Waimakarirri River Gorge (II) from Mt White to Sheffield

The Waimakariri Gorge is a great Grade 2 overnight trip or long day-trip covering 50 to 60 kms or river, accessible by car at both ends.

Being so close to the outdoor recreation focussed population centre of Christchurch, this section of river will probably become one of the most commonly pack-rafted trips in New Zealand. It is ideal for people with a couple of day trips under their belt and looking to extend themselves on an overnight trip.

This stretch of river is most well-known for hosting the kayak leg of the famous Coast-to-Coast. Kayakers racing through miss much of the spectacular scenery and great campsites. The lower reaches are also popular with jet-boaters.

A longer trip that included the Poulter River would appeal for those looking for a longer, more remote journey. Thank you to Sam Newton for the words, Zak Hynd and Michael Batchelor for the photos.

View Larger Topographic Map

The most convenient put-in is at the Mt White Bridge, approximately a 90 min drive from Christchurch. A common take out is at the Waimakariri Gorge Bridge, near Shefield – approximately 40 mins from ChCh. Another car-accessible take-out option is at the Alpine Jet depot on Otarama Road. (Call Alpine Jet ahead of your arrival, as it is private land and they can apply a nominal parking fee).

Route information – via land
If you are really keen on avoiding some of the Grade 1 floating along the upper stretch, you could seek permission to walk in to the river from the Cragieburn road, but fundamentally this is a car-to-car trip.

Waimakarirri River (I) Mt White to the Gorge
There is about 25kms of Grade 1 water between the Mt White bridge and the entrance to the gorge at GR 150270, with a couple of Grade 2 wave trains to keep it interesting.

Waimakarirri Gorge (II)
The gorge section is most serious during the first half but does not exceed grade 2 with plenty of quiet patches in between each series of rapids.

For overnighting, there are the Hamilton and Walker Huts, which are both visible but not obvious from the river. There was little information we could find about these huts, except that they have been receiving a little maintenance from the Jet boating community. It may pay to carry camping gear, given the popularity of this stretch of river. Campsites are few until you reach the Hamilton Rapids (GR144218), after which there are many options, including sandy beaches.

Waimakarirri River (I) below the gorge
Below the gorge, is Grade 1 floating.

Gauge and weather
Waimakariri Below Otarama .

A lack of water will never be a problem, as the Waimakariri is one of the major braided rivers of Canterbury and at Otarama never gets much below 50 cumecs. Around 100 is normal for mid-summer.  Anything above 200 or 250 cumecs and the river is getting beyond the capability of a packraft. Aside from that, campsites would be even fewer and further between.

In flood, the Waimakariri can swell into the thousands of Cumecs and Grade 5 rapids.

Advice from many other sources suggest being careful to avoid the Nor’wester… The gorge is the lowest route for the wind when there’s a big NW blowing, causing havoc in the narrow gorge. See the Canterbury High Country forecast on Metservice.com to check for the wind.

There’s lots of videos and other resources about this section online..

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