Monthly Archives: March 2020

8th March 2020: Crooked River

Date: 8/03/20
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.

The optional grade 3 or 4 rapid at the start of the lower Crooked run.

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 demonstrates how it is done to some of the newer paddlers.

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.

Enjoying one of the rapids on the Crooked.

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.

Some nice rapids on the Crooked.

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.

Heidi surfing at a play spot.

There were plenty of nice play spots, and it was a real pleasure to glide across the crystal clear water.

Sergi making a splash in his play boat.

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.

Making the moves.

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.

Carving it up.

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.

Running one of the harder rapids while the newer paddlers watch and learn.

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.

Getting some air!

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.

“Um, still getting some air, but I seem to be stuck”

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.

“Yeaaaaah!”

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.

Blue water, green bush and some brightly coloured plastic in the middle.

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.

The blue waters, the green moss & forest, the water sculpted rocks make this a very magical spot.

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.

8th March 2020: Arnold River

Date: 8/03/20
River: Arnold River, West Coast, NZ
River Conditions: 68.3 cumecs at Moana, water clear. Grade 2, water clear and dark.
Weather Conditions: Overcast with occasional light drizzle.
Number on Trip: 20
Time on River: 2 hours.
Comments: It was hard to pull myself away from lying in bed reading, but eventually I managed to get dressed, packed up before wandering down to the kitchen to make my breakfast of muesli, fruit and coffee. It was a little after eight (our agreed meeting time) when I made it outside and Graeme’s briefing was already in progress. He got me to assist Heidi leading one of the groups on the river, which would only be a minor extension on my normal keeping an eye on things. I finished loading the vehicle and has last to head out. I stopped at the Challenge Service Station to fill up, as I’d rather not get caught short in the middle of nowhere (pretty easy in rural New Zealand). The price for 91 was a stunning $2.41 making it some of the more expensive petrol around. Still it’s better to be safe, that to be sorry.

The drive from Reefton to the Arnold Valley, passed through a number of small, rustic West Coast towns, with the single lane bridge over the Ahaura River being particularly rustic, though it does look like there is a replacement bridge under construction. Turning up Arnold Valley Road at Stillwater, I drove up the valley until I spotted the rest of the group lined up along the roadside and pulled in behind them. Graeme wandered down the line of vehicles and stopped at mine to get me to lead part of the group down to the put in, while he waited for the rest of the vehicles to arrive. I hadn’t realised that we were parked just before the turn off and so drove off, looking for the turn off to the dam. Fortunately Graeme phone up before I’d gone too far and I turned around and drove back to the turn off down Stratford Road, the sign for the Arnold Dam Walkway being much more obvious from the opposite direction.

Team briefings at the Arnold River power station.

At the put, we met up with Sylvie who had managed to get hold of the key for the Crooked River access track, so Graeme was able to breathe a sigh of relief as he had been having difficulty getting hold of the farmer. We got changed and then ran the shuttle, with just a few spots of rain appearing on the windscreen. We split into our two groups with just a few changes, as I would be assisting Heidi, who was leading our group.

The first group heads off down the Arnold.

I’d forgotten how big the Arnold was, as I remembered it as being relatively small, but possibly that was due to lower flows on previous runs. When we got to the point where the outflow from the power station joined the main flow, I was surprised as there was very little water coming down that channel and so crossing the convergence was scarcely noticeable, when on previous trips, this was a source of drama for newer paddlers.

Have you seen my latest post?

Most of the rapids were formed by in stream boulders or were long, bouncy wave trains. Plenty of fun was had bouncing down these or surfing the waves behind rocks, but you had to be quick to catch them, because if you weren’t, the current swept you off down stream.

Hugh enjoys the beauty of the West Coast bush.

There were also quite spots where you could enjoy the scenery, the right bank is covered in native bush that gradually gives way to farmland, whereas the left bank is predominantly just farmland.

Heidi runs one of the bigger rapids on the Arnold.

Some of the bigger rapids provided some challenges for the less experienced paddlers, but there was plenty of experience on hand, with Heidi in particular, giving advice, guidance and showing the best lines. I advised people not to follow me, as my lines tend to be more interesting (either for maximum fun or finding a good position for photo / rescue) and aren’t necessarily beginner friendly.

Eventually the river calms down and farmland dominates the river banks, the bridge at the get out comes in to view. At this point we looked for a suitable spot to extract ourselves on the right bank and then walked up to the cars, got changed and then loaded up for the next part of the adventure, the Crooked River.

7th March 2020: Upper Grey River

Date: 7/03/20
River: 
Upper Grey River, West Coast, NZ
River Conditions: 
Low flow, 143.6 cumecs at Dobson, water clear and cold. Grade 2.
Weather Conditions: 
Cool but sunny with the odd cloud.
Number on Trip: 
19 people.
Time on River: 
1.25 hours.
Comments: 
The drive through the Lewis Pass was a real pleasure, the mountains, jagged against the sky, the forests, green and tall, the road winding through the tunnel of trees. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful country and have such easy access to such wonderful, unspoiled nature, hopefully we can hold on to this despite the numerous threats to the environment, that we often take for granted.

Arriving at the meeting point, the first thing I noticed was the giant ice cream cones almost everyone seemed to be eating. I pulled up and ordered a double of gold rush on top with rum and raisin on the bottom, it was positively huge and acted as fuel for the next trip. We discussed the next adventure as we finished our ice creams, before heading out of Springs Junction and turning off down Palmer Road to run the Upper Grey.

Driving through native forest interspersed with farm land, we crossed the Upper Grey, the Brown Grey before reach our destination where Palmer Road crosses the Blue Grey. We washed down our gear with disinfectant to kill off any didymo that may have hitched a ride across the main divided, before getting our wet, and now lavender scented in some cases, kayaking gear on. Graeme chose not to paddle as he had a bit of a headache and planned to meet us at the get out with his vehicle.

Hugh leads the group away from the Palmer Road bridge over the Blue Grey River.

We divided into our two groups again to make things manageable on the river, before bouncing down the somewhat bony Blue Grey, on down to the confluence with the Upper Grey. Hugh in his pack raft kept racing ahead, while the rest of the group dawdled behind. I kept up with Hugh, to slow him down and to make sure he wasn’t on his own. He was worried that if we didn’t keep a reasonable pace on, any serious issue could mean being stuck on the river as the sunset. I passed this on to the rest of the group and we picked up the pace.

Hugh contemplates the beautiful scenery from his pack raft, whilst waiting for the rest of the group to catch up.

Once we reached the confluence with the Upper Grey, the volume increased and the river moved from flowing through farm land and into the shadowy green of the native bush.

Thick native bush lines the river banks, as crystal clear water flows over river smoothed rocks.

As we moved further down the river, the rapids became more interesting and we tried to keep more together as a group.

Making a splash on the Upper Grey.

There were some great play spots but with us not being sure how far it was to the take out and darkness not being too far away, Hugh urged us to keep the pace up.

A nice play spot on the Upper Grey.

I was paddling near the front of the group with Hugh, when we spotted a large tree fallen in the river. Hugh bounced down the rapid and off the tree with no drama, I “stopped” on a rock at the top of the rapid and took the opportunity to take a few photos while I was stuck, and to signal to the others in the group to go left. I had intended them to just go the left of me and avoid the tree, but the rest of the group ended up going down a small, bony channel against the left back. Once everyone was past, I wriggled myself off the rock and ran the rapid, avoiding the hazard.

Most of the group avoided this hazard by taking the left channel, after we’d examined it closely.

Hugh was somewhat surprised to see a figure, who turned out to be Graeme, standing beside the river, as he was expecting that we were going to get out about 3 or 4km further down the river. Still we were quite pleased to see him, as it had been a fairly long day and fatigue was begin to set in. We scrambled up the bank and got changed, then Graeme drove us back up to the put in to pick up the vehicles. We drove back to pick up our gear, returning in time to welcome the second group. We loaded up and ferried their drivers back to the put in, before heading off to Reefton.

Graeme waits patiently at the take out for the rest of the group to arrive

The drive to Reefton was uneventful and we checked into the Old Nurses Home Guesthouse around twenty past seven, with not much time before our dinner booking at the Dawson Hotel at eight. I dropped my bags off and phoned Lauri, before wandering down to the Dawson for dinner. There was a bit of a wait to be seated as they were pretty busy, with a number of events happening in the area, and a further wait to order. I was keen to have the pork belly, but that had been pretty popular and had run out. I settled on a T bone steak with Argentinian chimichurri sauce, which was quite delicious. We were helped to survive the wait by a young man who was having his 13th birthday party in the restaurant, sharing his cake with our group. We didn’t get back to the guesthouse until after ten, and then it was time for a shower before collapsing into bed.

7th March 2020: Hope River

Date: 7/03/20
River: Hope River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: Hope stage 0.267m at Glynn Wye, Waiau 34 cumecs at Marble Point. Grade 2, cold and clear.
Weather Conditions: Sunny and warm, with strong nor-easterly winds
Number on Trip: 20
Time on River: 2.5 hours from the Hope Bridge to Waiau Confluence.
Comments: Graeme’s Mild West Coast Trip has long been a favourite of mine, so when I noticed it in the WWCC trip list, I checked my schedule and applied for a leave pass from Lauri. She approved and I booked the accommodation at the Old Nurses Home Guesthouse. I then spent the next few weeks worrying about going away, transport and generally logistics! Just for a single night away! Eventually the weekend rolled around, I had decided just to take my own car, rather than car pool and leave the Impreza overnight at the Belfast Tavern. I loaded up the vehicle, revelling in the ability to take as much as much as I liked, without having to worry about cramming it in to another vehicle.

Saturday morning dawned and by the time I had finished breakfast I was running sort on time. I made it to the Belfast shortly after 8am and signed to the trip register. With no need to swap vehicles or load gear, I was able to get away easily once the plans were sorted. We arranged to stop in Culverden for food, before heading to the Hope take out to consolidate vehicles to make the shuttle after the run easier.

When I hit the motorway and got up to speed, the cockpit cover popped off and began flapping around, meaning I had to slow down and then take the first exit I came to, which turned out to be Tram Road. After I unclipped the cockpit cover and stowed it in the car, I had to make a bit of a detour through Kaiapoi before getting back on the motorway. It was a pleasant drive to Culverden, where we regrouped and had a bite to eat. Graeme’s pie looked tasty, so I treated myself to an early lunch (around 9:20am) to keep me fuelled up for the river, as you never know when there’ll be another suitable stop.

We stopped on the roadside near the Waiau confluence, where we planned to get out, and got changed in to our paddling gear and we left mine and Thomas’s cars at the get out with the dry gear and transferred our gear to other cars for the trip up to the put in. At the put in we split in to two groups, with our group going first so we could unlock the vehicles when we got there.

Preparing to set off from the State Highway 7 bridge.

It was a beautiful day when we put on the river and the water was crystal clear, we’d split in to two groups to keep numbers manageable on the river. I was in the first group so there would be no waiting around for me to arrive to allow access to dry gear. I couldn’t remember much about the river from previous trips, except that we’d pass through two small gorges.

Playing on the first rapid on this section of the Hope River.

Paddling passed the spectacular bluffs that are visible from road, was pretty cool and there were a number of small, boulder garden type rapids and it was fun to play around, running the rapids backwards, dropping in behind the rocks and surfing the various features.

Whitewater fun on a sunny day in North Canterbury.

While not difficult, the rapids were bigger than I expected and certainly provided the opportunity for some fun.

Hugh contemplates the wreak of a Holden Torana that has been here for many years.

The first gorge featured the wreck of a much battered Holden Torana, that has been in the gorge for many years. Hugh joked that it was from New Zealand’s version of “Thelma & Louise” and the gorge should be named after the movie.

Hugh wonders if Indiana Jones managed to get across before the bridge collapsed.

Further down was the remains of a wire footbridge that crossed the river at some stage. It looked like something that belonged in an Indiana Jones movie, I only hope he made it across before it collapsed. Apparently these old, abandoned bridges pose a real hazard to low flying helicopters.

Hugh enjoying the sun and whitewater in his pack raft. Still going strong at 77.

We had a good paddle on a beautiful day and it was a good warm up for the rest of weekend, with the paddling difficulty increasing as the weekend continued. No one seemed to have any difficulty and there were no dramas.

As we neared the confluence with the Waiau, the right bank was scanned to spot the track that led back to where we left the shuttle vehicles. Thomas spotted it and we climbed out, shouldered our boats and walked back to the road. Once I got changed and loaded up my gear, I drove some other the other drivers back to the put in so they could collect their vehicles and then go back and pick up the rest of the group. I rested in the sun and chatted with Fiona before Graeme turned up and said we’d be meeting up in Springs Junction before heading out to run the Upper Grey.