Day #88 - White (Water) Christmas

There are some things that people say are a "must do" while in the adrenaline capital of the southern hemisphere, Queenstown. Bungee jumping is one of them, skydiving another. We unanimously said no to those, but today we did partake in our first adrenaline activity - white water rafting!
James did this activity on one of his previous visits to Queenstown over 22 years ago. He was keen to share the experience with me, especially its dramatic end - more of that later.
The Shotover River carves its way through rugged canyons and is surrounded by towering mountains. The glacial-fed waters of the Shotover are crystal clear, showcasing a mesmerizing spectrum of blues and greens. However, don't let its calm appearance fool you! The river is graded 3-5 where grade 5 is the highest grade commercially rafted in the world.
We began our trip by being picked up from the centre of town and taken to the rafting centre, where we had to deal with the inevitable wetsuit!
Donning tight foam rubber in the company of strangers is never going to be a comfortable situation and we did end up feeling a little self conscious in all our gear. However, since everyone was in the same boat so to speak, we soon forgot how ridiculous we looked!

We then boarded the mini coach again to take an unforgettable trip through Skippers Canyon, which is renowned for its thrilling cliff edges, sheer drops and hairpin bends - all on a road that is deliberately not maintained to "preserve how it was for the miners in the 1890's". That was enough to make our adrenaline pump before we hit got near the water. Such a spectacular location of course featured in Lord of the Rings. In this instance, Skippers Canyon  was where Arwen's confrontation with the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen was filmed. 

Having made it safely through the first part of our journey thanks to the skillful coach driver, we then gathered for the inevitable but extremely necessary safety briefing and instructions. While the instructors tried to keep things light, talk of emergencies, rescues and death tend to make you a little more nervous than perhaps you were to begin with! 
James and I tried to manoeuvre ourselves so that when it came to splitting our group up into boats, we would end up in the boat with a couple of hot guys (who managed to really rock the whole wetsuit look). Sadly it wasn't to be, but our compensation was that our guide was a Swedish blue eye guy who really knew his stuff! James and I were allocated positions at the front of the boat which meant we had to be on our game since those sat behind would be following our lead.
Then it was time to set off. The first part of the ride/journey/trip (not sure which to go with!) was nice and gentle and we had lots of practice at all the moves we were shown - forward paddling, back paddling, get left, get right, get down and my favourite, hold on!
While it was all relatively calm, we were really able to appreciate one of the most scenic environments in the world. The river canyon was spectacular. It's a shame we couldn't have our cameras with us to capture it - not that we would have been able to take any since we were busy paddling and holding on! I have shamelessly grabbed these images of another person's blog!
Apparently, the rapids could change on a daily basis, but our guide was very experienced and knowledgeable as well as a keen sense of adventure along with dry humour! He guided us through canyons and helped us navigate the rapids skillfully, making us almost look professional! 
One section of the river had five rapids in a row. Because our guide was also a safety spotter, our boat had to wait until last to go through. This meant however, that unlike the other boats that paused in between the rapids, we did the whole run in one go. It was so thrilling and we really worked well as a team. No one ended up overboard. 
There were other sections of the river that were calm and peaceful and you could take time to admire the stunning scenery. We were encouraged to get out of the boat and float with it in the water, which was beautiful - to feel the current gently (and at times not so gently) take you while lying on your back in these magnificent canyons. Truly a memory to treasure.
Soon it was time for the trip's finale - the famous 170m Oxenbridge tunnel.
Built in the early 1900s by the Oxenbridge brothers, the tunnel was intended to divert the river and expose gold-rich riverbeds. Although the tunnel was a success, a subsequent flood destroyed the dam that diverted the river from its original course through the tunnel. This meant as we approached the tunnel, we had to work hard to line our boat up with the tunnel and not get pulled into the very scary looking rapids now lining the river's original course.
Being such a skilled crew by now, we eased our boat into the tunnel without a hitch and enjoyed gliding through this feat of engineering. Floating through the semi darkness was very peaceful which was in stark contrast to what was about to come. 
We had been told about the final rapid - The Cascade. James had forewarned me about it too. In his words "the tunnel shoots you out over a waterfall and you plunge into the river below. There's only a 50:50 chance of staying in the boat". So I was expecting this Indiana Jones style epic finale:
What I got however, was amazing, excellerating and thrilling even if it  wasn't quite in Indiana Jones' league! We exited the tunnel, had a moment to catch our breath and prepare ourselves, before we were plunging right and left, down this cascade of white water, responding to our guide's instructions almost instinctively. It only lasted a couple of seconds but every twist and turn was memorable. I am pleased to say, we didn't flip the boat, we didn't lose any crew members and we all ended up with the biggest smiles on our faces. What a day!
So here we go; here are the rafting company's photos of us coming down those final rapids.Enjoy!
A gentle paddle brought us back to the rafting centre where we pulled the boat ashore and walked back to change out of our wetsuits - an even more unflattering experience than putting them on! It was then back on the bus for the short ride back to town (no scary hairpin roads thankfully). 
After such a thrilling day, we were quite exhausted but did find the energy to find some food. I hope you approve of our choices! 
And of course, you had to finish such a great day with a selfie at the waterfront beach.