Karamea / Venus Creek to Gauge


0.8 or higher

At the take out on river left, or ask at Last Resort. Westland Regional Council flow phone 083 225 493

2-3 days
Put in: 
Venus Creek
Take out: 
When the river opens onto farmland
Helicopter section 7A
M27, L27
Scenic beyond description, multi-day, boulder garden rapids.
Hot tip: 
Wine, cheese and sandfly lotion—to go

The Karamea is magic. Located in the heart of Kahurangi National Park, the huge surrounding valleys, limestone walls and enormous earthquake slips hint of powerful forces at work in the landscape, conjuring an aura hard to beat anywhere. The whitewater is fun, but don’t expect a full-on ‘hair’ trip. People mostly come to the Karamea for its atmosphere, scenery and relaxation.

My baptism of thunder, lightning and floods on the Karamea left me with a total misconception of its beauty. We flew in for a long day trip. The river was high, thunder boomed off valley walls and the sky was thick and bruised a deep grey. The river at this level was big, pushy, and intimidating. My next trip was from Venus Creek in low water, lots of sunshine, wine and cheese, some friends and no fixed agenda. What a difference!

The Karamea was first explored by kayak in the late 1970s. The advent of plastic boats opened up the upper reaches of the river. Now it is mostly run by commercial rafting trips offering a leisurely three or four days float from Karamea Bend. People often tramp two days into the Bend to add to the experience. Kayakers can do this too, but it takes organising to ensure that boats and food arrive at the right time.

The river has been paddled from Luna Hut, but the Venus Creek put in is more common as a high put in. From Venus Creek class III rapids among scenic granite boulder gardens keep coming until Karamea Bend and the first of the earthquake lakes. From the Bend to Roaring Lion Hut is mostly flat water. Spot some BIG eels among the old rotting tree stumps in the lakes (the heaviest eel caught in the Karamea so far is 15kg!). At a big lake which looks like it has two arms, take the right arm. Paddle as far as possible, then head across the flats on the right and look for the track to the Roaring Lion Hut.

At the end of the lake is the first of the bigger rapids. Roaring Lion is class IV+ in lower levels (<1.1 gauge) and class V- at higher flow. There are a variety of options and sneak chutes when the water is higher. Depending on the flow, rafts may take up to half a day to portage most of the rapid. Kayakers can portage on river left and take an hour or so in the task. A mixture of earthquake lakes and class III rapids leads to Grey’s Hut. Below are a number of big granite boulder gardens. The first major rapid below the hut is Growler and the second one of note, just below the Kakapo Stream, is Holy Shit, a big class IV rapid with some equally big hydraulics to surprise folk who’ve relaxed into the awesome surrounds. From this last gorge are several class II and III rapids between long flat stretches down to the take out.

There are a range of choices, but I strongly recommend a multi-day trip if you want to appreciate the scenery. Putting in at Venus Creek, or higher, means at least a two day trip. Many take three days from this put in. You can arrange for a helicopter pilot to drop gear at the hut downriver so your first day is unladen. Others walk over the Wangapeka Track (two days), or come in via the Mount Arthur Tablelands (1-2 days), or fly to Karamea Bend and take two days on the river. There are one-day options too. You can be dropped just above the Roaring Lion Rapid or intermediate paddlers can be dropped at the edge of the wilderness area near Grey’s Hut in the lower section. Whatever your destination, take insect repellent - the sandflies are legendary! Make sure you call in at the Last Resort for a shower and beer when you get out.

To get to the take out: from Karamea drive south towards Westport. Turn left immediately after the Karamea bridge (Arapito Road) and drive to the road end. A farm gate must be left as found. Park in the grassy paddock just before a small wooden bridge. This is the usual helicopter pick up point.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


andrew.yates's picture

What a gem - this is a must do run for any kiwi!

First up, a comment to Graham Charles' description - it is reliable and accurate. Riverplay's comments are outdated now (2014) and of course it's harder in a packraft than a kayak - go figure. I imagine above 1.4m things step up a bit.

We took off at 1.2m and about 80cu in the river. We flew into Venus Creek where the Karamea had about 20cu in it and overnighted at Karamea Bend Hut which made for a long but enjoyable second day (8h on the river). The flight in over the Garibaldi range was spectacular.

We saw goats, whio, trout, an eel surely bigger than 15kg and galaxiid plus plenty of signs of deer/pigs.

RL consists of three grade 4 to 4+ rapids, all easy to scout and straight forward to portage (at this flow). The rapids had high consequences for being offline. We portaged one section with a must-make, thread-the-needle move to avoid a sieve. The rest were great! The potential for false leads exists so invest the time in scouting.

Grey's Maze is obvious when you arrive (G3) and the hut is visible from the river, though sharp eyes do help. Eddy out after GM if you haven't seen it.

Don't switch off at Holy Shit, one of our crew dropped in too casual (even after scouting) at the start and got pinned, swimming through an inconspicuous sieve, then the G4 run out. This river is sievy right through to the end. A rescue here would have been immensely difficult.

After we took off, 130mm of southerly rain hit Mt Garibaldi over 12h and the Karamea rose quickly to 3.5m and 1,000cu.

The Last Resort offers a wicked feed (Ed is the guy!), don't bother with the Karamea Hotel (half the food and double the price).

Finally, Wayne Pratt at Karamea Heli is a top bloke, a real character to fly with and makes for an incredibly enjoyable experience - the best of all my heli trips!

cold77's picture

Last year I walked in and packrafted from Venus hut down solo and felt that I'd been sandbagged by the guidebook that said the Karamea was Class III+ with some IV and a portageable V at Roaring Lion (RL)

It's nice to read that I'm not the only one who feels that way. Of course I portaged RL and the three big rapids below Grey's Hut (which IS hard to find) and felt like a worm walking past the "intermediate" rapids in the lower gorge.

From what I have heard subsequently, the lower gorge is no longer "intermediate".

Personally, the mtn wilderness feel of Landsborough seems more dramatic than the Karamea, but the Karamea has more ww action.

davidmangnall's picture

We ran the Karamea from Venus Creek over 3 days in Feb 2010. It was .9 - 1.0 on the gauge. I'd say RiverPlay's comments are pretty accurate and obviously the higher the flow the more pushy it becomes, although at low flows their is still lots of potential to get off line and be pinned somewhere you don't want to be.
Day 1 we paddled from Venus Creek to Roaring Lion Hut. The top part was characterised by some long continuous boulder gardens and the bottom part some steeper rapids separted by long flat lakes.
On day 2 we paddled from Roaring Lion Hut to Greys Hut. The options for Roaring Lion rapid are well described above. Most of the rapids below were easily boat scouted, though we did get out to scout Ferris Creek. Greys Maze is a lot of fun and the hut is up on a terrace and a bit hard to see from the river.
Day 3 was a shorter day. Growler was a none event...a straight line through some pushy hydraulics but Holy Shit is worth scouting as it is a very long rapid which gets more committing towards the bottom.
The Karamea is a great trip and well within the capability (at lower flows) of Intermediate paddlers with good judgement about what they should and shouldn't paddle. Remember its a wilderness river and should be treated with respect. The sceanery is suberb, this really is a beautiful river. Take your time, be safe and enjoy!
An added bonus is the fantastic flight in over the Garabaldi Range.

riverplay's picture

I've just rafted the Karamea from Roaring Lion and came out at 1.35 on the gauge. I have rafted it maybe 20 times before but for anyone outhere that are planning to raft (or kayak) the Karamea;

My opinon is that the Karamea is one of the most challenging multiday trips in NZ, roaring lion rapid is one of the most dangerous rapids anywhere. My description of Roaring Lion is; 800m long, 3 class 5 sections with a class 3 section after the first and hardest 200m.

Ferris Creek Rapid is alot easier since a slip filled in the 2metre+ drop 1/2 way through the top half. Good class 4 but the recovery is another long section of swift class 3.

Greys maze is a long boulder garden with wrap and pin potential galore. plus if you're camping at greys hut you have to eddy out pretty quick.

Holy Shit is 400m long the second half is solid class 5 until flows of 1.1 or less. If you're not up for the consequneces of the main flow best sneak down the right side and blast out into it when you think you can make the big move/s to the bottom.

Scarecase is worthy straight after HS, don't drop your gaurd the moves are tight at the start with big water run out.

Only go up there whens its on the drop, I wouldn't above 2m and dropping. Our private team of fit strong paddlers portaged all of the Roaring Lion @ 1.35 and it took us about 3 hr (be prepared for much more). Portage the first class 5 section on the left. If you're not happy with the look of the second class 5 section, Make sure you can start portaging on the right by searching for the flood channel with pools to float across that bring you out just above the end, scout the portage.

I feel Graham's classing of the Karamea a bit low for Kayaking and especially rafting, it is an amazing place to be, on this last trip we saw NZfalcon, Whio, deer, eels, trout. Its wildenress area well worth its status as one of top multi day rafting rivers in the world. Its worth treating as such