Taking the Plunge at Okere Falls
After a wild ride through the Okere Falls on a raft, our group reached the point where we exited the river. As six of us hauled the raft onto the bank, I pointed to Trout Pool Falls downstream and asked the guide a seemingly innocent question.
‘What’s beyond those falls?’
‘That’s too dangerous for us. People have died there,’ he cautioned.
One week later, those words rang in my head as I looked down at the Kaituna River. I was standing on the edge of a cliff not far from the danger zone. The water looked tamer there, but would it be forgiving if I jumped in?
The Okere Falls jump
How did I end up here?
My manager Mario mentioned it over dinner the day before. I had already paid considerable sums for a Hangi dinner, the Skyline luge and the white water rafting trip, and I was looking for something inexpensive to do in Rotorua.
‘Remember the river that you were on?’ he asked. He described how the local kids jumped into the falls from the cliffs for fun. Yes, the dangerous part of the river. I was intrigued.
According to him, the spot’s easy to find. Once I got to the point where the rafts leave the river, I had to cross the bridge to the other side of the gorge. One particular tree was in the ideal position for a plunge into the water, and someone had nailed a plank to it. Then, assuming I survived the 10-metre drop, I was to drift with the current to the opposite bank.
It sounded simple enough. The next day, I drove to Okere Falls with my roommate Nils and found everything the way Mario described it. The diving spot was actually a little downstream from the raging Trout Pool Falls, but the discovery did little to calm my nerves. I could still see and hear the volume of water that passed through them.
Perhaps it was in my head – or my upbringing
I was a city boy from Planet Health & Safety. I didn’t climb trees in my youth or swim in rivers; working from a height of three metres above the ground called for a mountain of red tape.
Yet, there I stood, far away from any emergency team. Who knew what was beneath the surface? There were no risk assessment plans. There was no indemnity form to sign either – everyone would know that I had only my stupidity to blame, and Nils would witness it. No bungee cord would haul me back up. I was going only one way – down.
I clambered onto the tree that hung over the water. Its branches were sturdy enough to resist my shakes. I took another look down; nothing was in the way. I took a final, deep breath.
Here goes nothing.
I screamed as weightlessness took hold. It nearly overwhelmed me, but I hit the chilly water first. My plunge was over in two seconds.
Somehow, I had the presence of mind in that time to bend my knees. I’m not sure if it mattered, but my limbs didn’t get caught in any rocks. What a relief it was to clear the first danger; now I had to be alert and swim to shore in the fast-moving current. That arrived a little sooner than expected and the rocks were slippery, but Nils gave me a hand. I looked over myself and didn’t find any scratches. Mission accomplished.
Then it was Nils’ turn, and that went without a hitch too. I’ll just say that from the bridge, the drop didn’t seem as high as it did from the diving spot. While it was fun, neither of us wanted another go. We were done with dancing with fate.
That said, taking a cordless plunge into Okere Falls was a great budget tip. I never felt the itch to pay for a bungee jump since then. What could possibly top that?
Oh, jumping out of a working plane, I guess…
Directions to Okere Falls
From Rotorua, take SH30 towards Whakatane, followed by SH33. Then, turn left into Trout Pool Road and park at the campsite. Follow the path and it’ll lead to the bridge; pictures at the bottom of this page.