Upper Mohaka River (II+) from Poronui Stn to SH5


This is a neat 3-day trip which seems to exist just for packrafters… Walking access only, beautiful clear safe river through steep native bush, trout, plentiful wilderness camping options, easy hitchhiking options, and oh yeah… 2 amazing HOT-SPRINGS! River is 99% Gr2, but Sphincter rapid (portagable) is a Gr3.

Thank you to Chris Coutts for the information and photos for this trip page.

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Access to river

There are a number of access routes to the start of the Mohaka river (confluence of Oamaru and Kaipo rivers), but the simplest is to drive to the public carpark outside of Poronui Station, and walk for 2.5hr on the public poled route to the river. The carpark is next to Heli Sika helicopter base (BH37 853 783), which is miles away from anywhere dodgy, always busy ferrying hunters into the hills, so seems reasonably safe. Enter Poronui Station, and follow the orange triangles on foot, loosely hugging the Taharua River. This is a flat sterile track through their farmland, devoid of any worthy shade or foliage, which is a bit disappointing. Note, this route is kindly provided by Poronui Stn, and is only available to foot traffic. Once near the Mohaka river, you could follow a track a little further upstream, to stay the night at Oamaru Hut (DOC) if required. The Taharua can only be accessed at various points (see map near carpark at start, or photo below), and provides an alternative to walking to the Mohaka, but it seemed too low & overgrown when we went through. See Taharua / Red Hut to Mohaka confluence for more info.


Once on the Mohaka (BH37 834 697), it’s a little bony until the Taharua flows in, then you’re away. There are only 2 notable Gr2+/3 rapids on this trip, the first being Sphincter (BH37 859 690). This is a short network of slots, and at the time we paddled it (20cumecs) there was only 1 obvious way through, in the centre. It’s narrow, only 30m or so in length, and there is a tricky rock midway down. It felt like Gr3, but at different flows, it would act differently. Scouting and portage is easy, river left.

From there it’s good solid Gr2 rapids for the rest of the day. Nothing scary, but plenty of them to keep you interested. We drank from the river, and survived. I think it’s pretty safe. Due to the private land upstream of Mangatainoka campsite/hotsprings, plan to paddle the 20km or so and camp there… you won’t be disappointed. Look for the sandy beach on river-right, and pull out. A well established camping area, complete with steel bbq, picnic tables and glow-worms, is right next to the hotpool… we could chill there for a week, easy.

The next day is much the same as the first; twisty Gr2 through a steep native valley. After 7km you’ll reach the 2nd hot-pool on the river, the more publically-accessible Mangatutu hotsprings. You’ll see the deck perched high on the cliff river-right, but paddle down a little more to the rocky beach, and head up the track. There’s a road-end, campspot, toilet, and picnic area up there too.

Not long downstream (about 2-3km) is Graveyard rapid, the only other named rapid on the trip. But to be honest I don’t know the exact location because we passed it by without noticing it was any different from the rest! I’m not sure if that was due to the particular flow we had, but it’s certainly not as obvious as the earlier Sphincter, and kindof blends into the other fun rapids.

The valley opens out a bit after that, and you pass under Ripia Bridge. (You can takeout here, but the journey back to the start is horrendous). You’re better off paddling through to SH5). After a few more km you’re back into semi-native tree-lined valley, although not quite as picturesque as day-1. It was about 5pm at that stage for us, due to too much mucking around in hotpools, so we found a nice campspot on the grassy riverbank here: BJ38 064 537 (private land, so seek permission first). The next day was a lazy paddle for a couple of hours into relative civilisation. We took out at a nice spot right next to McVicar Rd (BJ38 136 565). Look for a huge log on river-left just before a big horseshoe bend to the right. Scramble up past some blackberries, to a good packup spot, then up to the road.

Land use and camping

Much of the land around the Mohaka is privately owned, with the exception of the middle bit. While we’re allowed to paddle the river, much of the riverbanks are legally off-limits without prior permission. Refer to WAMS for more information.

Getting home

Now would be a good time to mention we stashed a bike in the forest up on SH5, on the turnoff to Poronui Stn (BG37 853 953). The intention was to hitch 1 hour up SH5 to the turnoff, ride the 20km downhill to Poronui Stn, and pick up the car. This plan worked pretty well, and before long we were traveling north in the back of a white unmarked van. Alternatively, you could arrange with Mountain Valley Lodge to drive you up.


At the time we paddled it (Mid-December 2017) the river was about 20 cumecs at the Glenfalls gauge (see link below). That put the river very much in the safe Gr2 realm, with the exception of Sphincter rapid (Gr3). But with higher flow it will push some of the wave-trains into Gr3 territory, and may create technical white-water.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Chris Bailey says:

    No camping between Oamaru Hut and Mangatainoka Hot Springs. That’s all private land.

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