Canterbury Regional Council Flow phone 083 225 522, The Press river information or www.crc.govt.nz
The Rangitata Gorge has a long history as a Canterbury test piece. Like most NZ rivers things have changed over the years and the legendary hydraulics that used to devour fibreglass and UCCC paddlers more eagerly than a kid with a McDonald burger have changed, gone or been replaced. Higher skill levels and better kayak designs now make the Gorge a fun outing and attainable for strong intermediates.
Like many Canterbury rivers the upper section meanders in braids as the river twists its way out of the Alps towards the sea. If there’s no strong, persistent wind up or down the valley then it’s your lucky day (air pressure differences between the alps and the ocean are the engine that drives this annoying phenomenon). But unlike other Canterbury rivers, the Rangitata braids converge for a concerted attack on the last piece of greywacke bedrock that prevents the river from reaching the ocean.
In this short but fun gorge Glacier, Pencil Sharpener, and Tsunami lead into the first of the harder drops. In general the gorge is harder in flows above 100 cumecs as the moves are more pushy and there is less time. At lower flows things are a little stickier but there is plenty of time for recovery (or rescue). Rooster Tail, heralded by a good horizon line, prompts a scout from most first timers and is hardest at about 40 cumecs. The next rapid, The Pinch, has a number of named features but is essentially one rapid making up the main part of the gorge. Hells Gate and The Slot churn by and that’s about the end of it. After about another kilometre the gorge submits to the water and the river relaxes into endless braids to the sea — don’t go all the way there! A road on river right indicates the take out.
This section of the river has been rafted commercially since the late 1980s. Rangitata Rafts have their base on the road to the take out. They are friendly towards kayakers and you need to stop in to check the status of stock movements and closures in the area. If the rafters have spare seats on their shuttles they are happy to give you a lift (they normally depart their rafting base at noon). A phone call (03 696 3735) will tell you of departure times on the day. They raft the river up to 200 cumecs, but it has been paddled at much higher flows.
To get to the take out: there are a range of options for getting lost on the back roads of south Canterbury. If you are new to the area and travelling from Christchurch get yourself to the small settlement of Hinds on SH1 south of Ashburton. From here follow signs to Rangitata Gorge. Follow this road to Rangitata Rafts Base which is situated 500m before the seal turns to gravel. After visiting the Rafting Base continue on about 4 km to the river. This is a private road maintained by the farmer and Rangitata Rafts, so please respect the property and land you are on. Leave all gates as you found them.
To get to the put in: return to the junction with the Rangitata Rafts sign and turn right. Follow the gravel road 13km around the gorge. As the road starts to descend there is a gate and farm road on the right (Whiterock Station). Turn into this and after 200m you will be above the river.