Kawarau / Nevis Bluff


90-400 cumecs

Otago Regional Council flow phone 03 479 6439, Chards Rd gauge

60 seconds (to the b
Put in: 
At the top of the rapid
Take out: 
Victoria Bridge on SH6
2 km
Huge, huge, huge
Hot tip: 
Try some reinforcing on your spray deck!

This run is stupendous!! As a sure sign of the times and the speed of change in this sport Nevis used to be the pinnacle of NZ whitewater but has become a regular run for Queenstown locals and visiting hard people. It still continues to change and it is difficult to say whether it has become easier or not - it's still big and it's still impressive. Have fun and be safe.

Nevis Bluff came into existence when the Kawarau river carved its way around a particularly tough piece of bedrock. As people moved through the area early in the twentieth century the road was established and the bluff had to be dealt with. Blasting and road cutting saw huge amounts of rock tossed into the river creating the rapids we know and love as Nevis Bluff.

The rapids have a chequered history: in 1980 a young paddler from Nelson, Chris Moody, attempted the rapids in an old fibreglass kayak. This attempt might have been successful had his trusty old boat not broken up around him. He apparently swam the rapids and finished up with the cockpit coaming hanging like a hula hoop around his waist. In the 1981 South Island Recreational River Survey, Graham Egarr noted: "the rapids are unnavigable and exceedingly dangerous". Then in 1983, US kayaking guru Rob Lessor made an attempt. Having seen the rapid and heard the rumours, he was dressed in two life jackets as he pushed into the current. He did, however, put in below the first drop, thus eliminating the first two moves. The rest of his run was successful.

In July 1984 the gates at the Kawarau Falls bridge were closed for an assessment of the recreational, visual, and environmental impacts of hydroelectric development involving lowering the Kawarau's flow. The flow was reported to be 40 cumecs (lower than any recorded natural flow). Greg Bell and Gordon Raynor paddled the whole rapid and Tony Marcinowski put in after the first drops. It is interesting to note that these paddlers, talented as they were, had chosen to prepare for the run in the fashion popular at the time which was probably attributable to their success:

"Probably a kind of sixth sense telling me I was in a strange location bade me regain consciousness. A primeval survival instinct prevented me from yet opening my eyes. I was too frightened to move lest I disturbed the timpanist in my brain. My mouth felt like a small creature of the night had used it first as a latrine then as a mausoleum. Slowly, I opened my eyes; a big white thing stared down at me; I'd seen one before, but not from this angle. Over a bit further I spied a shower cabinet and some toothbrushes. Terrific - I had spent the night in the bathroom. Slowly, I arose and made my way to the lounge. I extricated my watch from a cup of cold tea - it was still early. The next thing I heard sounded very much like a bellowing hippo "C'mon-let's go paddling"....." - NZ Canoe, Rafting magazine No.31, 1984


Through 1985, 1986, and 1987 many came and some went, but nobody could piece together the whole task. Terry Pairman and Rick McGregor, Stu Allan and Peter Kettering put in and paddled from below the first drop. Brian Parkes was immortalised on national television when he made an attempt, but got eaten in a rather large wave/hole and swam (underwater for some way).

The decade changed and Mick Hopkinson was in his fourth. He had been watching, dreaming and running this rapid in his mind since he first saw it. The flow was excellent (around 90 cumecs) and the rapid looked good. So, on August 24, 1990, Mick pushed off into the current and made the run in his characteristically clean, efficient style. Nevis had compromised. Pat Deavoll followed a couple of weeks later with the first female descent - in a slalom boat! It's had many descents since then but the biggest flow must go to Bill Thomson and Eric Bradshaw in Nov 99 who checked the flow afterwards at 620 cumecs!

For those who dare, or care the put in is right above the rapid or you can paddle down the couple of kilometres of flat water from the bottom of the Dog Leg run. The take out is at the Victoria Bridge, 2.5km downstream.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: