Rangitikei River Headwaters Trip Report

For me, this trip is going to take some doing to top. Other than patches of poor weather, it hit all the marks for a great packrafting trip. Great scenery for the walk in, fun drops in a small but floatable creek, sight fishing for browns and rainbows, beautiful clear water, campfires and plenty of rapids. All with a challenge and a little uncertainty as to its viability. And great companionship with like-minded, half-crazy but determined fellow rafters Craig Ball and Tom Charleson – thanks guys.

The shuttle was an effort but leaving a car at a safe location at the take-out (where the Napier-Taihape Rd crosses the Rangitikei) meant we didn’t have too hard of a deadline. Nevertheless, we gave ourselves 5 days but used only 4. DOC will tell you it’s a day to get the Rangitikei River along the Southern Access but anyone who has done it will tell you it’s two. The first day is to get 20kms across the tops and the second is to get 7km down the Otamateanui. With boats the Otamateanui was half a day, however we could have done with more water to make it less scratchy. The highest upriver gauge for the Rangitikei catchment is at Mangoweka (http://www.horizons.govt.nz/managing-environment/resource-management/water/river-heights-and-rainfall/Choose-river-rainfall-chart/) and it was reading 11 cumecs for our trip.

After starting our walk in from the Desert Rd in the rain, we dried out in sunshine and wind with views of Mt Ruapehu and across the Army’s land. We camped on a ridge above Otamateanui the first night then dropped to the river and put in straight away. There was only one drop we didn’t run – it had wood but regardless I think I would have avoided it. We got out and scouted all the decent drops and were smiling ear to ear after we ran them (world first?). Hunters we passed on the way in warned us that bush bashing over bluffs was required to get down the Otamateanui but the packrafts were the ticket.

The second night we camped at the confluence with the Rangitikei. We split the 42 km of floating from there back to the car into two and stayed the third night in the rain at a campsite on a bend in the river halfway down. The Rangitikei is Grade I – III with two Grade III/IV rapids – Pinnacle Chute in the top half and Boomer Rapids in the bottom half. The GPS went down so I can’t tell you where they are, but we walked them – I lie, Craig did Boomer, gracefully avoiding wood and doing the drop at the bottom twice he enjoyed it so much.

We had some nasty winds now and then for our troubles and were plenty tired by the time we got to the bridge at the take out. Choppers fly in dropping off hunters and fishermen throughout the season with some making the journey back by boat so flying in is an option too but then you’d miss half the fun!

5 minute video here:

10 minute video here:


Really good trip and your video captures it beautifully. Sounds like the ideal packrafting mission. I love that level of uncertainty that you mention - I know that all the best trips I have done have exactly that. It makes the trip an adventure and so much more rewarding. Keep them coming.


Great video Chris. Beautiful looking browns as well!

Cheers Mark and Hadyn. Look forward to seeing more videos and trip reports from you both. In fact, it’s time to watch your amazing 2014 efforts again now!

Another excellent report and trip Chris … just catching up on it now whilst researching for a north island trip … so many options ! … thanks for posting

My wife and I just repeated this trip from December 22-28th. Its definitely a winner!! We’d add a couple of notes to what Chris reported:

  1. The hike in is more difficult than the maps might have you believe, especially in the middle section and there is a lot of up and down. It starts out as a moto/4 wheeler track which is easy to follow and easy to walk. About 1/2 way, you just have to divert off and continue to follow the fence line posts which take you on a tricky to follow line across several gullies before crossing a stream and heading straight up the mountain on the other side. Camping spots are limited, but there are some very nice ones on the gravel bars at the crossing of the Moawhango river. Fortunately, the trail down to the Otamateanui stream is well marked and very beautiful.

  2. We were expecting this given Chris’s report, but you won’t have much of an opportunity to float the Otamateanui at low flows. But its harder to walk, so we put in, floated the pools, and drug our boats through the riffles. Combined with fishing, it took a LONG day to get down to the Rangetikei confluence. The crux is about 1KM down from the start where the stream drops through a mini gorge. The first set of drops are great fun in the boat and the fourth is a 20 foot waterfall that would be difficult on its own but is unrunnable with a log bridging the drop midway down. It cliffs out on both sides (possibly traversable), so the best option is to jump into the pool below and have the second person lower the gear down (GREAT FUN HERE, but be prepared).

  3. The maps accurately depict every rapid in the upper section of the Rangitikei but nothing below the boundary with the military land. The rule of thumb is anytime the map shows a canyon, expect multiple pool drop rapids. Most are class II-III, but there is one big Class IV and one easier class IV at the bottom. We ran many of the drops, but walked many others partly because they were simply too bony to run safely at those water levels or because we weren’t expecting them and got into the canyon with fly rods out and spray skirts and helmets in.

But all in all, its one of the best packrafting trips we’ve done anywhere! We’d love to go back with a 1-2 feet more water!

Also, major props to finding and catching a brown trout. Plenty of rainbows, but we only saw 2 browns the whole trip.