Waiau / Lower Waiau (Hanmer Gorge)


< 150 cu, > 150cu III

Canterbury Regional Council flow phone 083 225 522 flow at Marble Point

2-3 hours
Put in: 
above Waiau Gorge Bridge, river left
Take out: 
Waiau River Bridge on Leslie Hills road
single braid, moderate volume river
Hot tip: 
good squirting when the flow is up a bit

A classic beginner’s trip, the lower Waiau’s proximity to Christchurch, ease of access (and exits if needed), fun eddies and small rapids make it very popular with paddlers of all types of floating craft. We used to run Canterbury University Canoe Club trips to the Waiau with eighty or more budding kayakers, using buses as the preferred shuttle vehicle.

The first break out, requiring a ferry glide, is the trickiest piece of water on the river. The river pushes into a bluff which has flipped a significant number of novice kayakers. At least from here things can’t get any worse.

Avoid bungy jumpers from the bridge as you float under it. For the first few kilometres the river flows through a shallow gorge. It opens out briefly then winds into a second gorge. Rapids are characterised by short sections of pressure waves with larger chunks of bedrock that might provide some grief for beginners. In higher flows the water will be more turbulent, especially in the gorge areas.

Immediately after the second gorge the river drops left around a large castle of rock in the middle of the river. This is known as the Sharks Fin- again, the cause of numerous nightmares for beginner paddlers. A couple of class I kilometres lead down to the bridge. Look out for and avoid willows on the last few corners.

To get to the put in: follow SH7 towards Hanmer Springs. Cross the Waiau Gorge Bridge and continue for a kilometre. Cross the Hanmer River and immediately turn down a gravel road on the left which heads towards the Waiau. Follow this to its end.

To get to the take out: head downriver on SH7 for about 15km to the Leslie Hills Rd turnoff. Follow this road 800m to the bridge across the Waiau.

It would pay to call into Thrillseekers base near the Waiau Ferry Bridge, or to ring them beforehand on 03 315 7046, to advise them that kayakers will be on the water. This is a recommendation from Maritime NZ.

Rankin, 2014: Hanmer confluence to Leslie Hills Bridge

Put-in: http://www.topomap.co.nz/NZTopoMap?v=2&ll=-42.579427,172.783522&z=14&pin...

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


andrew.yates's picture

Watch out for jetboats - in July '11 there was an incident with excessive speed with a group of 15 kayakers from the UCCC on the water, noone was hurt but the whole encounter was particularly dangerous. Jetboats passing at high speeds coupled with the possibility of a swimmer in the water, the potential for serious harm is high. Thrillseekers who operate the jetboats in Hanmer Springs should be contacted with a heads up that other rivers users will be on the water - (03) 315 7046.