Landsborough / Kea Flat to Clarke Bluff

Info

Class: 
IV (V)
Portage?: 
No
Level: 
avg ~1.4m (200cu), peak ~6.6m
Gauge: 

Haast River @ Roaring Billy. Divide the Roaring Billy flow by two.

Gradient: 
8.0m/km
Length: 
35.0km
Time: 
Usually2days
Put in: 
Via helicopter to Kea Flat.
Take out: 
Clarke Bluff
Shuttle: 
Helicopter 7C
Maps: 
G37,H37
Character: 
Remote, wilderness adventure, with stunning alpine scenery and cold water
Hot tip: 
One of NZ's best known multi-day trips
Tags: 
Helicopter
Multiday
For kayakers, the Landsborough is possibly New Zealand's most scenic and most wild river. It flows from north to south along the Main Divide, linking Mount Cook and Westland National Parks with Mt Aspiring National Park. Seen from the river, which for the most part runs through classic tussock and beech flats, dense silver beech forest blankets rugged gullies and ridges as far as the snow line. Beyond, impressive ice cliffs and snow fields overspread numerous snow-capped peaks. Flanked by mountains rising thousands of feet above the valley, the whitewater is challenging enough, given the Landsborough's remote and wild nature. At medium or low flows, most of the trip is Class III or easier, with a handful of more difficult rapids, all portageable. The boundary of the Hooker-Landsborough Wilderness Area runs from McKerrow Creek, along the true right bank of the Landsborough, then up to the Solution range opposite Barron Ck at the beginning of Toe Toe Flat. From Zora Creek the 'What The F**k Are We Doing Here' Gorge contains about six waterfall-type drops, all named by the first raft trip. From Hinds Flat down, several Class III and IV rapids exist. With access to the upper river restricted by the Hooker-Landsborough Wilderness Area, a good approach is to chopper from Clarke Bluff (G37 230864) and put down at Kea Flat, overnighting at Fraser Hut. From Kea flat it's Class II or III, with occasional surf spots and many straightforward chutes past boulder banks. Fraser Hut is barely maintained, so bivvy bags or tents are recommended. Be careful about camping in the wide open fields around Fraser Hut - the locals regard it as a landing strip for hunting parties... Most of the whitewater action is within the Upper Gates Gorge. Things get interesting with Hunt's Hole, a Class IV double-drop with a river-wide hole. This is followed by a long gentle left-hand curve with huge schist boulders at the bottom (The Squeeze, Class IV) which can get very challenging in high flow. The crux at most flows is Hellfire, Class V, a left turn with a series of rock sieves and a huge boulder midstream about 3/4 down. A couple of grade III rapids remain, including a hard right turn called Surprise Corner, before the river eases to Harper Flat and out to the Clarke. From the Clarke confluence near Strutt Bluff, it's about 45 minutes of flat paddling through braids to the Haast and SH6. The amount of water dumped on this part of New Zealand is legendary. In flood, the Landsborough becomes monstrous and epics have occurred in the past. Getting in and out of the Landsborough valley by anything other than a helicopter is a major exercise, so parties should be well equipped and experienced. A favourable forecast is an absolute pre-requisite, and packing a mountain radio is a sensible precaution. The regular high flows modify the riverbed, so always scout the major rapids. A useful campsite before the trip is at Pleasant Flat, about 5km south from Clarke Bluff on SH6. To avoid the flat paddle at the end groups with 4WD or rentals may be able to negotiate a track from the bridge over the Haast river to near Strutt Bluff. The nearest pub is at Haast, where you can also visit the superb DoC visitor's centre.
History: 
Charlie Douglas and Gerhard Mueller explored Landsborough in 1887. G described it as a "boiling, turbulent mountain-torrent". The Landsborough was named by Julius von Haast for William Landsborough, a Scottish explorer who led expeditions into Australia. The Landsborough is known by Maori as ƌtoatahi - 'the place of the toatahi' (male weka). The first kayak descent was probably by some competitors from the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Geoff Hunt and others pioneered the river for rafting from the early '70s. The late seventies saw a solo run by American Whit Deschner as described in 'Does the Wet Suit You?'
Credits: 
Jonathan Hunt
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 
p0

Comments

cold77's picture

Over two days in January 2010 three of us with Alpacka packrafts walked in to the hut from the Ohau side across Brodrick Pass, then another day up past Kea Flats and put in at McKerrow Creek. Would have hiked farther up on the awesome trails but the pebble cliffs at this creek put us off and the trail had wandered up slope.

The water was low-ish, I'd say, but beautiful. With four days of sunshine (two and a half walking in one and a half paddling) and the incredible views walking in and floating out, this was the most beautiful and wild places I'd seen in NZ, and one of the most beautiful mtn rivers in the world, I reckon. No sheep, no cattle, no 4 wheel drive tracks, no fences. It feels like there ought to be moa in there.

Above the hut to the flats was easy Class II with a few Class III. Downstream we were nervous, but we ran everything and bank scouted six rapids (all Class III at least), but only three really needed it (the Class IV). Again, water was low and sun was shinning so we had stunning fun. We made it out to the road in an easy day from the hut.

This is a really good multi-day river as everything is portageable and from the sound of what others have said flashes up pretty fast but also flushes out quickly, too.

Here's a video of our trip (prepare yourself -- lots of walk-in footage) if you want to see some of the water and mtn scenery (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Z4r140tPJ0) and this one has Landsborough water, too, about a minute in (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYcouzq7AlY).

polly's picture

We ran the Landsborough late 2009, flying in with James Scott after a dump of norwest rain. We took a raft and 12 kayaks from Kea Flat to our first camp at Toi Toi flat and the river was high - what was normally described as a class 2 float turned out to be romping class 3+ - definitely the best class 2 I've ever paddled. After a 2 day walk up to the ridge on the Solution range (highly recommended if you've got the weather for it) the river had dropped more than a foot. We found that warm weather and lots of glacial melt contributed to the full medium flow and meant we had lots of class 3-3+ rapids - fantastic for kayaking, although the amount of water posed some challenges for the recreational rafting team. On our third night we camped at a spectacular campsite on the river left, just before upper gates gorge, and our last day of paddling was very busy indeed - we had two big class 4 rapids to line the raft around, and lots of smaller rapids all the way to the confluence with the Clarke. Views of the mountains continue to the takeout and I'd definitely do it all again - next time with a little more paddle power in the raft.

jonathan's picture

Just testing comments, but you should link to Google maps