The Waiatoto drains the Volta Glacier system on the western side of Mount Aspiring National Park. The main reason for a Waiatoto trip is to enjoy the unbelieveable wilderness of south Westland with a group of friends and enjoy it with some good food and wine. There is some fun whitewater too! Most trips start at the Bonar Flats. A short gorge between this point and the next flats - Donald Flats - contains some classic class III boulder hopping that adds hydro interest to the scenery. The river is easy and becomes braided in the section down to the Drake River confluence.
The crux of the Waiatoto whitewater comes in the next five or six kilometres to Ferny Flats. Most of the action is at the start of the gorge and is in the class IV range (harder with higher flows), with portaging options if necessary. Once clear of the gorge proper the river widens into long, pleasant class II-III bouldergardens. There may be some boulder chokes in this section if the water level is very low. Be wary of tree hazards especially in the easy water. In 1978 a huge rockslide fell into the source lake and sent a biblical sized wall of water, ice blocks and debris down the river, wiping out a number of huts and forging new channels through mature forest. The tree stumps date back to this event.
Many parties spend the night on the Axius Flats at the Te Naihi River confluence where the fishing is superb. From Axius Flats to the Palmer River confluence there’s very little whitewater of significance except for a short rapid where the river narrows immediately below Casey’s Flat. The scenery is superb and all you need do is float along with the current, contemplate life and keep an eye out for Karearea (NZ Falcon) and whio. The Palmer River confluence is the limit of jet boat travel up the Waiototo. From this point down to the bridge are easy shingle rapids.
To get to the take out: turn off SH6 at Haast and head south to the Waiatoto road bridge.