Thanks to Nick Neynens who gave permission to use the trip report on his blog to make up a page here. Its well worth reading his Dobson Packrafting Trip blog post (scroll down the blog to find it) before doing this trip. Its also worth noting that Nick is a very fit, bold and fast adventurer: His times for the route are likely to be very quick!
Nick organised his trip by leaving a car by the Ruataniwha bridge (take out) then hitching up towards Mt Cook. This is on the main tourist route, so should be relatively easy to get a ride in summer. He made his trip over 3 long days, though it’d be worth giving yourself more time to enjoy the area.
Day 1: Birch Hill to Reardon’s Hut (DOC) 6hrs
Day 2: Reardon’s Hut to Le-Crens Hut (Glen Lyon Station) 8hrs
Day 3: Le-Crens Hut to Ruataniwha bridge via the Hopkins River, Lake Ohau and Ohau Canal, long day
The area is often subject to strong northwest winds, which can make paddling the river difficult. Ohau means “place of wind” and could very quickly become extremely dangerous for a Packrafter in strong nor-west conditions.
The Dobson is glacially fed, so keep that in mind when planning your cold water clothing. Lake Ohau would be a very bad place to capsize without a drysuit.
In the Dobson Valley, there are sections of land which are part of Ruataniwha Conservation Park , where the DOC huts are located (Reardon, Waterfall-derelict, Kennedy Memorial and Crough). Although the river area itself is publicly accessible land, there is a small section of the trip that crosses Glen Lyon Station around Reardon’s hut (upper Dobson). It’s important to call Glen Lyon station (03 438 9644 or 03 438 9642) to ask for permission to cross their land. They also own a few of the non-DOC huts in the valley ( Station and Le Crens) which they are often willing to let you use if you ask permission. Its worth checking out the Walking Access Mapping System website so you know the location of public and private land when planning this trip.
Birch Hill to Reardon’s Hut via Jamieson Saddle
Nick took 6 hours to get from Birch Hill up and over Jamieson Saddle to Reardon’s Hut. It’d be wise to allow yourself a full summers day. The saddle is at high elevation (2138m) and usually holds snow year round. Crossing this pass requires alpine experience, judgement and good weather/snow conditions. Crampons and Ice axe may be required and avalanche danger may be present.
Reardon’s Hut to Lake Ohau via Le Crens Hut
Nick reports that the upper Dobson was often pretty shallow and bony, requiring some pushing or portaging, especially where it braids out below Waterfall Hut.
Below Le Crens Hut, there was enough water to paddle without any scraping or portaging all the way to the Hopkins confluence. Downstream, the river is now the Huxley and usually contains a very large amount of water.
Lake Ohau crossing
Ohau means “place of wind” and could very quickly become extremely dangerous for a Packrafter in strong nor-west conditions. Nick reported surfing large waves, dodging waterspouts and generally having a mini-epic. He opted to walk a section of the eastern shore when it became too uncomfortable.
Ohau canal and Lake Ruataniwha
Flat water all the way to Lake Ruataniwha. Portage the control gates to access Ruataniwha.
There’s no easy way to check levels in the Dobson before committing to the trip. Like most braided rivers, they get very low in late summer, so best bet is time your trip for late spring through to mid summer, or go straight after a decent rainfall.