Buller / O'Sullivan's to Ariki


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

visual or TDC flow phone 03 544 3393, flow at Longford for indication only

2-5 hours
Put in: 
picnic area at the top of O' Sullivan's Rapid
Take out: 
Ariki Falls (signposted) off SH6
big water, bedrock gorge, single braid
Hot tip: 
big water, fun eddies

A classic of the Buller region, O’ Sullivan’s rapids are used extensively for sole-surf sessions, eddy line play spots, slalom, and introductions to big water. Most days during summer you will find someone parked up and having fun in the rapids. There are a number of tracks providing access down to the river - just have a wander around.

O’ Sullivan’s rapids were formed by a large slip that blocked the river in 1929. The area itself was named in the days when people crossed the river just upstream of the present day SH6 Bridge on a cableway.

Old Dan Sullivan would go across in the chair and up to the Fern Flat Hotel and he’d get two sheets under the weather before going home. They used to have a piece of candle that they lit and stuck in a bottle for going across at night, to see when they got to the edge. Well Dan missed his footing in the dark and he goes down the bank. He gets back to the pub about daylight and he says ‘The chair’s in the middle of the river and I’ve seen the biggest star I’ve ever seen in my life. They get down to the river and there’s only the irons dangling, the biggest star he’d seen was the chair going up in flames. The candle had burnt down and the wooden chair had caught fire.’ - from Faces of the River, by David Young and Bruce Foster, TVNZ Publishing. A bridge now stands where Dan came to grief.

After O’ Sullivan’s a flatwater float takes you to the confluence of the Maruia and Buller. Here the flow increases considerably, creating a section of crazy whirly water down through Whale Creek rapid where there is fun surfing at low levels. Jet Boat rapid follows then an easy cruise down to Ariki (created by the 1968 Inangahua earthquake). Ariki Falls is preceded by the power lines crossing the river immediately upstream. Most parties scout before running. At lower levels when the falls are actually a fall, some consideration needs to be given to the best line. At higher levels the fall is not there at all and the canyon below is home to some of the bigger whirlpools in NZ.

Take out at the falls or paddle another 500m just past the swing bridge and look for the rafters track up to the road. To get to the put in: O’ Sullivan’s rapids are 10km west of Murchison alongside SH6. Park at any of the well used areas. To get to the take out: drive a further 4.6km west along SH6 and look for the signpost for Ariki Falls or continue to the rafter’s take-out just after the tourist swingbridge.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


mike_plank's picture

WARNING: There is an old mining intake on river left a couple of hundred metres upstream of Ariki Falls. At moderate to high flows this poses a potentially serious straining hazard. It's hard to spot so if in doubt stay out of the eddies on river left between Jetboat Rapid and Ariki.