Backyard NZ – The Waitaha

Backyard Run // The Waitaha
The WaitahaI look at my cellphone screen and see that it is Kevin’s number calling.
“Hi Kev whats up?”

“Hi Howie do you want to fly into the Waitaha at 9am tomorrow?”

Well as you can imagine my thoughts were going wild the Waitaha! I had heard that this was one of the coast’s hardest runs and biggest days out.

Was I up for it? A split seconds thought …. YES! We organize the usual details of where and when and leave it at that. It just so happens that my parent’s place is only 15 minutes from the Waitaha Valley. Early the next day I drive to the turn off and meet up with Kevin England and Dave Kwant, two very experienced paddlers on the coast, I was stoked to be with such a good crew.

As with most runs on the coast the Helicopter swoops down and the boys jump into action tying boats on and organising the cash. The flight into the Waitaha was one of the best I’ve had, not only was it longer than any other, but the snow capped Southern Alps were amazing. As we flew in we got an amazing view of the river, the consistent gradient and quantity of rapids really got us amping for a big day of boating.

Once on the river Dave informed us that it was about a foot lower than its usual flow. We were straight into the action as there is hardly any warm up, dropping directly into a class four boulder garden with a variety of lines.

I was lucky that both Kevin and Dave had been on the river before, which meant that I could let them lead the way, which they seemed more than happy to do. Up ahead we could see that there was something coming that may require a bit more thought. Two very large boulders compress the river into a large slot that leads into a five metre slide, before finishing off in a large hole at the bottom. It appears quite daunting and many choose to portage this one. After you’ve run or portaged the drop you come across a technical boulder garden that squeezes up into a huge hole at the bottom. From here there is a relatively relaxed section through a beautiful gorge surrounded by magnificent waterfalls until you reach the next major section of the river.

The next section has three major rapids of note. The first is a big drop of about five metres that has a diagonal wave forming at the top. Punch through the wave and try to time your boof stroke to clear the carnage below. The second is a series of diagonal river wide holes with major consequences, the third one is a big, fast, roller coaster. Use a series of brace and power strokes to find your way to the end, head into the tunnel created by an enormous slab of rock, and line up the two metre drop to get out; brilliant.

Just when you think it cant get any better the next rapid offers a perfect five metre drop into a soft aerated pool. Several rapids follow and you find another gorge that drops away significantly more than the river up to this point. Get out on the right, as the easiest portage is done on this side. After one more hard rapid you find yourself coming out of this gorge into a large clearing as the walls give way to open land.

Be wary not to float into the next gorge, Morgans Gorge as it is known has never been successfully paddled. Jump out on the left and put kayak to shoulder. Fifty minutes of grueling walking will get you to a small creek, walk down this to the edge of the gorge. Either put in here to finish the last part of the gorge or carry on walking for another twenty minutes. The last part of this gorge is very continuous and looks quite committing so make sure you have plenty of fight left before heading in. The remaining rapids are still solid class 4 boulder gardens so keep you ‘Game Face’ on.

Howie Wilson is a graduate of the Otago Polytechnic School of Adventure, he lives in Westport and is quickly making the whole West Coast his ‘Backyard’.

In brief:

Class: IV- V+

Level: Low-Medium

Length: 8.5 km

Time: 5-9 Hours

The NZ Whitewater Guidebook 2007 will point you in the right direction for the rest of the details.

Words by Howie Wilson

This article was originally published in CUMEC Magazine Issue #4, March 2008