Buller / Earthquake


clas III: <200 cumecs, class IV: >200 cumecs


2.5 hours
Put in: 
Harry's Track carpark
Take out: 
Big iron bridge on SH6
big water, single braid
Hot tip: 
gunslinger is a blast

Great scenery, great rapids and great (big) sandflies. Home of the mighty Gunslinger, inspiration for tales and lies aplenty at the pub. One of the historically classic and favourite runs in New Zealand.

The Earthquake section gets its name from the huge slip and side of the hill that slid into the river during the 1968 Inangahua shake. It dammed the river dry for 48 hours causing major concern it would burst and clear a swathe all the way to Westport. Fortunately, it released slowly. The lake at the put in is caused by the remains of the dam and provides a good warm up for the run that follows.

Play spots are plentiful through the first few rapids but many are ‘catch on the fly’ sole surf waves and hydraulics. Fun straight shot rapids lead down through Whopper Stopper, Rodeo Rapid and Slide rapid leads into the gorge proper. Eddy line play spots are abundant throughout the run.

Gunslinger, the climax of the run, will bring smiles to all who enter. Often there’s a huge surf wave right at the top, while the rapid itself is a series of huge waves and hydraulics. As flows increases the waves just keep getting bigger, as do the grins.

The action eases through some beautiful canyons with a few more wave chains. Play spots continue to be found on the sides so keep an eye out. The Lyell Wave is on river right just below the Lyell Creek confluence. A park ‘n play spot when the flows are right. Many people walk down Lyell Creek and play for hours and then walk out again. Don’t miss a roll and wash under the undercut wall at the bottom! To finish the run either walk up Lyell Creek, or float the mostly flat water to the old Iron Bridge across the Buller.

To get to the put in: from Murchison, check your odometer, drive 29.2 kilometres and find a gravel road that turns sharply down to the left after a sweeping right-hand corner (marked by a 60-kilometre speed sign). This is Harry's Track, which provides rough access to the carpark 200 metres down. To get to the take out: return to SH6 and continue west to either Lyell Creek or, more commonly, the old Iron Bridge. Turn right immediately before the bridge and drive down a gravel road to a turn-around area.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: