First descent of the Adams River

Ian Wiseman (UK) describes a wilderness kayaking expedition - the first descent of the Adams river. This article was originally published at, 6 July 2000.

Startled from our early morning cup of tea by the screech of car tires on gravel. Kerry's car came sliding over the campsite towards us, boats bouncing on the roof. "Let's go," he shouted, "the helicopter is booked for ten, it's an hours drive away and we're already quarter of an hour late."

Jumping into vehicles we raced off up the road, stopping briefly to grab some pies. On arriving in the car park Duncan started to do a bodge weld repair on a big split in his boat while the rest of us pulled on wet kit to the sound of the approaching helicopter. Nothing like being properly prepared for a big trip. Continued after images...

First descent of the Adams

Album: First descent of the Adams

Images from Kerry Hoglund's submission on retaining access to the Adams (NZRCA submission)

(11 images)

This whole trip had started the night before, as all the best trips do, in the pub. We were having a drink with the helicopter pilot after a trip down the Arahura River on the West coast of South Island New Zealand. The conversation came round to unrun rivers in the area and how we would like to paddle one. The Adams River, a tributary of the Wanganui was suggested, hands went up around the table and that was that, it was all arranged.

We had a group of six paddlers made up of one New Zealander, Kerry; one Japanese, Maki; two Americans, Murphy and Liam; and two Brit's, Duncan and Ian. The six of us had all met while paddling in New Zealand.

We flew up the valley full of excitement and expectations, banked hard to the right, dived over a ridge and there it was: our first view of the Adams River. From the air the last rapid looked big and there appeared to be a nice variety of drops further up. We walked upstream from the drop-off point for about 1km before getting on. The water was flowing a very cold glacial grey around grey house- and even some hotel-size boulders.

The first rapid of note was a class V move with lots of water disappearing under stuff and an ugly hard-left boof to clear the bottom rock, the 'Coin Slot'. Kerry was keen for a shot and after ensuring that enough cameras were in place styled his way down. The next drop, the Witches Hat, was evil; undercuts, small fast channels and switchback turns. This time no amount of cameras tempted us in. The Luge and Duncin' Duncan lurked in the next section and then it was down to the 'Stairway to Hell', the first one we had seen from the air. This was a hideous looking series of siphons and rock-chokes with a hint of a line if you used a bit of imagination. We decided to run the last couple of drops, mostly because of the worrying lack of bank to portage on beyond this point. These proved to be fine and quickly led down to the confluence with the Wanganui. The paddle out was fun and relaxing, bigger water, playwaves and a few small holes in the evening sunshine.

The trip was amazing, a cool experience, knowing that you were the first kayakers ever there, and that the run ahead is completely unknown except for glimpses from the helicopter. It took us about nine hours in total to discover a nice class IV-V run in beautiful bush and mountain scenery. It was a real wilderness trip, with no sign of humans just the hoofprints of deer on the beaches. It is a trip that I will always remember, good paddling in an amazing place, one of those trips that after you think, "it's a hard life."

Trip Members: Kerry Hoglund (NZ), Maki Asada (JPN), Duncan Eades (UK), Liam Grant (USA), William Murphy (USA), Ian Wiseman (UK).

A proposed wilderness area including the Adams river would prevent kayakers from repeating this expedition, ever. For details, refer The Adams Wilderness Area and Proposed Adams Wilderness Area: NZRCA Submission.