River: Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 59 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2 – 3, water swift, clear & cold.
Weather Conditions: Cold, with strong north westerly winds and occasional showers.
Number on Trip: 13 kayakers.
Time on River: 1.25 hours.
Comments: I had arrived back in Christchurch around midnight on Friday and had a bit of a rest on Saturday, but the opportunity of paddling the top gorge on the Hurunui had me loading up my kayaking gear on Saturday and setting my alarm for an early start (well earlier than the 9am wake up on Saturday morning). The weather didn’t look too promising with gale force winds and snow predicted in some areas, but I decided it probably wasn’t going to be too bad so was worth going as there wasn’t likely to be too many more trips left in the season.
After a filling breakfast of French toast, fried banana and bacon, I raced out the door and just made it to the Belfast Tavern slightly after the meeting time of 8:30am. Hitched a ride with Tori and Hugh kept us entertained with stories from his trip through the Grand Canyon. The weather was looking very grey and spits of rain spattered on the windscreen as we drove down from Jacks Pass towards the river, and this had me wondering why I wasn’t still at home, warm in bed.
We passed one of our groups vehicles which had stopped to change a flat tyre and then paused briefly at Dozy Stream to have a look at Devil’s Fang Falls. The rapid looked fairly boisterous but with a clear line straight down the centre. We drove on to the Jollie Brook put in and decided on our plans. We intended to drive up to Sisters Stream, run the shuttle and the paddle down to Jollie Brook and then drive down to Seawards so those keen enough could paddle Maori Gully.
I checked out Sisters Stream while the shuttle was run, as it is occasionally paddled my some of the more gung ho members of the club. It is a fairly tight, fast flowing stream that runs through a narrow gorge that includes the waterfall pictured above, before flowing through some farmland and then joins up with the Hurunui River. It could be an interesting one but the waterfall definitely puts it out of my league.
The track from the car park down to the river was very boggy in places and I did my best to avoid those area, while others strode boldly through the calf deep mud. The sun was shining and we left the rain behind once the river came in to view and we all regrouped at the put in. Hugh inflated his pack raft and we all did a bit of a warm up before heading down stream.
There are only a few play spots above the gorge to have a warm up on, so it is good to make the most of them, as the flow through the gorge tends to be relatively swift and this keeps you moving downstream. Fairly early on, I remembered why I retired my old Bomber dry top when the neck seal finally gave out, as it no longer seemed to keep out the cold water, I found myself getting chilled despite the multiple layers underneath.
It was good to see Hugh out on the river in his latest watercraft. The packraft is much easier to transport than a kayak or cataraft and is certainly quicker to inflate and set up, than the much larger cataraft. It seemed to handle everything the river put in its’ path and kept Hugh relatively dry, and at the end of the day, it can simply be rolled up and popped in the boot of the car.
The top gorge is sort of a mini Maori Gully, and while the rapids aren’t as hard (the crux rapid pictured above is probably a grade 2+), they still offer some challenges for newer paddlers, with eddies to catch, ferry glides and moves to make to get the best lines. Generally as we tend to paddle this section at higher flows, the current is swifter, the water a little more turbulent, so there is less time to set up and missed moves can put you in the wrong place fairly quickly. Still there is plenty of flat water between rapids so rolls or recovery isn’t too much drama. The gorge also sheltered us from the strong winds, which was a real bonus.
Once out of the gorge, the river widens out and there are several boulder gardens to play on. The last one runs down the the Jollie Brook rapid, which is another rapid that can offer some challenge to newer paddlers. Then on under the swing bridge to the Jollie Brook put in.
A number of us got out at Jollie Brook, including myself and Hugh, but over half the group was keen to carry on to Seawards. I was already tired and cold enough to call it a day and didn’t really relish being battered and blown over by the gale force winds that were already hammering us once we left the relative shelter of the top gorge.
It was nice to get into some dry clothes and be in a warm car. We stopped off at the Dozy Stream put in, to watch the rest of the group run Devil’s Fang Falls. As we waited in the car, the winds sweeping down the valley gave it a good shaking and we had to take care opening the doors. I went out and sat on a rock near the rapids, to get some photos and was disappointed to find that my camera battery was flat (I later found out the reason for this was that I had shot a reasonably lengthy movie in my pocket by accident, not exactly riveting viewing). I remembered that I had my cellphone and since apart from the occasional sheets of spray whipped up by the wind, being waterproof wasn’t a major requirement. I got some nice shots and then it was back in the car and off down to Seawards.
Most of the group got out there, while Andre and a few other brave souls headed of down the gully. We stopped off at the Brew Moon for a beer and then back in to town. It was a fun day out despite the weather but it will probably be my last trip for the season, unless the Ashley is running and the sun is shining.