Story: Canoeing and rafting

As you meander downstream, the only sounds are the call of a tūī and the splash of the paddle. ... Canoeing can be an idyllic way to explore the wilderness at your own pace. At the other extreme is the wild ride on a raft, drenched in spray and hurtling towards the rapids.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Sea kayaking

Story Summary

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Canoes, kayaks and rafts

Paddling these simple boats is a great way to see New Zealand’s beautiful scenery – from tranquil lakes to thrilling white-water rapids.

  • Canoes are open, and the paddle has one blade.
  • Kayaks are covered in. The paddle has a blade at each end.
  • Inflatable rafts usually hold at least four people, who use single-bladed paddles.

Māori canoes and rafts

Traditional Māori canoes (waka) were made of hollowed-out logs, and rafts (mōkihi) were often made of flax. They were used for fishing, transport and racing.

Europeans and canoes

In the early 1800s, Europeans often travelled or explored using waka crewed by Māori. Later they made their own canoes, some with masts and sails for sea voyages. The Whanganui River, which has many rapids, became popular for canoeing. In 1890, the first Europeans crossed the choppy waters of Cook Strait.

Clubs

In 2006 there were over 50 canoe and kayak groups. The New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association promotes the sport, and aims to keep rivers in their natural state.

Competitions

The first national canoeing championships (1955) included slalom races in the Manawatū Gorge. After this, local boatbuilders made racing canoes, and canoeists trained to compete overseas. In the 1984 Olympics, New Zealand won gold medals in four canoe events. New Zealand’s women’s team came second in the 2005 world rafting championships.

Other competitive sports include:

  • canoe polo – a team ball sport
  • freestyle kayaking, with air loops, flip turns and other moves
  • waka ama – racing in Polynesian outrigger canoes
  • dragon boating – racing in open canoes crewed by 20 people.

White-water and ocean sports

New Zealand has many wild, swift rivers that carry you on white water – over rocks and down rapids with names such as Knuckle Grinder and Roaring Lion. Tourist rafting trips are popular for groups, while kayakers often go solo.

Sea kayakers can reach remote places around the coast, such as the fiords of the far south. Kayaker Paul Caffyn has paddled all around New Zealand – over 5,000 kilometres.

These sports can be dangerous: you can collide with logs or rocks, or get swept away. Canoe clubs teach safety techniques such as escaping from an upturned kayak.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Canoeing and rafting', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/canoeing-and-rafting (accessed 19 November 2018)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 18 Jul 2016