A satisfying through trip to a gorgeous valley. Only a couple of hours walk to access 30km of paddling, with a lake paddle to finish. Tricky to get the right flows, so this is a trip which you go for at the last minute when the conditions are just right, rather than plan far in advance… But when its on, its a sweet trip!
It’d be a lot of effort to set up the shuttle, so try to build up some brownie points with friends/family and ask them nicely to drop you at the Ahuriri end. (lots of good tramping/fishing/swimming up there!)
The Dingle Burn is a famous backcountry Trout fishing destination, and is especially popular during the first few weeks of the fishing season (starting 1 November). Top Dingle Hut is likely to be busy. The upper reaches are the most popular for fishing, and are shallow/narrow, so it’d be hard to paddle past without scaring the fish/spoiling the fishing… So we’d recommend timing your trip to avoid the first two weeks of November.
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- 6h30m Day 1
- 2-3hrs Hike to put in.
- 2hrs Upper Flats
- 1.5hrs Ben Avon Rapid to Cotters Gorge
- 6h45m Day 2
- 30 mins Cotters Gorge
- 2hrs Cotters Gorge to Bush Hut
- 30 mins Bush hut to Slip Rapid
- 1hr Slip Raid to Lake Hawea
- 1h30m Lake Hawea to Silver Island Bay via Lake
- 1h15m Road walk to Public Carpark
Gauge / Flow advice:
This provides an approximation for the relative flows in the Dingle Burn.
Despite a reasonable sized catchment, the Dingle Burn is a reasonably small stream, so getting the right flow is critical for this trip to work.
There are broadly 3 sections of the trip:
- Top Dingle to Cotters Hut is narrow, shallow braids.
- The gorge/technical section from Cotters to Bush Huts,
- Then more navigable braids below Bush Hut.
In normal flows the braids would be far too shallow to paddle, but it wouldn’t take much extra flow to make the narrow gorge/technical section too full on for most packrafters.
The perfect scenario would probably involve a moderately rainy day before hand, with the rain clearing as you arrive at the start of the track. You’d be able to start floating from a few km’s below Top Dingle Hut, hitting the bottom on most braids, but not having to get out and walk much. Then a night spent near (or in) Cotters Hut, allowing the flow to ease overnight, hitting the gorge at a good but not scary level and finishing the trip on day 2.
If you aren’t scratching the bottom at all on the upper section, the gorge will probably have too much water. And if you haven’t had enough rain beforehand, you’d probably better be walking the top section, and the gorge might not have enough flow to cleanly paddle the steep rapids.
For the trip relating to this description:
We began on 04 January 21. Most of the snow was gone and there had been heavy rain 2 days prior, with light rain the day before. The Ahuriri Gauge was 20 cumecs as we scraped our way (frustratingly) down the top section, and 18 cumecs as we paddled the gorge. We still hit rocks in quite a few places in the gorge, but the steep drops had clean lines without retentive holes or powerful eddy lines. We really enjoyed the technical section at that flow, however I reckon another 10-15% extra water would be about perfect to scrape less on the braids and still run the gorge ok.
Hike in: Ahuriri to Dingle Burn
Its a long gravel road from the Lindis Highway, and you really do need a high clearance 4WD beyond the Birchwood homestead (Ahuriri Conservation Park boundary) to negotiate muddy vehicle tracks and several washed out fords from small sidestreams.
A small DOC sign indicates the start of the Dingleburn Route, which switchbacks at easy gradient toward the 1448 pass.
On the Dingle side, the route has occaisonal poles and a well-worn foot pad till the bushline.
Descend steeply through the Beech to Top Dingle Hut (6 Bunks).
Hike down valley on an easy, well marked track until you think there’s enough water to float.
Upper flats (I)
At the right flow, these will still be quite shallow, and you should expect to be scraping a lot and getting out of your boat to walk frequently. Some may find it faster and less frustrating to continue to the Ben Avon rapids (or further) before attempting to paddle.
Ben Avon rapids (III)
Quite abruptly, the river narrows and drops sharply through a boulder garden with short bedrock walls. There are several 1m drops with tight lines which should be scouted. Flow is everything: a bit too low and the boulders become ugly sieve/wrap hazards, a bit too much and it would become grade IV quite quickly.
As the mini-gorge opens up, the river descends through a strange set of braids, which are steep and shallow; messy and ugly to paddle at low flow, fast and scary at higher flow!
The Ben Avon rapids are easy to portage on river left.
Middle flats (II)
With the extra flow from the side-streams, this section has a bunch of wave trains and less scraping on the bottom.
Keep an eye out for when the grassy terraces give way to Beech forest that grows down to the river: this marks the start of the Cotters Gorge. Paddle a hundred meters or so beyond the bush edge to the river left tributary and take out. There are pleasant grassy campsites here, and its easy to join the track to Cotters Hut or to walk around the gorge.
Cotters Hut is a tiny 2 bunker from 1962, which has real character. It is set about 15 minutes above the river and catches the last of the afternoon sun, so is good for drying out gear..
The open grass around the hut is pretty bumpy and a bit swampy for camping, but there’s a nice clearing in the beech forest about 20m up valley from the hut. Water is from the shallow trickle which feeds the swamp! (In good weather, you might prefer camping beside the river. You could camp anywhere in the Dingle Burn up valley of Cotters Hut)
Cotters Gorge (III+)
The technical crux and highlight of the trip is this short and sharp bedrock gorge. Although there are bedrock walls, you’re not totally committed, as there are places you could escape, and usually portage options around the rapids.
The photos don’t show the hardest sections; we were too busy concentrating to take photos..
There are plenty of tight corners and rapids steep enough to demand scouting: we found several tree hazards which required portaging.
At our flows, the rapids were still shallow and required a series of fast and precise maneuvers to avoid sub-surface boulders and navigate the drops between the big boulders. Be warned, not all of the lines were clean enough to paddle, and you’d end up wrapped on a rock, which would be a bit ugly.
Any swim would be because of hitting a rock, rather than poor technique through a water feature.
The rapids are fairly close together, but there are enough eddies that a competent party feels like the section can be done with a good level of control. Don’t take this section lightly: everyone in the party needs to be able to confidently make the lines and catch the eddies. A swim would be ugly: lots of rocks + low-ish flows = high entrapment hazard.
At higher flows (like when you could float the upper flats without hitting the braids) this gorge would surely be a grade IV paddle.
A grassy flat on river left marks the end of short (but very sweet) Cotters Gorge.
Although we didn’t test it out, its likely you could find a straightforward way to bypass this gorge by using the track beside the airstrip, and follow the south-west spur back to the river at the gorge’s end.
Cotters Gorge to Bush Hut (III)
Although the gorge has relented, there are still plenty of fun rapids between the easier grade II paddling. Still a bit of scouting to be done here and there, particularly for tree hazards and choosing the clean line through steeper rapids through the tight corners.
There are lots of places to camp on river terraces through this section, plus lots of high rock walls and huge slips. This section would cope pretty well with a fair bit more water, so if flows are high enough to float the upper section easily, you’d still have lots of fun by portaging Cotters Gorge and continuing from there.
The river opens up to wide braids formed by a collossal slip on the right. Bush Hut (6 bunks) can be seen through the trees on a high terrace on the left. A large orange triangle shows an easy way up to the hut. Bush Hut is a gorgeous 1960’s design on a pleasant site. Definitely a good spot to stay if your schedule requires (or allows) it.
Bush hut to slip rapid (II)
A few gentle wave trains and minor rapids through the braids. Gets a bit shallow in places…
Slip rapid (II+)
It feels like the excitement is over, but the slip rapid is a good reminder to keep alert and paddle properly..
A huge, obvious slip on river right has formed a large deep pool with a horizon line at the end.
A few more grade II rapids then ease into the final braid section. Easy to scout/portage on the right.
Final braids (I)
The river widens into shallow braids, and the scenery changes from beech forest to tussock hillsides, then on to a satisfying finish at Lake Hawea.
Return to Corner Peak carpark
Although the shortest route to civilization would be through Dingle Burn station, it is private land and permission is required. Walking access isn’t usually given, but apparently you can sometimes get permission to drive a vehicle to Dingle Burn station with payment of a road maintenance fee ($50 per vehicle in 2020)
Otherwise, from the light vehicle bridge over the Dingle Burn, you’ve got options to paddle or walk, depending on the conditions and how you feel.
From the vehicle track over the Dingle Burn, you could begin walking via the Dingle Burn Valley Track. At the junction with the Dingle Burn Peninsular Track, is a DOC campsite among thick Manuka (Turihuka Conservation Area). A nice spot to stay if it isn’t windy (which isn’t often). About 1.5hrs along a 4wd track from river mouth to the gravel of the Dingle Burn Station road. A further 1.5hrs to the public carpark opposite Corner Peak.
If there’s a reasonable tail-wind on Hawea, it would probably be faster to paddle the 8km to Rocky point. There are easy landings and access to the walking route in any of the bays by Silver Island, but elsewhere the shoreline is bluffed. The lake is dam controlled, so depending on lake level there can be places to land, but you couldn’t continue on foot. Hawea is exposed to the wind, especially the NW, so consider the conditions and committment carefully before choosing to paddle the lake section.