This is not an exhaustive list of all the runs on the various rivers in Canterbury that can be paddled, it is merely a list of the runs that I have paddled (these are generally ones that the WWCC paddles on a regular basis). I have tried to be as accurate possible and have also used some information from Graham Charles’ New Zealand White Water guidebook as well as Graham Egarrs’ South Island Rivers book. Both of these are excellent books and are worth getting hold of. It should be note that grades given are for normal flows only and should be used as a guideline only. If you don’t feel happy about running something, don’t run it, it will be there tomorrow, make sure you are.
For more information on the best white water runs in New Zealand, check out the 5th edition of Graham Charles’ New Zealand White Water guide book, this an excellent resource for anyone planning to kayak in New Zealand. The new edition has 130 runs (5 new ones), new photos and cartoons and updates on previously listed runs. Get your copy now at your favourite kayak store.
White Water Grading System
Rivers are generally graded using the international white water rapid grading system (the definitions below are from Wikipedia). If you are from overseas or are planning to paddle in a new area, such as on the West Coast, it is recommended that you try paddling a river that is a grade below what you would normally paddle at home. This allows you to get comfortable with the conditions and characteristics of the new area.
This is particularly important if you plan to run grade 4 or 5 rapids, and especially so if you are heading to the West Coast of the South Island. On the West Coast the rivers are generally steeper, swifter, tighter, more remote and the consequences of a swim, equipment loss or failure, more serious (most people recommend using a creek boat on these runs).
It should also be noted that if the river is running high or the water is discoloured, if heavy rain is falling or expected, then it is likely that the river’s grade will rise and the potential risk will increase, so take extra care under these conditions, if in doubt, don’t paddle.
Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy. Care may be needed with obstacles like fallen trees and bridge piers.
Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily avoided by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+.
Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.
Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must make” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. For kayakers, a strong roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively.
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.
Runs of this classification are rarely attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapid has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.