Kaituna River Rafting | A Rotorua Rafting Adventure You’ll Never Forget!

Rotorua is widely considered the adventure capital of New Zealand’s North Island and it’s hard not to agree once you set foot in the geothermal landscape. Here, you’ll find every adventure from skydiving to zip lining to zorbing! But the most thrilling adventure to satiate that adrenaline need is joining Kaituna Cascades for an epic white water rafting trip down the Kaituna River.

When we visited Rotorua, it quickly became obvious that white water rafting and kayaking are a huge part of the Rotorua lifestyle. So naturally, we had to join in! The Kaituna River is the most popular river to raft in the area and once we learnt that this river is also home to the Tutea Falls – the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – we knew we couldn’t miss this Rotorua white water rafting adventure.

In this guide, we’ll share our honest review of our experience white water rafting the Kaituna River and why we chose Kaituna Cascades for this epic journey. Additionally, you’ll find details on everything you need to know about rafting the Kaituna River, including what to wear, what to expect and further information to help you decide whether the Kaituna River white water rafting tour is right for you.

Rafting down Tutea Falls, the worlds biggest commercially rafted waterfall

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Note: Many of the images on this post were purchased through Kaituna Cascades. An optional extra after you complete your Kaituna River rafting tour.

Everything You Need To Know About The Kaituna River Rafting Tour

Why We Chose The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour

It’s no secret that we have a strong appetite for thrills. So I’m sure it comes as no surprise that during the planning of our New Zealand’s North Island road trip, we were constantly on the lookout for exhilarating adventures to satisfy our adrenaline cravings. When we discovered the mighty Kaituna River – renowned for being the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – there was no hesitation or deliberation to book this tour.

Funny group photo at Kaituna Cascades before rafting down the worlds highest waterfall
It was such a fun day from start to finish

We chose Kaituna Cascades for our Rotorua white water rafting tour for a range of reasons. Firstly, they were the first commercial company in the area to tackle the impressive Tutea Falls. And secondly, we found countless positive reviews commenting on their friendly staff and fun days on the river. Plus, we loved the fact that we had the option to purchase professional photos at the end of our tour.

What We Loved About The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour

  • We rafted off the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall! How can you beat that!?
  • All of the guides were awesome, extremely knowledgeable about river safety and had a great sense of humour
  • The tour caters to everyone, even those with no white water rafting experience
  • Kaituna Cascades provides all of the necessary equipment, including wetsuits and safety equipment
  • Kaituna Cascades were extremely organised and the day was seamless
  • For the level of adventure, excitement and organisation, it was a very affordable
  • Profession photos available for purchase

What We Didn’t Like About The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour

  • It was over too quickly! While this is out of anyone’s control, the rafting trip was so much fun and we just wanted more at the end of it
  • Being a popular white water rafting tour in Rotorua, it can become quite crowded
  • 7 rafts began at the same time for our tour, creating some waiting time between rapids

How Tall Is The Kaituna River Waterfall?

Rafting over Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River in Rotarua

The Kaituna River Rafting Tour takes you over a total of 3 waterfalls, the tallest of which is Tutea Falls. Tutea Falls is a single-tier waterfall that plummets 7 metres between two giant boulders into a wide and deep pool below.

The 7-metre drop is big enough for you to feel the free fall for a second before you’re plunged beneath the surface of the river. This is undoubtedly the most thrilling part of the white water rafting tour and an experience you won’t get anywhere else in the world.

Is The Kaituna River Rafting Tour Safe?

White Water Rafting the Kaituna River in Rotarua
Our guide in complete control as we descend the rapids

Like most adventure-based activities, there is always a potential risk when it comes to safety. But these risks are well-managed by a group of highly professional guides who will run you and your group through a thorough briefing before jumping on the river. In the briefing, they’ll clarify all the necessary paddling and safety steps for your journey. 

As long as you follow your guide’s instructions at all times, acknowledge the risks and work together as a team, you and your rafting group will not only have a safe experience, but an epic one!

Is There A Chance You Will Fall From The Raft?

Our raft fully submerged after dropping down Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River Rafting Tour
Our raft fully submerged after Tutea Falls

One thing that is a certainty – you will get wet on the Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour!

But falling out of your raft is not a guaranteed situation. We rafted the Kaituna River with 7 other boats and only two groups fell out on the Tutea Falls. So from our experience, you have a moderate chance of falling out of your raft. But don’t let that stop you, you’ll be wearing a life jacket and your guide will instruct you on what to do if you are separated from your raft.

What Grade Is Kaituna White Water Rafting?

Map of the Kaituna River Rafting tour and all of the sections grades
Kaituna River Rafting Grade

The section of the Kaituna River that you’ll raft with Kaituna Cascades (or any other company) is a grade 5 rafting experience. This is the second-highest grade in white water rafting, however, other than the three waterfalls, the rest of the rapids are mostly grade 3.

Do You Need Previous White Water Rafting Experience For The Kaituna River Rafting Tour?

No previous white water rafting experience is needed to complete the Kaituna River Rafting Tour with Kaituna Cascades. You don’t even necessarily need to know how to swim as you’ll be wearing a life jacket – though I would personally feel more comfortable with that skill.

All you need to do on the rafting trip is paddle forward or backward and listen to your guide’s instructions. They do most of the work for you, including steering, and will teach you all the necessary steps that you’ll need to take.

How Much Does It Cost To Raft The Kaituna River?

Kaituna Cascades preparing the bus for transport to the Kaituna River

A guided white water rafting tour for the Kaituna River and Tutea Falls will cost anywhere from $109 NZD to $130 NZD depending on which company you choose.

We completed the tour with Kaituna Cascades, which cost $125 NZD per person. They are the OG Rotorua White Water Rafting Commercial Operator and we were left with only good things to say about them. The Guides were all super helpful and knowledgeable and the professional photos available for purchase for $40 NZD after the rafting trip were a great optional extra – which you only need to purchase once for a group of friends.

The three other main providers for rafting the Kaituna River are:

Note: These tour prices are current as of January 2024

How To Book Your Rotorua Rafting Tour

You can either book your Rotorua White Water Rafting Tour directly through the Kaituna Cascades website or an outside provider such as Get Your Guide or Viator. There are no price differences between Get Your Guide and Viator, however, you will incur a $6.50 booking fee per person if you book directly through the Kaituna Cascades website.

We always use Get Your Guide to book and plan our tours. This enables us to keep all of our bookings in one place and if we need to change our booking schedule, Get Your Guide makes it easy to adjust the date and time of our tours.

What Does The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour Include?

Group photo after plunging off Tutea Falls while white water rafting in Rotorua

The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour includes all of the essentials to get you out on the river as well as a safety briefing and some examples of good paddling techniques.

  • Optional fleece Jacket for extra warmth (suitable for summer months)
  • Wetsuit booties to protect your feet and keep them warm (year-round)
  • Wetsuits (suitable for winter months)
  • Helmet
  • Life Jacket
  • Raft
  • Paddles
  • Safe storage inside the changing rooms for personal items
  • Profession photos at an additional cost of $40 NZD after the tour

What To Wear For The Kaituna River White Water Rafting Tour

Group Photo at Kaituna Cascades

The Kaituna Cascades tour company provides all of the main equipment and essentials, so all you need to worry about is what swimwear to choose.

In winter, you’ll be given a wetsuit so you don’t need to worry so much about your swimwear choice as it will be hidden beneath the wetsuit. However, in summer, you’ll be given just a pair of booties, a life jacket and an optional fleece jumper for a little extra warmth.

I highly recommend a pair of board shorts or something similar for both women and men. My partner, Candace, wore her bikinis and due to the nature of sitting on the raft and moving to paddle/balance, she found them impractical and uncomfortable throughout the trip.

Where Does The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour Start And How Do You Get There?

Kaituna Cascades Shed at sunset
Kaituna Cascades Shed

The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour begins from the Kaituna Cascades Shed, located on Okere Falls Rd – a 25-minute drive north of Rotorua. It is recommended that you arrive at the shed at least 20 minutes before your departure time to sign the waiver and prepare for your awesome day out.

Click Here For Directions To The Kaituna Cascades Shed

Free Shuttle Service To And From Rotorua

If you’re staying in Rotorua, you have the option for a free pick-up and drop-off from any centrally located accommodation. Bookings are essential for the shuttle service and can be done when you book the tour. If you miss this step, simply give them a call to organise your shuttle.

Once you arrive at the Kaituna Cascades Shed – whether you drove yourself or jumped on the free shuttle – you’ll be transported to and from the river as part of your tour.

What To Expect From Your Kaituna River Rafting Tour

Preparing for waterfall drop in a raft on the Kaituna River
You will have an absolute blast on the Kaituna River rafting tour

Kaituna Cascades is the original Kaituna river rafting company and they sure know how to provide an epic tour!

They’re super laid back and make you feel extremely comfortable – even though you’re about to tip over the biggest commercially rafted waterfall in the world!

Before The Paddle

The tour begins at their sheds in Okere Falls, where you’ll sign in and hang around until your starting time. They’ll gather all the groups together and give a speech on what to expect and provide instructions for getting prepared for your white water rafting tour.

They provide wetsuits, fleece tops and booties (you won’t need to wear wetsuits in summer as the water can be as warm as 24 degrees). Once you’re dressed in your swimwear and the gear you’ve borrowed from Kaituna Cascades, you’re fitted with a life jacket and a helmet before heading back out and waiting to be put into your group for the tour.

When we did the Kaituna Cascades Rafting tour, there were at least 7 – 8 rafts going at the same time. You’re split into groups of 6 and then your guide will take you over to a raft (on dry land) to provide some instruction and insight about what to expect on the water.

Then it’s time to get on the bus and drive a few 100 metres down the road to the river. Once on the river, the guide makes sure that you’ve listened to instructions and you’ll practice a few paddles before starting down the rapids.

White Water Rafting Down The Kaituna River

Rafting down the first waterfall on the Kaituna Rafting tour

You’ll be soaked almost immediately if you’re in the front like we were – which is by far the most exhilarating spot to be! The surroundings are absolutely spectacular, with thick foliage clinging to the dark rock walls bordering the Kaituna River.

The first two waterfalls come up quite quickly and you’ll practice your crouch on the floor of the raft before sending it over. The first two are linked and you won’t jump back up onto your seat until you’ve finished the second. If you’re in the front, you’re sure to get soaked as you’re dunked underwater.

Soaked by the river after raft submerged from dropping dow the second waterfall

Following the first waterfall, your guide will play around in the smaller rapids, providing a super entertaining and exciting journey. At one stage, you can jump out and float down a small rapid while you wait for the rest of the groups to clear through the next section.

Rafting Over The Famous Tutea Falls

Then finally, the much anticipated Tutea Falls is upon you. The hype is most certainly more intense than the actual waterfall – but that’s not to downplay the drop in any way.

The guides will prepare you and ensure you know what to do if you fall out and then they send you over the edge of the waterfall! The entire boat plunges beneath the water and you’ll feel your stomach drop for a split second as you’re squished into a tiny ball before the boat springs back above the white water. 

The thrill of the waterfall is beyond anything I can describe in words – you just have to take my word for it that you have to do this tour!

The Final Kaituna River Rapids

After the waterfall, you’ll play around in a few more rapids – which offer even more excitement than the first half as you’re able to stay seated on the side of the raft and bounce through the rough river.

One of the best highlights of the rafting trip comes from the very last rapid. After dropping down, your guide will point the nose back at the rapid and working together, everyone paddles hard until the nose of the raft comes into contact with the fast-flowing water. The bow is forced under, soaking the first two passengers once again before spitting the raft downstream. Everyone in the raft gets to take a turn in the front seat, ensuring a hilarious and wet end to the journey.

Then sadly, the white water rafting trip is over and after a couple more snaps from the professional photographer, it’s over.

We can honestly say that this was the best tour we did in New Zealand and much of that was thanks to Kaituna Cascades. They did a fantastic job and provided an awesome tour from start to finish.

Not to mention, the photos they provided at the end were well worth the $40.

Other Important Information About The Kaituna River Rafting Tour

Is Kaituna Cascades A Sustainable Tour Company?

Kaituna Cascades have recently begun their journey into becoming a more sustainable company. They are striving to become carbon neutral in the future, but aren’t there yet. They are Qualmark Gold accredited and a member of the Rotorua Sustainable Charter.

When we did our tour with Kaituna Cascades, we didn’t notice any significant sustainability issues. They used a large re-fillable bottle for sunscreen and had plenty of bins scattered around.

Will The Tour Be Cancelled If It’s Raining?

The Kaituna River Rafting Tour operates all year round with very little interruption caused by bad weather. The rafting trip will go ahead in all conditions unless they are deemed unsafe by the Kaituna Cascades team.

Some weather events that may cause a cancellation are:

  • Extremely heavy and continuous rain – This can lead to dangerously high river levels and fast-moving water
  • Dangerous storms / severe winds – If a storm becomes severe it would be unsafe to navigate the river due to unknown hazards such as fallen trees and other debris.

Though the likelihood that your tour will be cancelled is extremely low, if you are unlucky with the weather, Kaituna Cascades will contact you about rescheduling your trip to a safer date.

Furthermore, if you’re concerned about the forecast leading up to your tour, you can call Kaituna Cascades and they will update you with any necessary information.

Best Time To Do The Kaituna Cascades Rafting Tour

Beautiful sunny day at the Kaituna Cascades Rotorua Rafting company
Relax area at Kaituna Cascades

Kaituna Cascades operate their rafting trips year-round, meaning that it is possible to take part in this thrilling adventure at any time of the year.

However, the warmer months of summer and early autumn will provide you with the best experience. During these months, the water gets up to a balmy 24℃ and you will generally find less harsh weather patterns – giving you a better chance to score a beautiful sunny day.

If you are limited with time and visit during the winter months, Kaituna Cascades will provide extra warm gear to make you feel more comfortable as you paddle the impressive river.

Other Tour Options For White Water Rafting In Rotorua

Rafts Paddling down Wairoa River with Kaituna Cascades
Image Credit – Kaituna Cascades

While the Kaituna River is easily the most popular river for white water rafting tours in Rotorua, there are some others worth considering if you have extra time. However, if you only have time for one rafting trip, we highly recommend choosing the Kaituna River as paddling over Tutea Falls is an experience you won’t find anywhere else!

Here is a list of other white water rafting tours in Rotorua:

  • Wairoa River RaftingThis is another Grade 5 river that offers a longer rafting experience of up to 2 hours!
  • Rangitaiki River Rafting A slightly easier river, which is best rafted when the Kaituna River is too high to paddle.
  • Tongariro River RaftingThe easiest rafting option near Rotorua, this is a fantastic day out if you’re not so sure about the grade 5 rating for the Kaituna River!

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself in Rotorua looking for something that will take your breath away, then you cannot pass up the opportunity to raft down the Kaituna River! I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who is searching for an exhilarating and unique experience that is oh-so Kiwi!

We can’t recommend Kaituna Cascades enough, but we have also heard great things about their competition. So whichever company you choose to paddle the mighty Kaituna River and send Tutea Falls with, you can guarantee you’ll have an incredible time!

We hope that this guide has helped you decide whether rafting the Kaituna River is the best choice for you. If you have any further questions regarding the rafting tour or Kaituna Cascades specifically, please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to us via Instagram.

Happy Adventuring 🙂