Seems pack rafting is like comedy, it’s all in the timing. So on arrival in Christchurch airport in early March this year when the customs guy was telling all and sundry that the west coast was flooding big time it seemed our traverse objectives were off the books. Never mind as we had another dozen options to ponder. NZ really is pack rafting heaven.
Matts plane was late in so after a quick kip at the side of the road we headed into Christchurch to shop and find internet access to have a look at the weather report and gauge heights. We decided to have a go at paddling the upper Waiau up near Nelson Lakes, not a shabby option at all. It seemed the weather was on the improve but the gauge looked like it had a coronary. Nonetheless it looked like the Waiau would produce both weather and water for us so we headed to Hanmer for the night with a view to hitching from the lower bridge to the trail head of the St James Walkway. Seems the prospect of giving two middle aged men a lift wasn’t real enticing and after a couple of hours we decided to drive ourselves to the trail head and deal with getting back to the car later.
Day one was drizzly old day but walking beside the Mariua river through moss forests was enhanced by the weather. It was a pleasant 5 hours or so along the St James Walkway to the Ada hut where we settled in for the night, just the two of us.
The weather cleared on day two for another lovely mornings walk over Ada Pass and down beside the Ada river through open flats surrounded by low peaks. We reached to confluence with the Waiua early afternoon and immediately blow up the boats and headed downstream. The first gorge was not that far below the confluence near the Henry river junction I think and presented a solid grade 3 that we both found testing, a bit of a wake up call !. My memory is a bit hazy but I recall a pretty consistent ride after that with a bunch of grade 2-3 rapids and a solid little number at a swing bridge were we both took a dunking. Maybe three gorgey sections all together and one of the best days paddling I’ve experienced. It was getting late now and after walking around a nasty looking boulder choke section we fashioned a campsite on one of the flats, just us and a couple of million sand flies (dettol and baby oil works !)
Our third day was all paddling starting with a couple of long superb bouldery sections probably around grade 2. I should never contemplate a change of careers to become an actor as its now a running joke that to ensure I take a swim just say “I’ll get a video of you on this one’. I managed to get pinned early on and come out not much further down for a sobering mornings work (and evened up the swim score at two each for the trip) I walked one short rapid which Matt ran easily before getting my confidence back for another superb day of paddling. Once you hit the Macarthur swing bridge the harder bits are done and the next six km or so to The Narrows provided some of the nicest continuous easy grade 2 paddling imaginable.
We got to the Narrows quite late in the day and decided it would be best to walk this section, we didn’t get a real good look at it but baulked at getting into unknown territory whilst weary. The walk over is straightforward on a well-formed trail once you find it. There is a private hut just past the Narrows but we didn’t have permission to stay there so pushed on down to the river and improvised a campsite amongst the boulders. Another great day.
Day four was also lovely paddling through more gorges covered in lush vegetation, frequent little waterfalls and amazingly blue water. Plenty of grade 2 paddling in here as well adding to the fun. We muffed the take out which I think is just upstream from the confluence with the Hope river, we went downstream and pulled out then walked a couple of kms downriver until we found a 4wd drive track to get us back to the highway. Seemingly one sodden packrafter is more enticing then two freshly laundered ones as I got a ride in no time and we were back in Hanmer for a soak in the hot springs before we knew it.
What a wonderful trip, NZ is so blessed with fantastic walk paddle options of all standards. We found the paddling pretty solid, more intense then our Mitta paddle but we did have the big bags up front so that adds some spice. It also reminded me of the Andrew Saddle – Poulter trip from a scenery and style point of view, but like a big brother on steroids !. Overall water levels were low despite the big dump (akin to Chris’s trip detailed on the forum, something around 30-40 cumecs) but a good height for the pack rafts. I think you can cycle into the Macarthur swing bridge (therefore walk also ?) and from there down with a portage of the Narrows would have to be a stunning grade 2 paddle. Thanks also to Chris and Hugh for providing some info before the trip, much appreciated
Chris Cs excellent video also on this forum really captures the trip well (as I said we had similar water levels) but here are some extra pics and vids as we did a different walk in. Hoping to head over again next summer !