‘It’s all good down there’ the nodding laconic summation from Wyoming hardman Ollie as eight tired, but stupidly grinning paddlers watch the rising ring of foam as the beer climbs up the glass in the first round of Monteiths. We had just discovered Viagra Falls, the Gates of Argonath and some salvation in the now legendary Upper Hokitika it was 1998.
A lovely class II warm-up precedes a radical change of pace as steep class IV/ IV+ boulder gardens take over and lead down to Viagra. Portaging and scouting are all done on the left side. Get hard at the start and stay that way until you are in the pool at the end. A portage around a very sievy boulder garden sets you up for some classic west coast Class IV+ boating to the top of the first gorge, Omatane Canyon. The waterfall entrance has been run a couple of times but most portage on the left and run the river wide hole at the bottom. 1km of IV-IV+ take you to the next gorge. It has a big waterfall on the right-side entrance that Mikey Abbot ran in low flows. Portage left then most ferry across the pool and portage behind the big overhanging rock. Three tricky rapids follow once you are back on the water (1st either right or left, next centre, and last right) and these take you out of the gorge. Tired yet? Many are.
Kawau Canyon is one of the last and is a great place for lunch with superb smooth sun baking rocks. Run the gorge then enjoy some class III+ water into the fabled Gates of Argonath. The water used to all go under choked boulders but something happened in 2005 and the water has backed up so you can now squeeze by without getting out. It’s never over until the fat lady sings and The Fat Lady is the big rapid right after the Gates. Sing or squeal like a pig along the rocks and a few hundred metres of III-IV puts you at the put in for the lower Hokitika. Although the gradient is only a modest 25m/km, most of that is hidden in steep drops.
The valley sides in the Hokitika are constantly moving and the yearly changes are phenomenal. If it has been more than a few weeks since anyone has been in, or if there has been a big flood treat any run on the Hoki as a first descent - your family will love you for it.