A classic day trip off the Heaphy Track for intermediate to advanced packrafters: fun and challenging paddling with a scenic backdrop and wonderful wilderness feel.
But be wary: the Aorere is notorious for how much it rises with rain. Not too surprising when you consider it has a 573km catchment, and headwaters very near the west coast. Because it has a reasonable bit of gradient in the middle (18m/km) this section is a great class III paddle at low flows (12-13 cumecs), but when the water is up a little bit (20 cumecs), there’s some proper technical, big-water class IV action…..
Thanks to Martin Wilson and Willz Martin for the info and photos, plus Hugh Canard and Deane Parker for peer review of the page.
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Scout the takeout first! From the Heaphy Track carpark, go about 50m along the track then scout the take out spot. It’s difficult to notice from the river, so its worth the time spent here. (If you miss it, you can scramble up Fossil Creek, or exit to the road at Walsh Creek)
It’s about 2hrs from the carpark to the put in. Follow the Heaphy track, then turn off on the Shakespeare Flat Track, and continue to the river. There’s camping nearby if you want to turn it into an overnighter.
The river at low flows
This section is characterised by moderate gradient boulder gardens and long deep pools. So when the flows are low, there’s plenty of medium volume class III paddling, with lots of manuevering.
The video below (by Nathan Fa’avae) illustrates the character really well. The level in the video looks pretty similar to the photos by Martin Wilson, who had 12-13 cumecs on the Aorere at Devils Boots gauge.
Video by Nathan Fa’avae – low flows
Images by Martin Wilson, at 12-13 cumecs
The river at higher flows
When the flows are only a little bit higher, 20 cumecs at the Aorere at Devils Boots gauge, Wilz Martin reported a big river feel, with three notable grade IV ‘big boulder, big river type boulder gardens’ in the section to the east of the .423 spot height.
(And Wilz should know: he’s an accomplished kayaker doing grade V first descents, so when he says IV, it really is technical. Wilz is a much better paddler than photographer, so unfortunately there’s no photos of from his trip. )
At these flows, the main rapids were still easily portageable. (Jan 2023)
When to go for low flow?
A lot more packrafters will be hoping for fun class III paddling rather than burly grade IV.
Looking at the behaviour of the flow graph suggests that the difference between class IV @ 20 cumecs and good class III @ 12 is likely to be 4+ days of dry summer weather… At those levels, the river is only dropping very slowly. For reference, the record drought levels are 6 cumecs.