Shotover River (Gorge)
|Stretch:||Above Arthur’s Point|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to IV+|
|Flows:||~25 to ~90 cumecs|
|Gradient:||25 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Deep Creek on Skippers Road|
|Take-out:||Oxenbridge Tunnel Rd near Arthur’s Point|
|Shuttle:||15.5 km. 9.3 on not great dirt road. Some clearance required. 45 minutes one-way|
|Featured in A Wet State #125|
New Zealand 2016/2017 Day 16:
This river wasn’t really on my radar prior to the trip, but it was one that several people mentioned to get when we headed south. So the plan was to do it one of our two days in Queenstown. Driving down south with another Aussie group, they suggested it for the following day, so we agreed it sounded like a good plan, and it was set.
There is a rafting company that runs the river, if you get a little lucky you can ask them to take you and your boats up to the top. It is dependent on how many rafters and rafts they have going. They were pretty full when we asked but the allowed us to join on. We had 5 of us which it turns out is a lot. That with the two stacks of 5 rafts each, our kayaks were on the very top of a tall stack… a fact which would bite us when during the drive a cable across the road caught on the kayaks on one strap and sheared the straps (ours) and sent kayaks flying off the stack. They rafters were not super stoked on us as we hurriedly reloaded them and handtied knots. We thanked them profusely and delivered a case of beer to them at the end of the day to help soften the anger. They thanked us when we saw them a few days later on the Kawarau as well. If you want to try this route, you have to be there no later than 8 am to ask and the buses left at 8:30 am. They also run rafts in the afternoon apparently as well.
Putting on we were greeted with a very scenic float down class II for a good while. While driving in you get the sense of the canyon you are entering, and it does not disappoint. Limestone walls rise around you and eventually the river constricts and forms the first rapid. More mellow water leads to the main forge at Mother which is a series of 4 rapids all in the class IV range. Downstream the action eases until you get to the tunnel and the optional dark experience versus the Mother-in-Law experience. At the low flow we had we went around the tunnel as we were warned it was a boat breaker if you ran the slide at the exit of the tunnel. Then, just downstream, you get to take-out. The run was relatively quick, the shuttle though takes almost an hour each way. Reminded me a lot of California with that respect. Most of it was on dirt too, so bring a car that can handle a dirt road. The road was in decent shape though. Also note, there are rafting companies with buses going in and out so part of the issue is that the buses take up the whole road, so shuttling yourself is not a great plan unless you beat the rafts in.
I thought this canyon was super worthwhile. The scenery is the real draw. The rapids that were there were super nice, though a little sievy due to the limestone geology. But there just weren’t enough rapids to make that the reason to do the run. But as I said, the scenery however does make it worth it. We got off the river around 1 and said goodbye to our second group of Aussie friends, whose trip was ending in a day or two, and we began our drive out to Milford Sound. We had no plan on where to camp but once driving we came across Eglinton Valley and plentiful DOC camping. So we found a nice spot with its own beach, and we bathed in the cold creek before we pulled out our books and wine, and sat at the shore until the sun went down. What a nice afternoon ?
Also, for a little Lord of the Rings side note, this canyon was where Arwen called for the flood as the Black Riders chased him in the Fellowship of the Rings.
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- The first big is mostly just class I or flat. Sounds boring but the scenery is super nice! (and no that isn’t sarcasm)
- Red Rocks (III). The first rapid was in an obvious constriction where the walls tightened and the river bended right. We caught eddies on the left at the lip. The hole was meanest on the left and had a tongue on the right, so we went mostly right around the hole.
Back to mellow whitewater with spectacular scenery.
Rock Garden (II+). I don’t remember specifically where it was in this section, but there was one ledge. Other than that it was mellow.
- Mother (IV to IV+). At our low flow this section was just class IV, but I could see with more water the difficulty increasing. It is for sure the crux section and actually consists of a few rapids which are separated by only short “pools.” They all have names, but honestly I am not sure which one is which. I think some are also two rapids per the rafting map but seemed like one while on the water.
First AKA Squeez? (IV to IV+). This first one was the hardest. You can scout from river left or you can just follow on down. Mind the large sieve on the right at the very top. Enter center down a few small boofs and then ride the channel along the wall. Get ready for the hole at the bottom along with the pocket eddy just below it on the right.
Second AKA Anvil? (IV to IV+). This second rapid was super fun as well. It is a long s-turning affair. We entered center and swung a bit right. The middle of the rapid was a fun boof than then led to the right bend exit, which was a couple of punchy but small holes that you wanted to be left on to avoid the right wall.
Third AKA Toilet? (IV). The third is the hardest single feature of the set. It is a hole that is boiling up on the right wall. You want to make sure you clear through the hole. I boofed off the left curler.
Fourth AKA Oh Shit & Pinball? (III). The final sequence was a long one. It started off with a pinch where a boil formed off the left shore and pushed you right into an undercut wall. It wasn’t hard to stay off of the wall as long as you weren’t right. Below there was a small boiling straightway with small slide to exit on.
- Jaws and Sequel (III+). An easy move but not one to mess up. The right half of the river goes into a very large sieve. It is easy enough to just hug the left around it!
- Cascade (IV). You will see a tunnel on the right wall. If the water is not super low this is a nice option. The exit is a junky slide that you want to be right on to avoid the junky rocks on the slide. If it is low it is super junky. It was too low for us.
Mother-in-Law (IV). The alternate to the tunnel is to stay with the river bed and go left. The rapid started with a boof on the left over a somewhat sievy area. Boofing left avoided the danger though. Below was read and run.
Take-out: From Queenstown, head north on Gorge road for 4.5 km to the town of Arthurs Point. To access the river, just before the bridge over the Shotover, turn left and descend down to the beach at the water. To get to the rafting company, cross the bridge and immediately turn left.
Put-in: Head back out to the main road and turn left. Gorge Road turns into Arthurs Point Rd. Follow this for 1.5 km before turning onto Skippers Rd. This starts to climb steeply. Follow for 4.7 km before turning left onto the dirt road which actually maintains the Skippers Rd name… though it is very much a turn to the left. This is where the rowdy dirt road starts. It isn’t that rowdy, but it is one lane for the most park and trafficked by rafting company vans and busses. Follow this for 9.3 km down the super scenic road down into the canyon. After the 9.3 km you will turn left at a small fork to drop 100 ft down to the river.
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