Kākāpōtahi / Upper Kākāpōtahi


8-20 cumecs

visual/local beta

4-8 hours
Put in: 
Top gorge
Take out: 
Kakapotahi Road Bridge on SH6
Very tight, technical, committing, photogenic, sheer granite gorge.
Hot tip: 
A 'destination' river trip.

The spring floods of 2001 had much to answer for in the Kakapotahi. A large chunk of rock fell out of the wall into the tunnel rapid in the upper Kakapotahi and rendered it unrunnable. The river continued to be paddled by running right at the tunnel and portaging the choked off drop to below the tunnel. Who knows when the river will change again and be - well, all good?

The beautiful upper Kakapotahi is a fantastic kayak run, one of those places kayaks were just made for. It has seven drops, all of which are difficult to scout and have some consequences for blowing the line. Finding someone with prior experience is a good idea, especially if the river is pushing the upper end of the flow limit. About twelve cumecs is optimal and it requires rain to get to this level. The two middle drops are the crux. Run Postman’s Falls hard on the left. The drop at Air Mail isn’t too bad - just run down the middle, boof off the rock and clench your buttocks to squeeze between any rocks on the landing. It’s the lead in to Air Mail that has undergone many changes and takes more Kakapotahi scalps than any other part. Check it out for yourself - and yes the blocked off recirculating eddy does hold people for a long time.

Seek information on the run before you go - it traps a lot of timber and boulders are shifting all the time. Getting out of the canyon is an interesting exercise that will test your fern climbing and rope handling skills.

To get to the take out: from Hokitika drive 40 kilometres south to the SH6 bridge over the Kakpotahi River. Park on the south side, or head up the gravel road a short way to a gate on the left with an obvious dirt road leading down to a big paddock on a river flat - park here clear of the gate and road. To get to the put in: drive 500 metres south from the Kakapotahi and turn left up the Mikonui Forest Road (unsealed). One kilometer up this road is a gate and drive a further 7.5 kilometre to where the valley opens out (be careful at a Y-junction a couple of kilometers past the gate – stay on the right). Park in an open area just before the road meets the river. The first drop, Mail Box, can be scouted down a faint track into the bush on the left of the clearing that leads to an old bridge site high above the river. Expect a gradient of 40m/km in the first kilometre, easing down to 10m/km for the rest of the run. 
Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


Wales11's picture

Excellent boating