Ngakawau joins the long list of river names which get pronounced several different ways. Be wary of anything which involves a ‘knocker-war’. The real name comes from the shag rookery near the mouth of the river. Rory Devine was reluctant to give away the beta on this short sharp run wanting to keep it for local boaters. The first complete descent was made by Rory and Dean Arthur in November 1996.
The key, and crux, is to first find the gauge. Walk up the track 10 minutes to the ‘railway siding’ sign, 100 metres past this look for some tape on the left marking a hint of a track down to the gauge.
Once leaving the swingbridge at Mangatini Falls there is a 300-metre warm up before the action begins. Once warmed there is 1.5 kilometres of pool/drop with two rapids of note: Gwaham and Thweefall. Gwaham is a two-metre drop into a boily cauldron with a narrow exit. Thweefall is a triple drop, the middle one at three-metre, scout on the left. There are numerous false lines down the river but everything is scoutable. Be wary of the number of logs, undercuts and steel in the river. Take out on a small gravel beach 300 metres upstream of the Ngakawau Bridge and stroll back to the car.
To get to the put-in: get yourself to the Charming Creek walkway carpark at Ngakawau, about 30kms north of Westport. The carpark is about 1 kilometre up the south side of the river. From here walk to the Mangatini Falls swingbridge and check the gauge on the way.