The Ruakituri River flows southeast from the Urewera National Park and meets the Wairoa River just above the Te Reinga Falls. The upper section of the river (from Mangatahae Stream to Papuni) has been paddled by Hawkes Bay paddlers for some years although it is not mentioned in Graham Egarr's description of the river. There has even been a chopper trip further up which took nine hours including a mandatory portage around the scenic Waitangi Falls. If you're into maps, check out NZMS 260 - W18 Waikaremoana.
After gaining local knowledge from Warren Hales and other Hawkes Bay Canoe Club paddlers we set out to run this "unknown" (to us) river. In a note to me, Matt Saunders from the Hawkes Bay Canoe Club described the upper section of the river as follows, "The Ruakituri is a short challenging run. Reminiscient of the Mangahao and Rangitikei Rivers, with reasonable gradient over papa slides and boulder gardens that require bank scouting. HBCC guys have paddled all rapids bar the crux rapid about #three (obvious) - has a mandatory portage, lead in has two undercut rocks. Have fun, the waterfall is a blast..."
How to get there
Travel west from Wairoa towards Waikaremoana on SH 38 until you get to Frasertown. Then turn right and continue until you get to the Ruakituri Valley Road and the Te Reinga Falls on the Wairoa River. There is a lookout across the bridge. After viewing these interesting falls head on up the Ruakituri Valley Road until you get to a bridge across the river at Erepeti (just past a golf course and just past the Papuni Road turnoff). This is the get-out for the class II-III section.
Go back to the Papuni Road turnoff and turn into Papuni Rd. At this point the river is on your left and the road veers away from the river. Further along, a road on the left will take you down to another bridge at Puhoro which can be used as the put in for the class II-III run down to Erepeti Bridge and/or the get out for a short class III run.
Continue on up the valley until you cross a ford and come to Papuni Station. This is the get out for the class IV section (leave your vehicle where you can see it from the river). This is also the put in for a short class III run (1 hr) down to Puhoro Bridge or a longer class II-III (3 hrs) down to Erepeti Bridge.
To get to the class IV put in, continue up the valley and note that the road leaves the river for a while. About half way along you get a view down to the river and you can see the early boulder gardens. After crossing the bridge on the Mangatahae Stream the road heads back to the river - this is the put in. Don't be alarmed - it is dead flat here. Seal launch down the grass bank and get ready to have some fun! It will take 2.5 to 3 hours easy driving from Wairoa to the put in.
When we paddled it when the river was clear, and recent rain meant it was not too low. The river needs some rain, but is paddleable at a range of flows. I expect that at low summer flows there may be more portaging while at high flows most rapids would be runnable but there would be some big holes. The lower class II-III section definitely benefits from rain and could be bony in summer. The gauge for this river is visual.
After half a kilometre of flat water there are several easy boulder gardens. These are followed by a very constricted rapid with a nasty looking chute. Paddle at your peril, we portaged this one. This is followed by several nice rocky rapids. The third major rapid is charaterised by the whole river disappearing into a rock sieve. Portaging can be accomplished from either bank. For the next 200m the boulder gardens are amazing with huge rocks and small drops. Scouting is essential and portaging is easy, we generally portaged on the left.
The boulders open out somewhat to several steep class III+ chutes and rock gardens as you make your way down to the waterfalls. Scout the waterfalls on river left and get your camera ready. You can portage the first one on the left but must run the second drop. We ran the first one hard left and the second drop middle right. Watch out for eels while you are waiting for the others to runs the falls!
After the adrenalin is flowing you can calm down in the deep gorge preceeding more class III+ rock gardens. A nice papa slide adds spice followed by more (open) rock gardens. The next feature is an elevated ledge on river right. It is an awesome sight but you need to back up and run the next rocky chute on river left going just to the right of another huge boulder.
Another half hour of class III boulder gardens brings you to Papuni. Expect this "short" run to take from 3-5 hours depending on flows, skills etc. From Papuni, there is a short easy class III down to Puhoro (about 1 hour). This run is right next to the road most of the way. From Puhoro there is a class II-III run to Erepeti Bridge which will take about 3 hours and has a couple of steeper rapids towards the end.
One of the reasons we suspect the Ruakituri is so seldom paddled, was its absence from NZ Whitewater. There is now an entry for this river in the 3rd edition.