Relaxation & Adrenaline: 2 Things NZ really knows how to do!

Besides all the Maori history & culture in Rotorua, it of course is a site of much water, both hot and cold.  It boasts many different rafting opportunities, and we decided to book the option that offers the chance to go over the highest commercially raft-able waterfall in the world.  Bright and early on another cool & misty day, we got picked up by one of the awesome guides of Kaituna Cascades.  We then picked up our fellow rafter for the day - a lovely young Brit who had just finished his med school exams and was spending 6 months before his real job working at the ER in Rotorua.  He turned out to be a SUPER sweet guy, and the three of had a ball together.  We arrived at the sort of barn where all the gear is stored, near the Kaituna river, and got outfitted in our wetsuits, helmets, ect.  After the briefest and most casual instruction/safety lecture ever, we loaded up the raft & gear, took a couple of dorky "we're excited" shots, and then set off the few minutes down the road to the launch site.
 (Alex, having never rafted before, tried valiantly to glean as much info as possible from the 5-minute Intro to Rafting course.)
The ride started off lovely enough, and just mere seconds after getting comfortable, we paused to watch our accompanying kayaker head over what seemed like a massive waterfall.  In fact, it was part one of two with both having a total drop of, well, I don't know.  A lot.  (We were trailed by a professional photographer who somehow could get to photo stops before each of the rapids we hit - we of course bought the cd.)

The water was shockingly cold, even with wetsuits, but the little pool after the second fall was nice and calm, and we were unceremoniously tossed out to swim around a bit.  This was actually further training for getting back IN the boat, in case we were to get thrown off the actual major drop.  Yes, the falls we just went over were just a teaser.  Getting back in the boat was easy enough, but I would sport some LOVELY bruises along my under-arms from the guide yanking my lifejacket up for several days.  No matter - we were in for WAY more fun.  We enjoyed a few more rapids, before we pulled off to the side for a pep talk for the big one.  The main waterfall on this stretch is I think 7 meters, in other words 21 feet (give or take).  Looking over the edge from my "safer" perch down in the raft was really quite nerve wracking. My mind went a bit blank to be honest.  On the descent I was popped forward and lost one of my handholds and was absolutely sure I was getting thrown out.  I managed to hang on, and not drown when we were COMPLETELY submerged for a bit.  Here's the before, during, & after shots:

(Note how much white water is IN the boat at this point - there's one pic of just our helmets.)
So, after we popped up and were all yelling & coughing & clearing our eyes, we got told to look up & wave to the photographer.  I clearly had some trouble locating him up in the wooded ridge above us.  Oops.  It was awesome - really, really scary but fun.  We had lots more fun surfing over smaller rapids, and then getting doused by the talented guide forcing us back into rapids face first:

I of course complained at this treatment to my delicate self.  So, smart-ass that he was, the next rapid we went over he got us well and truly stuck UNDER the damn rapid.  I kept trying to be ok with getting doused, but I finally just stood up to escape the feeling of drowning when I heard him yelling at us to jump out.  I didn't believe him at first, but he got across the point that getting our weight out was the only way we could dislodge the boat.  SO, yes, we had to jump overboard (again), except this time it was just after a fairly strong rapid.  Yikes.  Luckily, the kayaker was on hand to guide us safely to the rock wall at the far end of the pool, and other than a slight scare, there really was no problem.  Just, you know, something to get the heart rate back up.
 All too soon, we reached the end of the navigable portion of the river.  That's the one downside to doing the Kaituna rapids- it's really a short little ride.  But the thrills they pack into it are totally worth it.  We were all giddy as we helped transport the raft back out to the trailer.  I swear I was trying to help, but Alex and our buddy were so tall, I really couldn't reach the stupid boat.  Oops again!
 All in all - it was a really fun and fantastic morning.  Alex is a rafting convert (though I'm not sure what kind of class IV & V rapids she'll be able to find near London - poor thing), and I furiously made plans to get back on the water this summer out by Sacramento (which are as-yet-unrealized).  After the breathless and thrill-filled morning, we were ready for a bit of pampering! 
The lovely hotel Alex booked for us was right on the lake, and it had it's own little hot spring sauna we could have tried out, but we decided to go whole hog and check out the famous Polynesian Spa, just down the street.  After being chilled in the river (I think from a glacier?), we were ready to see what these thermal waters were all about.  Even better, we were able to book an appointment for a mud rub before the end of the day.  First we had time to explore the pools.  I didn't get any photos (for obvious reasons), but it was a really cool setting.  There were several shallow pools set partially covered just along the lake, all natural-like with rock perches and such.  Each pool was at a different temp, so you could sort of move yourself from lukewarm to practically boiling as needed.  It was lovely.  The steam mixed with the light drizzle to make it seem like an outdoor sauna, which is I suppose the point.  After getting well & truly prune-y, we headed back into the luxurious dressing rooms to shower & test out the fluffy robes before heading in to our mud wraps.  A bit awkwardly, we were going to be sharing a room for our massages.  Once we got settled & our respective dudes got to work, neither of us seemed to care about the close quarters.  Massages are always great, but the mud was unreal. Neither of us was at ALL ready when it was time to shower up & get dressed again.

We were so woozy after the extremes of our day that we couldn't even muster the energy to join our rafting buddy for a pub-crawl celebrating St. Patty's day. Again- our age was showing.  ;)  Still, this was a day I won't forget for a while.  NZ really does do both heart-stopping adventure and blissed out luxury BOTH quite well.  Have I mentioned lately how much I loved it down there???  Next up - HOBBITS!