I'd returned to Wanaka to attend my second annual packrafting meetup. This is the silver lining of being a COVID refugee in NZ. Instead of windsurfing in WA and skiing in Japan, I'm catching up with new and old friends for a few days of paddling around Wanaka.
I missed the first packrafting session of the meetup, because I'd booked in for a 90 minute full body massage, and well.... I needed that more than I needed a lake session and a float down the Clutha River to Alberttown. I could have made the paddling session, just I get a wee bit lethargic after a massage...
We had a communal dinner out at Hawea and a few speakers presented. One was Stu, who talked about the trip he'd just completed, though he painted a slightly different picture to what I remember, not that he neglected to talk about how pretty unpleasant some bits had been. I had thankfully joined him after the bit when Bill and him ran out of food for a few days....
The next morning we ran the Hawea River from below the dam to the Alberttown swing bridge. In the middle is the Hawea Wave, which we got to play on with a little instruction from Huw of Packrafting Queenstown. I didn't manage to get into the wave, but I had a fun play anyway.
The Hawea River was a pretty easy paddle, and in the afternoon we headed out in convoy to Cameron Flat in the Matukituki Valley, getting a tractor ride over the river to stay at Tititea Lodge for a couple of nights. I was on cooking duties that evening, spending a couple of hours boiling a lot of potatoes for a salad!
Day 3 we waded back across the river to our cars and drove up to Raspberry Flat, then walked up the valley to Aspiring Hut. We had lunch and then headed down to the river and launched our boats. It was a fun Grade 2 paddle down to just above the Rob Roy Glacier swing bridge, our takeout for the day. Experienced paddlers chose to run the Grade 3 rapid, which was fun to watch, outside my pay scale I'm afraid.
I'm super happy with my attitude on the river this year. I'm confident, my skills are definitely better, and I'm no longer anxious every time I see an approaching rapid. No longer do I feel like a liability. That's a welcome improvement, and I'm really enjoying myself. People like Jude and Stu have also noticed how much more relaxed I now am. Yay!!
Day 4 was a walk up the East Matukituki River to Junction Flat. There were three options for put ins. I decided I wasn't going to attempt the Grade 3 rapids so just three of us walked to the lowest put in. I joined Graeme (who is super experienced but had to drive back to Christchurch that day) and Kristy who has a gammy hip and knee and can't walk very far. I didn't really have an excuse for just doing the lower section, but do I need one??
We had a lovely cruisy paddle down, with lots of time to play a little, eddy catching, ferry gliding and surfing. There wasn't much in the way of exciting rapids, but it was still fun.
We dried our gear in the sun and had lunch, then Kristy and I drove back to Wanaka. We noticed a small fire at West Wanaka, probably quite soon after it had started, and by the time we got back to town it had become a major wildfire and the road was closed to all traffic whilst the fire crews fought to get it under control. All the other paddlers got caught waiting for the road to reopen, so my decision to do the lower put in paid off!
Here's some video from the event. It has footage of the gnarly section under the Rob Roy swing bridge which most of us didn't run, but it's still cool. David, one of the organisers put this together. Hope you enjoy.
(Thanks to Shayne, David and Sheralee for extra photos and video)