28th February 2021:Hurunui River

Date:   28/02/2021
River:    Hurunui River, North Canterbury, NZ
River Conditions:  18 Cumecs at Mandamus. Grade 2 – 3, water swift & clear.
Weather Conditions: Sunny & warm, with light nor-easterly winds.
Number on Trip: 7 kayakers (5 kayakers doing Maori Gully).
Time on River: 
4.5 hours
Comments:  As the peaches on our tree weren’t quite as ripe as we hope, the planned weekend of bottling was canned. This meant after spending Saturday applying a second coat of paint to the front balcony and doing some miscellaneous gardening tasks, a trip down the Hurunui was on the cards for Sunday. Alice had picked up the trip when Colin H was unable to lead the trip, and 7 of us found ourselves at The Peg on Sunday morning. We took two vehicles up to the put in at Jollie Brook, stopping at Dozy Stream to inspect Devil’s Fang Falls. With the Hurunui at a low 18 cumecs, the rapid looked especially bony, the usual line down the right hand side, was a narrow channel, leading down to the fang, which was well out of the water. The hole at the start of the line looked a little dodgy, either being retentive or adding a lateral push, potentially screwing up your approach line or flipping you to run the rapid upside down. Lines feeding off the left channel, looked more promising but still pretty bony. No one was keen to test their luck or skills with fang, least they felt its’ bite.

Devil’s Fang Falls, the normal line near the bottom of the photo looking pretty tight & bony today.

The put in at Jollie Brook was crowded, with UCCC have their start of term / post Clubs Day paddle. I joked to a group of trampers also using the parking area that they seemed to have forgotten their kayaks. We got changed in the sunshine, and I took a few experimental photos while Alice & Jim shuttled a vehicle down to Seawards. After a brief warm up at Jollie Brook, we headed off downstream. Having put a polar fleece jacket over my two layers of polypro, I was initially pretty warm, but as the water gradually seeped in, I returned to a more comfortable temperature. The boulder garden section was fairly tame with the lack of water, but there were still some nice little holes for a playful surf, and I still enjoyed working my way backwards down the rapids, working my way from boulder to boulder, catching a surf where I could. The more experienced paddlers provided a bit of coaching to Alice & Liam, and encouraged them to try new things.

Paddling down from the Jollie Brook put in, on the fun warm up section.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river, the water was crystal clear, the sky blue and there was little wind (something that often plagues the Hurunui). With only seven paddlers in the group, we kept up a fairly good place, John R generally taking the lead, with Sergi and myself make sure no one was left behind, whilst try play on anything that looked promising.

Sergi pulling some moves with his “new” Eskimo Zwo.

Sergi was trailing his new boat, an Eskimo Zwo which had recently purchased for a mere $100. The boat surfed nicely and performed whoopees well. Sergi was very keen for me to capture his skill in the camera and repeated his moves while I tried to get the “perfect” shot. I proved a little tricky as I couldn’t really see what I was doing and I kept getting an annoying water drop right in the middle of the lense that I couldn’t get rid of. Must be time to retreat the lense, so the water beads nicely and then runs off.

Liam practicing tail stands.

We had a very brief play at the Mezzanine and then cruised past the South Branch confluence and on down. The low flow made the trip pretty cruisy and it was lovely to just float along with the sun shining down, trailing my hands in the water.

Sergi showing how it is done.

As we neared Dozy Stream, thoughts turned to which line to take on Devil’s Fang Falls, which was looking particularly toothy at the low flow. Most had decided to take the left channel and either portage or drop down one the bouncy, rock strewn lines on the far left hand side. Sergi briefly toyed with the idea of running the usual line but instead chose the left channel. As the water in the left hand channel ebbed away, we worked our way to one of the drops, bouncing over the multitude of rocks, trying to pick a path through. As one of the last in the group, I was heading for the lower channel, as I thought the higher one would drop me in to a foaming mass of white water, that might have been a little exciting and may have involved some underwater time.

Jim in front of our preferred route down Devil’s Fang Falls this day.

Seeing my proposed line, Jim signalled me “rock” and directed me towards the higher route. I hand walked my kayak back over the weed slicked rocks, towards some clear water and then worked at getting the nose of my boat pointing downstream, rather the doing the drop backwards or even worse, sideways. I lined up, pressed the go button and shot into space, dropped, landed and then slid across the foaming surface and across to the eddy, sweet as! Jim described it as that sort of Looney Tunes moment when you are briefly suspended in the air, before gravity kicks in. Apparently I partially disappeared below the foam before shooting out, without even a wobble. Everyone managed the rapid without drama, which was good.

Alice enjoying the popular play spot below the Dozy Stream put in.

Below Dozy Stream, the popular play spot provided plenty of fun, especially as the wave upstream from the usual one, was easily accessible and offer a very smooth ride. We all took turns at carving back & forth across the glassy surface, even the newer kayakers took the opportunity to try new things and hone their skills. It was good to see that the newer kayakers had good rolls and this gave them greater confidence to push their comfort levels.

John R surfing up a storm.

One down to Seawards, more rapids and fun, though my recent lack of paddling & sleep had me feeling a little fatigued. At Seawards, Alice & Liam got out to shuttle the vehicles, while the rest of the group ran Maori Gully. The entrance wave train was fun and we had a bit of a play on the Magic Roundabout before carrying on.

The rock that forms Simon’s Hole near the start of Maori Gully, not much happening today.

Simon’s Hole wasn’t doing anything at this flow, with only a small amount of water flowing over the rock that forms the hole. I took this opportunity to boldly go where I’d never gone before, and paddle up to the rock, cut across and then broke out into the main current, having passed over the site of the infamous Simon’s Hole.

Tori coming down on of the rapids in Maori Gully.

The boulder garden was pretty cruisy and so was the Bum Rock rapid. The Elevator was exciting but no real dramas, and then we pulled into the eddy above Cheese Grater and hauled our boats ashore. Taking throw ropes, various slings & rescue gear, we clambered over the boulders and made our way to above the churning white water of Cheese Grater.

Inspecting Cheese Grater, “Hmmm, maybe not today…”

Looking down through the green water, you could clearly see the various rocks that give the rapid its’ name. The river right line looked clean, but very shallow, the rocks in the middle of the drop broke the surface, forming a small rooster tail to the left, the left hand tongue looked clean, but with the promise of the lateral kick to the left, into the undercut bluff. We looked at the rapid for some time, with most deciding not to run it, then Tori said she saw a good line and planned to run it. While she went to get into her boat, everyone readied themselves with throw ropes etc, while I lined up the camera to video the event. Tori got lined up to the left of the small rooster tail to the left of centre, her kayaks nose pointing slightly to the right, a few power strokes and she was over the lip. Down the green tongue and into the trough of water foaming white water, disappearing beneath the foam, her tail caught in the green, back looping her boat. She flushed down stream and rolled up right as the safety crew looked on.

Sergi runs Cheese Grater after Tori had demonstrated the correct line for the day.

Having seen the drop successfully run, Sergi decided he’d run it too and walked back to his boat. He took a similar line, putting in a good sweep stroke at the top of the drop before dropping down into the foam pile and almost disappearing completely, with only his paddle, held high above his head visible. He resurfaced and glided cleanly out of the foam. Of course since the rapid had now been run successfully twice now, John R decided he’d run it too and so he headed back to his boat. He followed the same line as the others, his tail caught slightly, his kayak pulling a tail stand as he exited the foaming trough. Jim and I looked at each other, decided we didn’t need to prove anything and walked back to carry out boats to the eddy below Cheese Grater.

John R demonstrates just how far down the drop takes you.

The remaining rapids were relatively tame at this flow compared to Cheese Grater, so it was an opportunity to have a bit of a play around. With the corner rapid, a number of paddlers carefully dropped into the final hole for a surf because it has been quite difficult to get back on it from the eddy on river right as there are several rocks near the top of the eddy that block the exit, especially at low flows. Some surfing occurred but once the paddlers was swept downstream, getting back on was almost impossible, with only Jim managing to do it once from several attempts.

Had a brief, half-hearted play at the Pop Up Spot before carrying on to the take out. Liam & Alice were waiting at the take out, enjoying the sun. Carrying the Blitz out was a bit of a trudge and it was a relief to get up to the cars. Loaded up the boats, got changed into some dry clothes and then drove back to town. Had a brief tiki tour down the new northern corridor motorway due to some confusing signage but were soon back on track to The Peg and then home from there, feeling not just a little sore and tired.