The Whakapapa, like many of the rivers radiating out from the Central Plateau, is a hidden treasure. It is well worth marking the two release days per annum on your calendar (http://www.rivers.org.nz/events/) and getting a team together for it. Plan an alternative river trip in case the release doesn't occur, which will be the case if there isn't a fresh in the river to bring the flow above the required sixteen cumecs. (Look for rain from the north-west in the weather forecast). Read about The Inaugural Tongariro and Whakapapa Releases.
The Whakapapa also runs when the rain is falling hard enough. Luckily it rains often and when it does the intake tunnel can’t cope with the extra water so it’s released into the river bed. This is the time to be on the Central Plateau and ready to go.
Once on the river the world as you know it is quickly left behind as you are swept around the first of many fern lined gorge corners. Most of the rapids on the run are in the ‘even gradient class III+’ realm and quite continuous and will keep you happily preoccupied. If you are taking a break, check out the spectacular stands of rimu forest, and keep an ear out for the shy whio (blue duck). You’ll know you are approaching the finish when a rapid drops away from you and seems harder than the rest of the run. It is. This last rapid under the Owhango bridge is a good half a grade or more harder and signals the end of the run.
Floods occur regularly on Central Plateau and the rivers get quite big and burly. The Whakapapa turns into a broiling freight train (and great fun) at around 100cumecs and can rise with startling speed (150 cumecs plus in two hours). Take this into account when choosing a team for a high water run as it is difficult to escape the gorge if anyone loses their gear.
To get to the put in: the road to the put in is signposted Whakapapa Intake and is off SH47, 7kms east of the SH47/SH48 turnoff to the Chateau. Follow the road to its end at the dam.
To get to the take out: find the small settlement of Owhango on SH4 between national Park and Taumarunui. Turn off at Owhango at the sign to the Whakapapa River. Drive 2.3 km on a gravel road down to the bridge.
Egarr_Comments: "hydro scheme