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Wairoa / McLaren Falls to Powerstation, IV+-V

Average: 4.5 (4 votes)


class IV+ 14 cumecs, class V >14 cumecs
Under McLaren Falls Bridge
Put in: 
McLaren Falls bridge, 1km off SH29
Take out: 
Ruahihi Powerstation
Technical, tight, fun bedrock gorge.
Hot tip: 
A classic in the old and modern idiom.

The Wairoa (meaning ‘long water’) is the largest watershed into the Tauranga Harbour and and is formed by the merging of the Mangapapa and the Mangakarengorengo just above McLaren Falls. It drains a number of smaller rivers and streams all of which offer exciting paddling when levels are high enough.

The Wairoa would have been dammed for all time if not for the Kaimai Canoe Club who, in 1975, opposed the plans and were granted a concession for a controlled release on 26 days/year of 14 cumecs and in doing so set valuable precedent which has been used in other situations. Contact the Waimarino Adventure Park for any advice regarding flows, dates and times.

100m into the run is ‘Humpty Dumpty’, a fun little play spot and a great place to warm up. Flush out of the HD pool and you launch into Mothers Nightmare with a tricky entrance and 50m of confusing pillow rocks. Run the final drop hard right. A pleasant pool leads to a class II even gradient rock garden with some good play holes. Below here is Double Trouble and Mushroom. Another pool leads to the top of the Devils Elbow – a slightly more complex rapid with a few moves to make before the final wheel or boof over the bottom hole.

This puts you in the pool above the Waterfall and Rollercoaster rapids, home of the annual Wairoa Extreme Race and fun place to hang out watching all manner of good and bad lines through the rapids. Both rapids are easy to portage if you get there and don’t feel up for it.

The Roller Coaster has a couple of entry options including a sneak route for first timers, but most of the water, and paddlers, go down the central line into the Cauldron. The lines can be scouted from the right using the ropes to access the viewing/photography ledges. Most head into the Cauldron and make the ‘carpark’ above the final drop. There is a nasty undercut wall about 30m below the rapid and right in the runout zone – avoid it at all costs. If you blow it there is a ‘save yourself’ rope hanging from the cliffs above.

The gradient eases markedly from here down through the 200m ‘rock garden’ to the top of the slalom site.

It is possible to access just this lower section through Brown’s farm over a well maintained track and there is a $2/person/day fee.

Either take out by the Kaimai Canoe Club’s clubrooms or continue another kilometre to the Ruahihi Power Station take out. This section includes a couple of class II-III rapids, a great rock splat wall and a 2m ledge drop.

To get to the put in: Find the signposted turnoff to McLaren Falls on SH29 about 25km southwest of downtown Tauranga. Drive down to, and across the bridge then another 100m at the top of the rise. Put in on the right side about 30m below the bridge behind the power-house.

To get to the take out: Drive about 3km back down SH29 to the Ruahihi Power Station and park in the paddock available – (gold coin admittance fee – please pay).

McLaren Falls is changed markedly after floods in 2004/5 and is now run regularly, though not always successfully. The ‘must do’ run is the link up of the Ngamuwahine/Mangakarengorengo/Wairoa.

The Mangakarengorengo is a left bank tributary ing the Wairoa just upstream of the McLaren Falls Bridge. This is a fun class IV, with one section V known as Little Huka. This run needs plenty of water around.

The Ngamuwahine crosses under SH29 10km north of the Wairoa put in has a fun class IV run when there is water around. Put in about 2km up Ngamuwahine Rd and take out at the SH29 bridge of the same name or link to the Mangakarengorengo and on down to the Wairoa for the ‘must do’.

In high water there is also a short but very scenic class III run on the Opuiake from Old Soldiers Rd to the top of Lake McLaren.


Catchment: 85000
Egarr_Comments: (Hunua Falls) {also 3063!!}
Egarr_Code: 138.01
Egarr_Vol: NI
Egarr_Page: 114
Egarr_Rec: 4
Egarr_Scen: 3
RUS_Code: 3025
Rob Worledge - first descent of Roller Coaster on the Wairoa (via Sean Bellamy)

NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 
Graham Charles


Sebracorn's picture

Such a sick river! I ran the grade 3 as my second (after a beating on Kaituna) and I even got a dry lap in. 10/10 recommend it as your first grade 3

Mike Birch's picture

Terry Lasenby said:
We had two pinings at the Wairoa yesterday. First one at Mothers Nightmare where a lot of people have had trouble since flood changes. Luckly paddler got out immediately but the boat was trapped and totally submerged until water level dropped after 4pm. This spot is way more dangerous than it appears to be when water is flowing and I am concerned that it is a death trap waiting for a victim.
Second spot is the small chute against the right wall just below RollerCoaster chicken chute entry. There is no longer enough water going through here to stop a boat from wedging on the bottom. Again paddlier was able to get out but boat was damaged and it had potential for being much worse.
So we are still learning about the new Wairoa and I suggest continued caution.

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