Updated 2020 by Martin Robertson
The Waiohine has a fearsome reputation as a Gorge trip with many tube trips being completed over the years but possibly just as many being aborted. It is the classic Tararua Gorging trip, and with the right flows a brilliant pack raft. Its definitely not one to underestimate.
The river is small and requires decent flows or it will be bony. However at high flows it is too boisterous for packrafts.
Access is via a long walk over Mt Holdsworth and Isabelle to the Mid-Waiohine Hut. Given the very narrow flow window it’s hard to get the timing right for a walk-in and some might opt for a fly-in with Amalgamated Helicopters from Carterton.
The combination of elevated flow and low wind/clear visibility suitable for heli flying is pretty rare but generally follows a southerly front.
The river was recently kayaked at 27m3 (on the Lower Waiohine Gorge gauge) by Nigel Parry who advises it contained a number of Class IV rapids and drops that would be “no place for a packraft” at that flow. Flows of around 10m3 are likely to be too bony and 20 m3 may be too much. So there is a narrow window in between these flows where packrafting (with lots of portages) will be possible for experienced paddlers.
It is a typical tight Tararua gorge with long pools and pool drops, horizon lines and boulder gardens. Like all Tararua gorges it is also flush with logs and every rapid and drop needs scouting.
At Hector Forks the Hector River adds considerably to the flow. There is a steep gorge from the Forks to Totara Flats. An alternative put-in at the Forks involves a decent 6 to 7 hour walk over Cone and down to Neil Forks. Then a river bed walk to the Forks.
The Kennett Brothers have a trip write up for tubing (at low flow) and may have more info on the river at lower flows. they estimate 6 to 9 hours river time from Mid-Waiohine to Totara Flats.
“The flow had dropped to 27 cumecs and flying over the river it looked low in the upper reaches. So although tempted, we decided to go no higher than Mid Waiohine hut. The upper upper section can wait for another time. By 10am we were on the water. It was a little bony at first, but after a creek or two joined the river we were paddling on nice class 3 rapids in stunning surrounds with the tops of the main range towering over us. The rata was all in flower, and the whitewater quite continuous – heaven!
After a few kilometres of wilderness surrounds and very steep sided gorges with class 3 and 4 rapids, we stopped for a bite. The paddling had been quite technical, with increasing large boulders and one to two metre drops. We felt very lucky to be there and soaked in the surroundings. Did I mention how beautiful it was?
Getting back on the river, the paddling stepped up a notch. More low volume technical class 3+ and 4 rapids, one after another after another – lots of boat scouting and stopping to make sure we knew the lines before committing. In time, we arrived at Hector forks and the extra water provided a bit more push to the rapids as well as some extra large West Coast type boulders. The spaces between rapids started to grow and we picked our lines down a few more of the harder rapids. Slowly the river flattened out and we soon arrived at the swing bridge by Totara Flats hut, where we stopped for another feed and a bit of a rest. We had had quite a work out, with a lot of rapids in the 15 or so kms we had covered so far”.
Packrafters would probably camp at Totara Flats and then head for Walls Whare the next day. Nigel’s party carried on to the road end to make a long day of it.
One trip report Log your trip
Here’s a blogpost and youtube vid about a packrafting trip of this section at around 22-20 cumecs for the first day from Mid Waiohine to Totara Flats and lower for the second day from Totara Flats out. 20 cumecs would be about the minimum I’d want for packrafting, much lower and you’d do a lot of scraping and portaging, it could take a bit more and still be very manageable for competent paddlers. I did a couple of portages (2 or 3 from memory, but none were compulsory).
Timings for a relatively fit hiker and very confident Grade III/IV boat scouter were:
Walk 3hrs to Powell Hut – 8km
Walk 2hr 30min Powell hut to Mid Waiohine Hut – 6km
Paddle 2hr30min Mid Waiohine to Totara Flat – 10-12km
Paddle 2hrs Totara Flat to Waiohine Campsite -10km