Whitcombe / Cropp River to Hokitika River, IV+ (V)
The Whitcombe is one the most popular trips on the Coast. The record to date is 47 paddlers flying to the Cropp put in during a busy day in early 1999. It carries more water than your average Coast steep creek so feels like a ‘real’ river.
It was very much a real river for Henry Whitcombe and Douglas Lauper in 1865 when they crossed Whitcombe Pass from the Rakaia and pioneered a route down the valley. They figured on an easy journey so were carrying meagre rations. Instead it took them 14 days from the top of the pass to the Coast, plagued by rough travel, rain, cold, lack of food and sandflies. They arrived at the Coast and stumbled north to find the Maori pa at the Taramakau. When they tried to ford the flooded Taramakau, Whitcombe was swept away to ‘the great New Zealand death’. Lauper later recovered his body - still attached to a boot poking out of a sandbank.
Recreational river use started with New Zealand’s first kayak (sort of) porn movie shot on 35mm by Gary Rae (on inner tube), Graham Boddy (in a dory), and Graham Hamilton rowing a single-person raft. This movie sparked a lot of the early interest in the potential of the West Coast.
From the put in at Cropp River confluence, the paddling starts gently with superb class III+ boulder gardens. The odd class IV+ rapid maintains interest and prepares you for Colliers Gorge. A swingbridge heralds the entrance to the gorge and the gradient increases to 31m/km, adding to the overall ambience. If this section is not your cup of tea then portage on the track up on the left side. Colliers is constantly changing and defies guidebook definitions. In the late 90’s it was class IV+, then it got easier for a time, then it went to big class V, then it eased except one drop - now?? Run it as you see it. It’s quite burly.
Below the gorge is one more class IV rapid before the Hokitika confluence, then an easy paddle to the take out just after the cableway. If you have members of your team that are class II+/III paddlers they can easily fly to the confluence and walk upstream to watch the show then paddle out.
To get to the take out: Talk to the helicopter pilot and see what take out spot is best to use. Most commonly, follow signs from Hokitika to Kokatahi. From here follow signs to Hokitika Gorge. Once the road turns to gravel park at the bridge just before the road climbs up and around to the Hokitika Gorge. Or, if the road is okay, shortly after this bridge there is a side road on the left posted Whitcombe Valley Access. Follow this to its end at the old hut site or any other take out/pick up. The road is very rough with one culvert that occasionally washes out. Allow at least an hour from Hokitika to pick up time. The normal put in is on a sandbar at the confluence of the Cropp and Whitcombe Rivers. But there are a range of other options - check with the pilot.