17th January 2021: Waiau Uwha River

Date: 11/11/2018
River: Waiau Uwha River, North Canterbury, New Zealand.
River Conditions:  39 cumecs at Marble Point. Water discoloured, cool & swift. Grade 3.
Weather Conditions: Overcast & rainy clearing to sunny & warm. NW winds, strong at times.
Number on Trip: 24 people.
Time on River: 4.5 Hours.
Comments: I hadn’t paddled the Waiau for quite some time, so when I spotted the trip on the CWWC trip list, I was pretty keen. The weather forecast was a bit ambiguous, but looked like it would turn out ok. I had visions of relaxing at the take out with a warm nor-wester blowing and the scent of pine trees in my nose, a happy memory from days gone by. Graeme W was running the trip and we had quite a few people at the Belfast Tavern. I loaded my boat on to Merv’s trailer, on top of his raft and a few other peoples boats, before climbing in to his Landdrover next to Max, his very friendly dog.

Plenty of interesting conversation on the drive up to Culverden, where we stopped to meet up and make sure everyone knew where we were going. I fuelled up with a steak & cheese pie from the bakery, kayakers don’t just run on muesli bars. Once we were all assemble, Graeme gave a briefing and nominated me to lead one of the groups after it turned out only 3 of us had ever paddled this section of the Waiau before. Back into the vehicles and off to the Hamner turn off, over the bridge and down to the rest area near the Hamner River confluence.

Merv’s trusty Landrover delivers the boats to the right to the river.

Usually we get changed in the rest area and then carry / float our boats down the Hamner River to the Waiau, since Merv had a raft, moving it would involve quite a bit of grunt. Fortunately Merv also had a Landrover Discovery and so drove down the 4 wheel drive track to the river, across a small river channel and parked on the gravel banks of the Waiau, around 3m from the water. We unloaded the boats and got changed, I took a few photos as the tourist jet boats whizzed past, while the shuttle was run. We also got to watch the sunny day change to overcast with a few drops of rain, as clouds gathered over the main divide.

Rather than wait for the shuttle drivers to returned, it was decided that my group should get underway and so I gathered 9 other paddlers to lead down the river. We had a safety briefing before hitting the river and then did a bit of a warm up while everyone got sorted out. While waiting by the bank, Max the dog (who we’d released from his lead once Merv was well on his way to the take out) jumped on my deck and sat facing me, while I scrambled for the camera to capture the moment. Sadly he leapt off before I got the camera fired up, and then ran off to make friends with some other people.

Paddling under the Hamner Bridge beneath brooding skies.

Our group had a range of experience, from a rusty grade 4 kayaker from the States to several paddlers in their first season. The paddled past the first corner bluff, which seemed quite unthreatening today, without dramas and regrouped beneath the bridge. There was quite a bit of jet boat activity on the river, which was good to see as many of New Zealand’s tourist orientated business have been hard hit by Covid-19 travel restrictions. This did mean that every time we heard or saw one, the “JET BOAT!” cry would go up and we’d all pull over to the edge of the river and brace for the surging waves of wake. The professional jet boat drivers were really good, very courteous & respectful of other river users, they kept a good eye out for us and we had no issues. Had a chat to one of the drivers, while waiting under the bridge, and let him know what to expect and how many paddlers in our group. He told us that the jet boats go down the river on the river left side and back up on river right, but generally we just went for which ever bank was closer.

The first section of the trip runs through a steep sided gorge and while there isn’t much in the way of rapids, the water tends to be quite boily, with messy eddies along the rocky walls. There were small patches of white water, where rocks broke the surface and I tried to make the most of these, cutting in behind the rocks and surfing where I could. Since these “rapids” were rather small and tight, I found my self stuck on an unseen rock on one of the early ones. The force of the water was holding my boat against the rock and I was having a hard breaking free. I was a little worried that I was going to need to tip over in order to break the hold, but managed to stay upright whilst rocking back & forth and escaping.

Further down the gorge, I was sitting on a messy eddy line when the call of “Jetboat!” went up and as a result I spent a little too long on a turbulent boil and tipped. A couple of tired roll attempts had me pulling the deck and self rescuing. Not a great look for an experienced group leader, so I emptied the boat out with a sheepish grin as a jetboat full of tourists shot past. I like to think I was just showing the newer paddlers that it is OK to take the occasional swim. A few of the beginners followed my lead, as the boils, bluffs & eddy lines tripped them up too.

Bouncing down a wave train.

After we left the gorge, the river flows across a gravel bed with riffle style rapids. I watched for landmarks and tried to remember features to watch for. Some familiar curves appeared as we approached one of the bigger rapids, which featured a popular play wave. I briefed the newer paddlers on what to expect and led the way, only to find the river had changed significantly and the rapid had been somewhat diminished by the passage of time and the movement of gravel. Still fun, but no play spot anymore.

Interesting rock formations at Marble Point.

The further on we went, the better the weather got, the skies cleared and the sun came out. We passed the winery and joked about stopping there for lunch, with Graeme picking up the tab. There were more comments about how far was it to our lunch stop, but eventually the distinctive rocks that mark Marble Point rolled into view. Graeme’s group was just behind us when we pulled into our lunch time picnic spot and we all had lunch together as various jetboats whizzed by or preformed 360’s to thrill the punters.

A jetboat blasts past Marble Point.

I was impressed by the variety and complexity of the lunches people unpacked, as I munched on my beef jerky with a muesli bar for dessert.

The lunch stop at Marble Point, with an impressive range of lunches.

The rapid below Marble Point was probably one of the better ones of day, nice & bouncy with a bit of a play wave. Didn’t get much of a chance to surf, before following the rest of the group downstream.

One of the bigger rapids on this section, just below Marble Point.

We had a fairly diverse group of river craft, including a SUP and Merv’s raft. It has been quite nice that the club has embraced this diversity and is much more welcoming now. We’ve even changed the club’s name from the somewhat dated, and not technically correct, White Water Canoe Club (since we mostly paddle kayaks, not canoes) to the more inclusive Canterbury White Water Club. It is good to celebrate and embrace diversity.

A nice day for a paddleboard.

It was good when the skies cleared, the sun came out and the day got warmer. Paddling is always better when the sun is shining.

Sunshine & whitewater.

Since it is often difficult to fit a set of split paddles into the back of many of the smaller boats, some people carry hand paddles. These require a little more practice to use competently, so it was impressive to see them being used well. This set got shared around to give a those who were interested in trying them out, a go.

Who needs a paddle?

We carried on down until we neared Sharks Tooth, I briefed everyone in our group and then led the way down the rapid, pulling into the first eddy to take photos or rescue people as required. As a lot of the water bypasses this rapid now, it isn’t quite as exciting as it used to be, but still fun.

Running Sharks’ Tooth rapid.
Rachel runs Sharks’ Tooth.
Getting some air off Sharks’ Tooth rapid.

I was going to have a bit of a play, but a swimmer put pay to that and a game of boat chase ensued. We got the paddler back in their boat and I paddled upstream to get a photo of the Tooth.

Merv paddles a couple of passengers down the river in is raft.

From here, the rapids get fairly mild, with some flat sections between them. I briefed people on the importance of getting out before the bridge and its’ associated irrigation intake. As we neared the bridge, I began to worry that I couldn’t see any of our vehicles, and hoped that I hadn’t missed any info about alternative get outs. We pulled over before the bridge and I led the group up the track to road, where fortunately our vehicles waited. As a group, we teamed up to get Merv’s raft up to the road and on to his trailer. Getting changed in the warm Canterbury afternoon with the scent of pine needles in the air, was a great way to end an enjoyable paddle. Feeling tired, we drove back to the city and then straight home.