The Karamea River - Sheer magic

This trip report about three days on the Karamea by Alan Bell originally appeared in the Hutt Valley Canoe Club "River Rag" newsletter, February 2001 and an edited version appeared in New Zealand Canoeing, Autumn 2001.

The Spring 1984 NZ Canoeing and Rafting Mag contains an article about the Karamea by Doug Rankin. The opening line reads "The Karamea is magic!" Open Graham "the legend" Charles's 100 Great Kayaking Runs at page 112 - Karamea River, and it starts "The Karamea is sheer magic!" Well, with this lead up, it didn't take me long to say yes when Polly suggested I might like to join her group for a multi-day trip on this wilderness river. Continued after images...

The Karamea River - Sheer Magic

Album: The Karamea River - Sheer Magic

A collection of images from the Karamea, February 2001.
(11 images)

After a few emails and phone calls our group comprised Mike (been there done that) Savory, Robin (keen as, NZRCA pressy), Tony (confidently Overflowing) Ward-Holmes, Polly (fly that microbat) Miller, Miriam (wonder if I can do that again) Odlin and little ol' me, Alan (have another roll) Bell. Our fleet comprised Pyrahana Creek, Rocket (plenty of room), Overflow, Microbat 230 (three days in a leaky boat), and two Blunts (Necky rules ok).

It was a major exercise to get all of our gear into our boats as we intended to camp out and be self-sufficient. I took out the bulkhead footrest from my Blunt and replaced it with my 35 litre dry bag.

Day 1

On Saturday we choppered into Thor Hut and by 11:30am we were almost ready to embark on our 60-70km journey back down the river. The river was low and looked clear and pristine (although rocky). After a wake up roll, Polly found her Microbat was leaking - thank goodness for good old duct tape (again)!

From Thor Hut to Venus Creek (and Hut) the river was pretty low but still fun with awesome scenery - like tramping but paddling instead. The beech trees were close to the river and the sun was out. It was just great!

We stopped for lunch at Venus Creek and there followed a nice class III rapid. Further down we came to a good steep drop. Polly (the probe) just headed down. Alan did a great boof. Miriam came last but left it a bit late to avoid the rock at the bottom and was pushed upside down against it. Tony quickly ferry glided across to assist but Miriam was successful on her second roll attempt, no worries. This rapid was one of the few steep chutes in this section. Along the way we saw lots of good sized trout in the big deep pools which were formed by earthquake in the early 1900's.

After some more class III came easier water until we were paddling on a long flat lake until arriving at Leslie River where we headed upstream and walked to the Karamea Bend Hut - our camp for the night. With our gear hung up to drain, we got to organising tea. Polly whipped up an a tasty mixture of tofu and curry with lots of other healthy veges, etc. We washed it down with some "vintage" red. We all slept well.

Day 2

Sunday started with a 40 minute flat water paddle [from Bend Hut to Staple Creek rapid, then] past Roaring Lion Hut along the earthquake Lakes. Dead trees still stand along the edge of the lake - dead but still upright. It is quite an eerie place to paddle and very beautiful too. We passed some fishermen who had been choppered in earlier in the morning.

Soon we arrived at the crux rapid of the river - Roaring Lion rapid, and it sure was roaring even at this low flow. We scouted the first 100m of the rapid but it ended with a hole followed by a left turn to avoid a tree and sharp rock combination. Everyone decided to portage (river left) to avoid getting pinned or wrapped. Then we ferry glided to river right and did some more scouting. There were many different routes through the maze of huge rocks but at this level a lot ended in sieves and tight rock dodges. At this point Alan decided to portage the rest of Roaring Lion and took off on his epic journey. Meanwhile the rest of the team scouted and eddied their way down, past some huge rocks and eventually to the bottom of the rapid. While I didn't paddle it, I'd rate it as IV+ at this level.

Meanwhile the portage from hell ended with a nightmare when Alan accidentally let his Blunt slither down a steep bank and straight into the river unaccompanied. A wild few seconds ensued and Alan had to dive into the eddy and swim his boat back to shore. It was a scary moment seeing the Blunt careering down the rocks and realising that it would get into the river, especially when the team was still upstream!

We met up again and proceeded down through easier rapids and started to look for a suitable campsite. Mike was chief campsite spotter and eventually found a sheltered flat at Pyramid Creek. As we pulled our heavy boats up into the bush there was a series of loud high pitched screams - Polly had stepped into a wasp nest and got a number of stings. Luckily she soon came right. We got the flies up and Miriam's pasta and sauce went down a treat. It tried to rain but luckily it only drizzled.

Day 3

By the time we'd had breakfast and packed up camp, the rain started to get heavier. It stayed like that for most of the day. Miriam lost her drain plug so duct tape to the rescue again! We came upon a steep shallow chute with a partially blocked exit and decided to walk it - except for Robin who ran it while we all watched and took pics. No worries!

Ferris Creek rapid was the first named rapid of the day but required only one real move. There were some nice rapids down to Greys Hut where we stopped for lunch and a hot brew. The rain was now continuous.

Next came Holy Shit. This rapid formed quite recently and is aptly named. We ran the first half then got out to scout. The lines were pretty obvious and not too tight - much easier than those in the middle of Roaring Lion. Robin ran his line after a good look and then the rest of us gradually headed down.

Holy Shit turned out to be serious fun with Alan rolling twice and Miriam doing a neat kind of cartwheel move at the bottom. Tony and Miriam took a different line with a boof move - no probs although their boofs weren't too hot - all that gear in the boats! Soon after came Scarecase rapid and Graveyard which we boat scouted with Mike leading the way in his trusty creek. After a few more class III's and some lovely wave trains we hit the flats with the river gauge reading 1.14m. It was around 5pm on Monday afternoon. Our descent was complete!

So now I know why they say the Karamea is Magic and some of the memories which stick in my mind include the following: awesome scenery, big trout, isolation and wilderness; clear water, humungous rocks; earthquake lakes; steep rocky rapids between the lakes; drowned forest still standing - paddling through; friendly bush robins; making the hut or campsite by nightfall then a great tea in the billy; working as a team on and off the water; appreciating the skill and guts of other paddlers; Roaring Lion rapid - challenging to run and to portage! Holy Shit rapid - serious fun; getting intimate with the sandfly population; lunch at Greys hut on a wet day with a hot brew to warm you up; Polly's airborne antics; Mike eddy-hopping down Scarecase rapid; lots of class III, some class IV and a bit of IV+; tea at Last Resort.

I'd go again, no worries.