Hurunui River Catchment

The Hurunui is the most important River in Canterbury for kayakers. It has navigable flows all year round and offers a good variety of white water runs.

Getting there: Head north up State Highway One from Christchurch, when you get to Waipara, turn left and head up State Highway Seven. Turn left at the past the tea rooms in Waikari and head down the Hawarden Waikari Road. Straight through Hawarden and along Horsley Down Road, which curves to the left to become Lake Sumner Road which runs along beside the Hurunui.

Flows: This river is paddleable all year round, even at the height of summer. Low flow is around 15 cumecs at Mandamus, 25 cumecs is pretty cruisy, 30 to 40 cumecs is a good standard flow, above 100 cumecs Maori Gully becomes grade 4.

Run: Top Gorge      Grade: 2+       Length: 3km (1 hour)
Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Take the track down to the Hurunui near the Sisters Stream walkway, put in on Sisters Stream and bounce and bump down to the Hurunui. Take out at Jollie Brook swing bridge or carry on down.
Description: This gorge is a sort of mini Maori Gully and is quite steep with some nice drops. The gorge starts almost immediately so there is no warm up for beginners and swims may be long. After the gorge, the river opens out into open boulder gardens, which will be boney at low flows.

The Top Gorge

The Top Gorge

Run: Jollie Brook to South Branch    Grade: 2      Length: 4km (1.5 hours)
Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Either put in by the Jollie Brook swing bridge (a popular area for teaching beginners, most Canterbury kayakers will have learned the basics here) or drive a short distance up the road, through a closed gate (and close it after you), across the paddock to the Jollie Brook camping area. There are long drop toilets at both put ins.
Description: If you put in at the camping area, you get some more boulder gardens to practice catching eddies plus a bonus rapid before getting to the lower put in below the swing bridge. Below here, is more boulder gardens.

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Looking upstream at swing bridge put in.

Run: South Branch to Dozy Stream    Grade: 2+ (maybe one grade 3 rapid)      Length: 4km (1 hour)
Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Either put in on the left bank of the South Branch just below the road bridge or walk / drive down the 4WD track to the Hurunui /    South Branch Confluence. Get out at a later put in.
Description: Gravel chutes, rock dodge rapids and bluffs / corners.

25/12/07 This rapid has now changed considerable with most of the river flowing down this channel, the left hand chicken route (not pictured) now has limited flow and there is a least one grade 3 feature about 20m downstream from the rock in the centre of the picture. The eddy on the right no longer has a drop out of it and isn’t as fun as it used to be. Below are some comments from Hugh Cannard regarding the newly formed Devil’s Fang Falls…

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Inspecting Devil’s Fang Falls at low flow.

The floods in Spring 07 have created a new rapid immediately above the Dozy Stream put-in. This why we like the natural flow, thanks. Now that the flow has come right down to <15cumecs you can see what this rapid is made of. The river now divides into three channels.

LH – easiest, leads to the pool at the put-in. Best for novices.
Middle – rocky and shallow, with a double drop of up to 2m at the end.
RH – straight run with the new rapid created by exposed bedrock.

At above 70 cumecs or so the rapid is a full width wave/hydraulic followed by a big wave full of fluff and turbulence. The run out is deep and safe.

From 35 – 70 cumecs it is a full width drop with a good stopper across the bottom of the drop. The guardian wave above it is still powerful.

Below 35 cumecs there are rocks in the fluff at the bottom of the drop. At 14 cumecs (3rd Feb 2008) the rapid is two narrow streams separated by a big fang of bedrock. Either chute goes. The wave above the drop is not so wide but it causes many paddlers to be pushed R to L and they end up going where they had not intended.

There have been pins at the bottom of the RH chute requiring rescue. The LH chute has sent an RPM with occupant vertically airborne so it has some grunt. One paddler has been through the LH chute upside down with no physical ill effects, just mental ones.

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Running the right hand side shortly after the rapid formed. Photos by PhotoChick.

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I would rate this Grade 3 and recommend that novices and Grade 2 paddlers avoid both the RH and middle channels. This section can be scouted on the drive in. The key factor is not to under-estimate the lead up.

The WWCC wants to name this Devil’s Fang Falls after the mythical rapid that has been used over the years to scare beginners.

Run: Dozy Stream to Seawards    Grade: 2+       Length: 1.5km (1 hour)
Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Fishing access /  car park about 1km up from the Seaward River Bridge. Get out at a later put in, preferably Seawards unless you are able to run the grade 3 Maori Gully.
Description: Gravel chutes, rock dodge rapids and bluffs / corners.

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Start of Dozy Stream section.

Run: Maori Gully      Grade: 3       Length: 2.5km (1 hour)
Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Put in just upstream of the Seawards River bridge. Take out at the grassy car park before the river and road part company, it is worth walking down the track to make sure you recognise the get out from the river as missing it results in a long walk.
Description: Maori Gully is the grade 3 section of the Hurunui River and although I have paddled it many times, I in no way consider myself an expert so these notes should only be used as a rough guide and rapids should be inspected if you are in doubt. All the rapids have good pools below them that allow swimmers and gear to be recovered without much drama.

After you leave the Seawards get out, there is a nice straight run down a good wave train to the Magic Roundabout. The Magic Roundabout is a popular play spot and consists of a couple of rocks in the middle of the channel and a bluff with a buffer wave on the left turning corner. There is an easy sneak route down the hard left that avoids all the action but there is plenty of fun to be had playing on the various features and groups will often spend 10 to 15 minutes here before continuing on. There are also good eddies on both the left and right sides of the river plus plenty of flat water downstream to recover swimmers.

Round the corner and down a bit and the gorge walls recede a bit and there is a gravel beach on the right hand side, on the left hand side is Simon’s’ Hole. This hole has a bit of a reputation for being a bit retentive and not many people have much to do with it, though I have seen Glen playing on it. Probably best avoided and this is easily done by paddling down the right side of the river.

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Looking up Maori Gully from the road.

The view looking up Maori Gully at over 500 cumecs

The view looking up Maori Gully at over 500 cumecs

The next couple of rapids are boulder gardens, the second rapid contains Bum Rock (a cleft rock that vaguely resembles a bum or a least an upside-down set of thighs). This rapid is generally run from left to right, moving right after Bum Rock and avoiding the various largish holes.

The next drop is the Elevator, a river wide drop with a hole at the base. The next drop is Grandstand Eddy and is similar to the Elevator but has some rocks in the middle that divide the flow. Currently I think I prefer the hard right line but I think I have been flipped on both sides, so what would I know (I’m only a fence post!). This is followed by a third similar drop, Cheese Grater which currently kicks hard left and can be a bit nasty, this best run with a bit of speed, right of centre heading to the right.

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Grade 3 rapid in Maori Gully.

After these drops comes the last major rapid, this consists of a number of holes and waves, with a bluff at the bottom as the river turns to the left. There is eddy on the right that you can surf some of the waves/holes from and a big eddy at the bottom to wait in, if you don’t feel like surfing.

From here on down, things ease off, thought the are still a number of fun rapids, plus the Pop Up spot on the river left (a favourite amongst local kayakers who like to pull pop ups). This is where the water flows between two rocks, forming a narrow chute about a boat width wide, push your kayak’s nose into the flow, lean forward, then pop up! The most important thing from here is not to miss the get out unless you like walking a lot. Look out for a rock spire on the right hand side that you can paddle around, the get out is just round the bluff from here. From here you get to under take the worst part of doing Maori Gully and that is climbing up the hill with your kayak.

Run: Hawarden Gap      Grade: 2+       Length: 16km (3 hours)
Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Put in at the Maori Gully take out and take out at the Peaks Station (access permission required). Note the shuttle takes about an hour so make sure you have extra food and warm clothes for the long wait.

Description: Windy at first with rapids on the bends, pace and rapids pick up as the hills close in. Below the confluence with the Glenrae River (left) is the Hawarden Gap, where the river runs through a four metre wide gap forming a rather good drop, basically straight through but very boily.

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The Hawarden Gap.

Below this is another rapid, that dog legs to the right and then a series of slightly easier rapids in a steep sided gorge before the gradient eases off and the river opens out again.

There is another short gorge with some small rapids before the river spills out on the plains and becomes braided. Try to keep right and keep your eye out for the house on the hill, followed by a pair of water tanks that tell you that the get out is near.

Run: Lower Hurunui      Grade: 2       Length: 10km (3 hours)
Lower Hurunui River Level

Put in / take out: Put in at Cat Hill Station (access permission required), turn right off State Highway One after crossing the Hurunui River heading north and up Ethelton Road and then Cat Hill Station Road. Take out is just below the State Highway One bridge.
Description: Nice easy wide gorge with easy corner / bluff style rapids. Nice lunch stop at derelict bridge.

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