Mararoa River (II-III) from South Mavora Lake to Kiwi Burn swingbridge

A well known Southland kayaking run, with options to hike the shuttle, paddle the lakes or go all the way to the sea if you’re keen! Thanks to Gerard Hill and Andy Magness for the information.

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Mavora Lakes Walkway: Kiwi Burn swingbridge to South Mavora Lake
Although a mountain bike or car could be used for a shuttle, the track alongside the river is well graded and pleasant.

The South Mavora Lakes walking tracks page on the DOC website has more information about the track.

Mararoa River (II+) South Mavora Lake to the gorge
Put in is at the bottom of the South lake, although the trip can be made into a longer one by putting in at the bottom of the N lake, running the easy river (look for the epic ropeswing on river left–worth the added time!) between the lakes, and then either walking the track on the west side of the lake (about 45 minutes-1+ hours) or paddling the lake (maybe a bit longer).

From the bottom of the south lake you get 10-15 min of dead flat water before passing the first rock. from there things pick up gradually, giving way into long stretches of easy class II boulder gardens (at low-moderate) flows to exciting class II+ technical stretches at higher flows.

Mararoa River (III) Gorge section
A sharp left hand bend and vertical cliff (river right) marks the start of the gorge section. The top of the gorge has two drops with a small eddy between. These become more difficult the higher the water gets, with lateral waves and a sticky holes. Below this there is a short calmer stretch then a longer rapid that twists around several corners and splits around some big rocks in the middle of the river before stair stepping it’s way over a horizon line and then into several hundred meters of progressively easier class II boulders. It can be bony and uneventful at low levels and rather exciting (III+ to IV-) at higher levels.

The track on river right, follows the whole length of the river, although at times it may be 50-100 meters from the river and require climbing up to the track to reach it. except for short sections in the gorge proper, it should be accessible with a bit of effort.

Mararoa River (II-III) Gorge section to Kiwi Burn swing bridge
After the gorge things stay fun with long stretches of class II boulders and corners and easy chutes, particularly at the 0.3-0.5 water levels. Kiwi Burn rapid marks the end of the normal run and gives one last set of two drops as it cruises under the kiwi burn swing bridge. it also offers a great spot to get some photos or do repeat runs of a nice little class III rapid, with relatively lower consequences for a swim.

Mararoa at the cliffs.

The gauge is a reasonable distance away from the paddled section.

Andrew Magness reports: “I have run it enough to get reasonable data, particularly because it is lake fed and so there is a correlation between the level at the cliffs and through the gorge.

at 0.3 above ‘normal’ it is a good solid run. at 0.5 it gets a bit more exciting. i’ve paddled at 0.8 and skipped the first two drops of the gorge and it has been pretty full on for the longer gorge rapid. since packrafts are so good at shallow water, a lower water run can be cool too–still technical without all the pushy water and as serious of consequences of a swim.”

Other options
it is possible, particularly in moderate to high water, to paddle the mararoa river all the way to where it joins the Waiau, some 50 km or so downstream. There might be some good moderate water in there, but the landscape opens up so it is likely to be a different character–braided channels, shingle rapids, etc. Andy Magnus has paddled from where the mararoa crosses the main sealed road to where it joins the waiau and there are a few easy class I/II bits–would be suitable for adventurous families.

4 Trip reports Log your trip

  1. Brody Ed says:

    Ran at 20 cumecs. Slips have come down and filled the river with wood in the gorge. Definitely scout the entrance as there’s some pretty nasty strainers.

    • Date of your trip -14 November 2023
    • Estimated/gauge flow -20 cumecs
    • When did it last rain and how much? -
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -
    • Any new hazards? -Wood
  2. Kristy Jones says:

    Beautiful section. We ran the river from the lake down to Kiwi Burn swing bridge with a bike shuttle in between.

    37cumecs / 0.27 above normal was good, but any lower would be super boney and in my view probably wouldn’t be worth while.

    • Date of your trip -6th May 2023
    • Estimated/gauge flow -37cumex
    • When did it last rain and how much? -25mm in last 24hrz
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -2hrs including scouting
    • Any new hazards? -No
  3. G Hill says:

    If the flow is below 20 cumecs then it will be too rocky and low. 20-35 is ideal packrafting flows, 40 still good but the holes are starting to get sticky and you will need to be a solid grade 3 paddler. Above 50 cumec for experienced strong boaters only, expect push strong currents and descent sized holes below the ‘island’ in the gorge.

    • Date of your trip -Previously
    • Estimated/gauge flow -
    • When did it last rain and how much? -
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -
    • Any new hazards? -
  4. Wim says:

    We ran this after a dry spell at 9 cumecs, -0,18 below normal, while technically runnable it was very boney, we were pinballing between rocks in steeper sections, I wouldn’t run it again at this low flow. One of us was in a hardshell kayak which made it much worse, lesson learned 🙂

    • Date of your trip -Jan 2023
    • Estimated/gauge flow -
    • When did it last rain and how much? -
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -
    • Any new hazards? -

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