Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Paddling the Waiau

Jenny, another packrafting friend, who had kindly put me up in her house in Wellington late last year, was coming down to the South Island for a four day weekend and was keen for an adventure. Jude had originally said she was free, but when she realised she was double booked, had asked me if I would be available. I was, so we started planning what to do.

We settled on paddling the Waiau River from Lake Manapouri to the sea. Although it's the largest river system in the south west it has been heavily modified by various hydroelectric schemes and irrigation. Stu had taken 2.5 long days to paddle it during his South Island traverse, so I figured it was a good three day trip for mere mortals.

Jenny decided to invite others on the trip. She invited a chap called Thomas with whom Jude and her had paddled the Wilkin. He had minimal whitewater skills but we weren't expecting much whitewater action anyway.

When I got out from the Irthing Hut renovation the chat between Jenny and Thomas had reduced the trip to 2 days, which was frankly impossible. I almost pulled the plug but weighed in and we ended up with a 2.5 day window due to Thomas' work commitments. I wasn't happy, but I figured we had a fair chance of making the distance if we paddled hard and the flow was reasonable. And no head winds!!

I picked up Jenny from Queenstown Airport and we took a leisurely day being tourists driving down to Tuatapere to stay at Greg's place. We checked out the railway history at Lumsden.

Rusty because they were retrieved from being used to reinforce dykes against flooding once no longer used on the railway

And went exploring through the Clifden Caves. I didn't even know they were there!

Thomas turned up at Tuatapere around lunchtime Saturday and then we drove back to Manapouri. Thomas was completely disorganised, and had brought his fishing gear. Given that we had limited time for leisure activities, and he was borrowing an inflatable packraft from Jude, I thought that was perhaps taking liberties. He hadn't told either of us he planned to bring fishing gear, and he also decided not to bring a tent!!

We at last set off around 2:30pm. The paddle from Manapouri wasn't easy, as the water from the Mararoa is diverted upstream to Lake Manapouri to keep water levels up. It wasn't paddling against a strong current, but there certainly wasn't any flow going our way.

Heading off from Manapouri

Just before the weir Thomas, who had been trawling, caught a perch. He also hooked a rainbow trout but that one got away.

We portaged over the Mararoa weir and then at last we had some river flow going our way. There were small grade 1 rapids but mostly it was just a gently flowing river requiring steady paddling to make decent progress.

Portaging the Mararoa Weir

We stopped around 6pm for the night, setting up camp by the river overlooking the Takitimus. It was then we discovered Thomas had chosen not to bring his tent. Thomas, an ex mountain guide from Austria, prefers to sleep under the stars, but as we found out the next morning, that comes with a few issues.

First night's campsite looking across to the Takitimus

There was a heavy dew overnight, and Thomas didn't want to leave until his sleeping bag had dried out. If he packed it damp then the dampness would seep through the entire bag. So his selfishness meant we took longer to get onto the water than planned, and we were already behind schedule.

Misty morning at first campsite

We paddled all day. The flow on the river was faster, as was the river level, suggesting an increased release at the weir. So we made good time. It was a wonderfully warm day and we stopped for lunch at Borland Burn before continuing on, passing Arno at the Monowai Hydro station with a group of pack rafters on a course.

Borland Stream entering Waiau

Lunch stop at Borland Stream confluence

Nanonap time!

Very pretty scenery south of Borland

Monowai Hydro

Road bridge to Lake Monowai, and entrance to another pretty gorge

We found a great spot to camp for the night, which had a lovely clear stream nearby, and a Totara forest behind us. Thomas retreated into the forest to find a sheltered campsite, and had a sleepless night due to being plagued by mosquitoes. So we didn't get off early the next morning either!

Another glorious day starting off with some foggy conditions and the sun making lovely patterns as it shone through the trees.

The river level had dropped overnight, so we figured the Sunday release was just a fluke. We began to paddle through farmland, assailed by the smell of mileage but we at last reached the stunning sandstone cliffs at Clifden where we stopped for lunch and Thomas cooked up the second fish he had caught. Then we continued south.

Not long after leaving Clifden we encountered a headwind. It made for hard paddling and by the time we reached Tuatapere we had all decided to call it a day. It was too unpleasant to continue paddling more hours against a headwind, and it would only get stronger the closer we got to the sea.

We packed up the gear and drove to Manapouri to retrieve Thomas' car, then we all booked in to the caravan park in Te Anau and went out for an evening meal. Thomas headed back to Wanaka early the next morning, whilst Jenny and I had a more leisurely start, with me dropping her back at the airport around lunchtime.

I was quite sore from the trip, as the paddling had been quite constant. Mainly because we hadn't really given ourselves enough time to enjoy a more leisurely pace. Although Thomas was great company there had been a couple of rapids where both Jenny and I had been concerned about his lack of skills and he had ignored my advice to look where he wanted to paddle and not at the hazard he was attempting to avoid. There were no mishaps, but we both told him we would recommend he do a whitewater course before we would feel comfortable inviting him on another trip.

And thankfully he didn't put a hook through Jude's packraft!!

Back in Wanaka I had an eye appointment with Harry and then it was off on another adventure. That's next.

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