Aorere River (II) Salisbury Falls Gorge

The crystal clear Aorere cuts through the epic rock gorge at Salisbury falls, which is Takaka’s biggest and busiest swimming hole. The gorge itself runs for a few km each side of the tourist area and in low flows is an easy and spectacular trip, suitable for confident beginners. This is a short and sweet car-shuttle run, which has been popular with kayakers since forever..

Thanks to Martin Wilson for the photos and low info. Thanks to Hugh Canard for the hazard advice and cautionary tales from accidents at high flows.

Beware: Aorere floods and limestone undercuts

The Aorere has a huge catchment, which is exposed to any northerly/nor-westerly weather system. Subsequently, the river has a reputation for rising very fast: going from 20 cumecs to 2000 cumecs in a few hours is not uncommon! At these flows, even ‘flat’ water has hydraulic features that will submerge a high-volume creek boat for 30 seconds.

Limestone walls make for spectacular scenery, but also pose serious hazards. In many places, the walls have extreme undercuts. The potential for ending up in one of these undercuts is very real, which makes them a serious hazard to be avoided at all costs. In low flows, they are easily avoided, provided you are aware of the hazard and paddle away from the walls. At higher flows, the current can smash into the walls, and if you capsize, the water can easily suck you down, and probably into the log/tree debris down there with fatal consequences.

In the 1970’s there was a double fatality just above Salisbury Creek. In a big flood, 3 experienced kayakers capsized and were sucked into an undercut. Only one survived.

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Car shuttle

Leave a car (or bike) at James Rd bridge and head up the Aorere Valley road until it crosses 15 mile creek. Get in here at the little bridge.

On the river

The river is wide and at low flows, there are occaisonally two channels to pick from.

Beware of the limestone overhangs, the water could drag you and trap you into a low ceiling cave! Wave at the tourist sat the swimming area and stop off for a dip in the warmer waters of the Salisbury Creek waterfall. Keep heading downstream, sometimes paddling long still sections of clear green water.

You can get out on the upstream or downstream side of the James Rd bridge. The run as marked is roughly 12km about 2-3 hrs.

The trip could be extended 8km by heading on downriver to the Devils Boots and getting out at Rockville.

Have a look at what the kayakers say on the entry for this section.


Aorere at Salisbury (which is a stage height in mm near the put-in)

As mentioned above, the Aorere has a huge catchment exposed to storms, making it especially prone to rapid rises in water level. Packrafters are urged to avoid paddling when any significant rain is forecast in the headwaters and to wait for at least 12 hours after any high water events.

Given the hazards, and the style of trip, this really is best suited to low water levels.

  • 500mm is reported as near the lowest reasonable level to bother paddling: expect to scrape a bit on the shoals.
  • 650mm is an easy low-flow for confident beginners.
  • >650mm.. Tell us what you find…

There is another gauge lower down: Aorere at Devils boots (which is in cumecs, and a ways downstream)

2 Trip reports Log your trip

  1. Nick says:

    Ran the Aorere from Fossil Creek (just below Brown Hut) today at ~35m³ at Devils Boot / 970mm Salisbury Bridge. Long run, some 18-ish km by the looks. Big river feel above the gorge but mostly read and run grade 2/2+. In the gorge, which is absolutelystunning, be wary of the headwalls where many a time the rapid runs into them at 90 degrees. Some rapids require manoeuvring and there is at least a couple that push into the 3- territory. They are fairly straightforward if you know what you’re doing, though. Worth scoping the gorge rapids, also because there are many undercuts from where the limestone starts (below the old bungee bridge). Past the gorge there are some more fun bedrock features, all read and run and grade 2/2+.

    From what the description above says for lower flows, I would say at 35 cumecs / ~1m stage it is not a beginner run and requires some manoeuvring skills and being comfortablein bigger water.

    • Date of your trip -27/09/24
    • Estimated/gauge flow -35 cumecs @ Devils Boot
    • When did it last rain and how much? -22&23/09/23 - 150mm at Perry Saddle / 120mm at Salisbury
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -4.5h with a couple 15min stops
    • Any new hazards? -few logs here and there but all visible
    1. Nick says:

      Did the same run again in higher flows. Great fun! The open channel part below Brwon Hut was easier at higher flows as rocks were nicely covered over. Fast flowing, though. The top gorge above Salisbury Falls felt a bit harder as the drops into headwalls were more powerful and you’d want to chose your line carefully in some of those. The lower gorge below Salisbury Falls had a few bigger holes you’d want to avoid, but the undercuts in the limestone walls are more underwater. One rapid near the lower end of the lower gorge is a G3 in those flows. The bedrock sections along the groynes in the open farmland near the end have some amazing surf waves.

      • Date of your trip -4/02/24
      • Estimated/gauge flow -65m³ / 1.66m @ Devils Boot, 1.4m @ Salisbury
      • When did it last rain and how much? -
      • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -5h with a lot of loading in eddies
      • Any new hazards? -

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