As it descends through the Tararua Ranges, the Waiohine River has a number of sections of interest to Packrafters. The Upper Gorge (above Mid Waiohine Hut), Middle Gorge (Mid Waiohine Hut to Totara Flats Hut) and the Lower Gorge (Totara Flats Hut to Gorge Road).
The lower Gorge of the Waiohine is a typical scenic Tararua gorge with an easy walk in and a tramping hut at the put-in. The section from the road end (Walls Whare) to Gorge Road is easier, and can make for a short car to car paddle in its own right.
The road-end car park is approximately 15 km from State Highway 2. Cross the Waiohine river on SH2 and turn left at the road signs indicating Tararua Forest Park. The dog legged route reaches Waiohine Gorge Road which is a winding, narrow gravel road with one ford crossing a stream. It’s a popular Sunday drive into the gorge so prospects for a hitchhike are good.
There are a number of options for taking out at the end of your trip. These are described from south to north, the way you’ll encounter them as you drive up the valley.
- The Pines. The take-out for the lower gorge trip is an obvious spot at the pines where the river first appears. One of the best rapids on the lower section is visible below the road on a bluff a few hundred metres past the take-out – It’s worth a look for logs.
- Devils Creek. At the ford at Devil Creek a route leads down the creek to the river. Lower than this point there are only two or three rapids of note as the river widens out and gradient flattens.
- Waiohine Shelter. Near the Waiohine Shelter a track leads down to the river and could be used as a take-out that captures the best of the paddle below the road end.
- Road end. At the end of Waiohine Gorge Road there is a pleasant DOC camping ground with basic toilets and a track that leads down to the river.
From Waiohine Gorge Road to Totara Flats Hut.
The walk to Totara Flats is a pleasant track along river terraces above the gorge. There are a few glimpses of the river from the track and it’s worth walking down and scouting the rapids at Clem Creek and Makaka Creek (both have swing-bridges) as these are the biggest rapids and are reasonably easily accessed from the track. It’s also possible to put in at either of these locations for a shorter day trip.
DOC posted time to Totara Flats is 4.5 hours. Totara Flats hut (26 bunks) is very popular for tramping, so a tent may be worth bringing. The put in is in front of the hut.
The Tararua’s are cris-crossed with tracks and routes; a quick look on the map will reveal lots of options for accessing Totara Flats Hut. A classic through trip option is to walk in from the Mt Holdsworth road end.
Lower Waiohine Gorge (II+) Totara Flats to Walls Whare (road end)
The river exits a spectacular Class III gorge upstream of the hut and has formed a wide terrace at river level (Totara Flats). Accordingly, the first few kilometres are rock gardens and a wide channel that may get boney at low flows. At the end of the flat the river is gradually constricted into a gorge and the gradient increases. At Makaka Creek there is a decent rapid where large boulders have come down the side stream. The gorge gets tighter but rapids are generally rock gardens. There are limited exit points after Makaka Creek but there is reasonable travel on terraces above the river (if you can reach them).
At Clem Creek another solid rapid appears courtesy of Clem Creek’s boulder bedload.
Below Clem Creek the gorge is tighter and exit would be difficult (best prognosis might be exiting river left). This section of gorge has a large number of logs and these formed river wide sieves at low flow but were avoided by scouting each rapid and portaging.
There are plenty of logs in these tight Tararua gorges and it’s critical that rapids are scouted as logs move and new ones appear regularly. A fatal incident occurred below Walls Whare where a paddler was caught underwater on a log. There are plenty of logs and we were forced to portage three rapids that were packraft-eating sieves at low flow.
The Waiohine Road end swing bridge comes into view after 3 – 4 hours. The road end take out is at river left where a track leads up to the car park on the terrace.
Lower Waiohine Gorge (II) Walls Whare (road end) to the Pines
Immediately after the swingbridge and around the first corner there is currently a dangerous log on river left and it may be best portaged by inexperienced paddlers. Scouting all rapids for logs is advised.
The gradient is gentler and there are no major side streams providing boulders. This makes for a mellower run with long pools and short rapids. At Devil Creek the river widens and gradient falls off. There is one rapid of note just above the Pines take-out and this should be scouted.
From Walls Whare to the Pines takes about one to two hours.
We did this trip on consecutive days with flow between 8 cumec and 6 cumec and this felt like a reasonable minimum. At this flow a couple of rapids were in the Class II+ category (immediately below Makaka Creek and Clem Creek) otherwise it was Class II. It may be Class III in higher flows. One trip pulled out at Makaka Creek due to pushy conditions in a 25cumec flow. A spring flow of 12m3 provided excellent paddling. This suggests 10-15cumec might be the ideal Packraft flow.
The river rises rapidly and has a very large catchment in the core of the Tararua Range so check the forecast and look at how the river gauge has responded to previous rainfall events.