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October 5, 2006

Buller Source to Sea


Last year Zak and I gave the Source to Sea on the Buller river a bit of a nudge. This had been something I had wanted to do for a few years but the timing hadn't quite come together with the right water levels, gear and paddling partners.

So sitting in Dave and Clare's Hokitika residence after a day on the Blackball with Mick the idea resurfaced. The forecast was appauling. Rain and more rain over night and then clearing sometime the next day. Perfect. All the rivers were pretty big, includin the Buller. Perfect.

The Buller River (Kawatiri) winds its way from the source at Lake Rotoiti down through the Upper and Lower Buller gorges (funny that) until it spews out into the Tasman Sea 170 odd km later.

After talking our way into a couple of sturdy sea kayaks (sturdy is seakayak lingo for heavy and slow) we loaded our new steads onto the roof racks and headed back to Murch through the driving rain. Arriving close to midnight we were pretty much spent and so crashed out asap......


5:30am seemed like the right sort of time to get up when one is attempting a source to sea. I recall Dave and Grum getting going pretty early so it seemed to be the logical thing to do.

We managed to talk Jess (good on ya!) into dropping us at the lake so we could get going some time around sunrise.

With boats packed and rough meeting times made - sort of, we pushed off into the mist that hung over the lake. 7am, cold, wet gear, in a sea kayak on a lake. Not bad for a couple of white water hoons.

We had in our minds that we'd like to beat the time that Dave Ritchie and Graham Charles had set on their source to sea (first ever trip in one day). 15 hours and 15 or 30 or 45 mins.... We had a rough idea.

Grade three in a sea kayak is a little bit different, especially when you decide to make it a little harder by not having the rudders in the mix. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was concerned about getting dehydrated on the paddle so made sure I keep the fluid levels up in the first part of the paddle.


Three toilet eddys later I gave up on the hydration idea. I'd have a drink when I got to Murch, our first target.

As we paddled down we counted the tributairies off in our heads, more water, faster, not so cold and wet. Perfect.

Granity section on the Buller was to be our first crux section on the river. With the Buller running at around 300 cumecs there it was big and bouncy. Deciding it was too easy I managed a flat spin in my sturdy sea kayak just to up the anti (later Zak would replecate the move...)

From there it was a very quick and bouncy trip to the motorcamp in Murchison. We raced through all the sections that we would normally spend a few hours on. A quick cellphone call to Jess "we're hungry and cold and wet and soggy, did we mention cold?" had 'emergency milo' on the way. After 45mins of delaying the inevitable and convincing a few poly tech students that yes we were paddling on the buller in sea kayaks and that yes we were trying to get to westport we hit the water.

Although we were trucking along at great pace already we were looking forward to the contributions the matakitaki and the matiri would make to the Buller's flow. More water = faster = happy sea kayakers.

O'Sullivans rapid was suitably big, bouncey and intimidating (yes, even to now seasoned sea kayakers) with massive laterals kicking off the river left bank and had us avoiding the bigger stuff running the inside.

The Maruia had backed the Buller up to almost O'Sullies bridge. House sized boils and massive surging boil lines keep the focus until the we hit the crux rapid of the run.

Ariki Falls doesn't exist at high flows but the constrictions in the gorge below make for some very stout water. The lead in has a big lateral kicking in from river left which is easily punched in a long boat. From there moving right and keeping the boat straight through a series of compresion waves and then start easing back left trying to avoid getting nudged into the terminal eddy on true left...

From here we hade pretty much flat water between us and the tasman sea. The Buller Earthquake section was washed out so all we had to do was put out heads down, switch off and paddle for about 4 hours. With about 20km to go the sea breezes kicked in to add a little more challange. Awesome.

By the time we made it too westport it was staring to get a little late in the day. Paddling towards river mouth I was alittle disapointed when I (thought) saw small surf. What an anti-climax....... Cut forward 10min and I was sitting out the back watching big mean heavy mean six-seven foot mean (did I mention mean) waves thunder towards to beach and our final destination. I managed to pick a less mean 6 footer and get only pounded, flipped and dragged to the beach. I say less mean because after 15min Zak built up the courage to pick one up and was absolutely distroyed all the way to the beach. Alarming at first and then funny, he did (or atleast the surf did to him) things I have never seen done in a sea kayak before.


Tired, sore and hungry we dragged our ruined bodies up the beach to the road and wait for Jess to pick us and wisk us back to the comfort of a shower and bed.

170km + of paddling. Source to sea on the buller in the fastest time. ever.
10 hours 30mins. Good shit