Wairau / Hell's Gate


Best above summer flows. 10-20cu is bony III, but navigable; 30-40 is III; 50+ is continuous III to IV.

Marlborough Regional Council - Wairau at Dip Flat.

1-2 hours
Put in: 
Coldwater Creek
Take out: 
Boulder gardens with long class III rapids.
Hot tip: 
Road scout the whole section.

Put in near Coldwater Creek for a 3km section of steep, technical class III that pushes class IV in high flows. Below this section the river is flat and braided down to Schroders Creek.

The river can be scouted from the road on the drive in. The rapids are a series of 100m to 200m long class III boulder rapids which get pushier and faster as the flow rises. The water is usually crystal clear. A big flood turns everything into a continuous wave train with some meaty holes.

The flows in late spring are most likely to stay in the best kayaking range, which is 30-60 cumecs on the Dip Flat gauge. The flow here is 30-40% of the Dip Flat level. The river’s headwaters are far inland in a low rainfall area so it takes a big rainfall event to lift the flow in summer. If all the Marlborough rivers are high the Hell’s Gate section will be flowing.

To get to the take out: turn off SH63, between Blenheim and St Arnaud, at the signs to Rainbow Valley Ski Area. This turnoff is about 12km east of St Arnaud. Drive on this gravel road to the skifield turnoff.

To get to the put in: continue up the valley for a little under 10km to the Old Rainbow Homestead. Not far beyond the skifield turnoff is a locked gate. The road is open usually between Christmas and early April, but there is a toll of $25 payable at the old homestead. At other times phone Star Holdings Nelson 03 521 1838 and arrange to collect the key and pay the key deposit (some of which is refunded on return of the key).

You can drive over from Canterbury via Hanmer Springs past Lake Tennyson over Island Pass, in which case check with DoC Waimakariri Area Office to see if the road is open. If it’s closed you can still ask for access. Both roads are 4WD due to creek crossings. Camping is available at Coldwater Creek. Toilet and a nice spot to wake up in.

Hugh Canard
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: