Ōpārara / Top Oparara Road Bridge to Quarry


see description

Bridge pile on the right at put in.

4.5-8 hours
Put in: 
Top bridge over the Oparara River
Take out: 
Past the quarry sit, 4 kilometres up Oparara Road.
24 kilometres (16 kilometres gravel road)
Weird but interesting, there is nothing like it.
Hot tip: 
Take your camera.

The Oparara is a river fit for inclusion in Lord of the Rings. Weird runes in the water, limestone sculptures dripping from the over hanging roofs of caves, mosses and vines damp and hanging in the misty forest densely packed alongside the river. The river trip had been similarly shrouded in mystery after early reports and attempts gave rise to stories of bush bashing, boats used as bridges to cross fissures, paddles lost in sinkholes and trolls living in the bottom of drops.

Five years passed between my first and second trips. I was anxious that perhaps I had seen it wrong. Alas - it remains as it was. A great day out, still adventure kayaking and totally worthy as long as you take pleasure in the overhanging caverns and arches, phenomenal rainforest, bizarre tea coloured water and the fantastic bedrock shapes through the run. Oh and there is some good white water in there and quite a bit in the last section. Expect a gradient of 12m/km to Fenian Creek and 28m/km from Fenian Creek to the take out.

The Oparara was first run in March 1993 in a standard summer flow. The team reported a scratchy but interesting trip. Other parties established the flow parameters through the 95/96 season. The river needs rain, but like many things in life, moderation is the key - including moderation. At the top bridge over the Oparara, look underneath at the concrete footings. If the water is lapping at the bottom edge of the concrete this is about optimal flow. The tolerance seems to be about 20 centimetres either way from there. Much higher or lower and you may be doing more tramping than you bargained.

Since 1998 the bottom section has become the standard. Walk up to Fenian Creek from the take out and you can go with quite a lot more water than you’d do the top piece. Anything up to about 30cumecs at the take out makes for good class IV+ boating.

If doing the whole run the first half hour to Moria Arch is class I through magnificent forest. The rock and log jams start just after the arch. A few require portaging but they do change around quite a lot. The worst is behind you after and hour and this is followed by a long flat stretch.

Within this stretch is a short gorge containing three features of note. The first is a narrowing where the whole river squeezes through a gap about one metre wide. Shortly after this is a small sub gorge with a complex entrance and oft times jamming logs. At the end of that is a 3-metre drop into a boiling cauldron. Launch into the gorge and run this or portage to the bottom and slide back in. A long flat stretch leads to New Chum and Fenian Creek coming in from the left. Steeper creek styled rapids follow and the intensity increases as does the whitewater fun. Everything can be paddled but if it’s your first time you’ll probably want to scout a bit. The gradient eases for the last kilometre out to the carpark. Keep an eye out for the old quarry on the left..

To get to the takeout from Karamea: from the service station and shop take the road which goes straight instead of turning left towards the Last Resort. Drive along this road about four kilometres until you see a quarry site on the right and DOC sign ‘Fenian Track/Adams Flat’. Turn in here and drive to the end of the road.

To get to the put in: drive back to the DOC sign and turn right, turn right again when you meet the main road at the Oparara bridge. Follow this road to the turn off to the Oparara Arches. Keep following signs to the arches. Put in at the first bridge by the walkway to Moria Arch. The Last Resort offers a shuttle service that is worthwhile taking advantage of.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


andrew.yates's picture

Talk about sandbagged! We nailed the flow for this run with the water lapping at the top of the bridge footing on river right and this level was good.

Down to Moria Gate arch is mostly flat water until things start to pick up. The first drop is class 4, about 2-3m then the river squeezes through a narrow slot, followed by a long undercut bluff on the left.

The following 'sub gorge' is solid class 5 (or more) and manky at that. We portaged the first mank where the river drops steeply into a sievy looking cauldron and arrived at the next steep manky rapid which was essentially a must-run.

We managed to portage (2h in the steep thick bush to cover a few hundred metres) only to get bluffed out as the gorge tightened. The rapids visible looked to be 3x stacked class 4 rapids (immediately after the last class 5 rapid) and two had wood in play with the final being very sievy. Needless to say, we hiked out to the road, taking about 6 hours.

No idea what the last gorge is like but don't bother with the first.