Broken River (II/III) with portages

Curious geology is the highlight of this run: that and the caves, gorges and fence hazards.

Information on the Porter River (II with mandatory portage) is included at the end of this page as it looks like an enticing ‘no walk’ option. However, there are fences, nasty sieves and a mandatory portage.

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The right flows

Like other rivers of this catchment and character, Broken River is a bit of a scrape and carry at ‘normal’ flows. Indeed, it is regarded as a rough out-and-back tramping route in normal conditions. You’ll eventually find enough water to paddle, because if all else fails you’ll end up in the mighty Waimakarirri!

With a bit too much rain Broken River becomes fast and continuous, with few eddies and a more than a few hazards. (Fences and undercuts in the gorge)

Consider timing your trip for the spring snow melt, and/or closely behind light to moderate rain.


There is a large carpark at the Cave Stream track, which is just to the north of the SH73 bridge. Signs show the way to the tracks to the cave and to Broken River.

If you are keen, then begin your trip by going through the Cave Stream cave. (Helmets & 2x head torches reccomended)

Otherwise wander down the track to Broken River. Continue walking down the gorge, past the huge rock obstacles (which are dangerous to paddlers at all flows).

About 400m below the outflow of Cave Stream you can begin to paddle if flows are right.

The paddle

Scrape your way over the upper braids (by boat or by foot). Reports vary, but there are often fences in this section. Keep alert and be prepared to quickly pull out and portage.

The river then enters a nice grade III gorge. The limestone geology means undercuts and strange features, so scout lots and portage as needed.

Below there are easy grade II flats.

Later on, the river constricts again and around Emu Stream there are some harder II+ features (III in certain flows). The river relaxes again, with more grade II all the way to the Waimakarirri River.

Broken River Hut is a classic wee 4 bunker on the true right, which you could use to spend the night for an afternoon/morning escape.

Avoca Homestead Hut is another options for overnighting, located upstream of the derelict bridge.

Exit & shuttle options

If the flows are sufficient, there are a few ways to finish the trip. If its too low, you might find yourself walking ou

Exit at Avoca

From opposite the Avoca Homestead, follow the old vehicle track back to the Craigieburn Road end.

Complete the Waimakarirri Gorge

Broken River flows into the middle of the Waimakarirri Gorge. At the flows where the Broken is paddleable, you’ll be expecting a high/fast Waimakarirri.

The Porter River (II with mandatory portage) from SH73

A look at the map makes the Porter River road bridge look like an enticing ‘no walk’ option to enter the Broken River. The Porter needs a bit of flow to be paddleable. In summer flows exect to be scraping and walking a fair bit.

There are some proper hazards in the Porter (Fences/Sievies) which become more difficult to manage/avoid if the water levels are up enough to paddle the whole way.

Generally, the porter is grade I/II wave trains, but there are two distinct gorge sections.

Here are some images and notes:

  • The pics with brown water are from Lesley Pijpker who took a full-sized raft through in November 2022. These are intended as an indication that Porter has some long-term hazards needing management.
  • The clear water pics are From Brett Crombie, from February 2002.

Just remember: rivers change between floods and you’ll need to make your own decisions when you’re there.

Not far from the put-on, there was a stock bridge that required a portage.

The first gorge is a tight but manageable S bend.

On the second gorge, there are tree hazards then a reasonably nasty set of boulder sieves. Expect a mandatory portage. Lesley and her team did a high portage on the true left.

The sieves relent for a short distance, then there’s a ‘The Squeeze’ where two huge boulders make a tunnel with a rather low roof… Lesley’s raft (just) made it through in November 2022, but rivers change: be extremely wary of these features: if you’re there in high water (which you need to be able to float) currents will be strong and eddies can wash out… You don’t want to be coming round the corner, to find no eddies and the whole river going under two huge boulders…

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