River: Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 19 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2-3, water clear.
Weather Conditions: Warm with gusty Nor-Westerly winds.
Number on Trip: Approximately 20 kayakers and 3 rafters (1 raft), with most paddling Maori Gully.
Time on River: 4.5 hours (5 for those doing Maori Gully as well.
Comments: The Harwarden Gap section isn’t run that often but when it is, it is always an experience. I was running late when I arrived at the Belfast Tavern and everyone was almost ready to leave. Fortunately I was able to find a space in Matt’s car, while my boat went on somebody else’s roof rack (something that always makes me a little nervous). We were soon underway with a brief coffee/food stop at Pukeko Junction before heading to the take out at The Peaks (we called in to briefly thank the farmer for allowing us access to the river across his paddocks). At the take out, we discovered that several cars had got lost and there was some intense phone calls (thankfully there was cellphone reception here) before Ian raced off to find them and lead them to the rest of us. No sign of my kayak either but I was fairly sure it would be waiting for me at the put in (fingers crossed). While we waited, I gorged myself on the plentiful blackberries that were growing wild along the river bank.
After the rest of the group arrived, we changed into our paddling gear before driving up to Seawards where I was reunited with my boat. Most of the group opted to do a “bomb” run down Maori Gully (just in case the trip wasn’t long enough for them already), while the rest of us moved the vehicles down to the Maori Gully take out. It is always a little odd carrying a boat down the muchly appreciated steps to the river, but it is much better than the reverse process. We were only down at the river for a short while, before the rest of the group appeared after a very quick run through the grade 3 rapids of Maori Gully.
The first part of the trip includes a number of nice grade 2 rapids and we spent a bit of time playing on the odd one and enjoying the sunshine, but mostly we tried to keep the pace steady and onwards, as we were well aware that we were in for a long day. Interesting there seemed to be quite a few people paddling RPM’s or similar on the trip, possibly indicating good design & functionality never goes out of style.
We were also accompanied by a raft, allowing a couple of non-kayakers to experience sections of the river that would be generally inaccessible to them. The raft easily cruised over the rapids and holes along the way and I kept a keen eye over my shoulder to make sure it didn’t cruise over me.
Many of the early rapids featured the opportunity to do a spot of boulder hopping and to practice moves that can prove very useful on more difficult rapids. I had a roll after trying a slightly tricky move to cut across the current and round a largish rock whilst navigating a rapid, but I came up first time and no one actually saw me as far as I know.
The rapids came regularly and provided plenty of interest, making it a real pleasure to be on the river.
We had a brief stop for lunch in a relatively sheltered spot somewhere above the Glenrae Confluence. On a trip of this length, it is definitely worth carrying a proper lunch and I certainly appreciated being out of my boat and getting to eat a sandwich and an orange rather than just having to make do with only a few muesli bars for a long day of physically demanding activity.
More rapids followed and I watched the right hand ridge line descend towards the river, as we drew closer to the entrance to the gorge and the Hawarden Gap.
The Harwarden Gap (pictured above) is the hardest rapid (grade 3) on this section and traditionally we all get out to inspect it, with those not wanting to run it portaging around it. The river channels through a relatively narrow and rocky gap, and can at lower flows form a distinct drop. I have run it a number of times, in a variety of different kayaks (including a Topo Duo with no one in the front seat, not recommended but I made it) with very mixed results, I’ve even taken Lauri down it. The ratio of swims is about 50:50, so I always regard this rapid with a certain amount of trepidation.
I positioned myself below the drop, ready with both camera and throw rope, to capture the action as it unfolded. I also used this opportunity to check out everyone else’s line to see what work and what wasn’t quite so successful.
Ian F was one of the first of those who stopped to inspect the rapid to run the rapid. Although he is a very skilled and experience paddler, he too has had a turbulent relationship with The Gap and on his last run though it, ended up swimming and losing his paddle and almost his boat.
This time he styled it, looking particularly resplendent in his signature, distinctively bright kayaking ensemble. The rest of the group made their way down, with few dramas, as I walked back to my kayak with my heart pounding and a certain feeling of dread. I knew which line I’d take (riding the tongue, left of centre & avoiding the hole) and was reasonably confident in my ability but history still had me feeling pretty nervous. Nothing fancy in my approach, no catching eddies, just dodge the holes and make the line and I was through and upright. It was pretty exciting.
There is a sort of dog leg rapid below the Gap, filled with confused and turbulent water as the river runs into a bluff in a narrow section and this rapid tends to trip up a few people. I ended up chasing someones boat whilst trying to paddle while holding their paddle as well, as they swam to the bank. Eventually I passed off the paddle and managed to clip my tow line to their boat and got that to shore. It’s not easy towing a creek boat full of water with my little boat.
The gorge continues on down with a series of nice grade 2 rapids that offer plenty of fun and the chance to do a bit more eddy hopping on the way down.
The river narrows again at the end of the gorge, but without major rapids, before opening out to a wide, flat water paddle or drift. On a day like today, it was quite a pleasure to drift along in the warm sunshine.
A large, dark coloured fish, possibly a salmon or trout, worn out from spawning surfaced near my kayak to say “hello” before swimming lazily (or exhaustedly) away.
The broad expanse of water gradually narrows as the surrounding hills close in and the river becomes more turbulent before entering the final gorge.
There were still regular rapids but as arms become more weary, less time is spent on them and the odd mistake was made but no real dramas.
There is a final gorge with a few grade 2 rapids, before the river leaves the hills and flow out across the plains. There are the odd riffle styled rapid on plains but most peoples thoughts at this stage after such a long paddle, are of getting to the take out and their dry clothes waiting for them there. Keen eyes pick out the landmarks that sign post the approaching take out, the building on the ridge, the ruined house and finally the vehicles.
The Harwarden Gap section, with its beautiful scenery and its remoteness from the road, plus the way the river and its characteristics change along the course of the journey, reminded me of a sort of mini Clarence River trip, as one moves from a river surrounded by mountains, bouncing through boulder gardens and rapids, into a tight and turbulent gorge, opening out again to a wide and flat water expanse before entering another gorge and then finally spilling out onto the Amuri Plains.
We changed out of our paddling gear and the drivers headed back to the put in to complete the shuttle. While waiting we ate more of the wild blackberries and chatted, whilst enjoying the warmth from final rays of the slowly sinking sun. The temperature also dropped with the sun and we were reminded of the importance to dress warmly for the long after trip wait when running this section. The sun had set by the time the vehicles arrived back and we quickly loaded up before driving back to the Belfast Tavern in darkness.