Waiau / Upper Waiau


needs spring run-off or a little rain

visual, or Canterbury Regional Council flow phone 083 225 522 for the flow at Marble Point

2-4 days
Put in: 
Maling Pass (helicopter, 4WD or walking)
Take out: 
SH7 after the Hope confluence
Helicopter or or 1.5 hours drive via Hanmer Springs to Lake Tennyson and the Maling Pass track
M31, M32
fantastic high country scenery, fun whitewater, a great weekend
Hot tip: 
Don't swim in the Narrows

It doesn’t come much better. A multi-day package of interesting whitewater, great mountain scenery and fantastic camping makes the Waiau trip both rare and hard to turn down. One of the delightful features of this trip is excellent camping on flat grass sheltered by mature matagouri, surrounded by a plentiful manuka firewood supply. The trip can be done in two days, but considering the shuttle and the pleasurable camping many parties prefer three. Labour weekend, in October, is ideal as spring flows provide good water.

The trip begins one of two ways: a helicopter trip to just above the Henry River confluence, or 4WD drive or walk from Lake Tennyson over Maling Pass. The walk is along a rough 4WD track and takes three to four hours depending on fitness and the efficiency of your carrying system. The first three hours paddling from the Henry River confluence involves a gentle float down a shallow stream — a chance to get used to a laden boat and absorb the views of Mounts Una and Faerie Queen in the surrounding Spenser Range.

Busy class III boulder gardens and narrowings between rock walls begin 1.5km below the Ada River confluence, near the Henry River confluence. About 2km from there, a lovely, long rapid known as Boulder Garden leaves many wanting for more. Unfortunately the river eases, but there are still many class III rapids to follow and plenty of waves and holes to dally over if flows are good. The whole section is boat scoutable except one drop on a left hand bend after a short gorge. As the river opens out and flows under the McArthur swingbridge it signals 6km of class II spiced with the occasional good wave down to the Narrows.

The Narrows has a legendary reputation in excess of reality. The entry rapids have changed dramatically since 1995 and several drops have disappeared completely. The hazard is that if someone swims in the 1.5km long Narrows it is difficult to get out of the gorge. The main rapids are right at the start. At low flows a weir-like drop, appropriately named The Weir, requires a move. At high flows this disappears and the entry is a churning mass of boils and buffers — a matter of keeping straight and paddling fast. There are some changes below the Narrows. A team of five from Blenheim all swam from an undercut rock below the Narrows — all gear was lost but, luckily, it was all recovered the next day from a sandbar by Tin Jug Hut. Very lucky.

Arguments rage about the best portage route, if this is your choice. I say the best bet is to stay on the rocks on river right and seal launch back into the gorge after the rapids. Some hardy souls crash up to the road to Tin Jug Hut, but that is a long haul.

After the Narrows the river is class II to II+ down to the Hope confluence. Many parties camp just below the Narrows (or use Tin Jug Hut) and have a three or four hour trip out the following morning.

To get to the put in: either fly by helicopter or drive from Hanmer Springs to Lake Tennyson via Jacks Pass. At the top bridge over the Clarence River, a couple of kilometres from the lake, the track heads off on the western side of the bridge. Follow this up and over Maling Pass and down to the Waiau. For 4WD access, obtain a key from DOC's Waimakariri Area Office.

To get to the take out: from the Hanmer Springs turnoff head west along SH7 for about 15km to Calf Creek. Find the small road which leads down towards the river and leave a car here. It is worth going down to the river as spotting the take out from the water without any prior knowledge is difficult.

Catchment: 646000 Egarr_Comments: "{bad desc} trips..rare Egarr_Code: 148.01 Egarr_Vol: SI Egarr_Page: 124 Egarr_Rec: 3 Egarr_Scen: 5 RUS_Code: 2530
Bruce Barnes
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


hugh's picture

As of Labour Weekend 2012 the long boulder garden has been changed by a massive flood. I think this will take a while to return to its former continuous Class III level. The entry section is now a lot harder as a ring of large boulders makes a picket fence river wide. At higher flows there are lines on river L. Good paddlers will find a steepish line on river R. You can scout both banks. After that I think it's a bit easier but still Class 3, easing.

polly's picture

Doc have made a great arrangement so you can log your details on their website, and receive the code for the gate via email. Go to www.doc.govt.nz and search for St James Vehicle Access or click on following link:


riverplay's picture

Nathan F. has the goods on the shuttle contact.

It was still pretty fast moving, you wouldn't be pulling over in a raft, but it was all on and the lines were pretty straight forward.

The road will be a issue in the future,yes.

It is a big river, the flow was more than i expected, maybe 20cumecs, it would be runnable most or all of summer.

I really hope i can get a trip a year down there, i love it.

hugh's picture

Thanks Deane. Couple of q's.

Who was the shuttle service? Got a contact name etc, please?
Was there calmish water between the drops in the Narrows? Or still real turbulent?

Yes I think DoC will have a problem with maintaining the Maling Pass road. Jim Stephenson was paranoid about it and you can see why.

EQ#2 stuffed our plans, and getting chilly at night now.


riverplay's picture

Sorry didn't get any got pix of narrows, the chockstone was jst achute on the left but maybe too narrow for a cata/raft. It was 1.55 at glenhope gauge when we came out, pretty low for the section from maling pass put in to the Ada but mostly still floating.

The first rapid in the tight gorge above the henry confluence was pretty choked up but still had a good kayak line.

The best part of this trip was finding Pool Hut, which is on true right a couple of km past the pennisula camping spot. DoC have built a new swingbridge at the mcarthur bridge site for the St James cycleway and this the best palce to take out for Pool Hut, from here walk 5 min up the track to a cool old musterers hut (4 bunks). Ideally placed to break up the trip to two days.

We found a shuttle service in Hanmer cost us $100 to drop us at maling put in and store our vehicle and pick us up from Hope take out. Awesome being able to drive in, but don't take the road lightly it IS 4WD conditions, not leagacy something with clearance.

Unbeliveably great river trip perfect for a overnight trip in our I.K's

hugh's picture

Nice pix on FB. Jealous about those big fish. Too late by now for this season I reckon. Got any more pix of the bigger rapids?

hugh's picture

Have a great trip. Very interested to know what the Narrows turn into at lower flows, especially the Chockstone (last drop)

riverplay's picture


I'm hoping to paddle this weekend with Nathan F. I'm also keen on doing a low water trip, so I'll try and get some images. Its kinda hard to interpret Ecan's flow sites for the upper waiau.

The last trip i did in sept 09 i said; "The flow was 1.75 on the Waiau at Gelenhope gauge, (100 cumecs at marble point gauge) when we came out. I reckon it was 35-45cumecs. An ideal flow. Not to high for The Narrows but enough water for the braided sections and boulder gardens."

David magnall said; "Most recent trip was the lowest flow of the 4 trips I've done (1.6 at Glenhope) but still worth it."

And now at glenhope ecan says its 1.69 and at marble point 59 cumecs?


hugh's picture

Hi - great news. I'm really interested in what the various features are like at summer flows. Can you post any pix, please? Either on this site, or FaceBook or Flixy or wherever??


davidmangnall's picture

OK Hugh and Polly, I confess that I did the Upper Waiau last weekend and didn't carry my boat in! No I haven't gone soft or gone over to the the dark side and will carry it in next time ... promise! The 4WD road is in very good condition ... you just need a vechicle with some clearance. Regardless of how you get in there, this is a classic trip. Most recent trip was the lowest flow of the 4 trips I've done (1.6 at Glenhope) but still worth it. Have fun.

mikenooney's picture

The 1 day option via the access road along Edwards river is really worthwhile.

Some photos and a short trip report here:

polly's picture

Hi all

As of 14 October 2010 the road over Malings Pass is closed as the road is very wet. The word in the eddy is that there has been heavy trucks driving over as they have built the St James cycleway. There has been a lot of snow up there and the road can't be used further until it dries out.

DOC are sympathetic to kayakers and we have an arrangement where kayakers can call DOC Waimakariri Area Office and they will give you combination to the gate in the week before your planned trip. They will also send you a copy of the Environmental Care Code.

For further road updates call the Area Office and be very nice to them.

riverplay's picture

The Maling pass road opens 1 October, hooray. thanks WWNZ.

After saying I was sitting on the fence I have fully jumped over it and agree that this is a huge milestone in opening access to a incredible run.

Call DoC Rangiora to get the combination lock code and pick up or be emailed a copy of the "care code".

I'll be there for opening w/e.

davidmangnall's picture

I didn't want to sound elitist or necessarily against people using 4WD access. My sentiments are I think it is a walk in that is within the capability of most people who would want to paddle it and that as a community, kayakers have lots of other things we should be advocating for before 4WD access over Maling Pass. Good on Hugh though.
If you see me walking in next year I won't be too proud to accept a ride!

jonathan's picture

DOC advise that access will be closed one day between the 28-30 February 2010 for stock movement from Maling Pass to St James Homestead. Contact DOC for details regarding access during those dates.

polly's picture

While I'm glad that there are some keensters who are able to maintain their fitness to a level where walking into a multiday trip with boat plus overnight gear is a walk in the park, I must confess I'm not one of them.

There are lots of rivers - particularly on the West Coast where walk in access is the only way in. There are special wild places where there is no road access, and in those cases I support shouldering your boat and taking on the mission.

There is a road over Malings Pass, and the upper St James is a highly modified, extremely beautiful, area. Using the access that is already there, this fantastic run will be accessible to a wide range of paddlers, including the opportunity to raft the section without the need for expensive whirly birds.

Using our wild rivers helps us save them – Whitewater NZ has successfully used the popularity of our outstanding rivers as just one tool when advocating that particular sections should be protected.

Having said all this I expect Dave that you’d be most unlikely to see many other parties out on the river – the Upper Waiau will remain an wilderness experience for those who have the skills to paddle it.

Thanks again to Hugh for making it possible for a wider range of paddlers to experience this amazing run.


davidmangnall's picture

I've done the Upper Waiau each spring for the past 3 years and each time have carried my boat over Maling Pass for a 2 day 1 night trip. From this experience I would not support 4WD access over Maling Pass. The walk isn't that bad and the paddling easily makes up for 3-4 hours of toil. Lets keep the adventure alive in the paddling community where we can. The Upper Waiau is an easily accessible run for intermediate paddlers with a real high country wilderness feel to it. It really is a fanatastic multi-day trip with some great whitewater.
4WD access would spoil it for those of us who don't mind a bit of grunt to get into the back country. If you need to drive to every river you paddle, stick to the Hurunui or Buller!
I'd rather DOC put its resources into something more important than maintaining 4WD roads in the back country.
Come on ... your legs were made for walking!

hugh's picture

Thanks Deane

Glad to see you're still paddling nice rivers as an amateur if no longer as a professional.

I'll post an attachment of the submission to DoC that I wrote on behalf of WWNZ and my local club, so you can see what we've said. If you have any further thoughts about this, let me know.

We are keen to see responsible 4WD access as opposed to the irresponsible kind. The concern has been to keep the cost of access affordable, and heli access up there is very expensive due to positioning distances, and we don't have the super fast turnarounds that Bruce D has perfected. There is always the walk in option, but that really is a bit tough for any raft or raft-supported trips, or for those trying to squeeze the trip off in a weekend, as you lose half a day.

The get out you used is the best option, so I will talk to Glenhope and Glyn Wye and see if we can't get a couple of phone numbers. There was a willow tree blocking the access at Labour Weekend which we were prepared to deal to with a chainsaw but a communications glitch meant we paddled more of the Waiau than planned!

A big thanks for posting your experiences on this Forum. If you have any pix, please email them to me at <canardparadisenetnz>>


riverplay's picture

I along with 5 others walked into the Waiau via Maling Pass last weekend. We had two double inflatable kayaks (IK's) one single IK and one old schooler in a flip stick.

The flow was 1.75 on the Waiau at Gelenhope gauge, (100 cumecs at marble point gauge) when we came out. I reckon it was 35-45cumecs. An ideal flow. Not to high for The Narrows but enough water for the braided sections and boulder gardens.

Hugh you're right, world class white water, I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. I reckon that the short gorge at camp mound and the middle section of the narrows would probably be grade 4 at all flows, especially given the remoteness. Epics abound up there!

The hike took us 3 ¼ hrs including lunch at the pass. We carried 115lt dry bags with boats/kit/ camping gear the heaviest load probably 25-30kg, bloody uncomfortable! We saw 17 other people which surprised me, fishers, hikers and 2 mountain bikers.

After having done it, I kinda think I'm sitting on the fence regarding 4WD access, whilst the walk was really hard, it would be a shame to see more people in there especially bogan 4WDers. It would definitely change the whole feel of the Upper Waiau experience. We'll see how that pans out...
We took out by portaging up stream about 300-400m from the confluence with the Hope. There is a gate off the road to a good parking area. When we took out someone from Glenhope station turned up having driven a tractor across the river, He said he would prefer to be rung if you want to use this access (even though he also admitted that the land at this point was Glen Wye stations'. Be prepared that this gate could be locked.

Anyone thinking of doing it, I highly rate this trip, definitely one of the best multi day white water trips in the south island, very Clarence like geography, geology, flora and fauna but with challenging rapids, the pain of Maling Pass is almost gone....

riverplay's picture


is the legal access still the same as of today as far as vehicle access over Maling Pass? Is it all 4WD track to the river?


Deane Parker

hugh's picture

Hugh Canard

Whitewater NZ is currently in a process to secure vehicular access to the Upper Waiau. Two such vehicle (4WD) tracks are potentially available - Maling Pass and via the Edwards River. A final DoC Management Plan will come into effect by July 2010.

WWNZ ran a trial trip at Labour Weekend 2009 with a DoC observer. All on the trip agreed that the upper Waiau is one of, if not the best two day trip in NZ. It's certainly unique in Canterbury and New Zealand, and it's up there with the Landsborough, Waiatoto and the Mokihinui two day runs. The rapids are long and varied. I think it's a world class run, and we need to ensure that not only that it stays that way, but also that we can access the run without helicopters, and be able to catch the flows at any time of the year.


1. A wire fence near the Ada confluence will be lifted by DoC shortly. It's on a Grade 1 stretch and is very hard to see, but easy to avoid.

2. A derelict wire suspension bridge - easy to see, but harder to avoid in higher flows just you emerge onto a wider section approaching Glenhope Station and the State Highway. Local paddlers are investigating the legal status and who should be reponsible for removing this hazard. This bridge is easy to see but may be a real hazard in high flows/strong winds. The easiest path is near the L bank.