The West Coast of the South Island is a kayaker’s paradise and I’m lucky enough to have tucked away in my extended back yard. Walk in's, drive in's, fly in's. Big volume, steep and tight. You name it, the coast will probably have it...
Despite a busy season so far teaching kayaking in Murchison I have managed several great trips down to the ‘coast’ for some time out to convening with Mother Nature.
My West Coast season started out with a few mellow trips down the Whitcombe just to get everyone back into the swing of things. With that under the belt a New Zealand Kayak School (NZKS) headed down to take a look at a river called the Waitaha.
This run is and amazing day out with some of the harder paddling on the coast tucked into a big days paddling and adventure in some classic NZ bush.
Matt Shearer, Mick Hopkinson and Zak Shaw made an early departure (5.30am) from Murchison and meet me in Hoki to continue the drive. Pies and red bull later we were heading south in Matty’s rig, destination Waitaha.
A short heli ride to the put-in revealed rapid after rapid of hard committing white water all stacked together to make for a big day out. The Waitaha doesn’t feel as committing as the Upper Hokitika section but it certainly packs a punch with its relentless hard rapids to make sure you’re on your game.
With Mick and Matt joining Zak and I at the put in we shoved off into the current and headed on down stream. Due the continuous gradient we picked and planned our way down stream through the maze of boulders and rapids. The boulder gardens made for great tight and technical paddling. I came unstuck early on in the day with an ambitious probe (paddling something first to figure out the line). After running a tight slot into a drop I landed in the pool at the bottom and was pushed to the left. This was all well and good, but I was planning on being on the right. Plan B, try and paddle back right ASAP but the Waitaha had different ideas. I found myself pushed up onto a rock and subsequently capsized and preceded to run the drop pushed onto the back of my kayak. Unfortunately the rapid was shallow resulting in me taking a head shot and leaving part of my knuckles on a rock back up-stream. Bleeding and battered I rolled back up at the bottom and paddled into the eddy. Some times when you play you get hurt.
For some reason Mick and Matt elected to walk around that drop… I wonder why.
Things continued to go pretty well after that except Mick’s outer-boat experience on a tricky double drop. With gear and paddler back together we continued of our trip down stream.
With all the amazing and challenging white water around it’s easy to forget where you are. Tucked deep in the Southern Alps the Waitaha works its way toward the Tasman Sea surrounded by amazing polished schist gorges and house sized boulders all settled amongst pristine New Zealand bush.
After about two hours on the water we meet up with another team and good mate Dave Maurier of California. We caught in them in an amazing bedrock gorge with three big classic rapids, one of which is the legendary Cave Rapid. Ohhh, scary stuff. With lines scouted and safety set we made the moves and continued on down stream in search of more west coast goodness. After four hours on the river the riverbed narrowed and dropped into the reaches of the stunning Morgan Gorge. This is the place where the wild things live. With a great drop and eddy beckoning we resisted the call of the Morgan Gorge knowing that just around the corner was more action that we were willing to take on. There is a 1-3 hour mandatory portage around this section of wild water on an old DOC (department of conservation) track.
Emerging from the bush is straight back into some pretty stout class IV paddling before the river finally relents and gives way to wide open riverbeds and west coast farms.
Currently the Morgan Gorge is under-threat with a planned hydro scheme. Westpower is proposing a 20MW hydro scheme at the exit of Morgan Gorge. For more on this check out rivers.org.nz and Zak Shaw’s passion4adventure.blogspot.com