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