The Akatarawa River is a great little after work run 40 minutes drive out of Wellington. It has a single named rapid “The Wall” that can be challenging but is easily portaged. It’s a small catchment and accordingly takes some rain to get going. It can be a good default rain run if the Hutt Gorge is running too high.
Strictly the takeout is at at the Hutt River confluence known as the “Twin Bridges”. It is often continued down to the Maoribank rapid as flows that gets the Akatarawa pumping will make that rapid pretty grunty.
The put-in is 4km up Akatarawa Valley Road. Turn left into Karpoti Road and park before the Bridge.
The takeout is a residential area but hitching prospects may be reasonable as the Akatarawa Valley is a popular “Sunday drive”.
On the River
From the bridge it’s cruisy Class 2 water. There is a small drop 400m downstream of the bridge to get learners excited then it’s a few km of pools and riffles with the odd rock garden and a few big rocks here and there to practice catching eddies.
After a few kilometres the river swings to the left and splits into two channels. The right hand channel is worth a shore scout as there is a steep boulder bank and some large logs. Some may choose to portage this Class II+ which can vary between a strainer and a butt bruising boulder bank.
There are some overhead lines crossing above this rapid and the hazard is not visible from the pool above. So get out and scout.
Over the next 200m the river swings back to the right and a house comes in to view beyond a large solitary beech tree on river left. From here you can size up the Wall Rapid. In lower flows it’s Class II+ but with higher flows becomes an easy Class III with a safe run out. It can be intimidating for beginners as the current invariably pushes you into the cliff.
There is a nice viewing area on river left which also makes an easy portage.
The next 1.5km is a scenic gorge until you hit the Hutt River confluence takeout on river left. Depending on river flow and play time you will have been on the river for 1 to 2 hours so you may wish to continue down the Hutt River (see Twin Bridges to Moonshine).
In an emergency you can exit anywhere on river left within reason. However note that all exits are across private land. Some land holdings extend to the river and there is no riparian strip. Some river users have reported stroppy locals. So check WAMS for legal lunchstops and respect private land.
The new landowner (as at 2019) at the Wall rapid is very hospitable and said we were welcome to enjoy the riverbank.
The gauge is Akatarawa at Cemetery 0.9 and above.
Flows over 5m3 are ideal. 10-15m3 is great. At higher flows the river gets pushy.
There is another gorge upstream of Karapoti. It is possible that there is Packrafting to be had in this upper gorge. It is quite steeply incised and looks promising but I have no knowledge of it being done, though it has been kayaked in high flows. Based on topography it may be a steep low volume class III.
The West Akatarawa has been paddled in kayaks. It’s a 1 hour walk to the put in on the mountain bike track on river left to a prominent bridge.
rivers.org reports “The run starts at McGee’s bridge and soon enters a series of rock gardens with several nice but small drops. This steeper section culminates in a narrow chute which needs to be scouted for logs. After this the gradient drops away and the river is Class II. The run is not worth the walk at low flows (less than 0.9m on the Akatarawa Cemetary gauge). It is definitely an option at higher flows and is well worth the walk. If it’s a nice day and the river is up you can float on down to the usual Karapoti put-in on the true Akatarawa River or even continue right down to the Hutt River confluence (Twin Bridges)”.
In 2012 log jams requiring portaging were reported at 500m and another at 1.3km below the put-in. After 2km of Class III boulder garden paddling the valley opens out and it’s easy class II for a kilometre to the Akatarawa Karapoti put-in.
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