The Rangitikei Canyon (II/II+) River Valley Lodge to Vinegar Hill

The headwaters of the Rangitikei run through the Kaimanawa Range, offering a classic and challenging wilderness multiday trip. A while after crossing State Highway 5 (The Napier-Taihape road) there is a short, sharp class V gorge that ends at River Valley Lodge.   

The “Rangitikei Canyon” begins here, and offers a very scenic 2-4 day paddle through papa (mudstone) canyons, with a very remote feel, despite weaving beneath farmland and under a number of bridges.


With a number of bridges, The Rangitikei Canyon can be enjoyed in sections, or done in a single trip.

Listed from top to bottom, the classic ways to enjoy the river include:

The overnighter: River Valley Lodge – Otamane – Utiku – Mangaweka

This is a scenic overnight trip that starts with lots of Class II rapids and spectacular gorge scenery. It requires advance permission from River Valley Lodge for access across private land to the put-in, and to contact Awastone to use the campsite they have developed by Otamane.

This is typically done as two full days to the Mangaweka Bridge.  It could be done over more days and extended downstream to Ohingaiti or even Vinegar Hill: 3 long (or 4 leisurely) days.  Feature photo Chris Auld.

The classic day trip: Utiku to Mangaweka (or Mangarere )

This section is the classic beginners day trip in the region, with reliable flows. (There’s a more detailed description of this section on this site: Rangitikei (II) Utiku to Mangaweka

The “Coast to Coast” multisport section: Utiku to Vinegar Hill

This section is commonly used for Coast to Coast training/certification. Below Mangarere, the river is calmer, slower but still scenic section.

View Larger Topographic Map

Planning & permission

The river banks alternate between private land and public reserves: it is important to look on the Walking Access Commission website to find out the places where its ok to access/exit the river, stop for breaks and/or camp along the way.

The top put in is River Valley Lodge. This is private property but the owners will allow parking if you call in advance and park away from their guest areas.

River Valley Lodge offers camping, accommodation, food and the all-important bar. It is the take out and base for the commercial Class IV/V Rangitikei Gorge rafting and also has horse trekking.

*The campsite below Otamane “Gorge Rd” bridge has been developed by Awastone (formerly Mangaweka Adventure Co) and is used by them for thier guided trips. Please contact them in advance to check that your trip will not clash with any guided trips. They know of alternative camping spots nearby and can let you know of any new hazards on the river, so its a good idea to drop them a line:

At Awastone, there is a spa, a camping ground and in-season a bar and a café.


Shuttles can be quite long for the Rangitikei Canyon.

Awastone (formerly Mangaweka Adventure Company) and River Valley Lodge staff are very hospitable and will drive a shuttle if arranged in advance. This does away with the need for a dedicated shuttle driver.

To get to River Valley Lodge follow the signs to River Valley along Wainui Road and Otuarei Road. If coming from the north there is a turn-off signposted to Moawhango, Napier and River Valley. Follow this sealed road for 9.5km to another junction, turn left and keep following signs 23km to Pukeokahu and River Valley.

For the classic overnighter between River Valley and Managaweka, allow an hour to drive between put-in and take-out.

On the River

The Rangitkei Canyon is a magnificent run, with lots of Class 2 rapids and spectacular gorge scenery extending more than 90km downriver.

River Valley Lodge to Omatane (27km)

The trip starts with a couple of Class II+ rapids that are often portaged due to rocks.  These are followed by “the Chute”

Flow picks up with the addition Whakaurekou River, a major tributary from the Ruahines a short distance downstream. 

In the Mokai canyon the river gets very sluggish and may become a chore in a headwind but the scenery is spectacular.   Below this, the river is easy Class II paddling.

There is great camping spot beneath a totara grove a short distance after Omatane. This spot was developed by Awastone (formerly Mangaweka Adventure Co) and is used by them for thier guided trips. Please contact them in advance to check that your trip will not clash with any guided trips. They know of alternative camping spots nearby and can let you know of any new hazards on the river, so its a good idea to drop them a line:

Omatane to Utiku (12.3km)

More pleasant class II paddling

Utiku to Mangaweka (11.1km)

This is a very popular section to run as a day trip. We’ve created a whole separate trip page, to help day-trippers avoid confusion with the whole Rangitikei Canyon.

The river passes under two railway viaducts. The Kawhatau river enters on the left.  Just before Mangaweka (about 1 km after the second viaduct there is a short walk to the remains of the old Mangaweka Power Scheme – built in 1911

You can camp at Mangaweka Camp Ground or continue a few hours to a campsite at Soldiers road (which may not have any access from the road).

Mangaweka to Mangarere (5km)

An hour or so of cruisy class two. (Often considered an ‘add-on’ hour for the day trippers coming from Utiku.)

Mangaweka to Ohingaiti (12km)

More cruisey class II.

The Ohingaiti take out is the Quarry.

Ohingaiti to Vinegar Hill (21 km)

A pretty cruisy reach. Take out is at the campground on left after the bridge.

Check Walking Access Maps (WAMS) for the location of overnight camping spots as there are numerous reserves.

Escape Routes

Parts of this river are quite remote and there are limited escape routes.  There is an access track at Tarata but requires permission from the landowner. At Omatane Bridge there is possible access on river right before the bridge.  After Mokai Canyon there is access on the true right requiring permission from the farmer. Below this it is quite a walk to the nearest roads.

River Gauge

Horizons MW Regional Council has a website with gauges and river cams. The relevant gauge is Rangitikei at Pukeokahu

The river is very large and rain in the distant headwaters can affect flows.  Note that there Kauwhatau are two major Ruahine tributaries below this gauge and they can flood independent of the main river headwaters.

The Mangaweka gauge should also be consulted.

Below 10m3 at Pukeokahu or 20m3 at Mangaweka the river will get a bit bony on shingle bars.  The river can be paddled at high flows but numerous wall rapids where flow hits perpendicular to papa cliff faces will become difficult.  Best packraft flows are 25m3 up to 50m3 (Mangaweka gauge).  The crew at River Valley Lodge should be consulted for minimum viable flow info and permission to access the river past the Lodge.

A Commercial Option

Both Mangaweka Adventure Company and River Valley Lodge run commercial Class II trips on the River Valley to Mangaweka section.

You might also consider starting your trip by running the half-day commercial Class V trip with one of the operators.

In summer low flows River Valley Lodge run rubber ducky inflatable trips on the commercially rafted section upstream of this run.  Normally Grade IV /V, the grade is no doubt lower at these low flows but it is still serious water for experienced paddlers not to be attempted by any but the most experienced with appropriate safety.

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