River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 27 cumecs at Ashley Gorge, possibly incorrect, estimated at 38 cumecs, water discoloured, swift and cool. Grade 2/3.
Weather Conditions: Sunny & warm at first with a cold, south-easterly change in the afternoon.
Number on Trip: 10 in total, 4 kayakers, 2 catarafts & 1 paddle raft with 4 people.
Time on River: 3.5 hours.
Comments: Having had a series of almost two weeks of rainy days since arriving back from sunny Queensland, being trapped inside was getting a little tiring, so it was nice when the sun finally came out. Heavy rain on Friday had pushed the Ashley up to almost 500 cumecs and paddling that was not for the faint hearted. Fortunately by Monday the flow had dropped and the sunny weather seemed to be holding and I was able to tag along with Hugh’s “Rubber” trip, a mainly rafting focused trip.
Instead of meeting at the Belfast Tavern as usual, we planned to meet at the picnic area at the Ashley Gorge Domain. It was a very pleasant day for a drive in the country, with the sun shining down and some good tunes on the stereo. Hugh was there preparing his rafts when I arrived, so I got changed while waiting for the others to arrive. Hugh and Doug had their one person catarafts and Ian had a more standard style raft with 3 paddlers. Bruce, Tania, Mark and myself had our kayaks and since they were already inflated, we didn’t take long to get them sorted out. After some discussion, it was decide to paddle the whole gorge from the Lees Valley with Mark possibly getting out at the middle bridge. We ran the shuttle, leaving Mark’s car at the bridge and after some heavy haulage of rafts through the gorse & broom, we were on the river and away.
The first half of the trip was pretty cruisy, paddling the fast flowing current with the sun sparkling on the water. Apparently Bruce tipped on one of the early rapids and got a little knocked about by the rocks in the shallow flow before being able to roll upright, some how I missed this. I didn’t play much, being happy to bounce down the wave trains and quite aware as how long the trip would be and not wishing to tire myself out too early. The scenery was beautiful and there were numerous waterfalls along the sides of the river, a result of all the recent rain.
By the time we reached the Middle Bridge, the sky was dark and grey and the temperature had dropped significantly and I was quite cold and wet. Mark got out here and the rest of us continued down the gorge. Tania had a swim on one of the early corners and after she was rescued, Hugh parked his cataraft in a small eddy on the far side of the river. While Bruce was helping Tania back into her boat, Hugh decide to exit his eddy and move further down the river. Unfortunately he didn’t quite make it and next thing I knew, the raft got pushed against a bluff below the eddy, then flipped on it’s side before overturning and dumping Hugh in the water. I alerted the others and attempted to push (without much success) the large raft into an eddy with my little kayak while the others got Hugh to shore. Captain Fox and his crew were soon on the scene and managed to shunt the raft to the side while Doug ferried Hugh across on his cataraft.
We were soon back underway, but at the next major rapid Tania took another swim and as she was getting a bit cold (the water was freezing, especially if you spend a little bit too much time in Queensland, like me) decided to join Ian’s crew while Hugh transported her kayak on the back of his cataraft.
Once in the gorge proper, the rapids came thick and fast but no real dramas. The main drop was not so much a drop at this flow, leading to some speculation as to the accuracy of the flow gauge and we all shot down the chute without a problem.
After the last major rapid, I felt a bit more confidant to have a bit more of a play and really enjoy some the big wave trains and remaining rapids. Did manage to tip over whilst floating backwards down a relatively flat section, trying to get a photo of the group. Fortunately I had the camera secured to my buoyancy aid or it wouldn’t matter how waterproof or shock proof it was, if it was at the bottom of the river. I think I proved Ian’s crew with a bit of a laugh, but didn’t get the photo I wanted. The sky was very dark and rain was threatening as we reached the take out and I was pretty cold by this stage. It was good to get out of my wet gear (my “dry” jacket now keeps me anything but dry) and into some warm clothes and once I was packed up I said goodbye and headed straight home while the others completed the shuttle and Tania cycled home from the Domain.