|Difficulty:||Class IV to V|
|Flows:||>500 cfs to ~1,500 cfs at take-out (visual only)|
|Gradient:||193 fpm for 1.4 miles, 179 fpm from 2.4 to 3.5 miles, 212 fpm for Cespool Gorge, 116 fpm paddle out.|
|Put-in:||Above the Third Gorge|
|Take-out:||Near the bridge over the Arahura|
|Season:||Year round after rain. Get an early start in the winter|
|Featured in A Wet State #124|
New Zealand 2016/2017 Day 12:
Finally, the weather had stabilized and flows were in a good range, the helicopter missions were a go! The plan for the Arahura came to fruition our first day on the West Coast, when after a 2 hour detour on the hike into the Toaroha we were told at put in about another group shortly behind us that was looking for two more for the Arahura. We fit the bill! So Diane and I waited around at take-out that day to talk to the “other group.” As the weather was not behaving we spent the next few days doing the Totara, Lower Kakas, Styx and a day in Murchison. But that was good, let us get to know our new friends and spend some time on the water together prior to committing ourselves up a river on a helicopter run. Our group consisted of Diane and myself, the Australians Jo and “Small” Will (not to be confused with “Big” Will who was also in their group but not boating with us this day.
So anyways, the day finally came. Weather was expected to turn around 1 pm. We were really hoping to be through the meat of the run and at Cesspool (portage) by the time the rain started. There is legitimate fear in New Zealand about rivers flashing on you. The ground is just about always saturated during peak season so rain can quickly and drastically affect the river levels. With this in mind we arranged for a 7:30 am helicopter pick up. The group that was hoping on to the back of our run (to make the helicopter pick ups cheaper for us both) was none too pleased with that I think. We eventually adjusted our plan to an 8 am schedule. Still plenty early to get through the miles by 1 pm when the rain was to start.
Getting to take-out we all had to use the facilities (there aren’t any). I don’t know how much was nerves versus the horrible gas station pies we had for breakfast… but as we were all hunkered in the woods only 5% ready, the helicopter roar rose over the canyon and we quickly ran to the cars to finish getting ready. We strapped the boaters together and tied all of the paddles together and set it all together in the mesh carrier for the helicopter, and within minutes the first of us were carried up. I was in the first load while the boats were in the last. It was surprising to me the feeling of solitude I experienced standing on the beach with only one other person (Dom), with no kayaks, and no easy way out. It would be an adventure.
Soon the rest of the group arrived and we slid off into the water. The river starts quickly as you get into a gorge with class III and then class IV rapids. This first section has several blind rapids and one of the early ones got Diane out on shore for a quick scout. Her verbal was on point but one in our group still got back-endered and took a swim out of the pocket hole. Not the way we were hoping to start out! Luckily, it was a fluke and the group was strong from there on out. In the middle of the run the river mellows out briefly before going into another set of rapids that contains perhaps the two largest commonly run rapids, Billiards and Alzheimer’s. Where the first set of rapids is more creeky pool and drop nature, these bottom rapids are full rivers and longer in nature. The river then eases out one more time before the river makes one more push, this time into a bedrock schist gorge with a usually portaged rapid at the entrance, Cesspool. Some years you can seal launch in around the bottom of it, this lands in a pool with no exit but sieves. This year the sieves were worse than normal so instead we climbed up to the trail above and then back down 100 yards later. No little effort! The exit of the gorge was stunning and “simply” class IV. It is too brief though as soon you find yourself in an open valley again with a short paddle out to your car.
This river is a classic. 100%. I have spoken to many people who have boated in New Zealand and all of them agree that this is their favorite run. If you are looking for the uber gnar, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for a class IV to V run (really mostly class IV and IV+ with just 2 or 3 V-ish rapids) this is perfect for you. There is more than enough action to make you feel like you got to paddle as well as to make your rapid per dollar value worth it. It was an absolute blast! If you don’t have people able to probe and are unwilling to go off of verbal beta from a single person’s scout, the run may take a while! For us, we got off around 2 if I recall correctly. So it took us 5 hours, and we had a pretty good pace the whole way. We only slowed down at Billiards which took longer due to scouting on the right, running it on the left, and one person portaging on the right (which sucked for them).
Note, that we went in 2 days after the Styx was at a medium flow. (I am told that Styx was medium anyways). Also note, you can hike up to the bottom gorge in about an hour using the trail if you do not want to bite off the whole run. It would be a lot of work for only a handful of rapids, but the scenery would be the main reason for a class IV boater to do it.
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- The warm-up is very brief on this one!
- Footbridge (III). The trail’s footbridge is overhead and signals the start of the rapids. The first rapid is a mellow class III that zig zags left to right before entering a small pool. The exit of the pool was a ramp that we ran left of center.
First Falls (IV). I want to say we ran one small rapid before Diane hopped out to scout and pass verbal. The drop is a 6 foot tall slopping boof. You wanted to be far right on it. We had a swim from someone who did not get far enough right. Not a great way to start the day!
Boogie (III to IV). Downstream was some fun boogie. The first was a busy ramp that we ran down the middle. Then there was one with a large sieve like passage on the right that we just drove left of. The next was just a boof with channels center or left.
Pinch (IV). The next rapid had a blind entrance amongst large boulders. We ran down the center moving right and got walled out. I ferried back to the left to scout the bottom. The rapid had two parts, the first one was a ramp with a small hole at the bottom that you wanted to drive left on. The exit was the crux and was a pinch that you wanted to boof. I didn’t really matter where to boof though, just get the nose up.
More Boogie (III). This section of boogie was mellow. There was a nice ledge that we ran far left. A nice creek came in just above it.
Pinch #2 (IV). A narrow pinch that goes around a blind corner is hard to scout. The flow goes right to left. Go with it. It then goes into a backed-up hole that you want to drive left on.
Two Tiered (IV+). A bigger rapid comes soon below. Diane hoped out to scout from the middle island and gave us the line. We entered the left channel and drove to the right of the channel and straightened out for a junky ramp. The exit had a nice boof over a smallish hole that we went right on.
Curtain Falls (III+ to IV-). The next real rapid is what I believe is Curtain Falls. Jo scouted on the right and gave us verbal. We ran the slopping falls on the far right.
- Dent Falls (V- to V). The largest horizon you have come to yet is obvious and should be scouted on the right. It has a three tiers to it. The first is maybe 20 feet above the main drop that holes the second and third. The entrance we boofed the small ledge center and then worked right. The main rapid has a small boof into squirrely water that wanted to move you left. You wanted to aim for the small exit channel on the right so carry some right momentum. The exit drop is maybe an eight foot tall drop that is hard to boof at low flows. The hazard is some years there is a rock in the landing zone, hence the name Dent Falls. Some years it is just tougher, other years it is a portage. Scout and portage on the right.
Dent Falls Runout (IV to IV+). Honestly, this section was way busier than it looked from above while we scouted the main falls. The runout last 100 yards and is non-stop hole punching and s-turning glory. Follow the main flow the whole way.
Exit (IV). This leads right to the lip of a tough rapid that really didn’t have great eddies. I hopped out on a slippery rock but could only see that you didn’t want to be right or middle. Jo managed to get out on the left and took a look around the corner and told us good to go far right. We entered far left and ferried in front of two sieves to exit far right.
- Junky Rapid #1 (IV to V). We scouted from either side on this drop. Diane and Dom said the right was no good. The left was rocky but had a ramping hole into a rocky runout. We opted to run the left and drive left for the exit to avoid rocks.
Junky Rapid #2 (IV to V). The river split around an island. The right looked steep and congested so I began boat scouting down the left. It was a small channel that ended with a huge fan rock. I was able to drive in front of the fan, going to the right, to avoid contact. The rest of the group scouted right and half walked. The other half ran the melting seem just above a big midstream undercut/sieve. Both rolled and were nearly pushed against it. I think my line was the best ?.
Ledge (III+ to IV-). Around a corner or two was a small ledge that I hopped out to scout on the right. It ended up being totally good to go right of center. Just around the next corner comes the biggest rapid.
- Billiards (V). Get out on the right (to scout the main line) or left (to scout the sneak) of the biggest rapid on the run. The main line starts with a huge hole in the right channel, which then pushes you to the right where the river split, the left side exited ok, however most of the water went right and into a pile of wood. It looked really bad. Jo was on the left and told us the sneak was good to go, and that there were actually two lines to sneak. The entrance was down a small chute on the far left and driving to a small boof. This landed in an eddy and from there you could fade boof just off left of center or run a small slot against the left shore. We chose the further left slot. This then led directly to a very sticky ledge below that you want to boof, left was easiest. Set safety here as downstream was very rocky. The next tier we scouted again, the left channels did not go. The right side looked very bad so we began to portage. We had someone portaging the whole rapid on the right (should do the left we now know) so Jo ferried over to help. From there he found that the right line actually was runnable and ran down a chute over there. We all then boofed the exit of the rapid, all three main ledges go.
Boogie (III to IV). I don’t remember much of this section. We made good time and it was pretty mellow.
- Alzheimers (IV+ to V). You get to another blind drop from above that drops an obviously significant amount as you can see the pool below. We scouted from the center rock. The rapid was a cascade down the main center flow which then goes into a bunch of rocks, the key is to drive to the left in front of those rocks at the bottom. There are two more holes in the exit after making the move but they are easy enough to boof over. For those so inclined there was also a sneak on the far left down a small chute to the eddy above the exit boofs.
Boogie (III). Just downstream was some nice boogie including a boof immediately below that you wanted to run on the right of to avoid rock contact.
- Cespool (V+). To portage without seal launching, get out above the class II that leads to Cespool on river left and hit the trail. Cespool is a huge drop that has so many sieves it is not funny. Then, it empties into a pool whose only exit is sieves. Some years you can seal launch in below it and then get to the eddy on the opposite side to portage the exit sieves. However in 2016/2017 the sieves on the wall were worse making this less appealing. We knew this but looked anyways. This made it so we had to bushwhack up a shitty, slippery little side creek for 150 ft to the trail above. It probably would have been easier to work upriver to the valley and the trail instead of what we did. From there, head down river. You will cross one dry “creek” (more of a gulley) that drops down the hillside. Go one gulley further (shouldn’t be more than 100 yards total). Drop down the second gulley and then lower boats to the water below. If you really wanted to you could portage the whole gorge with less effort, but the gorge is spectacular and very worth this effort!
Cespool Exit (IV-). You miss the meat of the rapid below Cespool, but you do peel out and have to punch a very large hole. Some got left around it. I was first and didn’t know about it. I thought for a second I was going to get stuck and swim with no one aware of what was going on. Luckily I got through.
Gorge Rapid #2 (III+). From above it looks intimidating, but it turns out it is just a ramp with some soft waves and small holes that you can run down the middle.
Gorge Exit (III-). The last rapid also looked bad from above but it actually is just a ramp going center to right into a cushion. No problem, down the center!
Surprise Ledge (III+). Around a corner is a surprise ledge that I couldn’t stop before. Luckily it went down the middle!
Take-out: From Hokitika, take Stafford Street up the North side of the Hokitika River. It will turn into Kaniere Road. Follow for 3.8 to a fork. Turn left onto Lake Kaniere Rd and follow it for 13.0 km. As you come to the lake, you hit a fork, turn left on Hans Bay Rd. Follow this for just 1.2 km before turning left onto Milltown Rd. Follow this for 9.6 kms and eventually up the Arahura River itself. Immediately after you cross the Arahura, turn right onto a small dirt road that is gated. Of course close gates behind you. Continue up this road (another gate or two)… and park near the end of the road. The road appears to go 100 yards longer up a hill from the flat spot below but the road ends up there, so just park at the flat spot.
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