Kaituna Gorge

Mike Dawson describes a heart-pumping trip through Gnarly Gorge on the Kaituna.

Dyl and I have always been keen to go down the Gnarly Gorge section after we were told stories of a narrow gorge so thin a raft couldn't get through, with continuous whitewater for ages! We hiked into the Awesome Gorge take-out and walked down the river to check out the entrance drop and scout the initial 400m where the danger of log jams is known to be present. We spent five hours abseiling down the gorge, and were impressed with what we saw.

The gorge looked relatively clear from the top apart from one log at the top which looked like you could paddle around it, if you had a good line off the first 3-4 m waterfall. The next day we went to find some other people to run it with us. After showing Andi Uhl the photo of the log he wasn't too keen anymore, and Mikey Abbot and Allan Ellard didn't make it. Finally we talked to Kenny who was keen to hit it. We raced down Okere Falls, Trout Pool and Awesome Gorge, jumped out to have a look at the log. It looked good so we committed.

We floated down around the corner when Kenny yelled out something to us and disappeared off the drop, Dyl followed about 10 meters behind and I charged last. After that first drop I managed to stop briefly in an eddy to check out the waterfall and the gorge. It lived up to its reputation. It was massively deep, dark and mysterious. I turned and charged down after Dyl. As soon as you go off the second drop there is no stopping untill the bottom. The river races around corners, and keeps dropping at a crazy rate. The gorge walls continue up higher and higher until it is almost dark at the bottom of the gorge. There are heaps of drops in this section, including a surprise weir that almost caught Dyl.

The feeling that you get as you drop in is awesome. You are totally committed and have no real idea what's around the corner and you can't stop and have a look! The first 400m is followed by heaps of other unscoutable, unportageable rapids before the first take-out, otherwise you can carry on for the mammoth trip all the way down to Paeangaroa.