River: Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 15 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2 – 3, water clear.
Weather Conditions: Warm and sunny with light north westerly winds.
Number on Trip: 30 kayakers, with 12 doing Maori Gully
Time on River: 4 hours.
Comments: I had planned to paddle the Hurunui around the end of November but ended up flying to Australia to do an induction for a new job instead. I was definitely looking forward to getting out on the river by the time I got back. The weather looked great, sunny, warm with not too much strength in the nor-wester. There were a lot of people at the meeting point, taking advantage of the beautiful summers day. I soon had my boat loaded up and we were off to the put in at South Branch.
There was possibly a little confusion over the exact put in, with those with 4X4s taking the rougher track to the confluence of the two branches and the others putting in on the South Branch, near the bridge. There was a bit of a wait while shuttles were run etc, and we put this time to good use by paddling upstream to the first rapid and played around on that. Matt, freshly back from the Freestyle World Championships in Argentina, was paddling his old school Wavesport XXX decided that rock splats were the theme for the day and those that could were soon doing them whenever the opportunity presented itself. Eventually it was decided that everyone was on the river (with so many on the river, it was at times difficult to determine exactly what was happening), so loose groupings occurred and we headed on downstream.
The water was cool, clear with a greenish hue, and the sun warm, it was a great day to be out on the river. We were also most fortunate that the nor-westerly winds were relatively light. The river was flowing at a pretty low level, meaning that there was little push in the water, making catching waves and eddies relatively easy, it also meant there were a lot more rocks exposed.
On the way down to Dozy Stream, we discussed Devil’s Fang Falls. the general consensus from those that had stopped to look at it, was that it was too bony to run safely via the normal routes and that most people planned to walk it. I never really like getting out of my kayak, but it certainly seemed like the sensible thing to do.
So instead of heading down the right hand channel, most of us went down the left hand channel (which used to be the old chicken route before it mostly dried up). I hugged the right hand side of the channel, hoping to get a look at the rapid and maybe see if there was an OK line that dropped down below the toothy section. Picking my way between the rocks, I spotted a likely path and pretty soon the current caught me and required my commitment to run it cleanly rather than dither about and end up stuck on a rock or worse (going down backwards, upside or both didn’t seem like desirable options). I took the channel to the left of the big rock in the photo below and made it through cleanly, though I’m not sure if I went as deep as the paddler pictured below.
Matt came down a similar route but got caught up on some rocks and ended up bouncing down the line to the right of the rock pictured above. He had a nice play around in the foam below the rapids while I took photos of the others who chose to come down the way we had.
John R took the usual channel and pulled into the eddy just above the drop for a look, then decided to portage, while the rest of the group portaged down the left bank.
The low flow made the rapid below the Dozy Stream put in, a little more forgiving. Many of our group choose to get some air by boofing off the rock at the top of the rapid (pictured above), and the hole (pictured below) provided some excellent rides without the usually risk of getting trashed and then swept into the bluff at the bottom of the rapid.
On down to Seawards was a pleasant paddle even though the wind picked up a little. We stopped for a while at Seaward’s while people sorted out cars, shuttles, gear & dry clothes (or in some cases, failed to do these things). Eventually someone took the lead and lead us off into Maori Gully.
The Magic Roundabout was fun and not quite as pushy as it can be at higher flows. We played around there for a bit, until I noticed most of the group had continued on.
The boulder garden and Bum Rock rapids were fun, with some of the features being a bit more pronounced in the low flow, but without the force. The run out below the Elevator was pretty bouncy with some interesting dynamics, and I found myself upside down. I soon rolled upright, but as the water was still pretty rough and I almost ran into Paul, I went over again. I rolled up easily and this time stayed up, it is always nice to know that I can actually roll, but I definitely prefer it if I can keep my hair dry.
Cheese Grater always makes me a little nervous, especially at low flow, when the drop becomes steeper and the rocks responsible for the rapid’s name are clearly visible just below the water’s surface. At low flows, the kick to the left is also more noticeable. The first couple of paddlers made it down without any dramas, though the push to the left was definitely a factor. I lined up to the right of centre, but as I neared the lip, I had a not particularly pleasant view of all the teeth, clearly visible through the green and glassy water. I made a few course adjustments to avoid the rocks, and then headed down a green tongue, with my kayaks nose pointing to the right. I got through alright but the current pushed me very close to the rocks on the left hand side. I found a position where I could park up and take photos without being swept back into the flow. Everyone got through without any major problems, but almost everyone got swept into the left bank.
The Corner Rapid was until recently the resting place of a jet boat that had failed to successfully negotiate Maori Gully and sank. Apparently someone had recently salvaged it or it had broken up, so only a few pieces were still visible below the water. At the take out, we caught up with a group of pack rafters, who had paddled down from Jollie Brook. Since it was a hot day and the water looked particularly inviting, I dragged to kayak up on to the bank and proceeded to have a nice, refreshing swim as well as jumping off the cliff a couple of times.
After that, it was a very sore and tired me that climbed up the steep track back to the cars. Got changed and after a bit of a sit down, (while those who didn’t organise for their vehicles, clothes & lunches to be in the correct place at the end of the trip, got these things sorted out), we headed back in to town.