Ōkuku / Lees Valley to Whiterocks


20-60 cumecs

Catchment Board gauge at Whiterock Downs (generally 1/3 flow of Ashley River)

4 hours
Put in: 
Lees Valley via Okuku Pass road or Lees Valley road
Take out: 
Taaffes Glen road (Whiterock Downs farm)
37km 4WD track with fords (Okuku Pass)
Technical, several gorges, pool-drop rapids
Hot tip: 
Watch for the edges of those fords

The Okuku River is one of the best technical class IV runs in Canterbury. Similar in character to the Upper Waiau and Ashley rivers, the Okuku only flows in extended periods of SE rain in Canterbury, the heart of winter, or during snow melt in August/September. Despite the usually low temperatures, and the need for a 4WD vehicle plus driver, the Okuku is well worth the effort. A scenic run with several nice gorge rapids, the river builds up to where the south branch joins in to produce an excellent last 7.4 km stretch which drops at 13.5 m/km and contains several class IV - V rapids depending upon river flow on the day.

Soon after the start from the Okuku Pass road put in is a nice class III rapid which gives the paddlers an indication of what lies ahead. The next 8 km is a mixture of class II/III rapids with some good play spots. The river is reasonably flat and wide at this point, and paddlers should encounter a stock fence that runs across the river. Be wary because in high flows the fence can be difficult to see – you don’t want to find it accidently . There is another one about a kilometre downstream. The volume and gradient increase just after you pass a hut on the right side and the river enters an excellent class III, tree lined gorge. This gorge is prone to trees snagging in the river, especially after high winds or heavy snows. It finishes with a large pour over drop on a left hand turn in the river. From here on is the best section of the Okuku with the south branch entering on the right to improve the flow. There are some class IV+ drops which may require scouting. The second of them is scouted or portaged on the right. The last few kilometres is fun, continuous class III with many large hydraulics to keep you on your toes. You will see the river flow gauge on river left and then the take out and road from Whiterock Downs is abvious on the same side.

To get to the take out follow the Whiterock/Okuku Pass road from Loburn until turning left into Taaffes Glen road. Permission and the current state of the Okuku Pass road is obtained from the last farm house on the left at the end of this road. The take out itself is a further 1 km on farmland just where the road gets close to the river.

To get to the put in return to the road junction and head up the Okuku Pass road. A map (M34) and 4WD vehicle is recommended to follow this road. An alternative but much longer route can be taken to the put in via the Lees Valley road on the west side of Ashley Gorge.

Neil McKeegan
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: