River: Ashley River, Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions: 5.5 cumecs at Ashley Gorge. Water clear and cool. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Sunny & warm, with brief cooler, overcast periods
Number on Trip: 26
Time on River: 3.5 hours.
Comments: We had the CWWC Christmas BBQ planned for this day at the Ashley Gorge Domain and Hugh thought it was a great idea to get a paddle in before the BBQ. Even though the flow was a low 5.5 cumecs, I was keen and soon a plan evolved, meeting at the campground at 9am. This meant a 6am wake up and I struggled out of bed, got dressed and loaded up the car. Breakfast was French toast with bacon, fried banana and fresh blueberries from our garden, a splash (or a slosh) of maple syrup, coffee & grapefruit juice. I was just mopping up the last of my maple syrup when 8am, my intended leave time went past and didn’t actually get away until around 8:24, somewhat behind schedule.
The route is pretty straight forward but a stop for petrol and a cycle race delayed me further. Everyone was changed and ready to head up to the middle bridge when I arrived. I quickly changed and left my dry gear in John H’s car and together with Cody and John H, headed up to the put in. We had quite a big group and Hugh had lent out a number packrafts for people to trial, so had five packrafts on the river too.
Gear was sorted out and packrafts were inflated. I decided to embed myself with the Hugh’s packrafting crew, to provide a “safety” kayaker and get some good photos for promotional purposes. Soon enough, we were on the water and bouncing down the river.
Everyone seemed happy driving their packrafts and everyone avoided the tree in the river, that forms the first hazard on this section. Pretty easy to avoid, but still a hazard.
There was a short stop to add some additional air to the packrafts, because no one likes it when their boat goes soft. This done, boats were back on the river and the adventure was underway.
With only 5.5 cumecs in the river, this was definitely at the low end of the paddleable range for the Ashley. Some of the rapids were a little bony, but still easily navigable, though you did have to pay careful attention to picking your routes and avoiding rocks. I watched John H going down the big boulder garden above the forever eddy, and he seemed to be taking an unusual route and he disappeared behind a big rock for some time. I had taken up a position to photograph the others coming down the rapid, so I waited for him to reappear. Eventually he rounded the rock, hand walking his kayak, having run out of water on that route.
On the previous Ashley trip with John R, we had noted flashes of yellow on the bottom of the river but didn’t stop to investigate further. This time John H was keen for some underwater action and with some assistance from Kelly, managed to recover a couple of raft paddles. The shafts were well made, crafted out of stainless steel, by someone obviously skilled in metal working. There was just one small problem, they were very heavy and if dropped, would sink to the bottom of the river, not entirely desirable but at least they wouldn’t rust whilst sitting on the river bed.
It was quite impressive to see the skills presented by the paddlers and the way the packrafts could be moved down the rivers and through the rapids. The modern packrafts from Blue Duck Packrafts with thigh braces fitted, can come either as self bailing or with a spray deck fitted, and can be paddled & maneuvered in a way very similar to a white water kayak.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and there were plenty of smiles.
Several of those paddling a packraft for the first time had no issues and clearly showed their skills on the river.
It was a great day to be on the river and it was quite fun to be part of the group of packrafts as they bounced down the river. While quite maneuverable and able to be paddled like a kayak, there was less playing on the rapids, though Keri and Sergi spent some time surfing when the opportunity arose.
It was also great to see Hugh really enjoying his time on the river too. He has been through various rivering permutations as he has aged, as kayaks became difficult to roll due to reduced flexibility, catarafts emerged as the rivercraft of choice. Unfortunately the bulk, lengthy set up times and difficulty moving the raft once it was set up, reduced the convenience and usability. However packrafts are an amazing alternative, they are lightweight, can be inflated quickly & easily, are stable & maneuverable and can be paddled like a kayak, hopefully extending Hugh’s paddling career for many more years.
For a first time packrafter, Kerry had a ball and really showed off his paddling skills. I got some great photos and seeing Kerry’s smile coming down a rapid really brightened my day.
Kerry gave his boat a good work out, testing its’ maneuverability, working his way down the more technical rapids, the lower flow exposing more rocks and making the lines tighter, though the slower flow giving more time to make decisions.
Boofing and surfing, Kerry gave it all a go with impressive style. Sergi also enjoyed his time in the packraft, pulling plenty of moves, though I suspect he missed his usual play boat, whilst surfing on the regular spots.
I rushed the approach to the main drop and didn’t get the line quite right and tipped at the bottom. Fortunately I rolled up quickly and was still able to quickly get into position to catch Sergi running the drop with style, but sadly missed the opportunity to photograph the others.
Leaning back on the soft pillows of air that make up a packraft, made for a relaxing float down the quiet sections, giving the paddler time to soak up the beauty of the Ashley’s gorges.
It was a great trip and we were all a bit tired when we reached the take out at the Ashley Gorge camp ground. Chris P had the barbecues set up and the great spread of food on hand was greatly appreciated by the hungry paddlers. After a tasty “lunch”, I headed back to town feeling satisfied by an excellent day out.