Hollyford / Marian Creek


Running clean and looking low in the first section


3-5 hours
Put in: 
Marian Creek swingbridge
Take out: 
Gunn's camp (check with the camp manager that it is OK to exit via the camp)
NZ Topo D41, D40
Steep, tight, technical
Hot tip: 
The closest thing in NZ to roadside hair boating. Many people rate this THE premier trip in NZ
One of the premier runs on any Kiwi whitewater tour the Marian Creek run rates very highly. Crystal clear water in the shallows, deep green in the pools, steep challenging rapids requiring a variety of complex moves. All this against the phenomenal scenery and backdrop of the northern Darran Mountains. It’s no wonder paddlers from all over the world consider this stretch of class V water one of the best in NZ.

It does need a little water to bring out the best and cushion some of the steeper rapids so catching it on the drop after rain is best.

A gentle warm-up for 1.5km leads to the first and longest gorge with more than a dozen solid class IV+ to V rapids. If you can find someone who knows the river you will knock hours off your trip time. The rapids are hard to boat scout as large granite boulders and gradient conspire to restrict visual inspection to small sections at a time. If in doubt – scout. The gorges trap lots of wood which shifts regularly so always factor the ‘what’s around the corner’ bits into the equation. This run has seen its fair share of pinnings and entrapments through poor route choice or just plain stupidity.

A short easy section after the first gorge allows time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Two shorter gorges follow. They both have rapids which may require portaging or opting for the ‘sneak route’.

The last gorge has a rapid which makes the ‘make my day’ class. Most go for the easy portage along the developing track just in the trees on the right side. This rapid has developed a colourful history. In 1998 Ollie (from Wyoming) tried to run it and went on a caving expedition under a big rock but lived to tell the tale and rates this beating as his best/worst ever. His boat was never seen again. During the 2002 season Alex Podolak from the USA put together six ‘must make’ moves – no breaks – very high objective danger line down the right side in a stunning display of paddling. Julian Campbell, also visiting from the US, was ticking many of the difficult runs around the country and signed up next. He got trapped in a no-escape whirlpool eddy doing ends in his CFS and swam – at the top. Through excellent team work and safety placements people were on hand and Matt McLeod made the crucial catch as Julian, the human pinball, swept over a rocky drop. His boat pinned and lived in the rapid for some time as a testiment to the ‘no shit’ nature of this level of kayaking. Fortunately the road is only about 200m through the bush from the rapid and escape is easy.

Once clear of the last gorge float the remaining kilometre to Gunns Camp.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: