River: Crooked River, West Coast, NZ
River Conditions: Medium flow. Grade 2+, water clear and cold.
Weather Conditions: Overcast with occasional light drizzle build to heavy rain at take out. Cool.
Number on Trip: 18
Time on River: 3 hours.
Comments: I’d been looking forward to running this section of the Crooked River again for some time. I remembered it as being intensely beautiful, with lush native bush and crystal clear, blue water cascading over river sculptured rocks and boulders, but couldn’t remember specific details. I was a little worried about the access track, which I remembered as being a bit rough, and how the low slung Impreza would handle it, especially with the forecast heavy rain.
After running the Arnold, we stopped off at the new café / petrol station in Moana for a coffee or some food. I had a tasty steak pie to warm me up and keep me fuelled up for the afternoon paddle. We then drove to the take out, where Bell Hill Road crosses the Crooked as it flows out of the hills. From the bridge, I looked down into the blue water I remembered, spotting a large trout swimming in the depths. We consolidated vehicles and boats, to reduce the number of vehicles needing to be shuttled, Graeme and Hugh didn’t plan to paddle this section and would shuttle the vehicles, while we paddled, before heading back to Christchurch. This was really appreciated as heavy rain was scheduled for later in the afternoon and it was already spitting.
Once everyone and all their gear had been crammed in, we headed back down the road for about a kilometre and through the gate to access the Rotomanu-Kopara Road, an official paper road behind a locked gate, fortunately Sylvie had picked up the key from the farmer and paid the $20 access fee. The track wasn’t too bad, as long as you drove carefully and kept the speed down, so the Impreza would have been fine, though with the planned shuttle, I didn’t need to put this to the test.
There were a few vehicles already at the put in, but we didn’t see any other paddlers. In a nice surprise, we bumped into Barry Boyd, who had been doing a spot of trout fishing. It was good to catch up with a former stalwart of the WWCC and see that he is still enjoying our rivers, even if he is no longer paddling.
We got our gear sorted out. I checked out the top rapid (grade 3 or 4) and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I also paid my respects at the memorial to Eleanor Rutter, a young British kayaker who drowned in 2004 on the grade 5, upper section of the Crooked, a reminder of the potential risk present on any whitewater trip.
Once on the river, the difference is water temperature was very noticeable and the Crooked felt very chilled compared with the much warmer, lake fed Arnold River and I felt quite glad that I’d put on my polar fleece over my damp thermals.
Heidi took many of the newer paddlers under her wing, coaching and guiding them down the river. We formed the second group and let the others get a good head start, before we set off.
The Crooked was the highlight of the weekend, with great scenery and the more challenging whitewater, with a number of rapids that were grade 2+. Most being relatively straightforward boulder rapids, but some of the trickier ones required some skill at working through the rocks.
It was great to be back to this river, it was always a personal favourite and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t remember much from previous trips, but the river was full of magical wonder and beautiful scenery. A real West Coast run at a relatively easy grade, but still offering plenty of fun and challenges.
There were plenty of nice play spots, and it was a real pleasure to glide across the crystal clear water.
It was great to see Sergi make his way down the river, he is a very good paddler and is able to make his little playboat dance and surf down rapids.
There were plenty of eddies to catch and boulders to duck behind, and it was good to see people taking advantage of these, rather than just bombing down rapids. This is where new skills are learned and honed.
It was great to see everyone challenge themselves and try new things. Within our group there were few dramas, though apparently some in the other group, having spent their energies elsewhere, didn’t fare so well.
Coming up on a new rapid, I spotted members of the first group standing on the river bank and members of our group pulling over to the side. I slowed down and began boat scouting down the rapid, working down the river eddy to eddy, while the rest of the party watched from the river bank. The rapid was a larger boulder garden, with slightly more complex lines that, that weren’t so easy to pick and required moves to be made at the right times. I pulled into an eddy near the bottom of the rapid to act as safety and take photos of those running the rapid, though many of the newer paddlers chose to portage. There were some bumpy rides, but no dramas.
Some rides were bumpier than others, with not quite so much water covering this particular rock, this particular aerial attempt didn’t have quite the intended result.
The sudden realization that all forward momentum had evaporated, and you’re stuck, perched on a rock with your kayaks nose high in the air.
Fortunately by a little wriggling, rocking back and forth, holding your tongue in just the right way, the nose drops into the white water and you are free at last.
About two thirds of the way down is a flat section, where the river passes through a narrow gorge of water carved rocks. The water was deep and blue, and the occasional eel could be spotted. The smoothly sculptured rocks were covered in an emerald green moss, ferns and native bush, making it into quite a magical location, only accessible to kayakers.
Everyone posed for photos, as I watched the battery icon flashed red. I was trying to capture one last photo of this special place when the battery finally gave out. Fortunately there weren’t too many more photo opportunities so I focused on enjoying the river and surfing where I could.
The hills retreated, the end neared and as we paddled under the bridge the rain came down and became increasingly heavy as we got changed and loaded up vehicles. I kept my wet top on while I packed up and loaded the car so my dry clothes didn’t get soaked. It was nice to be warm and dry, as I drove off and headed for home. The bush and the mountains looked magical, wreathed in clouds and the pouring rain was the dust from my car. I crawled over the pass behind a very slow truck and then on down to Arthur’s Pass, where we stopped for dinner at the Wobbly Kea. Everyone else had ordered when I arrived and another big group ordered before I did, so I was surprised when “my” nachos arrived so promptly. Turned out Heidi had also ordered nachos and I felt very guilty when she had to wait, while everyone else ate their meals.
After dinner, continued the homeward drive, the rain cleared up as I moved out of the mountains, the sky darken as the sunset and the moon shone large through the clouds. I stopped briefly in Darfield to rest as I was starting to feel pretty fatigued. I was glad when I rolled in to Christchurch and finally made it home, to unload the car and wash a mountain of damp kayaking gear, before finally getting to bed.