River: Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 25 rising to 36 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2 – 3, water swift & clear.
Weather Conditions: Warm, overcast, occasional rain, sunny patches with increasingly strong nor-westerly winds.
Number on Trip: 19 kayakers (9 doing Maori Gully), plus 2 stand up paddle boarders.
Time on River: 5 hours
Comments: There was some concerns about the weather up in the hills with strong winds and the potential for rain about the main divide, still Sunday morning dawned to a warm but overcast day and so around 20 paddlers found themselves heading up to the Hurunui. There seemed to be a bit of wind and as we approached the hills, spots of rain appeared on the windscreen. It was raining lightly as we got out to inspect Devil’s Fang Falls, there was a scramble for jackets removed due to the heat in town, lines were discussed and then we all scrambled back into the vehicles for the drive up to Jollie Brook.
At Joliie Brook, we changed in to our paddling gear and divided up into three groups to ensure that there was plenty of support for the many beginners on the trip. While the shuttle was being run, we all had a good warm up around the put in below the swing bridge. Looking around at all the new kayakers, I suddenly realised that many of the old club stalwarts had disappeared over the years and I was now one of the “older” club members. Seeing all the young faces on the river, it occurred to me that I might actually be the oldest member on the trip. When AJ go back, I paddled over to check his age and it turned out he is about 3 or 4 years older than me, whew. It is quite impressive that he only took up white water kayaking a year or two ago, and is now quite a good paddler and his enthusiasm and keenness to organise trips is a real asset to the club.
Our group of six headed off first and we had a fun time working our way down through the boulder gardens. The Jollie Brook section has some nice gorges, rapids and boulder gardens that makes for an interesting paddle. This is one of my favourite parts of the river as there is so much to do, eddies to catch and waves to surf. This meant I often had to work to catch up after working my way down rapids backwards, jumping from hole to hole or boulder to boulder. I had a little spill on one hole, when I dropped in and promptly flipped. After a bit of set up and a slightly botched first attempt, I was upright and avoided an embarrassing swim. Annoyingly I noticed that I was having issues with droplets forming on the centre of my camera lense and not being able to easily get rid of them, hence some of my photos have visible water spots, the light rain didn’t help much either.
We had a number of brief plays as we made our way down to the confluence with the South Branch, from here the river opens up with more flatter sections between rapids. As we approached Devil’s Fang Falls, we discussed the options and half of the group decided to take the left hand channel and portage to below the rapid. Having looked at the falls on the drive up, I’d already picked my line and pushed through the hole at the top, down the tongue and avoided the fang, before cutting into the eddy at the bottom to get photos of the others as they came down. All good.
AJ followed me down, taking a similar line in his Axiom, however his boat decided to try and launch itself in to space using the Devil’s Fang as a launch ramp. A pretty spectacular move and I was glad I managed to capture the whole sequence, including the successful splash down. AJ was happy as he pulled into the eddy behind me, a successful run down the falls always boosts the confidence.
Anna came down next in her much shorter play boat, though things didn’t go quite so well. The tail of her Rad caught in the hole at the top of the falls, pushing the nose of her kayak high up into the air. From here, things got a little messy and the boat ended up going down the tongue upside down. Missing the fang and rolling upright at the bottom of the rapid, with no damage done was a relief, as there are plenty of rocks to hit and some potential for injury in running this rapid in this particular orientation. Still things were all good and we paddled down to the Dozy Stream put in and waited for the others to get back on the river.
We had a brief play on the wave just down from the Dozy Stream put in, it seemed a little bit more vigorous than I would have expected at 25 cumecs and so I was happy to take a few pictures and do a few cuts back and forth across the fast moving face of the wave, taking care not to get swept down to the bluff. Hit the face right, would send you shooting across to the other side of the river, getting it wrong, well that would be a different story, generally one involving being upside down and hoping you managed to roll before being pushed against the bluff at the bottom of the rapid and I’ve seen better kayakers than me come to grief here.
We carried on downstream, past the old “Eddy of Doom”, now blocked off and filled in, by passed by an easy riffle rapid. On down the flat section, against the steep cliffs, where there used to be a popular “whoopee” spot, long since gone. Looking back, we noticed that AJ, who was trailing well behind, was out of his boat and swimming. As we couldn’t paddle back up stream, we had to wait until he floated down to us in order to push him to the side and get him back in his boat. Turned out he had been playing about, ended up tipping and being push against the cliff, making a roll difficult. This stressed the point to always keep an eye on all the members of your group, no matter what their skill level is, and make sure no one is left behind. Also worth remembering too, if you want to try something tricky or new, make sure someone else is watching or at least aware of what you are up to.
No further dramas and we made it down to Seawards, where we got to stretch our legs and those not doing Maori Gully got out. We had a bit of wait for the other two groups, as they were well behind us. When they arrived, there was some excitement as some of the newer kayakers missed the get out, while others decided to swim above the get out and try to continue their journey into Maori Gully swimming beside their kayaks. A number of people climbed back in to their kayaks, while others grabbed throw bags and ran along the edge of wave train rapid at Seawards. Boats and swimmers were soon rescued without drama and no one was swept into the dreaded Maori Gully before they were ready.
We put together a group of keen kayakers to run Maori Gully, while the rest of the group would run the shuttle. Tony was joined by another stand up paddle boarder and they set off together, with the kayakers following behind. At the Magic Roundabout, the kayakers chose to play around while the SUP boarders carried on through the gully (I was a little disappointed as I was interested in how they would handle the more difficult rapids, especially Cheese Grater). Looking at the two rocks in the middle of the roundabout, seemed to indicate that the river had risen since we started, as they were more obscured than would be expected at 25 cumecs, this was later confirmed when we went online and the gauge was reading 36 cumecs.
There were a few kayakers in our party that hadn’t run Maori Gully before, so tips were given, lines explained and Anna chose to swap her Rad for a larger boat. The gorge is a little more pushy at 36 cumecs and not quite as cruisy as we expected, still there were no issues and the more confidant were happy to play in places.
We worked our way down past the boulder garden, past Bum Rock and then down the elevator, before dropping into the big eddy above Cheese Grater. There were the usual nerves and the lines were discussed. I watched the first couple of paddlers go down without any dramas, so moved into position, checked the line and pushed go. At the lip, the drop looked impressive, with the tongue dropping down deep before climbing up to the top of a massive standing wave. I made sure I kept up the boat speed and charged down the tongue. Down, down, down, I went, then up, up, up, over the top and down the rest of the rapid before breaking into an eddy and getting the camera out. There was no kick to the left today and everyone seemed run the rapid cleanly.
From here, down another rapid and the through the corner rapid, where some of the group had a go at trying to surf the large wave at the bottom. A brief play at the Pop Up Spot and then off to the take out and the wearying trudge up the endless steps (something I have not missed, though nicer with the Blitz rather than the heavier Salto). Our vehicles were waiting, the change into dry cloths was appreciated, vehicles were loaded and then it was off to the Brew Moon in Amberley for a brew. Jackets, hoodies and tops were removed as we got closer to Christchurch and the temperature rose to over 30 degrees, quite impressive to be that warm at 7pm. Then home, tired and sore, for pizza and a rest.