The Landsborough River offers some of New Zealand’s finest rafting, and it’s not for the faint of heart. HOLLY WADEMAN gets flown in for the action.

There’s always a shift when you enter New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It begins in the mind and melts down through the entire body, enlivening every last nerve ending. The lush green forest, sparkling turquoise rivers and giant gleaming mountains displace the clutter of daily worries and replace them with jaw-dropping wonder. And what better way to experience all this than riding the rush and roar of a pristine glacial river, down the Landsborough Valley on the West Coast, in a raft?

Day one dawned bright and bold. The mountains stood in stark relief against a vivid blue sky, putting our small group of five rafters and three guides in high spirits. We’d been gracefully dropped in the mountains by a chopper the afternoon before and spent a night in a camp, adjusting to the serenity and silence of the bush.

The Landsborough River (whose average temperature is a numbing 4°C) offers some of New Zealand’s best rafting thanks to its range of rapids. As we soon found out, Grade 1 and 2 stretches of relatively flat water give way to Grade 4 and 5 foaming rapids, eager to consume our raft. To survive, our guide Wizz gave us some simple instructions – paddle forward. Stop. Paddle backwards. Stop. Paddle forward left. Stop. Paddle forward right. Stop. He did the rest.

Wizz introduced the day’s first rapid as: Killer Fang Falls Death Drop Suicide Swim or, if that knots your guts, Little Fluffy Ducklings Playing With Newborn Baby Lambs With Black Polkadot Eyes And White Fluffy Wool In The Verdant Green Fields with Daffodils.” It took us a while to get Wizz’s unique sense of humour.

Facing a rapid is like sitting out the back of a surf break then paddling onto a wave. You can see the water fuming and curling in front, and know it’s only a matter of time before the waves slam and shake you, white water boiling all around, and then it’s over and a giddy feeling of relief flushes through as the adrenalin subsides.

Our second campsite was nestled beside a small beach in lush forest. Kaka parrots, tuis, yellow crowned parakeets and fantails welcomed us to camp. The Landsborough Valley is rich in native birdlife thanks to extensive stoat and possum eradication programmes by the Department of Conservation. When night fell, Wizz led us beyond camp into the black forest. Glowworms pierced the darkness like earthbound stars clustered in constellations among the dense undergrowth.

The following morning it seemed the West Coast’s infamous wet weather was going to bless us after all. Climbing back into our wetsuits, we hastily clambered aboard the raft and pushed off. There were a few splashy rapids, but most of the morning we simply slid downstream.

Early afternoon low clouds and rain swallowed the mountaintops. We skipped lunch in the wet and instead clambered up a hidden stream to an impressive waterfall. A cold headwind hampered our final stretch to the waiting bus. After some energetic paddling, clouds of sandflies finally welcomed us ashore. Pulling the raft out of the river I felt a surge of achievement: we’d done it and not one of us had fallen in. With a touch of sadness, I stripped out of my wetsuit and donned warm dry clothes. New Zealand’s untouched wilderness had cast its spell once again. •

• The Landsborough Wilderness Experience runs from mid-November to the end of March from Queenstown and costs NZ $1195 per person. See or call 0800-723 8464.