The gorge of Te Awa Kairangi / Hutt River is a spectacular trip through native forest with a real wilderness feel. It is well known by local paddlers, as it is the closest class III water to Wellington (one hour) and has road access with a short shuttle. Te Awakairangi / Hutt River supplies Wellington with much of its water so it suffers from summer low flows. It’s best after rain and needs a northwest fresh or sustained southerly rain to be runnable. The proximity to town and ease of access mean that it’s also well known to search and rescue. One rapid was known as the “Westpac” after the rescue helicopter. In low summer flows many under-equipped parties swim/lilo/tube the gorge. But it is longer than you think and many rescues are due to late starts, slow progress and it getting dark… In high flows it is serious water, so not one to underestimate!
Thanks to Martin Robertson for the information and photos.
Although making a loop trip by walking the ridge then packrafting back to your car is a great day out, it is pretty easy to do a car shuttle if you prefer.
The take out is a short distance from SH2 accessed via the Te Marua Speedway entrance to the Twin Lakes area of Kaitoke Regional Park. Continue to the service building and compound and then down to the left to the riverside car park.
From the take out it is 20 minutes (9km) via SH2 to the put in. On weekends hitchhiking prospects are reasonable but a modest walk (1.5km) will probably be required back to SH2 from the takeout.
The Kaitoke Regional Park entrance is via Kaitoke waterworks road, and is well signposted as you approach Pakuratahi. The access road leads to a riverside car park . There is excellent camping and facilities half way in and you can visit a Lord of the Rings setting (Rivendell).
Info about the access and camping can be found on the Greater Wellington Regional Council website . The put in is beneath the road bridge at the Pakuratahi Forks.
Ridge Track. Twin Lakes to Pakuratahi Forks
From the Twin Lakes take out, follow the road up and around to the start of the Ridge Track. This is a pleasant track through typical Tararua forest, with some nice views along the ridge top.
You will notice there are two tracks which can be used as emergency exits from the gorge. It is worth familiarizing yourself with the map although the exit tracks are well marked and visible from the river. At a pinch any leading ridge on river left will do. The Ridge track time is 3 hrs, but a fit packrafter can do it without much trouble in 2hrs.
The local council have produced a sketch map of the access which could complement the topomap.
Te Awa Kairangi / Hutt River Gorge (III to IV)
The river is a popular tubing trip at low flows but there are a number of drops that would be pretty boney in a packraft below the recommended flow (6.5cumecs).
The first section of the river has Class II rapids connecting a series of popular swimming holes. When the flume bridge comes into view you are approaching the last easy exit and a series of Class II+ III rapids. At the flume bridge you can exit by a steep scramble and walk a back along the road to your car.
Beyond the Flume bridge the river narrows within the gorge and gradient steepens. The narrow gorge is very susceptible to serious log-jams and these can form river wide obstacles and dangerous sieves. Rapids should be scouted for logs after floods or if you haven’t recently run the gorge. It’s a good idea to check in with local canoe club via Facebook for any recent trip reports that might highlight hazards. Portaging with packrafts should be possible at most rapids.
There are a number of videos on YouTube showing the main rapids at a range of flow conditions. It’s worth checking these to see what you might be in for. At higher flows the river gets up to class IV and can be very pushy. The river responds quickly to rain so check that forecast! It can also be hazardous on a low flow with logs and rocky drops.
In the gorge proper there are lots of small drops and chutes with Grade III water to keep you entertained between pool sections.
Opposite where Putaputa Stream enters is the first escape track. After Putaputa Stream the gradient steepens again with a small drop then onto the rock gardens and after a right turn you enter the Chicane Rapid. The Log Drop rapid described in old trip reports is no longer present. However there are a number of places where logs form weirs and these logs can move after a high flow.
There is a nice shingle beach for a halfway stop where the gorge orientation allows a bit more sun. There are more than a few mild looking rapids, which feature reasonable undercuts on the gorge walls. Its easy to forget this type of hazard on a gentler rapid, when you’ve been just been paddling on harder water.
A short distance on, Kororipo Stream enters on the right providing boulders for some more rock gardens. Beyond this there is an easing of gradient. The valley skyline visibly widens half an hour before the take-out. This section is mostly class II at the recommended flow.
The take-out is an obvious gravel beach. You will have been on the river 4 or 5 hours at this point covering 9.5km at a gradient of 7.5m/km.
The Te Marua gauge derived flow should be above 6.5cumecs (1.8m gauge). Beyond 2.5m gauge the river has Class IV water with numerous holes and eddies and is a fast trip with no room for error.