Waikato River (Huka Falls)
|Difficulty:||Class V to V+|
|Flows:||30 to 120 cumecs (60 was a nice medium side of low). Mercury Gauge available here (select "Short Term Level") once on the page and select the flow level graph.|
|Gradient:||216 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Pool above the falls|
|Take-out:||Pool below the falls|
|Shuttle:||None, small hikes (quarter mile in and out)|
|Featured in A Wet State #122|
New Zealand 2016/2017 Day 1 Evening:
As it was around 5:00 pm when we left the Kaituna, I opted to ride with my new friend Caleb Roberts as I knew there was an inevitable crash to my energy level that was bound to hit as I had only arrived that morning into New Zealand. We got to the falls expecting to park outside of the gates, expecting them to close at 6, however the sign said that this day closed at 8 so we drove in further and parked at the falls themselves.
From the parking lot, you step out of your car and hear the roar of the river, and see the throngs of tourists turning to look at you with an eager and slightly concerned look upon their faces in expectation and anticipation of your assumed activity. To scout, you walk mere feet from your car to the bridge over the rapids leading up to the falls… for us, I breathed a sigh of relief that the flow had maintained at the “low” flow of 57 cumecs… or roughly 2,100 cfs. The day before it began closer to 3,500 cfs and rose while the guys ran laps to 4,200 cfs. I was excited for the lower flow as it reduced the stress level and made me feel more comfortable with my sleep deprived state. The last thing I wanted was to wipe out or worse yet, get injured, so early in my trip. Walking down to the lip of the falls the guys (so many, I didn’t get all the names, but Michael Fisher, Mikel De Royter, Phil Schoenhoff, Rhys Jensen-Jones, another Rhys, and several other guys and camera friends Adeline and Katia) gave me the lines and we set off to quickly gear up and get going running a few laps!
The river is short, consisting of 3 rapids leading up to the falls. The first rapid is the easiest and is basically just boogie down the left. The second is the weir and a place that has caught a few boaters… and would be a terrible place to swim. The drop is best run as far left as you can get and is a ledge maybe 4 feet tall, the hole at the base is sticky everywhere but significantly worse on the right. Just downstream is pencil sharpener which is a ramp to run down the middle, avoiding the large eddy on the left which is hard to escape at higher flows and the pocket hole against the wall on the right. Downstream you quickly enter the lead in to Huka Falls itself which is best run far left to avoid the worst of the hole at the base. With a big boof you can keep your head dry, but you can also smash your face on your boat as a few in our group found out. Also, make sure you tuck up as we had another pop a shoulder out by trying the “flying cross” technique out.
Once through the falls paddled 150 meters down the left short and look for the rope to climb your way up 20 feet to the trail above. From there, walk back up and ponder if you want to do another lap!
Previous: New Zealand 2016/2017 Day 1 Afternoon - Kaituna (Okere Falls)
Next: New Zealand 2016/2017 Day 2 - Rangitaiki River (Jeff’s Joy)
- Entrance (III). Once you start, you aren’t stopping. Enter this rapid on the far left (center of the far left channel). It is boogie. We then eddied out on the right.
Weir (IV to IV+). Just class IV, but the consequences are severe. I would really hate to swim here as you are almost certain to swim down the rest of the it. You want to enter center and drive left to boof the ledge as far left as you can. The hole is worse as you go further right, with the far right being really bad. One friend took a long surf in here that lasted a minute before working their way out. Scout this by looking upstream of the bridge before putting on. We then eddied out on the left.
Pencil Sharpener (IV+ to V-). Scouting this from the bridge (looking downstream) it didn’t look bad. A ramp with a big eddy on the left and a pocket hole on the right. Once dropping in you realize the ramp is big, dropping maybe 15 feet and the wave at the end packs a punch. Avoid getting stuffed in the left eddy, especially at higher flows, as it can be very difficult to get out of. We then caught an eddy on the left just below the bad eddy.
- Huka Falls (V). The main falls is next. Peel out of the eddy and stay left. There is a hole left of center at the lip that you want to be left of. Going right would end in a huge hole at the base. But, going left ramps out to a kicker (at low flows) and the least powerful and retentive spot of the falls. Take a stroke and brace for impact. A few people hit their faces, one person popped a shoulder, but others still were throwing freewheels off of it and were fine. For me, I found my second line with an over-boof stung a little but not bad.
Put-in: From Rotorua, take State Highway 5 South for 70 km. At the junction with State Highway 1, cross 1 and exit onto Thermal Explorer Highway. Follow this for 3.0 km before exiting left onto Huka Falls Rd. Follow this to the parking area. Note that the carpark does close in the evening at the hours posted. It is very expensive if you get locked in. From the carpark, hike across the bridge and up the river 100 yards to where you can drop down into the pool above the rapids.
Take-out: After the falls, paddle downstream 100-200 feet and look for a small rock shelf on the left with a rope to ascend the first tier of the cliff. This then leads to a trail which quickly gets you back to your car.
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