River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 32 to 26 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water discoloured and cool. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Warm & overcast, sunny at times.
Number on Trip: 22 people doing up section, with 14 of those also doing the lower section (plus a lot of others just doing the lower section).
Time on River: 5.15 hours.
Comments: First kayaking trip of the year and with all the recent unseasonable rain, it was to be a trip down the Ashley with a reasonable flow (a rare occurrence in January), not just a 5 cumec bottom scratching run (still fun though).
There was quite a group gathered at The Peg when I got there, running slightly late due to a slow start. I found a space in a car, loaded my boat and then we were off shortly afterwards.
At the camp group, there were plenty of boaters keen to take advantage of flow. Some only planned to run the lower section, while the rest were keen to run the entire gorge from the Lees Valley. After we got changed and sorted out vehicles and dry gear, ensuring that everything was going to be in the correct place at the end of the trip (something that isn’t easy when there are multiple trips from the same place), we drove up to the put in.
There were 22 kayakers plus Hugh with his cataraft, plus Ross & Brian, who were running their own private trip. After the usual sorting out of boats and gear, we wandered down the river and floated off with the current. We split in to two groups and I took the tail end Charlie position. It had been a while since I had paddled this section at a similar flow and it was a bit pushier and I had to keep on my toes to avoid any awkward upside down time (lack of sleep and general fatigue didn’t help either). The discoloured water tended to disguise the rocks and there was the occasional thump when the wave you had just ploughed through contained slightly more geology than expected. The main rapids on the upper section provided a reasonable amount of entertainment, with plenty of rocks to dodge and eddies to catch. There was the odd swim but no one seemed to have much difficulty.
It was great to be on the river but I felt pretty out of shape, still by the time we reached the middle bridge I was feeling a bit more relaxed and confident in my paddling skills. Some of our group left to run the shuttle, and the rest of us formed up into two groups of seven before carrying on into the gorge. We had several people who had only been through this section a few times before, but Bruce and Ian were on hand to give plenty of helpful advice and guidance.
I was surprised at the speed at which we progressed, the higher flow pushing us along. Rapids flashed by and before I knew it, we were running down the boulder garden rapid above the forever eddy that marks the entrance to the gorge proper. I always enjoy this boulder garden, it is quite long with plenty of options and changes depending on the flow as rocks submerge forming new features, while the low flow features wash out.
We had a brief pause in the forever eddy and Ian took the opportunity to adjust the seat of his Axiom, something that was to become a feature of the rest of the trip, as it kept slipping out of position. Once in the gorge, the swift flow kept our pace up and fortunately there were no dramas, everyone handled the challenges well. I tended to bomb through the rapids so I could find a suitable place to take photos from and hopefully catch some good shots.
We soon got to the main drop and the first group were still there. I lined up to run the drop but looking down from the top, it looked pretty messy and my line took me straight into the guts of it. I ended up tipping at the bottom and it took two attempts to roll upright as I flushed out. By the time I was in control again, I’d gone a little too far from the drop to find a good place to take any photos, and all the eddies were taken anyway. The rest of the group came down perfectly, with only one other person having to roll, so it was a shame not to get any pictures.
The scenery in the gorge was great, I really love the remote, wilderness feel in the gorge, it is a real treasure to have a gem like this so close to the city. It was nice to run the rapids in the gorge at a higher flow than I have done in a good while.
The corner rapid was a bit more pushy and a few people got a little closer to the big rock that forms the bluff, than they probably would have liked, but there were no real dramas.
There were quite a few good surf spots and both Bruce and Ian put them to good use, and I got an occasional turn when I wasn’t taking photos.
I was starting to get pretty tired by the time we reached the last major rapid, I was feeling pretty tired but still enjoying the trip. The gap section looked quite impressive at this flow and I was able to get some reasonable shots of most of the members of our group, the one featuring Bruce even managed the make it into The Press newspaper, along with a couple of my other kayaking photos.
From here on down, the rapids become easier but there is still plenty of fun to be had and at this flow, there were some very nice, bouncy wave trains.
Eventually the flow gauges came in to sight, meaning our trip was almost at an end. Doing both sections of the gorge makes for a long trip but it was definitely rewarding. That said, it was nice when the Domain rolled in to view and I was able to drag myself out of kayak and rest my weary limbs. Our vehicles and gear were waiting for us, and almost everyone had their dry gear in the right place (well at least one persons gear ended up in Oxford, but that all got sorted out once it was located). We got changed, packed up and then headed in to Oxford for a well deserved snack.