Two rivers combine to make the Whakapapa River - the Whakapapaiti and the Whakapapanui. Of these, the Whakapapanui is the easier, more spectacular and scenic of the two. Like most Central North Island rivers they are rain dependent because of their small catchment area. Below 20cu the rivers are very scratchy. But don't be put off. This area offers world class boating when rain is falling, and believe me it falls a lot. Above 50cu be prepared for a no-holds-barred rollercoaster with few places to decide that you don't want to be there!
The rapids come in quick succession and boat scouting is the only feasible method of inspection. Most require boulder dodging to get the right line to avoid the inevitable wall at the bottom. What you find at the start of the run is indicative of everything down to the confluence with the Whakapapaiti. If disaster strikes in the first few rapids, gullies provide ways of escape up onto farmland on the right side of the river.
At the confluence the river becomes wider with bigger and, at times, challenging hydraulics. One large square rock forms a particularly weir-like hole in which some have spent a good deal of penalty time. Once at the dam, take-out on the left and carry around it. Put in again and ferry across to the carpark.
To get to the put in: find the Whakapapnui River on SH47 (about 5-6km from the junction with SH48). Park about 600m west of the actual road bridge by a fence and a gate. Walk to the end of the trees. Climb over the fence in the corner where a piece of 6 x 2 timber has been attached to the fence. The track disappears steeply downhill under the flax bushes. This track is probably the most dangerous part of the trip. There are numerous stories of people slipping, letting go of their boats and watching them careen down the track and out into the river - to be found later in the day. At least you’ll solve the shuttle driver problem.
To get to the take out: from the put in drive east on SH47 for 6km to the signposted turnoff to Whakapapa Intake. Follow this road to its end at the dam.