Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The West Coast is supposed to be wet right?

My third annual PRANZ meetup in 3 years! I wasn't supposed to be at this one, but after my accident delayed my plans of heading back to Japan this summer, I signed up to go paddling again. Only problem being that I didn't actually have a fully healed arm. Oh, and there was a serious lack of water in all those west coast rivers....

Everyone had been so excited about a West Coast venue, because the rivers generally pack a punch. With high rainfall and relatively short valleys compared to the east coast braided rivers they are exciting to run, with many different grades of rapids to choose from.

However, this summer was the driest on record. Whilst the North Island fielded extreme weather event after another, received record flooding and so many slips, the South Island bathed in sunshine for months on end. Great tramping opportunities, but not so good for a motley crew of pack rafters!

I'd declined offers to do some paddling with others before the meetup, because my priority was getting tramping fit. The Moeraki trip was the first time I reached that milestone of feeling joy rather than struggle when tramping. It can only get better from here...

I did go for a paddle on Lake Mapourika north of Franz Josef though. Just to check for leaks, and to get some very nice views of the mountains from the glassy lake.

I arrived in Reefton a day early, but the venue wasn't yet ready for our crew, so we all mucked in to clean the toilets and prepare the rooms for the 70 odd people attending. We were staying at a community centre which had never hosted such a large group, so the volunteers were struggling a little. Sheralee and Rachel took charge, divided up the chores, and by lunchtime Thursday we were ready for welcoming PRANZ members to the meetup.

In the afternoon we headed down to the Inangahua River for a safety briefing. I needed help to get back into my boat from the water, but I was glad to see I was perfectly capable of performing a buddy rescue. I didn't want to be a liability..

With my forearm fracture not yet healed I had no intention of going hard at the meetup, planning to only paddle Grade 2 rapids. My biggest concern would be the portages, as walking over slippery river rocks covered in didymo carries a fair risk of falling, and I can't afford that!!

None of the rivers near Reefton had enough water in them to run, so our options meant long drives and shuttles, and very long days. On the Friday I elected to paddle the Grey River, taking the lower put in at Staircase Creek to avoid the upper grade 3 section from McVicars. By the time we had completed the shuttles and walked in 45 minutes to the put in, most of the paddlers had already paddled the Grade 3 section and were ahead of us!

The paddle downriver was fairly cruisy, with no particularly exciting rapids. It was slow going and we were all pretty tired from paddling by the time we got to the take out off Waipuna Road. We heard that the upper section had been pretty mellow, Grade 2 at most.

The Grey River paddling groups were first back to Reefton, the group who paddled the Taipo not too far behind us. But the group who had paddled the Maruia River didn't get back until after 8pm! That caused a few hiccups with the catering!

In the evenings we had some great talks. Friday night we had an excellent presentation from Dean Parker, who not only screened his latest bike rafting video but gave a great demonstration of how you strap your bike to your raft. A few people had brought their bikes, and signed up to do a short section of the Grey again on Saturday, but this time with bikes as well.

I was thrilled to have a chat with Dean, as his film at the Mountain Film Festival a few years ago was the first time I had seen a packraft, and from then on I was hooked. He was just as thrilled to know he had been my inspiration into the sport.

Here's a video Dean put together of the meetup. 

Saturday a tiny group of three: Stu, John Mackay and I, went and paddled a small section of the Buller. This was advertised as a Grade 1-2 paddle and hadn't had many takers but Stu kindly offered to lead it so the trip went ahead. The put on was near the lime-works, but Rachael had given me completely wrong directions. After spending a good 40 minutes trying to find the put in downstream of the lime-works, involving jumping fences and trying to find a path through impenetrable blackberry bushes, we drove up to the nearby Buller swing bridge and asked there. Turns out the put in was upstream of the lime-works! Once found we drove back to the take out and marked the spot on the river edge by leaving something tied onto a rock, and also GPS tagged it. There's a lot of palaver involved in doing a roadside run when none of us have run it before.

Back at the put in we inflated our rafts, did our safety briefing then hit the river. It was a lovely stretch of narrow gorge with some quite pushy rapids, requiring considerably more attention than yesterday's paddling on the Grey. On the first rapid Stu tipped out! He paid attention after that!

cruising with a couple of paddling legends

It only took us an hour to lazily paddle down to the takeout, including some playing on some of the rapids working on eddying in and out and ferry gliding. We had enough time to run it again, but John was giving a talk that evening on his paddling history on makeshift rafts in the 1970s, so he wanted to get back early to prepare. By the time the other groups got back we'd managed to wash and fully dry all our gear!!

John's evening talk was a hoot. John, after surviving some pretty gnarly descents in a raft made from tying car inner tubes together,  went on to be instrumental in saving some NZ wild rivers from being dammed. This weekend was his first time paddling a modern packraft!

Over the last week my drysuit wrist gaskets had been tearing every time I wore the suit. I'd used some duct tape to stop too much water getting in, but that would be useless in the event of a swim. Sunday the options were limited to the Taipo (much colder water where a swim would be less pleasant) or the Earthquake Rapid on the Buller, which was Grade 3. I decided to run neither and instead head up to Murchison to get my gaskets replaced at the NZ Kayak School. I booked in to the local motor camp, did my laundry and caught up on some much needed sleep.

Quite a few of the crew turned up at Murchison that evening, with plans to do more paddling in the region. I was still keen to pack in a little more tramping before heading to Australia, so, after picking up my repaired drysuit, I headed back to Wanaka. Via a soak in the hot pools at Maruia Springs and a short visit to Helenski near Lyttleton.

the view from Chateau Helenski's deck

Let's see how many trips I can get in. That's next!

No comments:

Post a Comment