Upper Waiau R Trip Report

Just returned from an amazing trip down the Upper Waiau, near Hanmer Springs, South Island. It was to be our first real Grade3 river, and was promised to be a spectacular example of NZ sub-alpine valleys and gorges, which did not disappoint. Our adventure consisted of 6hrs hiking over the Fowler Pass to Lake Guyon, then 3 lazy days on the river, paddling 67km and ending under the bungy-jumping Waiau Ferry Bridge near Hanmer Springs… It’s like this circuit was design especially for packrafters!

Flow was right down, 40cumecs at Mable point (compared to the normal 80-100), but this didn’t prove too much of a problem. Portaging was easy on all the rapids, and there was still enough water to paddle straight from the track down to the river from Lake Guyon.

Day 1 on the river consisted of 3 small narrow Gr3 gorges, linked up by gr2 boulder gardens in the wide valley. Snow was visible on Mt Una and others up the head of the valley, and the grasslands on either side were covered with blooming wild flowers. Weather was perfect blue skies and slight tail wind. I had an open Yak, which filled regularly, but didn’t pose any real problems. I took a good dunking on Gorge 2, and we decided to portage the start of the boulder garden after that due to the low flow creating a few scary bottlenecks. Stayed night at Pool Hut, which was a bit run down, no fireplace, slightly mouse-infested, but not bad for free.

Day 2 got us to the start of The Narrows quite quickly, which was scouted and unanimously decided to portage. Not sure if it was normally this hardcore at higher flows, or we weren’t accustomed to rapids of this ferocity, but one narrow constraint resulted in a scarey toilet-bowl-like action, folding and churning the 2m wide flow on itself and up against an overhung rock. We bush-bashed and found the track up to Tin Jug Hut about 30min away. We’d contacted Glenhope Station previously about using that hut, but upon arrival and opening the door, it was evident a rodent population was in full force there too. Droppings and stink everywhere. Being 2pm and a nice day, we decided to push on and paddle for another few hours. The next section was a great surprise, beautiful gr2/2+ gorges with deep clear pools. Stayed the night under a fly beside the river, and first night spent sleeping on my upturned raft. Not ideal, but not bad either.

Day 3 consisted of more of the same stunning gorge paddling and increasing bird life, before opening out at the Hope River confluence at midday. Originally planning to hitch back to Hanmer, we rode the Waiau conveyor-belt at 8km/h back to the Waiau Ferry Bridge, then headed straight to the hot pools and pub.

I imagine my experiences might have been quite different with higher/normal flows, but this flow was a great stepping stone to escape Grade 2.

Took hundreds of pix and gopro clips, so will compile those into something palatable, and post up sometime soon. A highly recommended trip for those wanting a stunning remote multi-day adventure, or experience on a grade3 river. I’ll be back one day, hopefully with the skills to take on the mighty Narrows.

Pix: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152945281190804.1073741842.547600803&type=1&l=6881af1161
Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcbwulJa5uM (confession: cool walking-fading effect blatantly stolen from Haydn)

Couple of links:
Graham Charles excerpt: http://rivers.org.nz/nz/canterbury/waiau/upper-waiau
2009 trip report: http://rivers.org.nz/article/the-upper-waiau-river
Flow at Marble Point: http://www.ecan.govt.nz/services/online-services/monitoring/river-flows/pages/river-flow-chart.aspx?SiteNo=64602

Wish I could have come! Looking forward to the pictures and video Chris. Cheers.




Only just watched this - great edit! Looks like an excellent trip.