River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 6.5 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water clear and cool. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Cool & overcast, slight southerly wind.
Number on Trip: 4 people.
Time on River: 3.45 hours.
Comments: I had been considering heading up to the Hurunui with the WWCC, but the weather didn’t look particularly flash and I wasn’t feeling that enthusiastic. However when I noticed an independent trip to the Ashley on the club’s FaceBook page, I felt a lot more motivated. The later start also meant for a more leisurely breakfast in bed with Lauri, before racing around scrubbing teeth and loading my kayak on the roof rack to make the meeting at The Peg by 9:30am.
Although the car park was full, the 4×4 drive club was meeting there and all the vehicles from the earlier Hurunui trip and beginners course were there, we only had 4 takers for Ian’s Ashley trip. Still this made the shuttle easy as we loaded all the boats on Ian’s car and took Bill’s car to run the shuttle. We got changed into our paddling gear at the Ashley Gorge Domain and piled into Ian’s car.
As the river flow was pretty low (we normally run the Ashley at 15 cumecs or above), we had to walk across a reasonable amount of river bed to get to the water, but once away, there was generally plenty of water to float a boat.
The low flow made for a fairly cruisy paddle as the current didn’t have a lot of force but you had to be careful to avoid the many rocks that were exposed and channel selection became more important than normal. The early rapids tended to be pretty tame but as we reached the grade 3 rapids, these were still interesting, the low flow and tightness of the lines sometimes requiring some quick thinking.
There were plenty of challenges along the way and you had to pick your way carefully through the boulder gardens and rapids, least you got tipped a rock or stuck in a sieve, and generally the water was too shallow to roll in unless you liked a bit of head versus geology interaction.
The big boulder garden before the forever eddy and the entrance to the gorge proper, was particularly interesting as you had to pick your way between the many rocks and make sure that your route wasn’t a dead end. Once in the gorge, the number of rapids increased and the challenge was greater, with plenty of rocks and some very tight lines. Still with the low flow not being as pushy as usual, there was generally time to correct mistakes and change direction, however I think we all managed to hit and bounce over our fair share of rocks.
The main drop was almost unrecognisable at this flow and it wasn’t until I’d gone done it, I realised where I was. At this flow it was sort of a couple of steps flowing through a narrow gap (Bill’s head is visible between the two rocks either side of the drop, as he looks upstream, wondering where the others are and if they are actually going to join him).
The hole at the bottom of the drop provided some entertainment and Bill had some fun surfing it, but the rest of us weren’t keen to delve too deeply just in case we got stuck in it.
There were plenty of other good surfing spots along the way and we all enjoyed the time on the river.
Eventually we made our way past the main rapids and the level of white water dropped off. The paddle out was pleasant, the crystal clear water flowing over green rocks, through a green sided gorge was quite beautiful and we pasted the odd fisherman and I actually managed to see a trout in the early stages of the trip. There was still the occasional rapid or surf spot but much of it was relatively flat and we had to pay special attention to the depth so as not to get beached. As the wilderness receded, people started to appear on the banks and we were soon back at the domain. Ian and Bill ran the shuttle, while Becs and I waited in the cold and fought off the sandflies. Despite the cooler weather and overcast sky, it was a good day out, being on the Ashley is always a special occasion.