25th April 2017: Hurunui River

Date:    25/04/17
River:    Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions:   28 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2 – 3, water clear.
Weather Conditions:  Warm and sunny with light north easterly winds.
Number on Trip:    8 kayakers, with 4 doing Maori Gully
Time on River:  4 hours.
Comments:  A bonus ANZAC day trip meant the opportunity for an extra, and unexpected, day on the river. The weather forecast and the flow looked good, permissions were asked and granted, so it was off to the hills. The 9:30am meeting made for a leisurely start, maybe too leisurely, with French toast in bed and then a rush to be at the Belfast Tavern in time.

We made our way up to Seawards, got changed and then headed up to Jollie Brook, leaving one vehicle at the take out. We stopped briefly at Devil’s Fang Falls to check the lines and what we saw wasn’t very encouraging. Much of the flow is going down the left side of the river, making the normal line very bony and definitely full of teeth, at this point most of the group decided they liked their own teeth just where they were, and decided to portage the rapid. The day was perfect, sunny and warm with scarcely a breath of wind, rare indeed as fine days are often plagued by gusty nor-westers.

The Jollie Brook put in, looking towards the mountains.

We had a good warm up at Jollie Brook, as we had a number of newer paddlers and I always need to take the opportunity to remember how to paddle.

Warming up at Jollie Brook.

Moves were made and rolls tried out before letting the flow take us down stream.

Fighting for the same “wave”.

I always enjoy the section just down from Jollie Brook, there aren’t really any specific rapids, just plenty of rocks making an easy boulder garden that can either be drifted through or can make a good practice course as you work your way down the river from eddy to eddy or wave to wave, and surfing where you can. Nothing is particularly hard but it does pay to stay upright as some bits can be a little shallow, causing the potential for some helmet vs geology interactions.

An almost perfect day on the Hurunui.

The sun blazed down, turning the water to glittering silver, and it made it seem like the height of summer rather than the middle of Autumn.

Paul runs a rapid.

The newer kayakers were generally keen to try new things and push their boundaries, all seemed to have reasonable combat rolls as well as a good range of general skills. Obviously the quality of training methods and paddler development has improved greatly since I did a beginners course with the club in 2000. Eddies were caught, waves were surfed and whoopees were attempted. It was also good to see that most were paddling more play orientated river runners rather than the big creekers of a few years back.

We stopped for a break at South Branch before carrying on down the river towards Dozy Stream. As we neared Devil’s Fang Falls, I checked if anyone was going to run it and the consensus was that they would portage down the left hand channel.

Devil”s Fang Falls from another angle.

I briefly considered running it before taking the left channel with the intention of portaging. As the river got increasingly shallow, I decided to have a look at the left hand side of the rapid, with the possibility of getting a photo. As I moved into position, I noticed that there seemed to be enough water flowing down the rapid and it looked like it would be possible to bounce down the channel pictured above without too much drama, so this is what I did, avoiding the need to get out of my boat.

The bluff below Dozy Stream claims another victim.

Below Dozy Stream, the bluff rapid claimed another paddler, after he broke out of the small eddy just above the bluff and got swept into the bluff and failed to roll up again. Paddler and gear were soon reunited on the bank before breaking out and styling the rapid like a pro.

Surf’s up.

The hole at the top of the rapid was looking reasonably big today and their weren’t many takers, but those who did made it look easy.

Styling a rapid.

The rest of the way down to Seawards pasted without incident. I was happy to get out there as it was getting later in the day and I’d had a good day out already, but we had a few who were keen to run the Gully so I could hardly say no, especially as Paul wanted to do it for the first time. So half the group got out to run the shuttle while we ran the gully.

Playing on the Magic Roundabout.

The Magic Roundabout was fairly boisterous with some interesting currents and we didn’t spend long there. From there we left the sunshine behind us and as the daylight faded, the air  got cooler as we entered a somewhat gloomy Maori Gully. As this was Paul’s first time through, Nick & Heidi gave him plenty of advice and we took fairly straight forward lines through the rapids. No problems at Bum Rock or the Elevator but Cheese Grater had us all feeling a little bit nervous. We talked through the line and what you needed to do to avoid the kick to the left and the spanking that often followed. Mike showed how it was done and took up position at the bottom, Heidi went next then Paul. Everyone seemed to go fine, and though Paul did a slight tail stand and ended up tipping over, he soon rolled up right with no drama. I went last, feeling a little worried as I ran through the list of things I needed to do I kept my nose pointing to the right and as I reached the lip, just right of centre, I clearly saw the line I needed to take, put in some good strokes and powered down the green tongue and over the wave and out, probably the cleanest run I’ve done on this drop.

The rest of the run went smoothly, though I’m not sure I took the best line through the corner rapid as I think I ended up punching through the odd hole.  From here it was on to the Pop Up Spot, where Nick demonstrated some moves to Paul. I had a brief go but wished to stay dry so didn’t push it too hard. I had a brief drama as I ended up going left at the big rock in the last rapid before the take out and had to make some quick moves to avoid what might have been an uncomfortable situation. I had been that way before but might check it out next time but maybe with a little more care. Paul was very pleased with his first trip down the gully and he did very well, especially considering this was his first kayaking season, having only done the club’s beginners course at the start of the season.

The climb out wasn’t much fun (as usual) but the new steps and work on the track has improved the walk quite a bit. We had a short wait for the shuttle vehicles to arrive and then it was back to town as the sun sank behind the hills. On the way back to Belfast, we spotted a bright object in the sky and since the sun hadn’t fully set, we assumed it must be a plane. It didn’t seem to move much so I thought it might be a planet but when we got bank to the Belfast Tavern there was nothing in the right location on my Star Chart app. When I got home Facebook informed us it was actually the NASA super pressure research balloon, that had been launched from Wanaka earlier in the day.