Buller River (II/III) Source to Murchison and Beyond (III/IV)

The Buller river is one of New Zealand’s mightiest rivers. From it’s source in the Nelson Lakes to the wild West Coast at Westport it’s a spectacular beast.

From the Lake it has a lovely short bouldery run across the terminal moraine that retains the Lake. It then becomes a slightly braided river for some distance before hitting boulder gardens, courtesy of it’s first big tributary (the Gowan), and then the infamous Granity Creek rapid appears. From Granity to the ‘Four Rivers” plain it picks up volume but retains a similar character and is very popular with kayakers. Below Murchison it enters several gorges and is big water more suited to kayaks and rafts than packrafts. With a few portages it might make an epic source to sea run but you’d need to do your research.

The main runs of relevance to Packrafters are all road side runs

Source of the Buller (III) – this one gets it’s own write up elsewhere. It extends from Lake Rotoiti to the Howard River – allow up to 4 hours.

Lake Rotoiti Source of the Buller

Howard River to Harleys Rock (II) – reported to be a pleasant few hours paddle by Stu Bilby but hampered by braiding and the odd willow.

Harley’s Rock to Gowan (II) – at higher flows this would be a nice beginner run but it is braided and has frequent willow hazards. Allow two hours.

Granity Run Put-in

Gowan to Granity (III) – this starts with a similar character to upstream runs but around the corner there are a few km of Class II boulder gardens that are excellent for practicing eddying. After 3.5km the river swings to the left and the roar of the Granity rapid can be heard.

The Granity rapid was formed when a flood brought large rocks down the Granity Creek. Get out and scout on river left. This is graded III+ in typical understated kiwi fashion. It’s big water, think of it as a long lonely swim and then decide if it’s worth paddling. Competent paddlers, with safety set and a chase boat for gear, may tackle it after watching the hoards of kayakers that are often present. Saner packrafters will portage river right.

Granity Creek Rapid

This run continues with nice Class II / II+ to the Owen River Tavern. Allow three hours from Gowan Bridge.

Owen River Tavern to Doctors Creek to Mangles (II)

These are the most used runs on the Buller for teaching and for beginner kayakers. Kayakers tend to run these in smaller sections and spend more time on play features.

Owen Put-In and DOC Camp

The first take-out after Owen River is Claybank on river right just before the sidestream. It can be recognised by the well landscaped riverbank just upstream. Don’t venture onto this property or park on it inadvertently.

The next take out is the Doctors Creek run put in. It has recently changed so may be less obvious.

Whilst it’s a roadside run, this is not obvious from the river. You do know you are in farming country by the occasional foams and smells and water intake structures. I chose not to drink the water!

Take-out above Mangles

There are multiple takeouts at the end of the run. the best for beginners is on river right a few hundred metres before the Mangles confluence. This take out avoids a pushy rapid at the, more commonly used, confluence take out (river left on the true right of the Mangles 20m upstream).

Near Mangles Confluence

Mangles to Riverside (II) – another short learners run that ends at the campground.

Downstream of Murchison – bolstered by the additional flow from the four rivers plain tributaries (Mangles, Matiri, Matakitaki and Maruia) the river is large volume and boisterous. Check kayak guides for the description of the downstream runs.

O’Sullivans (III/IV) – a park and play spot or a longer run down to the bridge, or just below Whale Creek or just above Ariki Falls (Paddling Ariki Falls is not for packrafts!)

Whale Creek Rapid is Class IV okay at low flow scoutable on river left.

Looking up to Whale Creek (IV) Takeout River right

Earthquake Section (IV)

A great run for packrafts in low summer /autumn flows. A bit too boisterous for packrafts in higher flows with Gunslinger rapid developing very big holes (always shore scout Gunslinger). Put-in – drive down a steep (high ground clearance vehicles only) gravel track 600m upstream of the Brunner Memorial. Take almost 10km downstream immediately after the Iron Bridge and walk to New Creek Road.


Gunslinger hole at low flow

The Lyall Play Waves are a lot of fun


The Gauge is Buller at Longford.

High Canard provided river notes and advice and is a mine of information on this area (well everywhere actually). Daan and Jess at the NZ Kayak School know these rivers inside out and are a great source of information. Consider a paddling skills course whilst in the area.

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