A classic day trip, with straightforward access, amazing views and just enough rapids to keep intermediate packrafters entertained but not terrified. Needs a bit of rain to bring out the best in it.
Be aware that Wanaka River Journeys (as well as recreational jet boaters) regularly operate on the Matukituki River. These jet boats have legal authorisation to boat up the East Branch to the National Park Boundary at Junction Flat. This means you could theoretically encounter them at any stage during this paddle. There’s not a huge amount of space in that section of river, so be sure to read the Jetboat courtesy code for safety tips before you head out, and give them a call!
Track from Cameron Flat to Junction Flat
There’s a DOC sign and small carpark at Cameron Flat. From there, find an easy crossing of the west branch of the Matukituki. The braids here change a lot, so you might have to do a bit of a search to find a decent spot. At the time of writing, about 200m upstream of the car there was a knee deep crossing when the West Wanaka gauge read 80 cumecs.
Follow the farm road and then DOC triangles up to Glacier Burn, about 1-1.5hrs from Cameron Flat. Respect the Farmers land, by leaving your Dog at home, not bothering any stock and leaving gates as you found them.
Another 1.5-2hrs will see you arrive at Junction Flat. The track is relatively well marked, though in places a bit of track damage means you might have to traverse above some slips. Not much of a problem really.
Crossing the Kitchener River swingbridge is worth it for the view, but its just as easy to cross the river on foot or put in at the confluence. Amazing views at Junction Flat of Mt Aspiring’s eastern aspects, Pope’s nose and the Kitchener Cirque.
You could easily turn this trip into an overnighter, either by camping on grassy flats at Junction Flat, or heading up to the Rock of Ages Bivouac.
The upper Kitchener Valley is a real gem; its worth walking up to the base of the Turnbull Thompson Falls if you have the energy. Packrafting the Kitchener is not really an option. Super steep stacked boulders with multiple sieves and waterfalls….
Matukituki River East Branch (II / III-) Junction Flat to Glacier Burn
If you’ve timed your trip after rain and have good flows, you can start paddling just below the swing bridge. A few wave trains and a couple of nice class II rapids start the run.
The single class III- rapid is easy to scout and portage on river left. Some manueovering in the rapid is required, and the final mid river boulder has a big undercut on the upstream side.
The river mellows, with long pools and some easy class II until the Glacier Burn confluence. About An hour from Junction Flat to Glacier Burn
Matukituki River East Branch (I/II) Glacier Burn to the West Branch
From the Glacier Burn, the river braids up, with a few slightly larger class II wave trains. Great views up into the Avalanche Glacier and down to the Matukituki Valley. Another hour or so for this section.
Walk back to the Car
Where the east and west branch meet, its about a 15 minute carry across gravel flats to the car park.
Matukituki Flow at West Wanaka.
In normal flows (around 40 cumecs), the run is likely to be a bit on the bony side, so its better to wait till there has been a bit of rain before doing this trip. We have done two trips, where the West Wanaka gauge was reading 70 and 80 cumecs, which seemed like good flows. Only hit a couple of rocks in some of the shallow braided sections.
3 Trip reports Log your trip
We did it recently (21 Dec 2022) with a dropping river flow, at or around 50cms and it was real good. A little boney below Glacier Burn, but still passable. Super scenic and consistently fun!
Paddled this at 65 cumecs (W Wanaka gauge) . We skipped the G3 bits and the two rapids below, but everything else was G2 and G1 and good fun at that flow. Some bony bits here and there after the river braids (below Glacier Burn) and got stranded on the odd boulder due to poor line choice, but overall runnable at that flow.
Walk in was definitely more than 2.5h. More like 3.5 with some scoping of rapids etc. and not much faffing. Also some rather dodgy pieces of trail to navigate closer to the Kirchener confluence.
Paul and I did this on 25 Jan. Gauge was on 60 cumics so we anticipated lowish flow but actually found it fast and full. No bony bits. We took 3 hrs for the walk in but we are getting on a bit.
The grade 3 bit was short fast and manageable. Barely enough time to maneuver between the turbulence.
Dust stormy tailwind drove us down the lower half.
We also accidentally stopped rafting too early but later realized that you could leave a bike where the river meets Glenfinian creek and get out there and the driver bikes back to the car at Cameron flat.
There was no view into Kitchener Circe due to clouds but we did see up into Avalanche Glacier.