Our crew had been talking about doing the Wairau for about two years, procrastination is not a new concept for us but features sometimes more frequently in the winter months. The crew had been getting a bit more serious lately though, with Andrew and me both proud owners of new creek boats, the impetus was there for us at least, to get this trip moving and we managed to suck-in a few others, most virgins to the Rainbow country. Anyway, its always a bit of a mission the Wairau, you have to collect the gate key and fork out $20 per carload these days and it's the kind of trip where the ubiquitous 'shuttle bunny' really comes into her own.
Album: Wairau Wanderings
Images from a spring trip down the Wairau River.(6 images)
My friend Sharon was keen on this idea when I floated it some weeks back, not familiar with the concept in its true guise, she had already rustled through her collection of fancy dress and found the rabbit ears she had been looking for just for the occasion. As luck would have it, she saved herself some embarrassment by forgetting to bring them on the day, I never did ask her if she still had the rest of the bunny outfit, - delusions of a certain men's periodical coming to mind.
Karen was also keen on the shuttle concept, with no illusions of it's true nature being; usually a long boring wait in the car while the boys have fun in the water! But Andrew had managed to convince her that this trip was different and would afford spectacular scenery and excellent vantage points to watch the action.
The other paddlers besides Andrew and myself were long time crew member Kerry, paddling his old and trusty (not) Perception 3D, relatively new recruit Chris from the UK and a warm welcome to Sekita new to Nelson from Jaffa land. Thanks to Chris for not to showing up us old hands with his advanced skills and thanks to Sekita, (not) for her smooth lines showing up how being trained by Kenny Mutton on Rotorua's Kaituna drops really has its advantages and exposes us guy's fancy moves as just superfluous showing off!
It's best if you take a high wheelbase 4-wheel drive, Karen I said before the trip, but adventure was a more interesting concept to her than being sensible, and good fortune was on our side anyway as the scree slope at the entrance to Hells Gate gorge was not rutted out, so we only had a few boulders to move along the way. Keep this in mind though as if its rutted out by the rains you are going to miss out on the best part of the trip, and that is the gorge section with the put-in at Coldwater creek.
The weather was not the best with cloud covering most of the mountains but thankfully not the one covered completely with snow that exposed itself at the put-in along with a scattering of snow on the ground. It wasn't freezing though so its into the gear and seal launch into the creek, bounce down to the main river, a couple of quick rolls to wake yourself up and were off!
Bit bloody low the water this trip, even lower than the last time I did it with the canoe club about five years back, 17 paddlers that trip, all in 3m plus long boats. The short boats lapped it up this time though and we only had to scout one tricky spot. More flow would make the gorge section a really cool run with lots of small drops and holes as the gradient is quite steep here.
The 'bunnies' had a great time checking our lines from the road above and shouting encouragement to Sekita, who, as said had by far the smoothest lines. Must get me some training from Kenny!
Soon were out of the gorge and into the class I-II section, the clouds lifted a bit and started revealing snow-covered mountains all around us! What an awesome river trip is this for scenery and grandeur! Chris was blown away, being from a 'flat' country, and kept bumping into rocks he should have missed, his eyes popping out as they focussed high above the water line. Even the horizontal rain and sleet couldn't dampen our spirits as I considered the $20 car fee an absolute bargain and a brilliant way of keeping the stingy types out of this pristine landscape.
We paused for a while at the wooden road bridge to warm up with hot coffee and food. The guys tried to light a fire but this idea was soon abandoned as we all huddled into the cars in our wet gear. Setting off again into a head wind with sleety rain was not exactly what I had had in mind, but somehow it wasn't too bad in contrast to what was turning out to be one of the best paddles for quite a while and so refreshing a change to the Buller area. The elevation was dropping all the time too with warmer air and less wind.
Soon the class III section began with much more interesting rapids to negotiate and take your mind off the weather. The low flow made for easy paddling with the main mission to find the best line to keep afloat and save pushing off rocks with your hands in the shallow bits.
There is a certain satisfaction sometimes in being the senior member of the team, especially when your mates choose not to trust your line but then end up on the rocks while you coast on by smiling. At least those extra scratches on their hulls will look impressive.
The penultimate rapid, Hamilton's Creek, with subsequent take-out point was soon upon us. The line was hard right but I led everyone into a safe eddy river left to allow for scouting and composure first as I recalled another recent failing to eddy out above it. So after a bit of leg stretching to a point where we could ferry across to river right, we one-by-one negotiated the first part of Hamilton's.
At this low flow it was only class III but would easily be class IV at higher flows. We all achieved the middle pool with ease with Sharon taking these great photos from the swing bridge right above the middle of the rapid. A less experienced paddler took an epic swim down a major rapid after the second part that winds around large boulders with plenty of eddying out spots.
Climbing up the steep take out, all with high spirits, we agreed to run the rapid again before packing up for the day. After a brief carry back up the road, we all had a great second run with Sekita finding the smoothest line again, boosting her confidence in the advanced water - Glenroy and Earthquake Mataki next on the agenda for you girl!
Great day out and highly recommended; can't wait to do it in higher flows. Sorry we missed you after at the pub in St Arnaud guys.