This is a scenic overnight trip that starts with lots of Class 2 rapids and spectacular gorge scenery extending more than 90km down river. It requires advance permission from River Valley Lodge for access across private land to the put-in.
This is typically done as two full days to Mangaweka Campground. It could be done over more days and extended downstream to Ohingaiti or even Vinegar Hill 3 long (or 4 leisurely) days. Feature photo Chris Auld.
The trip has a long car shuttle. Put in is River Valley Lodge. This is private property but the owners will allow parking if you call in advance and park away from their guest areas.
Mangaweka Adventure Company and River Valley Lodge staff are very hospitable. They will drive a shuttle if arranged in advance. This does away with the need for a dedicated shuttle driver.
The Lodge offers camping, accommodation, food and the all-important bar. It is the base for the commercial Class IV/V Rangitikei Gorge rafting and also has horse trekking.
To get to the Lodge follow the signs to River Valley along Wainui Road and Otuarei Road. If coming from the north there is a turn-off signposted to Moawhango, Napier and River Valley. Follow this sealed road for 9.5km to another junction, turn left and keep following signs 23km to Pukeokahu and River Valley. allow an hour to drive between put-in and take-out.
The takeout is Utiku bridge or Mangaweka Camping Ground. There is a spa at Awastone (the MAC Base and camping ground) and in season there is a bar and a café
On the River
There are lots of Class 2 rapids and spectacular gorge scenery extending more than 90km down river.
River Valley to Omatane (27km)
The trip starts with a couple of Class 2+ rapids that are often portaged due to rocks. These are followed by “the Chute” (photo Chris Auld).
Flow picks up with the addition of a major tributary from the Ruahines a short distance downstream. There is camping beneath a totara grove a short distance after Omatane (seen here from downstream).
At Mokai canyon the river gets very sluggish and may be a chore in a headwind but the scenery is spectacular. Below this its easy Class 2 that is similar to, and then joins, the Utiku to Mangaweka run.
Omatane to MAC (23.6km)
There is nothing too hard in this section. The river passes under two railway viaducts. The Kawhatau river enters on the left. Just before Mangaweka (about 1 km after the second viaduct there is a short walk to the remains of the old Mangaweka Power Scheme – built in 1911. You can camp at Mangaweka Camp Ground or continue a few hours to a campsite at Soldiers road (which may not have any access from the road).
MAC to Ohingaiti (17.7 km)
You can access the “Rangitikei Boulders” a short walk to a small reserve with lots of round boulders amongst the native trees The Ohingaiti take out is the Quarry.
Ohingaiti to Vinegar Hill (21 km)
A pretty cruisy reach. Take out is at the campground on left after the bridge.
Check Walking Access Maps (WAMS) for the location of overnight camping spots as there are numerous reserves.
Parts of this river are quite remote and there are limited escape routes. There is an access track at Tarata but requires permission from the landowner. At Omatane Bridge there is possible access on river right before the bridge. After Mokai Canyon there is access on the true right requiring permission from the farmer. Below this it is quite a walk to the nearest roads.
The river is very large and rain in the distant headwaters can affect flows. Note that there Kauwhatau are two major Ruahine tributaries below this gauge and they can flood independent of the main river headwaters.
The Mangaweka gauge should also be consulted.
Below 10m3 at Pukeokahu or 20m3 at Mangaweka the river will get a bit bony on shingle bars. The river can be paddled at high flows but numerous wall rapids where flow hits perpendicular to papa cliff faces will become difficult. Best packraft flows are 25m3 up to 50m3 (Mangaweka gauge). The crew at River Valley Lodge should be consulted for minimum viable flow info and permission to access the river past the Lodge.
A Commercial Option
Both Mangaweka Adventure Company and River Valley Lodge run commercial Class II trips on this run.
You might also consider starting your trip by running the half day commercial Class V trip with one of the operators.
In summer low flows River Valley Lodge run rubber ducky inflatable trips on the commercially rafted section upstream of this run. Normally Grade IV /V, the grade is no doubt lower at these low flows but it is still serious water for experienced paddlers not to be attempted by any but the most experienced with appropriate safety.