Shotover River, upstream of Arthurs Point (II+ to IV)

The mighty Shotover

The enormous catchment of the Shotover River drains the Harris and Richardson Mountains. From near the main divide of the Southern Alps, it drains through open tussock basins and steep schist canyons to the breweries and bustle of Queenstown, NZ’s adventure tourism capital. Affectionately known as “The Shotty” to locals, it means a lot to many different people, past and present. Early Māori knew the river as Kimi Ākau, which means “looking for the coast” and is presumed a reference for a route to the west coast for pounamu. European and Chinese gold miners invested their heart, soul and often lives into the gold resources of the area in the 1860’s, before farming became established at Branches Station as the main economy in the valley. More recently, the whitewater of the middle to lower reaches became known to paddlers, with commercial rafting becoming commonplace as Queenstown boomed.

Like many other places, the surge in Packrafting has brought a new group of people to this wonderful place, with many new ways to enjoy this magnificent landscape and the river that runs through it.

A big thank you to all the people who helped provide information and review the page to make sure it is as accurate as possible.: Jenny Cossey, Allan Swann, Jude Collett, Shayne Galloway, Mal Haskins, Ico Schutte, Bryan Moore. Unless otherwise credited, all images are courtesy Alan Swann.

Overview of your options

There are many ways to create a fantastic trip of between half a day and four (or more), depending on your paddling ability, access ethic and style of trip you are looking for.

Because of this, we’ll give you a few ideas on classic trips, then describe the approach options and paddling options separately for you to mix and match as you wish.

Apart from the headwaters, all the sections are accessible by (rough) road. Access to any of the lands and waters upstream of MacLeods needs permission from Branches station.

Helicopters have been used by packraft parties to access Lochnagar.


View Larger Topographic Map

The classic trips

The through trip plus Lochnagar: 5 long days via Shotover saddle (I to IV)

This is the full-monty: a classic packrafting route with a great sidetrip

  1. A challenging and highly scenic walk to camp on Shotover Saddle.
  2. Continue down past Tummel Burn Hut and on to camp near the start of the Lochnagar route.
  3. A side trip up to Lochnagar, then paddle the upper braids to a campsite on the true right, immediately below the Greenland Spur gorge.
  4. Paddle to MacLeods (I/II/III) where the road begins.
  5. A long river day through to Arthurs Point, taking in all the classic sections of paddling, with kayaks, jetboats and rafts for company. (I to IV)

The through trip: 4 long days via Shotover saddle (I to IV)

This is the classic packrafting route over 4 long days.

  1. A challenging and highly scenic walk to camp on Shotover Saddle.
  2. Continue down past Tummel Burn Hut, then paddle the upper braids to a campsite on the true right, immediately below the Greenland Spur gorge.
  3. Paddle to MacLeods (I/II/III) where the road begins.
  4. A long river day through to Arthurs Point, taking in all the classic sections of paddling, with kayaks, jetboats and rafts for company. (I to IV)

The packrafters pick: 3 to 4 days via the Branches road (I to III or IV)

You can still enjoy all the paddling by driving in from Arthurs point. This means a much shorter shuttle, but you’ll be covering some of the ground twice and you’ll miss the spectacular crossing of Shotover Saddle.

This option is great for those who don’t have the technical ability for the whitewater but who are keen to visit Lochnagar and enjoy some scenic floating.

  1. Drive to Branches station, then walk in to camp near Greenland Spur.
  2. Walk up to Lochnagar and explore the lake.
  3. Hike down to the put on, then paddle to MacLeods (I/II/III) where your car is.
  4. A long river day through to Arthurs Point, taking in all the classic sections of paddling, with kayaks, jetboats and rafts for company. (I to IV)

Roadside day trips (any combo of I, II and IV)

If walking isn’t your thing and you just want paddling, the Shotover has got you covered. The access road isn’t for the faint hearted, but you can access the majority of the whitewater for a day trip:

Planning and permission

On the Matukituki valley side, the approach route is generally open without requiring specific permission. However, the Shotover Saddle route is closed for lambing in spring (Mid Oct to early Nov, but see DOC website for current times)

Most of the Shotover catchment is Branches Station which is private land. Permission is required from Branches Station Manager (03 441 8421) for all walking access, helicopter access, any camping and the use of Tummel Burn or Lochnagar Huts.

Other huts are generally not available for public use. Access will not be granted in October and November, due to calving and school camps in the area.

A specific route must be followed when walking up-valley from the Branches, and is described in the approach section below.

Don’t be a d#ckhead

Just remember, you are an ambassador for all outdoor recreationists when you phone up to ask for permission, and whilst you are on the land. Your behaviour reflects directly on everyone else who would like to also enjoy this trip in the future. So please behave well, show respect and gratitude, and preserve the goodwill with the land owners and managers so the rest of us can continue to enjoy this wonderful bit of New Zealand.

Skippers Canyon Jet regularly travels the section of river between Skippers Bridge and Deep Creek (I). It is vital to check in with the operator (03 442 9424) before you leave for your trip to de-conflict with planned tourist departures.

If you’re doing the through trip, you’ll need to time your transit of the gorge to avoid the Jetboat times

If you’re doing a car-shuttle trip from Arthurs Point, then you should try to call in at the Jetboat office (a house high above the river on the westside of the road just past the take out at Deep Creek). The Jet boat staff will loan you a VHF radio and a laminated card with instructions for places to radio to help avoid nasty surprises in the canyon!

At the office there is a whiteboard to leave intentions if you can’t get in touch with anyone.

Either way, be very very cautious about listening out for boats and minimising your time in the narrow sections (some of which are only just wide enough to fit a Jetboat, so Jetboat at pace + packraft = pop/splash/drown)

Also, have a read of the “Jetboats and Packrafters” page on this site for more courtesy and safety info.

The approaches in detail

From the Matukituki

Raspberry Creek Carpark, West Matukituki Valley to Shotover Saddle 4-6hrs

This is a pretty honest climb with heavy packs: Although its not the longest of days, it could work well after running a shuttle car to Arthurs point. Also, the views up high are magnificent, so its well worth the high camp in settled weather.

DOC has good information about this route, which is closed for lambing each spring. Make sure you check the DOC website for updates to closure dates when planning your trip.

Shotover Saddle to Tummel Burn Hut 5hrs

From here on, you’re on Branches Station, and permission is required: See the ‘planning and permission’ section for more info.

This section has intricate route finding to avoid bluffs and scrub: the hut logbook has many accounts of people not finding the cairned (but overgrown) route and getting bushed and/or bluffed. It is well worth doing your homework here. The Moirs Guide has a detailed description, plus you could look at info on Routeguides.co.nz Good routefinding and map reading skills are important here.

Tummel Burn Hut to start of Lochnagar Track 3hrs

A gorge just below “The Forks” is best negotiated by rockhoping mostly on the true left, as the bush here is thick. From Pine Creek Flat, either paddle if there’s enough water, or follow your nose down valley, crossing as needed.

Side trip to Lochnagar 4-5hrs return

Take the track marked on the map up Lake Creek, which peters out into a route which is reasonably well marked and easy to follow. Moirs Guide has more detailed descriptions. Permission is required from Branches Station to stay at Lochnagar Hut (4 bunks).

From Arthurs Point

Driving the Branches Road 1hr

This is an adventure in itself, requiring a 4WD, dry conditions and a stomach for narrow roads above large bluffs. The fact that rental cars aren’t insured on this road should tell you something…

As you drive in, its worth popping in to Skippers Canyon Jets to let them know you’ll be on the water in the near future.

From Arthurs Point, head up the Coronet Peak Road, then follow the signs towards Skippers Canyon. Allow at least 1 hour from Arthurs Point through to MacLeods, more if you’d like to stope and explore the historic sites at Skippers Village.

Branches Station to Greenland Spur willows campsite 4-5hrs

From here, permission is required from Branches Station. (See ‘planning and permission section for more info).

If permission is granted, it is important to follow the instructions given by the Farm Manager regarding where to walk. In 2021, the instructions were as follows, but please check when you are requesting permission.

You must not use the main farm track which heads up to ‘The Amphitheatre’

From the road end, follow the farm track which heads to the A3J8 trig feature. When the farm track peters out, follow the true left bank, staying within marginal strip boundary, and certainly on the river-side of any fence line.

Continue following close to the true left bank, until the Shiel Burn. From here, permission is generally granted to use the 4WD farm track up valley.

Visitors should visit the Herenga ā Nuku / Walking Access Commission online mapping tool to understand the private property boundaries. It is worth noting that these maps also show the location of marginal strips (aka ‘Queens Chain’). These technically provide legal public access along much of the river banks. However, the location of the marginal strip often doesn’t correspond with land that is convenient or even possible to actually walk along (ie, they run along the gorge cliff tops in several places). So permission from Branches Station is indeed required to complete the upper sections of this trip.

Mostly you can see the rapids during the walk in, but if you try to look into the gorges you won’t see everything.

At Greenland Spur, use the stock bridge to cross to the true right, and with permission, enjoy good camping under willow trees on the true right bank.

Greenland Spur Willows to Lochnagar track start. 1.5-2hrs

Continue up valley on the true right marginal strip. Then, near Seventeen Mile Creek, follow the 4WD track over to the true left. Take a look at the upper rapids of II/II+ as you walk onto the Lochnagar track junction.

The paddling in detail

The headwaters to MacLeods campsite (I/II/III) “occasional packrafters”

When flows are suitable for the trip, parties can usually put on around Pine Creek Flat. If its a bit bony, you’ll appreciate the extra water after the confluence of Lake Creek (which comes from Lochnagar).

The lines on the map say it all; the section begins with some fun, splashy II/II+, and then alternates between easy II features, wide-open braids, and a couple of spectacular, short, sharp gorges up to grade III, which can all be portaged.

Greenland Spur Gorge (II+) Hardest rapid is at the entrance. Although the gorge is short, it is fully committing. There’s lots of big eddies though and great photos to be had from the stock bridge.

Sixteen Mile Gorge (II+/III-) Easy to scout, with boulder gardens leading up to the first rapid requiring some grade III manenuvering. There’s plenty of good eddies through the gorge. A sharks fin marks the end of the gorge and goes either side.

Saddle Creek/Broken Bridge gorge (III) This gorge is the crux of this section and is solid grade III maneuvering and rescue skills. It is definitely a step up from anything paddled so far. Portaging is easy via the 4WD track on the true left, provide you take out before the gorge begins!

Keep an eye out for the river banks closing in: once you can see the ‘broken bridge’ you are already in the gorge. Escape from the ‘broken bridge’ is possible, just a bit time-consuming and strenuous…

Below Branches, you get a nice long rest, or a long grind, depending on river flows and the wind.

There is good camping at Strohles Flat, or McCleods Bluff.

Times will vary, but Jenny and her team took roughly 6-7hr at 30 cumecs, from the Upper rapids through to McLeods Bluff, with some scouting and portaging.

MacLeod’s to Skippers (II+) “popular with kayakers”

This is the section that is very popular with newer kayakers, with fantastic II+ paddling with lots of neat features to enjoy and practice on.

This section is well described in whitewater NZ’s Riverguide.

Times will vary, but Jenny’s team took 2-3 hours for this section at 30 cumecs and no scouting.

Skippers to Deep Creek (I) “The Skippers Canyon Jet section”

This is the section that is commercially jet boated by Skippers Canyon Jet. This is when you’ll be glad you called the company before your trip (03 4429434) and got an idea of the jetboat trip schedule….. Make sure you re-read the ‘Planning and permission’ section info about the jetboat!

Keep your eyes peeled for mining hazards: both relics and present-day ropes/wires/dredges and so on.

For more info, see the Whitewater NZ riverguide.

Deep Creek to Edith Cavell Bridge, Arthurs Point (II/IV) “The rafting section”

This is the commercially rafted section of the Shotover.

Most of the run is pleasant II/II+ until the final few kilometres, which have some long sections of IV. These can be portaged on river left, over large stacked schist boulders.

Packrafters who aren’t grade IV paddlers can portage through this section in suitable flows, but must be able to catch eddies reliably. You should be paddling competently at grade III level to contemplate that plan of “paddle the gorge and portage the IV” This isn’t a section that beginners should bumble into, thinking the portage is simple.

This section is best described in the Whitewater NZ riverguide

Flows

The Shotover has a huge catchment, with high peaks that hold plenty of snow, so you can expect the flows to increase as the days heat up when the snow is still around. Similarly, the big catchment = lots of water when it rains, so you’ll want a stable weather window earlier in the melt season, rather than trying to start hiking at the right time to hit good flow after it has rained.

The packrafters provided flow info from the Shotover at Peats Hut, which is about 9km below the Branches road end.

The photos on this trip page are all taken at the lower end of the range (12 cumecs) and the teams reccomended a little more water in the future.

Jenny’s group had around 30 cumecs, and reported that as a great flow: no scraping on the braids, and manageable paddling for the grade in the gorges.

The consensus (at present) is 15-40 cumecs is a reasonable range for packrafting flows.

Kayaker flows

Its worth noting that the Kayaking guides reference the Shotover at Bowens Peak, which is much further downstream, and gives higher values than the Peats gauge at the same time.

Kayaking flows for Shotover at Bowens Peak are 30-60 for (IV) and 60-90 (IV+).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.