I am so excited to finally share the story of what quite possibly is New Zealand’s greatest adventure – rafting the wild and remote Landsborough River. I don’t say this lightly, but guys, this is really one of my favorite adventures of all time. Are you ready?
Over the years I had heard whispers of how epic rafting the Landsborough could be from locals. A wild and pristine river on the West Coast in the heart of the Southern Alps, it’s about as remote as you can get. No roads, no cell reception, not easily accessed.
For many kiwis rafting the Landsborough River is a trip of a lifetime, and to the outside world it’s still relatively unknown, one of the best-kept secrets here that I’m totally blowing the lid on. Oops.
In fact, most people are my trip were kiwis.
This is Jurassic Park New Zealand; unfarmed, unkempt and off the grid. Thick forests, snaking glacial rivers, and big mountains, and no people. I craved it.
Best seen guided unless you’re a kiwi bushman, Queenstown Rafting has been running three day missions down the Landsborough River for decades. A bit of a splurge, I can tell you it’s worth every penny and then some, and I’d pay to do it again in a heartbeat and not think twice.
The best adventures are shared, right? I hadn’t really been white water rafting since I was a kid and was a little nervous, and but luckily a friend agreed to join me on this adventure!
My partner in crime needs no introduction – my good friend and local photographer, Talman, didn’t need much persuading to come rafting with me in the mountains. Along with keeping spirits high and putting me in my place when needed, he shot a lot of the images in this post, and I couldn’t have done this trip without him!
Talman has just released his first New Zealand photography book!
And like with only the best adventures, it begins with a helicopter flight deep into the mountains. Well, after a transfer from Queenstown to the starting point on the Haast Pass. Helicopter flights are one of my favorite things, and it’s one of the best ways to put the scale of New Zealand’s vast wilderness into perspective.
After loading up the gear and the rafts to be towed underneath the choppers, we took turns getting flown up to the first camp. Our local pilots flew us along the Landsborough River, pointing out waterfalls and glaciers as we oo’eh and ah’ed and begged for more time in the chopper.
In case you missed the memo, helicopters are sexy and fun.
One thing I loved about the trip was that even though you are roughing it in the wilderness, Queenstown Rafting provides a ton of comforts that make the trip the more special. Like three course dinners cooked over the fire with wine and cheese and all the accoutrements.
We were the last trip of the season last summer and dined on racks of lamb and crayfish (lobster in NZ). I drool just remembering it.
Everything was already set up when we arrived at camp 1, including huge roomy tents, tall enough to stand up in with cot beds. As someone who spends a fair amount of time on sleeping pads, this was such a luxury.
We met up with some of the guys who walked in on the longer 5 day trip which begins with a multi-day hike over the Brodrick Pass before rafting.
After bonding, getting to know each other and listening to stories and legends from Landsborough over a veritable feast, we fell asleep listening to owls serenading us, excited to begin the adventure the next day.
As this is an exclusive trip that’s a bit of a luxury, you get the creme-de-la-creme of the rafting guides, absolute legends who have heaps of experience and who know the whitewater and rivers like the backs of their hands.
I quickly claimed the raft with the guide who instructs and certifies the guides. Ah self-preservation, one of my finer character traits.
After a hearty breakfast we pulled on our wetsuits and prepared for the adventure. Practicing, learning all the safety briefings, what to do in various scenarios, what to do if you fall out (to which I paid careful attention to), answering all my stupid questions, and before I knew it, we were off.
We had three rafts, two for the groups, one for all our gear, and a safety kayaker to help us if we get into trouble.
While you have to be in ok shape, you don’t really need to be an experienced whitewater rafter or hardcore adventurer to enjoy this trip. The rapids are mostly grade 3’s and 4’s, and the experience is focused more on being in such a remote and wild place. OBVIOUSLY you need to be able to swim.
It’s more about being open, loving the outdoors, being excited and wanting to have a good time, something I need more of in my life.
Being a total introvert, I really surprised myself with falling in love with the teamwork that’s involved with whitewater rafting. I know, I know, that sounds spectacularly dumb to say, but I mean it.
I’ve never been one for group activities. My memories of recess and gym in school are nothing but nightmares of kickball games and forced softball matches. Cringe.
Rafting really surprised me because you have to work together as a team to get through the rapids the right way, you don’t just float along through. And of course being mostly with kiwis, there was epic banter, great jokes, all the laughs all the time.
I can’t begin to stress just how much fun I had on this trip.
We started out with smaller rapids before heading into calmer sections at the beginning of the trip. It was the end of the season and the river was running low which meant there were more rocks than usual.
I remember whining to Talman about how I really hoped I didn’t fall out in the rapids only to have him be all like “ah ha, ah ha,” and immediately shove me out in a calm section. Welcome to the river, Liz!
Even though the water is the most beautiful shades of turquoise, make no mistake, it ain’t warm. This is a glacier-fed river, that’s why it’s so blue, and it’s not warm. But luckily with the warm wetsuits, it’s actually pretty welcoming, and we jumped in heaps.
And surprise! I didn’t fall in!
It was just so epic. I can’t pinching myself that I was getting to experience one of these perfect blue rivers from a raft I was helping to power.
We spent two days making our way down the Landsborough, stopping for meals, little walks and exploring, even checking out waterfalls.
I kept my eye out listening for some of New Zealand’s rare birds, like the whio (Blue Duck) and Mohua, both species that Queenstown Rafting helps with conservation in New Zealand out on the Landsborough.
We all made it through unscathed, and we didn’t even flip a raft.
The trip was pretty much perfect. The only thing that would have made it better was if it was longer. I could have spent a week out there.
Oh, and the sandflies. The only predator in New Zealand that preys on humans. The tiny, little sandfly. Most live down in Fiordland or the West Coast, I am not quite sure what they eat when humans aren’t on the menu but they are little terrors.
Cocky me thought after almost 5 years in New Zealand I was finally getting used to them. But in this really epic part of the West Coast, I was eaten alive. And since my face and hands were the only skin showing with the wetsuit on for days, it was mostly my hands that took a beating as I swatted them off my face. By the end of the trip they swelled like fat balloons. Very unattractive.
Bring your deet.
Lucky for us, sandflies pretty much live in the places that are so beautiful it’s worth the bites, and the Landsborough was no exception.
I honestly can’t rave enough about this trip. I was some of the most fun I’ve had in New Zealand on an adventure, and it made me fall in love with this special land all over again.
I felt so privileged to experience such an isolated place with new and old friends, challenge myself in an activity that I hadn’t properly done before, and to be able to share my experience with you all. If you come to New Zealand looking for an adventure, the Landsborough rafting trip is for you.
Who knows, you might even see me on it again soon. And be sure to scroll below for more photos from my trip – we took too many!
Have you ever been whitewater rafting? Where? Are you a fan of wilderness adventures like this? Share in the comments!