Over the years Garth Oakden has come to know the Tongariro River pretty well. Since the
1980’s Garth’s business, Tongariro River Rafting, has guided over 200,000 paddlers down the
river’s rapids and pools. Garth loves nothing better than to show off his favourite spots to
international and domestic visitors. Trip options now include grade two and three white
water rafting adventures, family floats, raft fishing trips, and even mountain biking tours.
Things have changed since we first started the business over 30 years ago” says Garth.
“There are a lot more health and safety regulations now, and we’ve been involved in creating
and maintaining standards for the rafting industry. The number of tourism operators in the
district has also increased. Now there’s a really strong adventure tourism offering that attracts visitors from around the world” says Garth.
Spending time on Tongariro River has given Garth the opportunity to get to know the local
residents. In 2008 he joined forces with Turangi business owners and founded the Blue Duck
Project. The project works to increase numbers of native whio (blue duck) in the area through
establishing a network of traps on local riverbanks and walking trails. “In the early days we
were lucky to see one whio pair on our rafting trips” says Garth. “These days there are at least 22 pairs on the river and around 170 birds in the wider catchment. Now we see whio on
almost every rafting trip– that’s a pretty incredible result” says Garth.
Garth has recently added a Tongariro Blue Duck Experience to his trip offerings. “Along with
rafting grade three rapids, the trip gives our visitors a chance to spend more time with the
birds. We check some traps, talk about the protection work, and share some interesting whio
facts” says Garth. Visitor interest in the trip has been strong and part of the trip fee helps to
financially support the project.
The local community is right behind the trapping project. Traps are checked and maintained
by local volunteers and visitors. “Turangi is a great place to do business” says Garth. “It’s a
pretty relaxed, laid-back town and we really support each other. Hunting, fishing, biking,
skiing, hot pools – we’re right in the heart of some incredible nature experiences, I wouldn’t
want to live anywhere else!”