Rangitīkei / Matawhero Bridge to River Valley Lodge


class IV: 25-45cu, class IV+ to V: >45cu

see website or 06 388 1444

2-4 hours
Put in: 
off Matawhero Road where it joins the river
Take out: 
River Valley Lodge
17.7km gravel road
technical, tight bedrock gorge
Hot tip: 
check out the Bliss Stick factory just up the road for a trial boat

If there was one single river with every ingredient for the evolutionary recipe of trip into epic into story into legend, it is the Rangitikei or 'day of striding out'. Take one reasonably accessible yet wild river flowing through a spectacular, deep gorge. Add several challenging drops and one extremely cool play hole. Attach a large catchment that causes the river to rise and fall dramatically in short periods of time. Put a lodge, hot showers, a big open fireplace and a bar at the take-out. Job's on.

The Rangitikei is a classic that has been paddled for years by scores of kayakers, though its early paddling history was filled with the carnage of fibreglass boats. The first explorer to the gorge was Cliff Barnett who, in 1953, attempted the run in an open canoe. It wasn't until the early 1960s that two men from Palmerston North entered the gorge in a home-made, stainless steel canoe. It took them two seasons to get right through! The first complete kayak descent was in May 1974 by Max Grant (of 'Max's Drop'), Peter Sutcliffe and Dennis Oppatt.

The first six kilometres on the river is an excellent class III warm up for the harder stuff to follow. Pop Up is a fun little play spot guaranteed for loops and cartwheels. The first real water is a short drop, called Storm, which runs through a small gorge and into a wall at the bottom. This is followed by more easy water through the very obvious Narrows to the Lunch Spot, named because it is in fact a lunch spot, not a rapid.

Technical and bony in low flows, still technical and pushy in high flows, the gorge rapids proper follow in quick succession. New Rapid is constantly changing and is well worth scouting because it hides a couple of nasty pin spots. Then come The Gates, Slip Rapid, Max's Drop, Dog Leg, Fulcrum, Etc, Foamy, Foo Fang Falls, See Thru, Picket, Rodeo, Rockslide, Waimarino, Cascade Creek, Toi Toi Creek and Slalom Rapid right outside the Lodge. Of these Fulcrum and Foamy offer the crux of the paddling. There is a compulsory test at the end of the run to check if you have all the names right and in the right order!

If it's your first time down you'll probably want to scout some rapids as the line is not always obvious. More experienced paddlers should be able to boat-scout everything. Check in with Brian and Nicola Megaw at River Valley Lodge before you go on the river. They have been running the Lodge and rafting the river since 1986 and are tuned into changes of rocks, trees and water levels in the river. This is not a good run to choose as your first class IV outing! Don't be misled by the average gradient. Most of the drop is in the last 1.5km.

Above 50cu the rapids become very pushy, and time to correct any mistakes is reduced markedly. The river has been run at very high levels (>50cu) and makes for a great expert trip.

The Megaws, Sages and River Valley Lodge staff are very hospitable. They will drive a shuttle if arranged in advance. This saves the hour-long return trip to pick up cars when you could be sitting outside the Lodge with a beer or two. The Lodge offers camping, accommodation, golf, food and the all important bar.

River levels are best obtained on-line at http://horizons.govt.nz/ and the conversions are done by the nice folks at River Valley http://rivervalley.co.nz While it isn't updated daily, it changes whenever the flow changes. If not online, call 06 388 1444.

To get to the take-out: From Taihape follow the signs to River Valley along Wainui Road and Otuarei Road. If coming from the north drive 18.1km from the southern end of the Army Training Camp at Waiouru to a turn-off signposted to Moawhango, Napier and River Valley. Follow this sealed road for 9.5km to another junction, turn left and keep following signs 23km to Pukeokahu and River Valley.

To get to the put-in: from the entrance of the River Valley farm road drive 13.5km east on the gravel road to a grassy flat where the road meets the river.

Egarr_Comments: "high quality trip
Egarr_Code: 49.02
Egarr_Vol: NI
Egarr_Page: 50
Egarr_Rec: 5
Egarr_Scen: 5
RUS_Code: 1428

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


Dan K's picture

Notice - river feature change. As of Jan 2018 the crux rapid of this run known as Fulcrum has changed significantly following a large slip. The main hole and adjacent carpark eddie as we have known them for many years are gone. Fulcrum is a different rapid with new features. The difficulty remains grade 4. Easy scouting from the right hand bank remains. Take a look and enjoy the new rapid.

camwally's picture

camwally's picture