18th December 2016: Hurunui River

Date:    18/12/16
River:    Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions:   51 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2-3, water clear.
Weather Conditions:  Cool and overcast, with gusty nor-westerly winds and occasional rainy spells.
Number on Trip:    14 kayakers with 7 paddling Maori Gully.
Time on River:  3.15 hours.
Comments:   I hadn’t been able to get out on the river for a while as work, ill health, weather and the trip schedule conspired to keep me home, so I was pretty keen to go for a paddle. The day before was beautiful, hot and sunny, almost perfect but Sunday dawned with a less promising forecast. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance of a paddle before Christmas so it was off to the Belfast Tavern.

I managed to get a ride up with Andre and there was some lively conversation on the way up with “Honest John” the serial kayak trader. We got changed at Seawards before heading up to the put in at Jollie Brook, pausing for the obligatory checking out of lines at Devil’s Fang Falls. With the increased flow there was a lot more options on the right hand side, with a particularly nice green tongue running through to the right of centre.

We had a mixed group on the trip with a number of newer, less experienced paddlers on the trip and this meant the odd swim, but no real dramas. Even the stretch below Jollie Brook saw the occasional out of boat experience as boulders beneath the waters surface tripped up the unwary. I generally paddle at the back of the group as this means I can keep an eye on everyone and ensure that no one gets left behind, it also means that I can play on whatever I like without having to worry about being run down or cut off. Being at the back usually means that others have any rescue or recovery in hand before I arrive and so it has been quite sometime since I had rescue anyone and this made some of the boat recoveries a little interesting. Most of the time we were trying to push the unaccompanied boat into an eddy with varying degrees of success as no one seemed to want to or be able to clip a tow line on to the boat. Several times I tried to get a line attached to a boat, but found it difficult to do with the boat on my left hand side and my tow line attached to my right hand side. Once the tow line was attached, getting the boat into an eddy and keeping it there was relatively easy, then it was just a matter of reuniting paddler, boat and paddle (sometimes easier said than done). It was good practice and something I should try more often.

Running the rapid in one of the early gorges below Jollie Brook.

I took it fairly easy on the early stages as I wasn’t feeling particularly good, a bit run down and tired, but still had fun and it was great to be on the river even if the weather wasn’t the best.

Breaking out from an eddy with a high brace.

There were plenty of opportunities for people to test their skills and try new things as there were plenty of people on hand if things didn’t go quite as planned.

Surfing.

There was also a bit of playing around on the bluff and eddy above the South Branch confluence. The challenge is to get into the raised eddy on the face of the bluff without messing it up. Andre, of course, styled it like a pro and went to pull a number of tail stands around the bluff. A number of others were also up to the challenge, though I declined, choosing instead to take some not very good photos from too far away.

Above Devil’s Fang Falls a number of the group decided to walk the rapid down the left side of the river. I just bombed it so I could take photos of others running the drop. I took a line that was a little too far right and sort of slid on an angle down the seam, almost on the verge of tipping but managed to stay upright.

Devil’s Fang Falls can still deliver some excitement.

No dramas and some good lines with most paddlers disappearing from sight into the white water at the base before reappearing. John H chose to take a few photos from just above the rapid and then portaged the actual drop despite some encouragement from below. Two of the less experienced paddlers chose to get off the river here, while their minder paddled off to get the car.

The next challenge was the rapid and bluff below Dozy Stream, having swam after being swept up against this bluff and seen other better paddlers have similar unpleasant experiences, I generally stay river left and limit my play in the hole above the bluff (which does offer a very nice surf). I also try to stay out of the small eddy on the river right above the bluff as getting in and out of this eddy is usually where the “fun” starts. A number of the more experience paddlers were up to the challenge and having fun. This was all good until it all turned to custard for one not so lucky kayaker, who found himself upside down at the base of the bluff. After a few failed roll attempts (it is a difficult place to roll as there is a shallow ledge below the waters surface and the force of the water is pretty strong), he was out of his boat and then quickly clambered up the bank, whilst his kayak continued to recirculate in the eddy, occasionally disappearing as the current drove it under. Fortunately Andre was able to get the boat to shore and help the paddler back in.

Between the rapids, there are quiet spots where one can appreciate the scenery.

From here on down to Seawards, things went pretty smoothly but I could feel my energy flagging, I also ended up tipping after taking a bad line through some rocks on one rapid and hitting one of them. I took a few hits on the helmet while upside down but managed to roll up on the first attempt. Considering the way I felt, I decided to get out before Maori Gully, something I hadn’t done in a very long time. At Seawards, we also met a group of river bug paddlers, who were enjoying a day out, amongst them some familiar faces. I got changed and then helped with the shuttle, our car and gear arriving where it needed to be, whilst others weren’t so lucky. The remainder of the group paddled Maori Gully without any dramas. It was nice to have got a paddle in before Christmas, but I was certainly glad to be off the river as I was pretty shattered by the end of the trip.