Last weekend I took a couple of extra days off and rafted the Tongariro, Ohinepango and Whakapapa Rivers in the central North Island (NZ).
The Tongariro is a popular well documented river with a grade III section from the Poutu Intake to Blue Pool – cold water in a beautiful gorge with 60 rapids over 14km. Flow is controlled and was running about 16 cumecs when I rafted down. I stayed in Turangi at the Tongariro River Motel and Ross the proprietor was good enough to help drop my car off at the Red Hut bridge (a few more rapids down from the Blue Pool but makes for an easier take out) and then drop me off at the put in.
There were a few commercial rafters the day I did it – I think I counted about 8 but other than that you are separated from civilisation, in a primeval gorge with andesite and ignimbrite rock, blue ducks and clear cold water. Most of the short clip below is the Tongariro.
The same day I hiked in to the Department of Conservation’s Waihohonui hut at 1100m between Mts Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. It’s a palace with solar powered lights, hot water and amazing views. Make sure you book ahead if you are going though as I got pinged at motel rates for no booking. However, you may not want to bother since while the first few hundred metres of the Ohinepango is good, it then turned nasty.
The Ohinepango starts out as an amazing spring – with clear cold water flowing gently but then changes to an exciting roller coaster. All fine – but the vegetation starts crowding – at first ok to punch through. Then the vegetation gets too much to penetrate and with corners you can’t see and paddle strokes you can’t make to corners you can’t see, I was thinking of Jeff Goldblum’s character in the Lost World when he says “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” I finally had enough when I got turfed out and the boat stuck which then took some full body weight manoeuvres from above to dislodge.
The afternoon and next day was spent on the Whakapapa. I left my car at the intake (again controlled flow at 3 cumecs) and floated, with minor scratching down about 4km over about 2 hours then camped. The following day I rafted the remaining 20km to Owhango over 4 hours. The flow picks up various feeder streams becoming bigger and faster, rated at grade III. I had done a section 2 years ago in my older Alpacka so remembered some of the rapids. At the time, the rapids were challenging for me and the top loaded older Alpacka boat, so much so that I exited above the confluence with the Pipiotea. This time with a cargo fly on the big butt boat it was a whole lot more enjoyable and I only walked one rapid (which I recalled from last time a few hundred metres down from the Otamawairua confluence), boat scouting the rest. As http://www.rivers.org.nz points out, the biggest rapid is the last one under the bridge at Owhango and good fun (this time anyway!). The bridge is at the end of the 42nd traverse mountain bike track and so I lucked into a ride with a local bike rental operator back to my car for a small fee. The pub at Owhango was going to be my next best bet for a lift.
The Whakapapa is a beautiful river with native bush almost all the way down and lots of great rapids that kept me alert and wooping on occasion. Sorry – no footage – an injury to my ankle the first night meant I wanted to make sure I got out and so I didn’t stop for much of anything – meanwhile the ankle came right. Oh and a few trout around (in the Whakapapa and Tongariro) for the fishermen amongst the readers – but don’t tell anyone, for Pete’s sake!