Unlike the section above Haast-Paringa Cattle Track, the lower Moeraki is a very gentle paddle. This trip involves travel through the river, a lake, across the coast at low tide to a penguin colony, then back to the road via an excellent track.
The coastal section is very subject to tide and sea conditions to be passable; the alternative to the 15 minute beach walk is a 1.5hr bush bash through some very thick west coast jungle! As the trip involves a lake crossing, any wind can make for slow going, or rough conditions.
A good tactic is to drop off all your gear by the Boulder Creek bridge, drive back to Monro Beach track car park, then hitch back to the start point. There’s plenty of traffic, so hitching shouldn’t take long. Walking the road isn’t recommended due to the small shoulders in places.
Lower Moeraki (I/II) Boulder Creek to Lake Moeraki
In low flows, expect to be carrying your boat around a number of shallow sections. In normal flows, there’s likely to be a handful of class II rapids as the river passes through the gravel braids. There’s a few trees in the river to watch out for, including one (in December 2017) that spans the whole river where it narrows which would be problematic at higher flows.
It took us about 2 hrs in very low flows to reach the lake.
The north eastern shoreline has plenty of places where you can land for a rest, or to escape to the road if the wind makes the lake too rough for your liking. This would generally involve a scrub bash to get up to the road. There’s a couple of boat ramps/access points which would make easy escape/start points. They are both marked from the road side, and are clearly visible from the lake shore. One is at the far eastern point of Lake Moeraki, the other about 1km east of the Moeraki River bridge on State highway 6.
It took us about an hour to paddle across the lake, into a light headwind.
Moeraki River (I/II) Lake Moeraki to the coast
Keep an eye out for the tailrace canal on the true left, just below the bridge. This powers a micro hydro scheme which provides electricity for the Lake Moeraki Lodge. There are a few little bouncy rapids in this section, plus a few dead forest mazes to navigate (in slowly flowing water). The buildings marked on the map are whitebait huts, so its probably best to avoid the whitebait fishing season (01 September to 14 November)
There’s plenty of room on the sand bar by the river mouth to land your packraft well clear of the huge swells coming off the Tasman Sea. It took us about 45 minutes for this section in very low flows.
River mouth to Monro Beach
The coastal route is very subject to tide and sea swell conditions. The nearest location for tide and swell forecast is at the Piakatu Point. We haven’t verified the swell height and tide combination which makes the coastal route viable. Pick a good forecast and let us know how you get on!
There’s only one rocky point to get around, but it sticks out a fair way, and when the waves/swell are crashing on it, its not a safe route. There’s no other sensible route over the rocks, so if you can’t get around safely, then you need to take the bush route.
The west coast scrub is pretty thick here, with lots of Kiekie and Kareao (Supple Jack) which makes for slow going. The route shown on the map took us 1.5hrs to get from the river mouth to Monro beach. It can be quite disorienting in the bush; thick, tall vegetation, no view of the sky on flattish terrain, so a compass and GPS could be helpful.
Monro Beach to car park
If you’re there at the right time of year , you can see Fiordland Crested penguin/Tawaki on Monro Beach.
It’s a 40 minute or so walk back along a wide benched track to the carpark. There are a couple of junctions with 4WD tracks, where it isn’t completely obvious which way to go if you are seeing them for the first time. There are (small) DOC signs showing the way to the car park.
Visual at the put in.
The character of the river at the put in is consistent with the rest of the river, so you can gauge the conditions before you start.
Also check the Piakatu Point swell, tides and wind for the lake crossing and coastal route access.