Arahura / Arahura Gorges


running clean


4.5-8 hours
Put in: 
above third gorge near Newton Creek
Take out: 
Arahura Bridge above Milltown
Helicopter section 7B
K33, J33
steep, tight, technical
Hot tip: 
The Arahura defines 'classic West Coast boating'

One of the most sought after and enjoyed runs in New Zealand. The Arahura rates as one of the great kayaking runs in the world. It has a wide range of runnable flow levels, great scenery, wild location and stunning whitewater. The Arahura is often described as one of the most 'fair' West Coast Rivers - what you see is what you get - there are very few nasties in disguise. It benchmarks good honest boating.

In 1986 Hugh Canard and two companions made what is thought to be the first kayak descent beginning near Olderog Creek. In 1993 Bruce Barnes investigated and ran Third Gorge. By the end of that season at least four other teams had sampled the delights and word began to spread. In 1984 Bruce and Mick et al flew in through Styx Saddle and paddled from the top of the river, adding a class III+ section that is good when there is a good flow in the river. Rafts even made the scene with the first descent by raft in 2002. In 2006 Dave Kwant and JJ added another chapter by flying to Harmen Hut and reported a funky 'gotta do it once' adventure in the upper Arahura Stream down to Styx Saddle and out in 6.5 hours with good water level!

From the normal put in busy class III-IV rock gardens lead into Third Gorge. Half a kilometre in is Curtain Call, one of the most photographed drops on the coast and worthy of all of them. Do what ever you do and smile for the camera(s). A couple of hundred metres further down is Dent Falls (the next most photographed drop on the coast). Scouting is easiest on the right side. Dent has been run any number of ways successfully, and unsuccessfully. Life stays busy for another half kilometre below Dent Falls before the intensity eases until Olderog Creek (there is a hut here).

Tight, class IV+ leads into Second Gorge and the technical crux of the Arahura. Billiards is a steep, punchy rapid with some testing hydraulics. Station a throw bagger next to them. Dave Mills lead the way in Billiards rescues on one trip by pulling two people (who were window shading in the hole) onto the rock, still in their boats, giving them the brief on the rest of the rapid before shoving them back in to finish off! This benevolent deed was unjustly rewarded in Jan 2005 when Dave swam at Billiards and went through a very long underwater sieve. There is an 'alternate route' down the left side and the 'alternate alternate' route on the far left. Another 200m of steep water and the gradient eases except for the one rapid everyone forgets - 'Alzheimer's'. Class I and II make up the 2-3km down to the Cesspit.

If you've already decided against the final gorge, the track is on river left about 150m before the gorge starts. If you miss this take out on river left above the 'pit' and thrash up the creek to the track. 15-20 minutes will see you back at the river for the final few kilometres of class II-III water to the take out. Expect a gradient of 36m/km in the first 5 kilometre easing to 21m/km.

Scouting the Cesspool entry is easy from the either side. There are a number of alternatives if choosing to paddle. The honest choice is to run down the middle and make the fine line across the turning curtain of water and open book corner. Once landed hold onto your hat and avoid the hole (left) and cave (right) and the new rocks that have appeared. Or, drop in from the right over the rock ledge for the 3.5m boof (it's shallow in there so make sure to flat land), grovel around the tricky rock and do as the first option. Or, portage on the left side and seal launch into the big pool for the last class IV gorge with some fantastic moves.

Cesspit or Cesspool?
Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


andrew.yates's picture

Curtain calls is non-existent, Dent Falls has a gnarly sieve, Billiards is a thread-the-needle manoeuvre that barely goes and Alzheimers has a sweet ferry to link the top and bottom sections. Cess Pit is ever-changing... (@April '13)

hugh's picture

Some errors above.

It was 1985 that Ed, Ron and I ran it, and 1994 when Mick ran the rest of it.
A raft party had a go around 1991/2. Mark Row out of Tauranga, I think?

That trip was written up by a journalist, published in American Express magazine, and I thought at the time it was a piece of plagiarism, as it quoted this story without acknowledgment.

Hugh Canard

henry1's picture

Curtain calls is gone, and dent falls is dodgy but goes on river right with enough water

polly's picture

I finally got to see for myself last weekend that Dent Falls has changed. While some hardy souls are no doubt considering whether there is a line on the hard left through the sieve, for most this rapid is now a straight forward portage on river right:>