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UP THE CREEK WITH A PADDLE

It’s a lonely road, being the least adventurous girl in a clutch of adventurous women. I often tag along as team driver, water bottle dispenser and head cheerleader. But once in a while, I dust off the leggings and runners to join my adrenaline seeking gal-pals for a weekend of fun and games, somewhere in the far reaches of this beautiful country.

Most recently, the Adventure Girls went full wetsuit and helmet into the River Wild Raft N Run race in spectacular Turangi – down the mighty Tongariro river.

This was the fifth year the Adventure Girls had tackled the event, but my first. However, I was lucky enough to get a full training session in on the river last year, which more than prepared me for an exciting few hours last weekend.

This year, the Adventure Girls expanded to include Adventure Husbands, Children and Friends. So, twenty-four of us entered the event and so began a weekend to remember.

As the blurb says; ‘Nowhere else do you get to compete in such a unique and pristine environment. The Tongariro River provides the perfect setting for an epic adventure.”

After a comprehensive safety briefing from the Rafting New Zealand crew, each team of six found its raft and guide and picked its way down to the water’s edge.

This river is a stunner. You enter the water 16 k’s upstream from the end of the rafting section (there’s an 8km run to come) and hit your first rapid within metres. Being Grade 3, the Tongariro River is regarded as NZ’s best Class 3 Section of white water, dropping over 200 metres in vertical height. The rapids come one after another, producing an exciting ride through towering cliffs and native bush. Luckily, your professional guide is with you at every stroke, telling you when to paddle, when to hold on (tighhhht!) and when you can take a breather to enjoy the beautiful scenery.  Spoiler alert; breathers are few and far between, because having several other rafts hot on your tail is a constant reminder that this is a RACE.

As you paddle furiously downstream, being lashed with white water and fiercely ploughing into and bouncing off the sides of steep cliffs (it’s all part of the fun), there’s little time to be scared. The river is actually surprisingly shallow in many parts and abundant with fish, ducks and other wildlife whose peace you are briefly disturbing.

Our team of six ‘Adventure Girls’ had a clear run down the river with no other team passing us. We did allow our fellow mixed team (of burly husbands and fast runners) to slide past us early on, in a smooth patch of water. ‘Adventure Girls 2’ blitzed past three other teams, in a pedal-to-the-metal chase over the rapids.

At last you arrive 16 k’s down river, exhilarated, enervated and more than a little damp; to stumble onto shore, where drier gear is waiting for you. The goal is to quickly effect a wetsuit strip, sock and shoe change and grab a water for the 8k run ahead. Getting a soggy wetsuit off is an art in itself. Picture a herd of seals (yes, herd is the collective noun) lolling and flopping around on the rocky shoreline and you will come close. Luckily there are transition crew to help you with this incredibly undignified act. And as designated team ‘walker’ I didn’t have to head off with such haste.

The Tongariro river trail takes you back through more glorious scenery along the banks of the river. The cool tree shade and beautiful fern glades were a delightful distraction as the k’s ticked away, while we walked/trotted and chatted, while other groups of runners passed us in a steady stream. Eventually, you reach the Major Jones’ bridge, where we walkers crossed the river to join the finishers back in Turangi town centre at Rafting HQ. Waiting for my team just before the finish line, (I arrived just ahead of them), we held hands to run into the chute together, which was a very special moment.

For a slightly-adventurous-trying-to-be-braver person like myself, the sense of achievement and camaraderie of a group event is second to none. This really is one that persons of many ages, fitness levels and abilities could happily do. There really is no experience needed to raft and you learn everything you need to know, on the water.

For a fantastic weekend away with friends and loved ones, this is hard to beat.

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