River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 6 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water clear and cool. Grade 2.
Weather Conditions: Overcast & cool, gusty winds at times.
Number on Trip: 9 people doing the upper section.
Time on River: 3.75 hours.
Comments: We had been planning to do a run on the Klondyke section of the Rangitata, but with rain about the main divide send the flow gauge from 60 to 280 cumecs, we decided to look for other options. The Ashley was running at 6 cumecs, low but still runnable, so after some online discussion, a plan formed. Getting up and checking my phone in the morning confirmed the destination and it was off to the meet up at The Peg.
We loaded up the boats on to vehicles and headed off to the camp ground to meet up with the rest of the crew. Hugh, who had been waiting at the Hornby Caltex as per the original plan, would also meet us there. From the camp ground we drove up to the middle bridge, avoiding the flock of sheep that seemed to be all over the road, got changed and battled the prolific sand flies, before heading to the Less Valley put in.
From the put in down to the Townsend confluence was pretty bony, but once the flows converged we had enough water to float our boats, though you did have to be careful where you chose to do a practice roll. There was plenty to play around on and we had fun making our way down the river.
Above the main rapid of this section, everyone pull over to the river bank and Hugh directed the newer paddlers on the route to take. The more experience of our group went down and set up in position, just in case anyone had any problems. No one did and we worked our way down the rapid without any dramas. At this flow the rapid wasn’t particularly challenging but the shallow rocks meant than anyone not giving the river their full attention, risked getting stuck.
I thought we were out of the main rapid but at this flow, the rapid below the main rapid was a bit more interesting and had a great play wave at the bottom. I got some nice photos of people coming down the rapid, as well as those who chose to have a play. The wave was very clean and smooth, as well as being easy to get on to. You could just sit on it and carve back and forth to your hearts content.
We continued on down, occasionally catching up with Hugh, who was leading the way in his pack raft (a different one from his ANZAC day trip). The rapids eased off but there was still plenty of fun, though we occasionally struck shallow sections as gravel banks built up as the river snaked through the hills. This meant that sometimes through failing to read the river or poor channel selection, we ended up having to bounce down some riffles or in worst cases, getting stuck and having to hand walk the boat to get through.
One of the spots we had a bit of a play around at, had an interesting little eddy just above the play wave. It provided a challenge to get into and once you were in to its boily, turbulent swirl, getting out provided another slightly harder challenge. The eddy was just a little small for the Salto, the first time I managed to back out into the current and then bring the nose around to break out into the current. Silvie gave it a go too and in her shorter play boat was able to get out without drama. She encouraged me to give it another go and this time I had a bit more difficulty bringing the nose around, with the Saltos stubby tail being buffeted by the turbulent flow along the eddy line. I also managed to get free but flipped, my first roll failed and I received a solid knock on my left arm and a thump from a rock to my helmet as I flushed out of the eddy. Next go, I was upright again, having performed my first roll in the Salto. Had a little more play before carrying on down the river.
Another play spot, with its green moss covered rocks, provided some fun in a very picturesque location and we spent some time there practicing our skills. The Ashley is a beautiful river and it is always a privilege to paddle through its gorges and glide over its crystal clear waters.
Eventually the river opens out and the river becomes more braided, with the limited flow this meant less water in the channels and this resulted in a few strandings, as kayakers struggled to bounce over the slightly damp rocks. Some routes were better than others and we all ended up going in different directions, looking for the “perfect” channel. I came across a cattle beast standing in the middle of the river, which took flight as I approached but I still managed to get a photo. It should probably be noted that there were a number of willow trees, that in some places had the current flowing through them and care needed to be taken around them.
On through the final gorge and under the bridge to the get out. We quickly got changed to minimise the amount of flesh available to the swarms of sandflies and then waited while the shuttle was run. Chatted to a hunter, who was heading down stream, to see if they could get a deer heading out for a twilight feed. They apparently had 22 river crossings ahead of them to get to where they were going and then a repeat journey on the way back, possibly in the dark. Definitely keen. When the cars arrived back, we loaded up and headed back to town, feeling tired but satisfied at a fun day out.