No gravel bars showing at main road bridge.
The Totara had done its best to avoid my advances with camera and notebook. I had missed the peak flows on numerous occasions. The day when it finally happened the river and valley put up such a violent struggle I almost gave up. Bruce said it would be good when he finished school (when all rivers reach peak flow) and arranged to meet at me 3.15pm. We got away about 4.30pm, just as the heavens opened with massive thunder claps and rain.
Driving up the winding valley road the boats decide to leave us and jumped off the racks into the bushes. Having recovered and chastised our personified craft we drove into one of the many fords on the road - only to have a puncture upon exiting. Rain was falling hard enough that it was easier to strip right off to change the tyre. Tyre changing is an easy task - if you have a wheel brace that fits. Farm houses on the coast are great places because they have most things. The nearest one was six kilometres back down the road but our energetic and very wet runner did find a selection of wheel braces. The tyre changed, with scenes from ‘the Butt Naked Canoe Club Goes Tyre Changing’ we carried on our merry way. The ensuing down river sprint to avoid rapidly approaching darkness ensured I noticed nothing and saw nothing.
In big flows the river is a pushy Class IV run. If there are still rocks showing at the put-in a fun Class III+ with plenty of playing is all yours. Fantastic moss covered gorges keep the aesthetic qualities alive and make the trip scenically worthwhile even at lowish flows. Keep an eye out for the farm track crossing the river which signals the take out.
The spring 2001 floods were so violent they washed away large sections of the road into the Totara Valley but plans are afoot to repair it. If the repairs haven’t happened you will need a 4WD to get high up the river.
To get to the take out: From Hokitika drive along SH6 until you cross the Totara River bridge. If there are no gravel beds showing upstream of the bridge the flows are good. Continue about 400m past the bridge and turn up the road Totara Valley. There is a farm yard just as the road turns to gravel. Find a park around here. To get to the put-in: Continue up the very windy road for about fourteen kilometres. You will head away from the river for 6-8 kilometres. Once back alongside the river drive a couple of kilometers and pass through a gate. Continue 500 metres past the gate until you see a sidestream down to the river. If flows are very high you can drive another three kilometers past the gate and put in at an old bridge abutment.