The Upper Waiau has long been regarded by the NZ Paddling community as a classic multi-day intermediate trip. Access was usually by Helicopter or walking in over Mailings pass, an expensive or exhausting option with hardshell kayaks. The below information is from a packraft trip by Chris Coutts and Thomas Land in January 2015. Chris and Thomas chose a longer and more interesting access route over Fowlers Pass. They had very low water conditions for their trip; normal flows are much higher and would require solid class III skills; not a trip to be taken lightly.
Chris and Thomas spent 4 days on their trip, staying at Lake Guyon Hut, Pool Hut and then camping on the river flats a few hours below ‘The Narrows’. Rather than taking out at the main road, they continued to float down the braided middle Waiau (II) all the way to the Hanmer bridge for a shorter car-shuttle . Kayakers often do the trip in just two days, with a night in or near Tin Jug Hut. Tin Jug hut belongs to Glenhope Station, contact them to request to use the hut (+64 3 315 7697)
There was a major earthquake in the region in late 2016, so it would be best to enquire locally if there have been any changes to this classic trip.
The information on the Upper Waiau on Rivers.org.nz is from Graham Charles’ NZ Whitewater book. There’s plenty more information about the river trip, as well as plenty of comments about different flows and how they influenced the nature of the trip.
Also check out Chris Coutts’ trip report on the Packrafting.org forum for his trip report from a packrafters perspective. Chris has also provided links to more photos and information.
Fowlers Pass Track: Top House Road to Waiau River
Its about 5-6hrs via a marked track to the Waiau River. Stanley Vale and Lake Guyon Huts provide options for a place to stay for the night, alternatively there’s lots of camping options in the St James Conservation area.
Take a look at the Fowlers Pass Track information page on the DOC website to learn more about the access track and accommodation options.
Upper Waiau (II) to just above the Henry confluence
Braided river paddling, with sections that could be quite shallow in low flows.
Upper Waiau (III) Just above Henry confluence to McArthur bridge
Three short gorges and boulder garden sections, with plenty of class III paddling.
Pool Hut (4 bunks) is best accessed by beginning at the McArthur bridge then following the track north for about 5 minutes.
Upper Waiau (II) McArthur Bridge to ‘The Narrows
Class II paddling.
Upper Waiau (IV) ‘The Narrows
Read about the Narrows on the Upper Waiau on Rivers.org.nz page.
Chris and Thomas packed up their boats and bush-bashed up on river right to the marked 4WD track to portage this section. They put in again at Tin Jug hut. Kayaking parties often stay in or near Tin Jug Hut. The hut itself belongs to Glenhope station. Contact them on +64 3 315 7697 to ask permission to stay.
Upper Waiau (II+) ‘The Narrows’ to Hope River confluence
Class II+ paddling, through more gorges and boulder gardens.
The Upper Waiau on Rivers.org.nz page talks about a road from Calf Creek to the Waiau as the best take out, but It doesn’t appear to be obvious on google earth.
From just above the confluence, you can take out and head up the Hope River a little way. There’s a vehicle track which leads directly to SH 7 via a gate. Its reasonably easy to see the track on Google Earth. Always worth heading down to the take out to ensure you know what it look like from the river!!
Flow at Marble point.
The Upper Waiau on Rivers.org.nz page has a lot of comments about ideal flows for this trip. Bear in mind that Chris and Thomas had a flow of 40 cumecs at Marble point, which is a fair bit lower than Kayakers would usually go for.