River: Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 24 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2 to 3, water clear.
Weather Conditions: Warm with Westerly winds increasing in strength.
Number on Trip: 14 kayakers (with 11 doing Maori Gully).
Time on River: 5.75 hours.
Comments: This was my first trip of the new year and we were definitely well into the year. Work, the weather, lack of local trips when I was able to paddle and the general feeling of being worn out and run down, had conspired to keep me off the river. And so it was with some trepidation that saw me loading up the car on Saturday night to go paddling the next day. We had a lot of beginners on the trip and I certainly wasn’t feeling 100%, even once I was in my boat and on the river. We put in at Jollie Brook after vetoing the proposal to run the top gorge, and spent a reasonable amount of time playing around and getting comfortable on the water.
Eventually we started down the river with me following up behind to make sure no one was left behind. I always enjoy first part of the Jollie Brook section as there are plenty of boulders and small holes, so you can work your way down the rapids, catching eddies and surfing the holes, it makes a great warm up and is lots of fun, and I was feeling much more confidant by the end of it. It was also great to see many of the beginners giving things a go and really challenging themselves, many of them also had a better roll that I do.
We ran into a trio of kayakers, one of whom was paddling a yellow Prijon Invader similar to our one, he was also just wearing a sun hat on his head, really old fashion “safety” gear. After having a chat, I realised that as he hadn’t paddled the river in 8 years, they may not know about Devil’s Fang Falls and that may come as a nasty surprise. So I chased after them but they already knew about it and planned to walk it.
Above the confluence with the South Branch, everyone had fun trying to get in to the eddy on the face of the bluff, named the Mezzanine. At one stage there were three kayakers in the tiny eddy. There was also a great surf wave at the top of rapid and I had a lot of fun on that.
There was some discussion in our group as to whether to run Devil’s Fang Falls, especially as more of the water is going down the left channel. We’d stopped and had a look on the way up and it looked a little bony but with a clear route through, so Ross and I planned to run it, while the rest would walk it. As it turned out, it was fine and we ran it cleanly, just bouncing off the odd rock. Bill also ran it after watching us paddle down safely. Later we are passed by a raft with 4 paddlers on it and in a later discussion it occurs to us that most didn’t seem to be wearing buoyancy aids, just wet suits, and possibly no helmets either. Safety gear may seem expensive but sometimes the cost of not having it may be extremely high.
At Seawards, we stopped to sort out the shuttle and decide who wanted to run Maori Gully and it turned out nearly everyone want to run it, including a number of first timers. With only a few experienced paddlers, we decided to take a slow and steady approach, shepherding the group down and offering advice on lines to take. I took a roll at the Magic Round-About after a collision with Bill whilst playing, fortunately it worked first time so there was no embarrassing swim.
We made our way down the gully with no real dramas, most of the beginners had a strong roll and some really good skills. At the elevator, most of the group got out to scout the rapid and then ran it without much trouble. The procedure was repeated at Cheese Grater, though this rapid provided a little more excitement, with most paddlers having to roll at the bottom with various levels of drama. I lined up to run it after everyone else, picked my line but then decided that there seemed to be a number of rocks under the water surface, so I moved left to avoid them. Next thing I know, I’m upright against the rock on the left hand side, riding the buffer wave. This doesn’t last too long as I’m soon upside-down with rock hitting against the back of my helmet as I set up for a roll. The water is still pretty aerated and I’m worried that I’ve been washed back into the hole and am heading for a bit of a beating. My first roll doesn’t work but I’m able to grab a breath, the water smooths out as I’m flushed down stream and I roll upright, glad that no one actually noticed my little drama.
We carry on, catch a swimmer on the corner rapid, try a few tricks at the Pop Up Spot and then we’re at the take out. Matt and Em engage in a spot of cliff jumping before a group of kayakers, who’ve spent almost 6 hours on the river, begin the weary hike up the hill, made slightly easier by the improved steps. Thanks Matt for great trip, it was really good to be back on the river.