Whakatane River (II)

This is a great two to four day wilderness trip through Te Urewera as described by Stu Bilby. It is suitable for paddlers with basic skills. A choice of huts or great camping each night, wild horses, beautiful forests, striking history and Tuhoe culture. Good hunting, fishing and swimming. This is a traditional canoe route for local iwi. Mataatua Marae is named after the original migration canoe to New Zealand and just below is the traditional put in for trips down the river.


There is a choice of two put-ins.

  1. Mimiha Campsite on the main Ruatahuna Road 5 km before Ruatahuna. (1.5 hours drive from Rotorua). This is a roadside, grassy, free campsite beside the stream. It has a long-drop toilet. If there is enough flow put-in here, a short bouldery section described below will need portaging.
  2. Below the stockyards to avoid the boulders. Drive along Mataatua Road to the locked gate by the marae. Either park here (there is little space, maybe ask at the nearby houses to look after your car) or arrange a key from one of the nearby houses (maybe ask Richard White or Sonny) and drive along a muddy clay road 1.5 km to the stockyards. From the stockyards walk 800 m across the paddock and down a scrubby trail by a creek to the Whakatane River.
Mimiha campsite put-in


There is a choice of take outs:

  1. First is Ruatoki at the first road end. Get someone to drop you off or offer koha to a local to look after your vehicle for you.
  2. My preference is to carry on another 4 hours to Pekatahi Bridge, a couple of kilometres downstream of Taneatua. Take out under the bridge on river right and wander across fields next to the bridge to the access road at the traffic lights. The current keeps moving well all the way to here but with few rapids just gently moving water. It is about a two hour shuttle back to the put in.

On the River

Upper Whakatane

From the Mimiha put-in the stream is small, windy and picturesque, with small rapids for 5 km. There is then a 200 m stretch of large boulders.


At low flows these form strainers and big drops, maybe grade 3+ in flood flows. Drag the packrafts, scramble and lower over the boulders mainly on river left.

Mid section

Once over this the river relaxes into small easy grade 1 and 2 rapids for the next two days. There are three rapids named on the map. Only Tarakena Rapid is of any significance – the river narrows between big boulders and drops out of sight. It can be scouted from the true right. At modest flows there is a chute on the left that pops you through without trouble. At low flows there are rocks to jam on. Still Grade 2 if you aim carefully.

The five riverside huts are pleasantly situated and a little run down. There are abundant good campsites on clearings in the forest. The last hut, Ohora Hut, is 600 m up the side stream. Just drag/paddle/carry your boat up the stream until you see the hut. Don’t bother looking for the track.

A few kilometres below the pleasantly situated Hanamahihi Hut the river eases into grade 1 riffles with a few willows to avoid.

Heading for Ruatoki

Below the Pekatahi Bridge the river slows and widens and it is an additional 5 hours (20 km) flat water paddling into the town of Whakatane and the sea.

River Gauge

River flows here are twice as high in spring or winter as summer. It is much better when flows are above low summer levels. Gauge is Whakatane River at Valley Road http://monitoring.boprc.govt.nz/MonitoredSites/cgi-bin/hydwebserver.cgi/points/details?point=533.

All Photos and words by Stuart Bilby

View Larger Topographic Map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.