and 80’s, a series of dams were proposed on the Franklin River. After intense lobbying both for and against the dam, and a change of government in 1982, it was eventually agreed that the dams would not be built. As a result, this stunning valley was protected for future generations.

So what makes it special? We think it’s the raw natural beauty and wilderness that makes this trip unrivalled. In 2012, Outside Magazine rated it as the top whitewater rafting trip on earth, beating many others like the Cotahuasi, Zambezi and Futaleufu. The Franklin is best run from October until April. Trips in October and November generally offer higher water levels and more rafting excitement.

Rafting the Rangitikei River, New Zealand, Australasia.

Rafting the Rangitikei River, New Zealand

Tucked away in the secluded but stunning part of the North Island of New Zealand, this Grade V river is fantastic. The whitewater run has around 10 major rapids in 6.8 miles making it a favorite amongst guests. Red Bull recently voted it as one of the top rafting rivers in the world. We suggest staying at the lovely River Valley Lodge given the river’s remote location. This trip is best from October until March and is water level dependent. We think it’s the best half day rafting trip in New Zealand.

Rafting the Whataroa River, New Zealand - lots of smiles on the faces of a group white water rafting

Rafting the Whataroa River, New Zealand

The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand offer incredible heli-rafting opportunities. The Whataroa (pronounced Fot-a-roa) is one of those rivers that will make you feel like you are starring in a movie. This river has it all – aqua colored water, stunning side hikes, helicopter flight, and incredible whitewater. Given the large quantities of rain on the West Coast, it can be hard to plan for this trip, but generally water levels tend to be most conducive from December until March.

Rafting the Kaituna, New Zealand

This river has to be included for giggles alone. It offers the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7 meters (thats around 21 feet). Although the river trip itself is only around 45 minutes long, rafting the infamous Tutea Falls is something not to be missed if you are in the vicinity of Rotorua. Think of it as a whitewater rafting Disneyland!

Rafting the Kaituna, New Zealand, the highest rafted waterfalls in the world. An orange raft descending a waterfall in New ZealandTutea Falls on the Kaituna

Rafting the Karamea River, New Zealand.

The Karamea is another West Coast River. With its headwaters originating in Kahurangi National Park, a helicopter is needed to reach the river. The trip can be one to three days but it offers world class Grade IV-V rapids and is well worth it. Many of the features – rapids and lakes – are as a result of the large earthquake that hit the area in 1929. The ideal time to run the Karamea is November – March.

Rafting the Landsborough River, New Zealand

This is undoubtedly the best multi-day rafting trip in New Zealand. With a three-hour drive from the tourist hubs of Queenstown and Wanaka, the Landsborough has a spectacular helicopter flight into the river up the ‘spine’ of the Southern Alps. Guests are treated to amazing views of Mt Hooker and the Deacon Glacier. It’s a two night trip where guests camp at the ‘put in’ at Toitoi flat where the helicopter drops us. It features fabulous rapids such as Hellfire and Stoat Trap in the upper gorge before arriving at the lower camp. The float out sees the river join with the Clarke River, before finally joining the Haast River where we take out. Ideal season is December – March.

A helicopter takes off from a rafting pick up point at the Landsborough River in New Zealand

Rafting the Shotover River, Queenstown New Zealand

This is a spectacular rafting trip on the second richest gold bearing river in the world. Fed from Mt Aurum (the latin word for Gold) the Shotover (or Shotty as the locals call it) features an incredible and slightly scary drive into the river to Deep Creek. Here safety talks are given and the rafting starts. Rapids are great from around halfway down the river. You’ll encounter Sharks Fin, Germans Drop, and Toilet, all featuring in the section known as Mother. The rest of the trip has excitement too, rafting through either the 180 meter long Oxenbridge Tunnel and down Cascade, or in high water, down the infamous Mother in Law. Rafting takes place all year. Even through winter, although the trip is shorter. Another good river in this area is the Kawerau, a large volume river draining Lake Whakatipu.

Where will you raft in Australasia?

Driving into the Shotover River, a van tows a fully loaded trailer of rafts

Many of the New Zealand rivers featured in this blog can be run in one combined adventure, on the New Zealand River Rafting Road trip. Fourteen days, nine rivers and a whole lot of fun!

Rafting in Australasia is sensational with fantastic rivers to choose from. Feel free to let us know which of these rivers you love or if there are any we’ve left off the list.

Rafting the Shotover River - a group of people in a blue raft padding on bright blue water

by Hamish McMaster

Hamish McMaster is the Water By Nature owner. He has spent the past 25 years exploring and playing on the world's great rivers. He still loves nothing more than getting out there and sharing adventures.

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