Upper Mohaka River (II+/III P) from Poronui Stn to SH5

This is a fantastic weekend packrafting trip… Walking access only, beautiful clear river through native bush clad mountains. Trout, great camping options, easy hitchhiking options, and oh yeah… 2 amazing HOT-SPRINGS!

The River is 99% grade II, but Sphincter rapid (portagable) is a grade III.

Thank you to Chris Coutts for the information and photos for this trip page.

Please respect private land

The river banks over the majority of this trip are private land. The owners use the land for private hunting or fishing, so they are very aware of other groups that enter their, whether on purpose or unwittingly.

While we’re allowed to paddle the river, much of the riverbanks are legally off-limits without prior permission. This is not generally given unless you’re a paying customer for hunting/fishing trips.

There are great hut/camping options on public land, so the best option is to just plan to use those, and keep on the river when the banks are private!

The public land begins on the true right at Mangatainoka River, and ends at the Mangatutunui Stream. On the true left, the public land is even smaller, starting about 1km downstream of Te Puia Lodge and ending by the 729m Trig station.

To see it on a map, check out the embed from the Herena a nuku / Walking Access Commission mapping site.

Tip: click – more / Basemap / NZ Topo. If its green, its public land. If it isn’t, it is private!!


To avoid the need to ask permission for camping on private land, the trip is best chunked into a couple of long-ish days. This is the classic weekender, which is described here.

Day 1: Hike from Poronui Station car park to River (2hrs) then paddle 20ish km to Mangatainoka Hotsprings & Campsite

Day 2: Paddle 32ish km through to McIvar Road, near SH5.

Other options to chunk the trip include a very short first day to Oamaru Hut (DOC) (perhaps on the friday night?) , and/or taking out early at the Mangaturuturu Hotsprings or Pakaututu Rd (Ripia) bridge. The choice is yours, but the classic weekend is described below.

View Larger Topographic Map

Access to river

There are a number of access routes to the start of the Mohaka river (confluence of Oamaru and Kaipo rivers), but the simplest is to drive to the public carpark outside of Poronui Station, and walk for 4hr on the public poled route to the river. The carpark is next to Heli Sika helicopter base (BH37 853 783), which is miles away from anywhere dodgy, always busy ferrying hunters into the hills, so seems reasonably safe. Enter Poronui Station, and follow the orange triangles on foot, loosely hugging the Taharua River. This is a flat track through their farmland, without any shade.

Note, this walking access route is kindly provided by Poronui Stn, and is only available to foot traffic.

Once near the Mohaka river, you could follow a track a little further upstream, to stay the night at Oamaru Hut (DOC) if required.

The Taharua River can only be accessed at various points (see map near carpark at start, or photo below), and provides an alternative to walking to the Mohaka, but it seemed too low & overgrown when we went through. See Taharua / Red Hut to Mohaka confluence for more info.


Once on the Mohaka (BH37 834 697), it’s a little bony until the Taharua flows in, then you’re away. There are only 2 notable Gr2+/3 rapids on this trip, the first being Sphincter (BH37 859 690). This is a short network of slots, and at the time we paddled it (20cumecs) there was only 1 obvious way through, in the centre. It’s narrow, only 30m or so in length, and there is a tricky rock midway down. It felt like Gr3, but at different flows, it would act differently.

Sphincter rapid portage note. The land on both sides of the river at this point is private. Scouting and portage is easy, river left, but this is on private land. When you scout or portage, stick to the edge of the river as much as possible and DO NOT go wandering around the private hut site that adjoins Sphincter Rapid. Move through guietly and efficiently and avoid making a scene.

From there it’s good solid Gr2 rapids for the rest of the day. Nothing scary, but plenty of them to keep you interested. We drank from the river, and survived. I think it’s pretty safe.

Remember, it is private land until you reach the Mangatainoka campsite/hotsprings, so plan to paddle the 20km or so and camp there… you won’t be disappointed. Look for the sandy beach on river-right, and pull out. A well established camping area, complete with steel bbq, picnic tables and glow-worms, is right next to the hotpool… we could chill there for a week, easy.

The next day is much the same as the first; twisty Gr2 through a steep native valley. After 7km you’ll reach the 2nd hot-pool on the river, the Mangatutu hotsprings. You’ll see the deck perched high on the cliff river-right, but paddle down a little more to the rocky beach, and head up the track. There’s a road-end, campspot, toilet, and picnic area up there too.

Not long downstream (about 2-3km) is Graveyard rapid, the only other named rapid on the trip. But to be honest I don’t know the exact location because we passed it by without noticing it was any different from the rest! I’m not sure if that was due to the particular flow we had, but it’s certainly not as obvious as the earlier Sphincter, and kind of blends into the other fun rapids.

The valley opens out a bit after that, and you pass under Ripia Bridge. (You can takeout here, but the journey back to the start is quite long. You’re better off paddling through to SH5).

After a few more km you’re back into semi-native tree-lined valley, although not quite as picturesque as day-1.

We took out at a nice spot right next to McVicar Rd (BJ38 136 565). Look for a huge log on river-left just before a big horseshoe bend to the right. Scramble up past some blackberries, to a good packup spot, then up to the road.

Getting home

Now would be a good time to mention we stashed a bike in the forest up on SH5, on the turnoff to Poronui Stn (BG37 853 953). The intention was to hitch 1 hour up SH5 to the turnoff, ride the 20km downhill to Poronui Stn, and pick up the car. This plan worked pretty well, and before long we were traveling north in the back of a white unmarked van. Alternatively, you could arrange with Mountain Valley Lodge to drive you up.


At the time we paddled it (Mid-December 2017) the river was about 20 cumecs at the Glenfalls gauge (see link below). That put the river very much in the safe Gr2 realm, with the exception of Sphincter rapid (Gr3). But with higher flow it will push some of the wave-trains into Gr3 territory, and may create technical white-water.

External links


3 Trip reports Log your trip

  1. Rob Spray says:

    Good trip, the river started lowish up at Oamaru with fair bit of dragging required however by the Kaipo River we could paddle easily, this was with approx 13 cu at Mcvicars.
    Paddling got way more fun at 22 cu on following day.
    From Mangatainoka hot springs to Mangatutu Hot Springs we measured 11-12km on river, you can’t see structure from river at all, but you can see 3 gum trees standing close together on headland above the pools river right. pull out and formed track is rocky water edge just above next rapid

    • Date of your trip -11th - 13th May 2024
    • Estimated/gauge flow -22 Cu
    • When did it last rain and how much? -Rained on 12th ongoing drizzle - moderate rain evening 12th - maybe 10cm
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -5-6 Hours on 11th Oamaru Hut to Mangatainoka and 6 Hours Mangatainoka to Mohaka Farm Camp
    • Any new hazards? -
  2. Jake Hynd & Jules Watts says:

    Day One – Bike stashed then off to Poronui Station at the end of Taharua Road (-38.9974658, 176.2957953). Good safe park and a long drop. Excellent signage and a 2 1/4 hrs walk to hit the Mohaka. Plus another 25 mins down stream to find some flow. Pohonui reading was giving 3.1 cu meters while McVicars was 17 cu meter.
    Epic fun floating and navigating rapids after the sphincter swallowed my GoPro. (-39.0816440, 176.3049463)
    Absolutely stunning bush with plenty of deer, trout and kaka (or some parrot).
    Hot pools and Mangatainoka camp made in 5hours on the water. Pesky possums and 2 resident kiwi calling through the night.

    Day Two – Fun, yet a little less stunning. Wee grade 2-3 rapid just out of camp, past the lodge. Otherwise smooth sailing down to McVicars Camp (-39.1854215, 176.6345985). 8 hours on the water.

    Dat Three – Quick walk and a 20 min pick up / hitch hike to the bike. Cruisy 45min tailwind and mostly downhill pedal from SH5 down to Poronui Station. Then off for a tasty beer and grub in Taupo.

    Absolutely epic trip. Shattered arms and Back. Worth it.
    Recommend to all. Especially the First section!


  3. Chris Bailey says:

    No camping between Oamaru Hut and Mangatainoka Hot Springs. That’s all private land.

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